Tuesday, June 30, 2009 07:32 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's (semi-)weekly comic book review post.

This post covers new releases from 6/17.

(I should mention that, as usual, this post contains many spoilers.)

Captain America #600
Holy crap is this a big comic book! It took me forever to finish it. It contains six separate stories and a cover gallery in the back. The first story is a reprint called "Origin" by Alex Ross and Paul Dini. It's just a two-page summary of Captain America's origin story, written in simple, rather corny phrases, and in first person from Cap's perspective. It's all done up in red, white, and blue, with your typical Ross-style art (his work is technically impressive, but I'm just not a fan). It's nothing special, but something like this almost had to be included, so okay. Next up is "One Year After" by Ed Brubaker with art by Butch Guice, Howard Chaykin, Rafael Albuquerque, David Aja, and Mitch Breitweiser. This part of the book is itself split up into parts. The important things that Sharon is starting to remember about the day Steve died are suspiciously like retcons, but they're clever and believable, so I'm willing to go along. I was glad to get a look at what the fake Cap has been doing lately - but he apparently hasn't been doing much of anything, and all he has to say is some ancient cliches about how the world was different in his day, and kids these days have no respect. Boring! I was also glad to finally get a look at the "girl without a world" from the Captain America promo ads I've been seeing in all my Marvel comics, but I remain confused as to who she is, exactly. Apparently some young woman from another planet who used to hang out with Cap? But the thing about the secret black Captain America and where he's ended up is sad and moving, and it's rather touching how Patriot welcomes her to join him and the Young Avengers at the vigil for Steve. I particularly like the story about Crossbones and Sin, and how he plows through a bunch of guards to get to her in a twisted romantic gesture. The couple of pages we spend with the Red Skull are fun, as he thinks back on his long and painful relationship with Cap, and suggests there's still more to be revealed about what he did to Steve. And hey, did we already know that he was in one of Zola's robot bodies now? Because I didn't remember that. Creepy! The scene at the vigil at the end of this story is the highlight, however. I love the way Osborn is really blossoming as a character throughout this whole Dark Reign thing; how he cleverly does not turn the vigil into a war zone, but instead manages to use it as a way to make himself look good to the crowd. And the bit where he follows up his show-stealing announcement by bringing out Simon and Garfunkel for a reunion show is really hilarious. Then the big bombshell: Sharon arrives to tell them Steve could still be saved. I think I've said before that I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of them bringing Steve back. On the one hand I like it because I love the character and I'd love to see him return. But on the other hand, dude only just died! I only just got used to Bucky as the new Cap! And I like how Bucky's character is developing now that he's wearing the uniform. Can't anybody stay dead for at least a couple of years around here? Well, anyway, I'll just have to see how they do the resurrection. Maybe it'll be really cool.

The next story, "In Memoriam" (whose title is misspelled as "In Memorium" in the table of contents) is probably the worst one in the book. It's two people having a really clumsy, cheesy conversation that's nothing but thinly veiled backstory and exposition. Blargh. So corny and unsubtle. Roger Stern is the writer, so he is to be blamed (although oddly he also wrote a really good Captain America story in another comic I read this week). It's a shame because Kalman Andrasofszky's art is actually quite good.

Mark Waid provides the words and Dale Eaglesham provides the art for the next story, which is cleverly titled "The Persistence of Memorabilia." Interestingly, Marvel comics about Captain America exist within the Marvel Universe, as well, but in the MU they're fictionalized accounts of real events. It's neat seeing how the auctioning off of the largest collection of Captain America memorabilia in the world brings out many people that Cap helped over the years, hoping to purchase a memory - a piece of the man who touched them. And I'm pretty sure they modeled that old soldier after Stan Lee! Of course, the auction also brings out scumbags and villains. The guy who plans to publish a series of comics painting Steve Rogers as a traitor is a bit ridiculous and over-the-top, but it is fun seeing him get what he deserves. I also love that Tony Stark purchased one of the items.

The next piece is rather odd. It's just a non-fiction essay by Joe Simon, reflecting back on the old days when he and Jack Kirby were working together at Timely. But most of the stuff he has to say about Kirby is not particularly complimentary. He focuses on the guy's absent-mindedness. It is interesting to learn that legal troubles led to the decision to change the shape of Cap's shield to a circle, and how that actually ended up adding to the character and his abilities. But mostly this essay just made me uncomfortable.

