Waiting for the Trade = All New Cap

All New Captain America (1): Hydra Ascendant

collects All-New Captain America #1-6

written by Rick Remender, illustrated by Stuart Immonen

 Why I Bought This: As a big Cap fan, I was very curious to see how the Falcon as Cap story will play out, so much so I actually pre-ordered this on Amazon before it was released.

The Plot: Sam Wilson (The Falcon) has been named the new Captain America following Steve’s retirement (he was rapidly aged in some prior volume I haven’t read), giving the country an African-American Captain America. On his first case he uncovers a Hydra plot that includes most of Steve’s major foes (with the exception of the Red Skull).

(spoilers below)

Read more

Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

Captain America:
Castaway in Dimension Z (2)

by Rick Remender &
John Romita Jr.

collects Captain America
(2012) issues 6-10.

 

Why I Bought This: I
wanted the complete story of Cap in Dimension Z so I actually grabbed volumes 1
and 2 at the same time (on FCBD with a 40% discount per trade).

 
The Plot: Cap
storms Zola’s fortress in a bid to rescue his son and prevent Zola’s plan to
invade the Earth.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Jet is praying as she finds herself tempted by
Cap both physically and his ideals. When the camera pulls out we see the church
is a shrine to Zola. Cap kills the mutate guards as he gain access to the
castle. Jet and Ian debate the value of goodness. Zola is melting the Phrox
into biological clay in an attempt to grow them into clones of Steve but is
unsuccessful. Zola then talks to Ian and is less willing to debate his values
than Jet. He ends up strapping Ian to a chair Clockwork Orange style to brainwash him into thinking like a Zola.
Steve finds Jet in the shower and threatens her with a laser gun to tell him
where Ian is. She does not believe Cap will shoot her and refuses to talk and
Cap seemingly kills her. Meanwhile Ian’s brainwashing takes hold.

Chapter 2 – We get a flashback to Cap and Ian enjoying a
picnic two years ago as Steve tells Ian about Steve’s own father and promises
to always be there for Ian. Cap kills more mutates as he comes through the
hall. Jet is indeed not dead and frees herself from the ropes Cap tied her in,
then warns her father via radio that Cap is coming for Ian. Cap kills one of
his Gamma clones then comes face to face with Jet. This time they fight to a
stalemate until Cap stops to save a Phrox female. Afterwards Cap convinces Jet
to do the right thing. Meanwhile Zola’s castle has become a rocket and is
preparing to invade Earth by infecting everyone with the Zola virus. Steve and
Jet split up then Steve is shot in the back by Ian.

Chapter 3 – Cap is pummeled by the gamma-clone and believes
he may be dying but then rallies for Ian’s sake to defeat it. Ian attacks Steve
and accuses him of kidnapping him. Cap punches Ian and retreats hoping he can
escape to Earth and send the FF to rescue the boy. Ian recovers and picks up a
jagged replica shield the gamma-clone had. Meanwhile Jet frees the Phrox but is
discovered by her father. Ian presses the assault on Cap while presenting a
counter-argument to Cap’s ideals. Ian wins this fight and inflicts another grievous
wound with the barbed-shield. He is about to execute Cap but Steve talks about
how people can choose to be different than their fathers which helps Ian shake
off the brainwashing. And then Ian is shot through the neck from behind and
falls into a vat of chemicals as Sharon Carter arrives to save Cap.

Chapter 4 – A quick flashback to six years ago as Ian
catches fish and Steve paints a portrait of them together. Now Sharon tells Steve he has only been missing
30 minutes and believes Zola implanted false memories of the decade plus he
spent with Ian. Sharon
evacuates Steve and informs she has set the castle to blow with C-4. Sharon kills some mutates
and gets Steve to stand up. Meanwhile Zola is about to defeat Jet but Steve
makes the save. Cap is beating Zola to death but he launches his virus towards
Earth then throws himself and Cap off the fortress. Cap lands hard and Zola is
strangling him but Cap detonates a grenade in Zola’s bio-suit. Jet arrives to
see her father dying and in his final act he saves her from an avalanche. With
his dying words he tells her to finish his work and tells her he loved her.

Chapter 5 – Jet is bereft and when Steve tells her Ian is
also dead and that Sharon intends to blow up her
home she attacks Sharon
and steals the detonator. This leads to a sky cycle race with Steve and Sharon
chasing Jet while the mutates chase the heroes. Cap takes down the mutates and Sharon manages to talk
sense into Jet. Zola then rises up in an enormously large body to chastise Jet
for failing to avenge him. This leads to Sharon
falling into Zola’s grip with the bomb in a scene reminiscent of Bucky’s
classic death while Jet flies Steve through the portal home. Steve turns and
runs back through the portal but already years have passed in Dimension Z. Jet
pulls him back through to Earth as the portal collapses. Steve collapses bloody
and in tears in an alley as the narration calls him “man further out of time.”
In the epilogue we return to Dimension Z to see Ian has grown up to become a
freedom fighter and is using the code name Nomad.

 

Critical Thoughts:
I hate the last five pages but otherwise I really liked the story.

The positives are a lot of worked in the first volume works
even better in the second volume. JRJr’s art and splash page reveals like in
the church scene with Jet, when Ian is shot, when Cap saves Jet from her
father, when Zola is reborn, even the Ian as Nomad finale are all standout
fantastic A+ work and in some ways the art alone is worth buying the trade for.
Even some of the non-splash pages like the motorcycle race in the finale are
just terrific on a visual level.

I love the dynamic between Steve and Zola’s ideals. Ian’s
indictment of Cap and America
while he is brainwashed is terrifically written. Look no one is going to empathize
with Zola’s viewpoint. The man is both a Nazi and a sadistic mad scientist but
Remender manages to give a him a coherent voice and world view and that alone
is quite the writing accomplishment.

I like the payoff with all the flashbacks on Steve and his
father in 30s being the thing that gets through to Ian so that he chooses Steve
over Zola. I thought that was well done. Ditto I think the always stand up
mantra is used well in both the fight with Ian and when Sharon motivates Cap to evacuate after Ian’s
seeming death.

Now let’s talk about the flaws. I think argument can be made
that Jet turns on her father too easily. I think Sharon (who isn’t my favorite
character to begin with) is irredeemable for shooting Ian from behind in what
is meant to be a fatal shot. Okay yes, she doesn’t know who Ian is and what he
means to Cap but that’s no excuse. He’s a kid and even if he has a gun she
can’t think of another way to disarm him? She doesn’t trust Steve to save
himself from a child that she has to go for a headshot? I think it’s too
hardcore and I find it doubtful Sharon
would shoot a child so casually considering she once miscarried herself. I
think the cover of the issue Sharon
returns is unfortunate as it spoils her return in the issue. I think Cap also
miracle heals in that last chapter. He goes into a battle with a bleeding chest
wound, then gets shot in the stomach and in his own narration relates his war
experience to what he is feeling to assume he is dying. He is subsequently
gored by a jagged shield and then thrown off a building and yet in the last
chapter that seems to be forgotten as Cap goes into an extended sky cycle
fight. I mean there is heroics and adrenaline and then there is ridiculous
overkill and the finale leans towards the latter.

I dislike the final five pages quite a bit for two reasons. One I don’t like the
“man further out of time” narration for Cap when he gets home because I think
that element of his character needs to be over and done forever. Look when Stan Lee wrote the
man out of time stuff it was absolutely a good story challenge for Cap because
he had just woke up from a decades long freeze. But after the decade plus that
Marvel time is supposed have passed since Cap woke up Steve should be adjusted by now—really any
person should be adjusted by now but particularly Cap whose personal strength
is what makes him who he is. It is why I never like Waid’s run on the character
because he was all about playing up the Bucky loss and man out of time stuff
and I felt like ‘no Steve is over this by now;’ especially when it hadn’t been present in the prior 200 issues of Stern, DeMetteis and Gru made Waid’s use all the more jarring.
Man out of time just doesn’t fit the character anymore. Stan Lee had great ideas but his
best idea is these characters grow and change which is something the current
editorial regime is in denial about.

 As for Ian as Nomad, just Uggg!. First it feels like a
retread of a story that is less than 10 years old with Rikki Barnes as Nomad
of Cap’s young sidekick from another
universe taking on the role of Nomad and presumably Ian makes his way to earth
struggles to fit in. Personally I’d rather they just resurrect Rikki (who I really liked in that role) then give
the name to someone else, particularly someone so similar to her. But what I hate even more is Ian is now an adult.
Look it was easy to guess time was going faster in Dimension Z when the story
was jumping years at a time between chapters because Cap wasn’t going to be
lost to the Avengers and other crossovers for 10 years (which in Marvel time is
like five or more decades of stories real time), but I’d rather Cap have taken teen Ian
home and raised him as a supporting character because I DESPISE the
time-traveling instant adult children that permeates comics. Doing that once
could be interesting I suppose but it has become Marvel’s default way of
writing out children of heroes: Cyclops, Longshot and Scarlet Witch all
have children that artificially aged from time traveling other dimensional
nonsense. Heck the FF even pull it with Franklin
from time to time although he at least snaps back to childhood. I imagine there
are other examples too those are just off the top of my head. (You can also see
this trope in TV shows like Angel and
Charmed and it isn’t good there
either). Anyway I hate that gimmick in general and was disappointed to see it
show up here when the Cap-Ian dynamic as written in these trades still had
plenty of unexplored story potential left.
Grade A- .   My
qualms with the ending aside this is an excellent high stakes story that uses
art and internal narration as good as any recent story I’ve read to build the
tension in the action scenes. I will likely buy the next trade to see where
Remender goes next with Cap though I hope he has more planned than just Jet as
Cap’s next romantic interest.

Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

 Captain America:
Castaway in Dimension Z (1)

by Rick Remender &
John Romita Jr.

collects Captain America
(2012) volume 1-5.

Why I Bought This: Of
all the Marvel Now comics this is the one I was most curious about. Yes, of
course I love Captain America
but also I really like JRJr’s artwork from ASM
so just to see him draw Cap had me intrigued. On top of that the concept is
really different particularly compared to Brubaker’s realism-based espionage
run the past 10 years so I was curious how the change in tone was going to
work.

The Plot: Captain
America
is kidnapped by Arnim Zola and stranded in another dimension filled with alien
life-forms.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – A flashback of Steve’s childhood shows his
father was an abusive alcoholic but his mother refused to back down when he
would hit her telling Steve “you always stand up.” In the present Cap is taking
down would-be terrorist the Green Skull. Afterwards he meets Sharon for a date as it is Cap’s birthday
(and Independence Day). Sharon
apparently proposed to Cap recently and he is mulling it over as he boards a
train. Suddenly the train speeds up into another dimension and springs a trap
injecting Cap with a sedative. When Cap awakens he is strapped into a
Frankenstein-style laboratory with his blood being transfused into an infant.
Zola injects an enormous needle into Cap’s heart but Cap fights through the
pain, burst his bonds and escapes blowing up the lab in the process. Zola
believes the infant (his son) dead in the explosion but in the cliffhanger we
see Cap has taken the boy with him.

Chapter 2 – One year has passed. Cap is raising the boy,
whom he has named Ian, in a wasteland where every day is a fight for survival.
Cap is also still sick from whatever Zola injected into his chest. One day an
airship with two of Zola’s mutate servants spot Cap and Ian but the creatures
do not recognize them, they just want something to eat. Cap KO’s one of them
but the other’s weapons are too strong so Cap awakens a huge monster that lives
under the sand (think Dune) and it
eats the attacker. It then attempts to eat Cap but he slays it with the energy
weapon. Cap and Ian are then ambushed from behind by some rock men. The rock
men (actually biological but they have rocky plates covering much of their
exterior) have an underground civilization. They execute the Zola servant Cap
had KO’d and intend to do the same to Cap thinking he is also a servant of
Zola. He shouts that he is not but Ian is seemingly decapitated in the
cliffhanger.

Chapter 3 – A flashback shows how when Zola was a human in Germany in 1929
he kidnapped his maid and her dog and then sewed her head onto the dog. In the
present Zola has a young daughter whom he has given super powers. Zola locks
her in an arena filled with monsters so she can hone her combat skills. Back at
our cliffhanger, Cap breaks his hand in order to break his chains and save Ian
at the last minute. One of the rock-people who found Cap convinces the king
rock man that Cap is an enemy of Zola too as he saw them fighting as Cap
activates a universal translator Pym put in his costume. We see flashbacks of
tween-Cap fighting bullies and refusing to back down despite being scrawny and
outnumbered. Cap is talking with the rock-man (the species is called the Phrox)
who saved his life and learns their leader is a despot. Cap gives one of his
rah-freedom speeches but said despot overhears them and shoots the Phrox Cap
was talking to in the face. Cap manages to take the despot down in a hard fight
as Cap is severely wounded by a lightsaber to the chest in the process. Cap
goes to check on his wound and discovers he has a talking Zola face inside his
chest.