The last story in the book is a reprint of a tale called "Red Skull's Deadly Revenge," first published in Captain America Comics #16 in July of 1942, written by Stan Lee with art by Al Avison. This is a pretty cool artifact: an old school Red Skull story! It opens with the Nazi villain busting out of prison in brutal fashion. Next we cut to Steve and Bucky getting into some hijinks at the army base, and then randomly meeting a goofy-looking archer in a beret and short pants doing target practice. But that's no normal archer! It's the Red Skull in disguise! There's a pretty hilarious panel of him prancing along with bow in hand and arrows on his back, screaming threats at America. The Skull ends up horribly wounding Bucky with his arrows, and Cap must rush the boy to a doctor to get him treated. The Skull ambushes and traps Captain America, and then learns his secret identity! Although how he does this is really quite ridiculous. Of course just taking the mask off and looking at Cap's face doesn't do much for him (it's not like Steve Rogers is famous), so he actually takes Cap's wallet out of his back pocket, and learns his enemy's real name from his driver's license! Steve, what the hell?! You carry your wallet and driver's license around with you when you're dressed as Captain America?! That is just plain stupid. Anyway, with Cap imprisoned in the Red Skull's basement, the Skull is free to go on a crime spree. Then, to make things even worse, he steals Cap's uniform and, masquerading as him, steals the nation's defense plans!

At this point, Bucky is finally well enough to get out of bed and go looking for Cap. Naturally he finds his buddy almost immediately and releases him. Then they get spare costumes at a costume shop (heh), and run off after the Red Skull, who's just about to fly back home with America's defense plans. They scare the Skull into falling out of his own plane to his death. The end!

I don't know what the later explanation was for how the Skull survived his tumble to Earth at the end of this story, but I'm sure it was a doozie! This story has a lot of ridiculous moments, and Avison's art is quite odd (his people look gangly and awkward), but it's still fun, and certainly an important and fascinating moment in the history of the conflict between Captain America and the Red Skull.

The last thing in the comic is an impressive and fascinating gallery of what appears to be the cover of every comic ever printed that prominently featured Captain America. I'm amused that for at least a couple of issues during the Golden Age of Timely Comics, Captain America became Captain America's Weird Tales.

So #600 turns out to be a rather uneven collection of Cap stories, featuring moments both powerful and lame. Here's hoping there's more and better to come!
Thumbs Sideways

Captain Britain and MI13 #14
WOW! Paul Cornell totally tricked me. And even though it was a variation on the old "it was all just a dream" gimmick, I still think it was terribly clever and I really enjoyed it. That's because it fits into the plot in a believable fashion, and it doesn't feel lame or unfair; a smart reader probably could have guessed what was going on, just as Dracula did, if he'd been reading more carefully than I was.

It's fascinating to see, not only Dracula's reaction to the deception, but also the heroes' reaction. After all, they just got a glimpse of Dracula's perception of them. Blade is particularly disturbed to realize that Dracula likes fighting him so much that in the Count's ultimate fantasy of victory, Blade was the only one left alive. Of course, besides being disturbed, getting a look at Dracula's vision of ultimate victory also gives the heroes' a glimpse at his strategy and his plan. Good stuff! I love when Pete is about to give Cap his orders, but then breaks off and says, "Nah, I don't need to say a word to you. You're Captain Britain." Cap responds, "I believe we've met," and they fist bump. Heh heh. Awesome. But the good guys have even more cleverness up their sleeves; in another fantastic and exciting sequence a couple of sleeper agents aboard Dracula's vessel are activated and wreak havoc. Excellent. Unfortunately, this doesn't lead to ultimate victory for our heroes. Instead, Doom makes a move that will give Dracula a powerful bargaining chip in the conflict - although Dracula is of two minds about the whole thing: "A gift from [Doom] is a sword - a sword without a hilt!"