Chapter 4 – It is now 11 years later. Every day Cap has to
work to stop the Zola Virus from possessing him but he regrets nothing because
Ian has become his son. They are training outside when one of Zola’s mutates
comes across them and Ian is forced to kill it. Cap accesses the computer on
its hover bike accessing a map of Zola’s fortress and the location of the
portal back to Earth. Ian is not keen to go to a new planet and demands answers
from Cap on his birth parents which gives the Zola Virus a chance to flood Cap
with memories of Zola’s wife and he passes out. This leads to a flashback to
1933 wherein Cap’s mom is deathly ill and the rent is due so Cap commits a
burglary. After he pays the rent his mom reproaches him and Cap ends up
confessing to the shopkeeper and working off the debt. Cap awakens to find the
Zola Virus in his chest telling Ian that Zola is his father. Cap explains to
Ian he needs to get home to the Avengers or the virus will possess him. Zola’s
daughter is now grown and goes by the name Jet Black. She has captured the
Phrox despot whom we learn had been exiled after Cap defeated him. The exile
tells Jet and Zola that Cap is alive though they still think he killed Ian. Jet
wants revenge for her brother and is a given a squadron of Cap-clone gamma
irradiated mutates (so a cross between Cap and Hulk whom Zola cloned in the
80s) for the assault.

Chapter 5 – Cap makes Ian promise to kill him if the virus
takes over. They are flying towards the portal home when they see black smoke
rising over the Phrox outpost they had been living in; and Steve being who he
is can’t go home to save himself when others are in danger. Despite the
impossible odds Cap is winning until Jet attacks from behind. She outfights him
with ease as her powers are tachyon (faster than light) based. However when she
sees Ian she realizes who he is and while she is surprised Ian takes her down
with a punch to the throat. Cap refuses to kill her when she is helpless and
she manages to get a message to Zola. Zola then withdraws his army and attacks
Cap on his own in a giant-sized battle-suit. After Zola wins he orders Jet to
kill Cap but she is conflicted because of Steve’s earlier mercy towards her.
Zola then throws Steve from a cliff himself. Zola orders his army to kill all
of the Phrox men and children but to take the women for breeding experiments.
Cap wakes up on the cliff and to stop the Zola virus from possessing him cuts
it out his chest with a sharp stick then staggers to his feat and vows to save
his son.

 

Critical Thoughts: I
enjoyed this quite a bit. Look would I want to see Cap fighting space aliens
every single month? Absolutely not. But for a one year story arc, radical
change from the norm is a good thing to try for a character with a 75 year
publication history. I think this story is clicking really well. Romita’s art
is perfect for the alien landscapes. Using Zola for this story arc is a good
idea. He has always been a really unusual science fiction looking character so
this milieu fit him fine and I think the story is better served by making the
big bad a traditional Cap villain then it would be if our big bad was just some
new alien warlord character ruling this dimension with no history or prior
connection to the hero.

What really makes this story work beyond the bells and
whistles of the new concept is Remender has Steve’s voice down and so in that
sense this is a classic Cap story even if the exterior is completely different.
Look that first flashback of Steve’s father being an abusive alcoholic had me
rolling my eyes because isn’t that everyone’s parents in comic flashbacks
lately? But the pay off of Steve’s mom teaching him to always stand up for what
is right fits in with everything we know about Cap and his actions in decades
of great stories. Overall I found I liked the flashbacks quite a bit as they
both give us insight to Cap and serve as nice setup for how Cap would raise
Ian.

I love the idea of Cap raising Ian as a son. I’ve always
felt Cap is character who Marvel should let marry and have children.
Conceptually it would allow Cap to explore stories about the traditional
American Dream and have more of a civilian supporting cast; while from a
character perspective of course Captain America would want to have a family: he
came of age in World War II so one presumes had he not been frozen in ice he
would have come home and contributed to the Baby Boom just like every other GI
of his era. Thus the narration in this story where Cap does not regret being
stranded in an alien wasteland for 14 years because it gave him a son feels
spot on. It certainly makes for a powerful ending. You’re damn right that
Captain America, who always fights on despite the odds in a normal battle, is
going to climb up a mountain with a gaping chest wound if that is what it takes
to save his son.

Of course by making Ian be Zola’s biological son and not
just one of Zola’s many clone warrior experiments, it really ups the stakes of
the story and gives our villains Zola and Jet just as much of a reason as Cap
to fight this to the end no matter the outcome so kudos to Remender on creating
a strong character-driven conflict to carry the heart of this story. I think a
hook like that was needed to make the pulp science fiction on the periphery
more palpable. JRJr’s rendition of Zola’s rage when he learns Cap has stolen
and raised his son is also one of many fantastic splash pages in this book.

If I do have a criticism it is that Cap gets his ass handed
to him an awful lot in this story. Hey I’m all for building adversity against
the hero, especially since the intention here is to create an epic; but I don’t
think Cap wins a single fight in this entire trade. He walks into a trap on the
train, then he can’t beat two mutates without using a monster because of their
tech—Cap has fought Ultron and AIM he knows how to fight hi-tech, then he’s
captured by the Phrox, then the king Phrox nearly guts him with a lightsaber,
then he loses to Jet and then he loses to Zola. That is a lot of losing
especially for arguably Marvel’s greatest hand to hand fighter. I don’t mind
some of the losses: Jet for example is a new character with a unique power set
and you need to establish her but some of those lesser fights with mutates and
Phrox seem like things Cap could handle normally. There is too much good going
on with the overall story, art and characterization for this to bother me too
much but it is noticeable.

 

Grade: A – This
is a hell of a set up for a daring new concept and it really makes you want to
read the second trade to see the conclusion.

Waiting for the Trade – Secret Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 

Secret Avengers vol.
2

By Rick Remender

Collects Secret
Avengers #26-32

 

Why I Bought This: As
part of the AvX crossover (which I did not bother to read) Thor leads a team of
some of the strongest Avengers (including Ms. Marvel) to battle the Phoenix
Force in space. It sounded like a fun fight, particularly the idea of Binary
vs. Phoenix not
to mention seeing Thor lead the team for once, so I grabbed it off Amazon.

 

The Plot: Two
separate stories in this trade. First: Thor, in a rare leadership role, takes a
team into space to fight the Phoenix Force; and then when the crossover ends
Hawkeye, Venom v3.0 and Ant Man infiltrate an underground city of super
villains.
 
spoilers after the break

 

Chapter 1 – Thor’s team includes Ms. Marvel, Beast, Protector
(that Kree character Bendis loves who was Captain Marvel v6.0 for awhile), War
Machine, Valkyrie, Vision and Captain Britain–which is quite the
collection of powerhouses. Beast has a flashback to the original Dark Phoenix
Saga and how he built a device to short out Jean’s powers. Now he has modified
that device into a “cage” (it looks like a backpack) that he believes can
contain the raw Phoenix Force. Personally, I am highly dubious of this plan.
Meanwhile some Kree have gathered a sliver of the M’Kraan Crystal and the Nega
Bands. Meanwhile the Phoenix
casually destroys a planet before our heroes catch up with it. Thor unleashes
his hammer’s mystic power on the Phoenix
and stuns it. War Machine then flies into position with Beast’s cage. However
the Phoenix recovers
and roasts Thor with flame breath, the fringe of which also damages War
Machine’s armor. It then casually wipes out all the other heroes except Captain
Britain.
He dons the cage-backpack to implement the plan but Beast on radio warns him the
device is not calibrated to run on magic, which is what powers Britain’s
armor. Britain ignores him
and the cage siphons some Phoenix power but then
overloads and explodes, taking out Britain too. The Phoenix is about
to kill the heroes when we cut back to the Kree, who have the original Captain
Marvel’s body bedecked in the Nega Bands and hooked up to a Frankenstein style
machine with the crystal fragment. The crystal is used to summon the Phoenix (inadvertently sparing the heroes) and while the
Kree moon base this is occurring on blows up when the Phoenix arrives it successfully energizes
Marvel’s corpse in the process. The Avengers meanwhile limp off to Hala (the
Kree home world) to lick their wounds as Thor and especially Rhodes are severely
injured. Enroot Beast calls Britain
an idiot. On Hala Protector and Ms. Marvel reminisce about their Kree heritage
when the resurrected Captain Marvel finds them and asks them to help him kill
the Avengers.

 