A great, great issue of what is shaping up to be a really fantastic series. It's really a shame the thing is canceled. Still, I'm excited to see how it all wraps up.
Thumbs Up

Daily Bugle
This is actually not a comic, but a freebie done up in the style of a newspaper - and printed on newsprint, no less. It's actually quite clever. The premise is that you're looking at the actual issue of the Daily Bugle paper that was released on Friday, October 13th, 1939 on Earth-616. (Btw, I checked and October 13th was indeed a Friday in 1939. Nice touch!) Throughout are references to the mysterious "Marvels" that at the time were just beginning to appear around the world, especially in and around New York City. The writing here is quite subtle and clever; the first article is clearly about Namor the Submariner, but he is never mentioned by name because the reporters didn't know his name at this point, or even whether he was real or not. There are even subtler and cleverer references like this throughout: an article about a new and accomplished female member of the NYPD named Betty Dean; a piece about sightings of a mysterious, beast-like man along the Canadian border (clearly Wolverine, but the artist's sketch accompanying the story shows the man carrying a three-pronged knife because no one has guessed yet that his claws are a part of his body); an article about a young, patriotic artist named Steve Rogers; a piece about a cocky, precocious young kid named Nicholas Fury; a description of a Wild West exhibit containing information on lots of old gunfighters including Kid Colt, the Two-Gun Kid, the Rawhide Kid, and the Masked Raider; then there's the fashion section, with articles about Van Dyne's latest line, the winner of this year's Little Miss Brisket (Miss Patsy Walker), and the latest on the Hanover Agency; intriguing letters to the editor, including one from a patriotic little boy named James Barnes, and another from a man with some rather frightening ideas named Andrew Stryker; and a list of births, which include Ben Parker, Daniel Grimm, and Thaddeus Ross. And that's just a sampling of the stuff I "got;" there are plenty of other little references and allusions in here that went completely over my head. It's a brilliant little in-universe construct and I really enjoy both the concept and the execution.
Thumbs Up

Dark Reign: Young Avengers #2
I love the clever ways comics are doing their recap/credits pages these days. This one does it as a post on a superhero gossip website. I enjoy that Coat of Arms starts the two teams fighting just because that's what happens in comics when two teams meet like this. It's also interesting to see the various surprising connections that exist between these two teams. Coat of Arms knows Speed! And Executioner knows Hawkeye! And the Executioner's mom is... some kind of snake-themed supervillain! Woah! Enchantress wants to be a part of the real Avengers team, and is even more tongue-tied than usual to find herself fighting its members. She's also way more powerful than she realizes, which is intriguing; she's even able to use her power to alter the other team member's viewpoints without them noticing. Some favorite moments: Coat of Arms' triptych of the Green Goblin - "Pop," "Crackle," and a very famous "SNAP!" So wrong, and yet so right. The conversation between Hulkling and Wiccan about Big Zero: "I could do without the one with the I-can't-believe-it's-not-Nazi-tattoos." "Maybe she just likes Cabaret." Melter's disturbing nightmare. And Executioner's creepy relationship with his creepy Mom. Now the plot's taking an interesting turn, with the real Young Avengers demanding that the new ones try out to join the team. This ought to be good.

Really enjoying this series! It's so twisted and clever. Excellent work again, Mr. Cornell!
Thumbs Up

Destroyer #3
Man, this is one brutal and bloody series! And the most brutal character of all is the hero. I mean, dude tortures villains to death for information! And when he gets caught in a trap set by Scar, his arch enemy, he sets one of his own; he lets himself be beat to a bloody pulp by the Scar's henchmen, saving up all his energy and waiting for the right moment to use it on Scar himself. And how does he kill Scar? He rips the dude's arm off with his bare hands and shoves it down his throat. Then he punches him over and over and over until everything in the immediate vicinity is bright red with blood.

This seems like the end of the story, but as Destroyer points out, he's still alive, so nothing's over yet! He's going to kill and keep killing until he can't kill anymore! God bless him.

This was a slightly less interesting issue of this series than the previous ones have been - perhaps because the ending was a bit anticlimactic, and the story had fewer twists - but it was still pretty freaking awesome. I'm confused as to how there can still be two issues left, but I'm looking forward to reading them regardless.
Thumbs Up

Final Crisis: Aftermath - Dance #2
Now our heroes are in Vegas, and are being filmed for their own reality show! But it's all part of another attempt to keep them from realizing what's actually going on in the world - especially what's going on in Japan. Their PR guy says, "Take a look around," and the speedster replies, "I already did. Saw all the rooms. Just now. Not bad. Seen better." I love that guy. The team finds a supervillain nearby, so they attack him, just for the hell of it, but eventually a truce is called ("Not the face! Not the face!") and he actually ends up helping them out. Great scene. Meanwhile, Shiny Happy Aquazon decides to accept the chance to endorse a product, but the thing turns out to be a drug created by Brain Drain to take over the minds of the populace. Luckily the rest of the team swoops in and together they save the day. "Did something unusual happen?" "Nothing too complex. Forced binary fission via sonic death wail." Nice. I'm also still really loving Most Excellent Superbat's constant Twitter commentary. I can't believe this miniseries is so good! Looking forward to the next issue.
Thumbs Up

Incognito #4
Hmm. Turns out the good guys are maybe not so good after all. They've apparently been doing mind-altering surgeries on the bad guys, often lobotomizing them by mistake. But their attempt to alter the mind of Black Death didn't take. (Funny fact: I'm pretty sure Colonel von Chance, the dude with the one bionic eye, is this universe's version of Nick Fury.) At first it seems like Overkill's going to be in even worse shape than before - stuck back into his old life, powerless, just waiting for the bad guys to show up and tear him to pieces. Then an unlikely savior swoops in to take him away from all of that. But is he really any better off with her?

It's a pretty harsh and darkly funny irony that Zack is identified as the guy who knew Farmer best and is asked to say a few words at a memorial for him at work. Zack is the one who got Farmer killed, and he never even knew the guy's first name!

I really love the scenes where the Black Death's lawyer comes to talk to him in prison, and their real conversation occurs telepathically. This time it looks like Black Death has some nasty plans for Zack that involve someone called The Sleeper. He starts laughing menacingly, and one of the guards listening says, "Okay, now that is fucking creepy." Heh. At the end we get a fascinating clue as to how powerful and special the Black Death really is: apparently he's 200 years old and it's taking enough energy to light the eastern seaboard just to keep his powers from working.

Still loving this book! In the back is an interesting essay by Jess Nevins (who's an interesting guy himself; I follow him on Twitter, where he's known, appropriately enough, as @jessnevins). It's about a pulp hero called Operator #5 who had some unique and epic battles with the "Yellow Peril." As usual, a fascinating look at the literary tradition that this comic comes out of.
Thumbs Up

Jack of Fables #35
Poor Old Sam. Turns out he isn't up to destroying the pen after all. Babe gets two pages this issue; he spends the first trashing Snoopy, and the second doing some meta-commentary on how he's not used to having two pages. Then he wanders off. Deux Ex Machina drops in again for a little more tantalizing foreshadowing, there's some further amusing literary parody involving the genres... and then Bigby flies in and gets positively beast-like, tearing the genres to bloody bits! Wow, that was unexpectedly brutal! Anyway, now that that's taken care of, and Frost has joined the team, it's time for a final assault on Ken, which will take place in the last part of the crossover: Literals #3. It's been entertaining, and exciting.
Thumbs Up

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Official Movie Adaptation #1
I'm happy to say I did not pay money for this; I got it for free at the preview screening I attended. Stunningly, the comic is even more rushed, clumsy, confusing, and poorly written than the film. For some reason, even though they weren't able to fit the entire plot of the movie into this comic (it ends just as Megatron is resurrected), and there is apparently no follow-up comic (the message on the final page says "To be continued in the movie Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," and not "To be continued in issue #2"), they apparently were obligated to fit in a certain amount of the story in the 24 pages allotted them, and in order to do so, they cut out details left and right, making things even more puzzling than they already were. It's hard to blame writer Simon Furman too much, as he had little to work with here, but... wow. This is bad.
Thumbs Down

X-Men Origins: Gambit #1
Speaking of bad, here's this comic! I'm fascinated by the character of Gambit - his cool abilities; the fact that he can use playing cards as weapons - but I didn't know a lot about him, so I figured this would be a good comic to pick up. But no. Even though this is supposed to be an origin story, it turns out it's the kind of origin story where you have to already know the character's origin to understand it! It takes huge leaps through time to various selected scenes in Gambit's life, and assumes you'll be able to fill in the blanks yourself. Which would be annoying enough. But then there's the painfully clumsy, melodramatic dialog; the choppy, poorly paced plot; and, perhaps worst of all, Gambit's painfully awful accent. And that's not to mention Gambit's irritating habit of randomly dropping into French occasionally (um, I can't read French! Dick). I've also never been a fan of Mister Sinister. He's just so ridiculous, with his huge cape and his silly makeup.