Chapter 2 – Marvell flashes back to his death and notes he
was at peace in death. He then makes out with Carol. Meanwhile Rhodes has flat-lined and Beast has to defib him. Britain
has also lost his powers in the space episode and as Thor attempts to give him
a pep talk the three Kree heroes burst in and attack, defeating the Avengers in
a short battle. Half the team is imprisoned, while Vision, Beast and Thor are
somehow free. Vision detects a signal being broadcast to mind control the Kree
on Hala so they will accept death at the hands of the Phoenix Force. Vision
manages to disrupt the signal but there is only an hour left to evacuate the
planet. Marvel arrives and takes down Vision and starts in on Thor but even
injured Thor refuses to fall. Thor also refuses to believe this is the real
Marvel since he is about to commit genocide and tries to decapitate him but
Marvel takes his best shot and then uses the Nega Bands to redirect Thor’s
lightening against him for the KO. Then Marvel sees Kree soldiers executing the
fleeing civilians and begins to have second thoughts.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers are about to be executed but Vision
disrupts the signal on the three Kree heroes just as the Phoenix enters the atmosphere. The Kree
heroes stop the execution. Vision traces the signal back to its source,
revealing relatives of Mar-vell are responsible: one of whom is a high priest
of some cult and his son who has telepathic powers. The priest kills his son
and reveals he brought the Phoenix
to Hala to burn away the shame Mar-vell brought on the family name when he
betrayed the Kree for the people of Earth back in his Silver Age solo title.
Then the priest kills himself. The Kree are trying to evacuate but there’s no
time so Ms. Marvel takes the desperate step of flying into space to try to
absorb the Phoenix
into herself. This causes her to become Binary again and she opens a white hole
which Thor amplifies with his hammer’s dimensional portal power and it seems
like they will suck the Phoenix in but then it blasts both heroes and takes
them down. Marvel saves Carol (who is now back in her Ms. Marvel form) while
Captain Britain
regains his powers. He flies into the heart of the Phoenix and then starts expanding his magic force
field. He is hurting it but it is still advancing on Hala and Mar-vell realizes
it will not stop until it reclaims the portion of the Phoenix Force that
resurrected him. And so he pulls Britain
aside and lets the Phoenix
claim him and thus he dies again. Carol so impressed by what she has witnessed
she ponders taking the Captain Marvel name herself in tribute to his heroism
(which of course she does in her new solo title that launched shortly after
this).

Chapter 4 – a recap page fills us in that John Steele is yet
another pre-Cap super soldier gone bad controlled by a shadowy government group
who recently came to his senses; and the titular heroes have been fighting some
robot conspiracy as well lately. Max Fury (a Nick Fury LMD gone bad) catches up
with Steele alongside his gigantic Masters of Evil that includes at least 20 super
villains (Constrictor, Brothers Grimm, Diablo, Princess Python, Crossfire,
Griffin, Carrion, Whiplash, the female Stiltman, The Grapplers, Madcap,
Vengeance and a bunch I don’t recognize) and they pummel Steele with ease.
Venom (Flash Thompson) is fighting a villain named Abyss who tries to mind
control him but the symbiote is immune and Flash shoots him in the head. Next
we learn Ant Man v3.0 is a mole for the Shadow Council as he buys into some
time traveler’s tale that whatever the Council is up to will create a utopian
future. Hawkeye assembles the Secret Avengers with intel that Fury’s Masters
has “hundreds of members” and they have asylum in some fictional country so
taking them down has to be top secret. In addition Max has the Serpent Crowns
and some other mystic crown so it’s all bad news. The team for the mission is
Hawkeye, Black Widow, Venom, Valkyrie and Ant
Man. The Circus of Crime are
torturing Steele for fun but he breaks free, takes them down and then rendezvous
with Hawkeye’s team. Steele dies and makes Hawkeye promise to stop Fury from
getting a third crown. Venom gets Clown to talk and he reveals the super
villains have an underground city. Flash then morphs to look like the classic
Brock-Venom in hopes he can impersonate him and infiltrate the city but almost
as soon as he arrives he ends up in a bar fight with Taskmaster.

 Chapter 5 – Taskmaster kicks the crap out of Venom until Ant
Man interferes by crawling into his ear (with the onlookers assuming it is the
symbiote doing something so the Avengers’ presence is still secret). Taskmaster
retreats and throws a $1 million bounty out as he goes leading to the Wrecking
Crew and a bunch of other villains in the bar attacking Venom. Meanwhile
Hawkeye and Valkyrie pursue Taskmaster in a motorcycle chase. Vengeance shows up
and takes Valkyrie down hard then doubles back to intercept Clint. Hawkeye
manages to beat him but Taskmaster makes good his escape. He turns the Wolf
Crown over to Max Fury who shoots him for his trouble. Fury then combines the
three crowns and dons them just as Hawkeye and Valkyrie arrive. Fury gets a big
disappointment as he learns that because he’s not a real boy the crowns don’t
work for him. In the fight that follows Fury loses the crown and the bleeding
Taskmaster puts it on becoming the Abyss in the process. Abyss then possesses
all the super villains in the city.