I'm really disappointed in author Mike Carey. I don't understand how this guy can be such an uneven talent. I know I've read good things by him in the past, but how could somebody who's any good put out a piece of rubbish like this? If he'd settled down and chosen to tell just one story from Gambit's life, and if he'd also taken the time to polish the dialog a lot more than he has, he might have been able to make it interesting and moving. But this comic jumps around so much, and is written so very poorly, you don't even get to know the characters' names before he's moving you on to something else entirely. You don't have time to get involved as a reader, and consequently you don't care about anything that happens. It doesn't help that artists David Yardin and Ibraim Roberson do some pretty clumsy and ugly work, especially on the characters' faces. Just a tremendously bad comic.
Thumbs Down

Young Allies 70th Anniversary Special #1
Yes, it's time for another 70th anniversary one-shot special! This one focuses on some characters I'd never heard of before: a band of regular kids who fought alongside Cap, Bucky, and Toro, and who were known as the Young Allies. Contained in this collection is one new story, followed by reprints of three old stories. The new story is by Roger Stern with art by Paolo Rivera and it's quite moving and excellent. I love the page of old school art that leads into Bucky's flashback to when he first met the Young Allies, followed by another great little flashback about one of their adventures fighting the Red Skull. This story once again brings up the interesting fact, mentioned further up this post, that Marvel comics, including the old ones about Bucky and the Young Allies, are supposed to exist on Earth-616 as well as on our Earth. Bucky and his friends add another interesting dimension to this postmodern concept when they say here that the comics exaggerate the truth, "inventing wild fantasies about us." That's a rather neat way to retcon! Now they can deny and remove from canon any events they don't like from the old comics.

But anyway. Bucky's reunion with his old pals is really quite powerful. It's great seeing the flashback to their final mission together, and then reading a quick catchup on what the Young Allies have been up to since then. Bucky gets a chance to confess all his sins to his old friends, and receives in return a measure of closure and redemption. I have to say I choked up a bit at the very end, when he pours the last of the brandy out, salutes the monument, and says, "It was a privilege to serve with you." Excellent writing by Stern - who manages to include lots of exposition and recapping without being boring - and lovely, classical art by Rivera.

Next up is a vintage ad for the Sentinels of Liberty fan club, then a short text story about the Young Allies by Stan Lee. Wash mentioned in the previous story that he was made out to be some kind of ridiculous stereotype in these old comics, and boy was he right! I'm surprised Marvel had the guts to reprint this story, in which Wash is horribly stereotyped before he's even named: "'Hey, look where you-all am goin'!' cried one of the boys, as he dropped a piece of watermelon out of his hand." Argh! With the watermelon, even! The story itself is a simple and even rather dull adventure involving the Allies overhearing a plot to steal American secrets and thwarting said plot with the help of Captain America. Next up is another ad for the Sentinels of Liberty fan club, and then a comic starring "The School Boy Sleuth, Terry Vance." I'd never heard of this character before, but he turns out to be your typical young amateur detective, who happens to be accompanied by a real live monkey sidekick named Dr. Watson. Like a lot of Golden Age comics, it's a simple, ridiculous story, clumsily plotted, but fun in its own way. The last story in the book is another prose piece by Stan Lee about the Young Allies and Bucky helping Captain America stop people who are trying to steal American secrets. It's practically the same story we already read a handful of pages ago. The very end of the book is more interesting: it's a collection of vintage ads, puzzles, and games, including a wonderful ad for All Winners #4, which starred Captain America, Human Torch, Sub Mariner, Destroyer, and Whizzer. Sweet!

I really enjoyed the modern story in this comic, and the reprints and accompanying material are, as usual, vaguely entertaining, but more interesting as historical curiosities than anything else.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Captain America (Not), Captain Britain (Not), Comic books (Not), Ed Brubaker (Not), Fables (Not), Final Crisis (Not), Jack of Fables (Not), Mike Carey (Not), Paul Cornell (Not), The Take (Not), Transformers (Not), X-Men (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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