Chapter 6 – We learn Hawkeye and Valkyrie are also
possessed. Only Venom and Ant Man are free. Venom because of the symbiote while
Ant Man claims it is due to his helmet that lets him talk to ants but it is implied
because he is already on the bad guy’s side willingly. Meanwhile back at HQ
Black Widow is aware of how bad things are going. She tries to call in Pym and
Captain Britain for help but
they’re busy in Malaysia
while the main Avengers team is missing. Meanwhile Max Fury throws himself on
the mercy of Abyss promising to use the Shadow Council to serve them but the
Abyss does not care. Meanwhile the possessed are climbing into airplanes that
when they land will spread the possession infection across the globe. Venom and
Ant Man start destroying planes on the runway until Hawkeye kills all of Ant
Man’s bugs and Vengeance beats up Venom. Ant Man is forced to shrink Venom and
retreat. Widow teleports onto Hawkeye’s plane and they have a fight pretty
reminiscent of the movie (right down to Hawkeye black pupil-less eyes) although
this time Hawkeye battles her to a stalemate and the plane continues on its
way. Meanwhile Venom and Ant Man sneak up on Taskmaster only to be intercepted
by Valkyrie.

Chapter 7 – Black Widow gets possessed by the Abyss. While Valkyrie
and Venom fight Ant Man grabs the triple crown but is hit with a psionic blast before
he can get it off Taskmaster’s head. And then the super villain army join the
fight and the heroes are overrun. Fury shoots Scarecrow and pulls a bleeding
Ant Man out of the fray, but more villains intercept them (and apparently Ant
Man is also an LMD). The military forces Hawkeye’s plane to land. Meanwhile the
Wrecking Crew and U-Foes take down Venom and bring him to Taskmaster to kill.
Then in a hail-Mary play Flash sends the symbiote to Taskmaster. Once the
symbiote covers Taskmaster it rejects the crowns breaking the spell. Of course
even without being possessed the super villain army still wants to kill Venom,
Ant Man and Fury but Widow teleports them all out of there. In the epilogue Pym
shrinks the crowns into the Microverse to hide them. Pym also notes there is no
way an Ant Man helmet can block possession, at which point Widow outs him as an
LMD claiming the real Ant Man died in a prior trade and then a robot took his
place. Venom refuses to believe it since Ant Man fought by his side to the very
end so Widow quits the team. Hawkeye is too tired to deal with it and says it
can wait until morning. Val and Flash end up in bed together. In the
cliffhanger Ant Man changes costumes to Black Ant to begin his own evil plan.

 

Critical Thoughts: Overall
I found this to be an decent read but it is by no means a great comic. There
was stuff I liked mixed with some uneven plotting. I’ll look at each story in
turn.
The space story is typical crossover fare. It doesn’t really
have much depth and the fight scenes don’t seem to have any impact. I will say
the final space battle is well drawn with Binary vs. Pheonix and Marvel’s
sacrifice.

The best part of the space story is the return of Captain
Marvel and how it affects Carol. I think the idea of using the Nega Bands to
harness the Pheonix Force to resurrect someone is fairly inspired yet totally
fits with what we know of those two cosmic forces. This also gives Mar-vell
more of a heroic death than dying of cancer yet his return was so brief it
doesn’t undercut the original death story either. On the flip-side those
villains as alleged relatives of Mar-vell are particularly shallow characters
and their connection to Mar-vell feels forced.

I also think the Beast-Captain Britain scene is unnecessarily
harsh. I freely admit to not reading many X-men spin-off books, and what little
I saw of Excalibur in the 80s/90s was
universally terrible. But nevertheless Britain led that team for like 75
issues and no doubt saved the day/England/the Earth/the Universe a bunch of
times during that run. So for Beast to rip into him and tell him it is because
he is an impulsive idiot that he never gets called on to help in the big crisis
is overkill and it’s explaining something that doesn’t need to be explained. He
doesn’t get called on in most of the big crises (i.e. crossovers) because he’s
Captain Britain and all the
crises take place in Manhattan.
Onto the Abyss story. My first thought on meeting John
Steele is ‘dear God, enough with the long lost super soldiers.’ Fortunately
they kill him off but seriously this needs to stop being a thing because this
trope is going to hit Clone Saga territory soon. Here’s a partial list of
villainous Caps out there: Red Skull’s mind is in a clone of Steve’s body,
Brubaker had the 1950s Cap emerge as a right wing fanatic affiliated with the
Watchdogs, US Agent famously replaced Cap and then had a nervous breakdown in
the role, Dan Jurgens created a failed Super Soldier called Protocide that was
thawed out by AIM, the Nazi’s had their own Super Soldier during World War II
called Master Man that is still active as a Cap villain today and the Russians
have Red Guardian who even uses a shield. And that’s off the top of my head.
Furthermore that’s just direct evil super solider rip offs of Cap and doesn’t
count the various other replacement heroic Caps and sidekicks (like Free
Spirit, Patriot, Nomad) with the super soldier serum nor does it count other
villains who duplicate Cap without the Serum like Super Adaptoid, Task Master,
some Hydra assassin named Death Shield, one of the Hate Mongers, the Tumbler.
It just goes on and on. Every A-list hero needs a dark reflection of himself in
their rogues’ gallery (see Venom, the Abomination, Sabretooth, etc) but they
don’t need a dozen of them. Just stop. End of side rant.

Speaking of too much of a good thing. A 100 villains,
really? Because that’s just ridiculous overkill for any hero including Thor and
Hulk to fight let alone for Flash Thompson and not-even-a-scientist Ant Man to
face. If you want to use 100 villains then the heroes need to be dead at the
end of the story because if 100 villains can’t beat four heroes (most of whom
are C-list at best) then we just need to not have super villains anymore
because there’s no threat level. Let me also quibble that I think Diablo is an
arch villain in his own right, unlikely to think of himself as a common criminal
and just should not be present as just another background member of this mob
scene.

Back to 90’s characters I don’t know much about. What’s up with
Vengeance? Now I’ve only seen him in all of one comic I grabbed in a 25-cent
bin but he seemed to be a cop who was trying to use his powers as an anti-hero.
From what I could gather back in the 90s I assumed he was the Ghost Rider
version of Venom: conflicted villain with the hero’s powers whose popularity
made him an anti-hero. In this book he is full on villain but also he is like
this hardcore threat when the other villains are not. Vengeance wins three fights
in this and makes the heroes worry whenever he shows up. Like Venom sees
Vengeance, and notes this a Ghost Rider variant so I’m way out of my league.
No, Ghost Rider is exactly in your league. Brock’s Venom fought him a bunch of
times and was even immune to the Penance Stare. Yet Flash here wilts under
Vengeance’s stare. This makes no sense for two reasons: 1) if a stare that
causes guilt was going to affect someone it would be serious Catholic Eddie
Brock and not over confident jock/war hero Flash Thompson, and 2) how can the
symbiote protect Flash from the Serpent Crown–which in some old school
Avengers stories has been shown to be strong enough to mind control the
population of the entire planet–but the symbiote can’t protect him from a glorified
Care Bear Stare? Also the motorcycle chase seemed so contrived just to get
Vengeance involved. Like when have we ever seen Hawkeye or Taskmaster ride a
motorcycle before? I’m not say they can’t (after all Hawkeye rides a sky cycle
and Taskmaster’s power means he can duplicate any physical skill) but why are
they doing it other than to have a chase scene with Vengeance?

I did like the plot twist where the Serpent crown does not
work for Max Fury because he’s not really alive. And Fury’s despair at learning
all his planning was for nothing was a good scene. I also wonder if this is the
same Abyss who appeared in DNA’s Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy—I mean the
powers seem to be the same but the character was literally exiled from the
universe in that arc. Also why is this character connected to the Serpent Crown
which has always been shown to have been created by the serpent demon Set in order
to bring him back to Earth?

I will say the stakes in the airplane scenes are the best in
the book. The desperation of Venom and Ant Man to stop the planes from taking
off is a good scene. And the Hawkeye-Black Widow fight is a high point.

Hawkeye is also presented as an exceptionally capable hero
throughout this story and I am always on-board with that. It’s nice to see
Hawkeye in a leadership role again since I love the early issues of West Coast
Avengers.

In a general series sense I will say I don’t like the JLA
rip off HQ. I mean they are in a satellite with teleport technology. Besides
being a rip off it’s too much. Why even have Quinjets anymore if you have a
teleporting tower? Why aren’t we teleporting the heroes out of Maylasia if we
need their help? Why aren’t any of the 200 reserve Avengers being called in to
help? It just makes it hard to suspend disbelief that the heroes would ever be
on their own in a serious situation if they have access to casual global teleportation.

Finally WTF is with the team not believing the Black Widow?
Has she ever been wrong about anything spy related? In the modern era she seems
to be second only to Fury in spying so if she says schmuck Ant Man is an LMD
you think at least Hawkeye would believe her on the spot—especially since Pym
is right there calling b*llsh*t on the ant helmet protected him story. Also as
cliffhangers go evil Ant Man does not inspire me to give a crap about your next
trade. We just saw these guys fight 100 villains and a mystical artifact with
global possession power; am I really supposed to think the lamest superhero of
all time gone bad is a threat compared to that?

 

Grade C+. I know
I just ripped this thing apart logically for most of my critical thoughts, but
as you are reading it there is decent dramatic tension. Plus I like Hawkeye and
he’s portrayed very well here. I’m not in any rush to buy another trade from
this series but I also wouldn’t rule out buying another one at a discount price
if I came across it.