Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America

The death of a major character isn’t exactly treading new water. It’s happened countless times and become a bit of a running joke. Still, Captain America is just about the highest-profile character that Marvel had targeted in some time, and his death is treated with all the emotional gravitas and status-quo altering implications you would expect.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

fallen son coverWriter: Jeph Loeb

Artists: John Cassaday, David Finch, Ed McGuinness, John Romita, Leinil Francis Yu

Issues: Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #1-5

Captain America’s famous death at the end of the superhero Civil War presents a bit of a tricky problem in the way I organize my Final Thoughts. I typically read a collected Volume (or several) or omnibus of a single series, then write about it.

The problem is that Cap doesn’t actually die at the end of Civil War he’s arrested after he willingly surrenders to prevent more devastation. A few months go by in Early 2007 before his trial in Captain America #25, and it’s there that he’s gunned down by a combination of Crossbone’s sniper rifle and a brainwashed Sharon Carter. That crucial issue is part of a massive collected omnibus (also titled The Death of Captain America) that begins with issue #22 (Cap’s Civil War tie-ins) all the way to #42, which covers nearly two years.

Thus I would either have to break up that omnibus into multiple Final Thoughts, or wait and talk about Cap’s important death far into the future. Neither are great options. Thankfully the solution presents itself quite nicely in the form of this lovely limited series.

Fallen Son was written as a tribute to Steve Rogers’ legacy, allowing some of the biggest heroes in Marvel to reflect and deal with his tragic death in their own ways. Each of the five issues includes a different artist, showcasing a myriad of styles (from fantastic to okay). Each issue was cleverly written to represent the classic five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Fallen son #2“Denial” stars Wolverine (perfect!) who just can’t believe Cap is really dead. With the help of Dr. Strange’s magic, he and Daredevil infiltrate the SHIELD helicarrier, interrogating Crossbones and finally seeing Cap’s body for themselves. The reeling New Avengers and newly formed, government-sanctioned Mighty Avengers crossover in the interesting “Anger” issue. Most of the issue is constructed with the two very different stories going on side-by-side, as each group supposedly works through their emotions. Iron Man’s team fights off Tiger Shark and a bunch of sea monsters, while the New Avengers tackle a less action-packed but far more intriguing poker game that nearly comes to blows between the arguing heroes.

Spider-man leaves the group in a huff, segueing nicely into the fourth issue where he visits a graveyard; all his personal losses come bubbling up in a fantastic rain-soaked cemetery. The only one that really fell flat for me was the third issue, “Bargaining,” which stars a recently resurrected Hawkeye as Iron Man offers him the job of wearing the shield and uniform of Captain America. It crosses over with some of the super lame Young Avengers and the art is the worst of the bunch.

The final issue pays off in the form of Captain America’s funeral, an impressive set-piece in Washington D.C. filled with most of the winning side of the war. Falcon, Cap’s longtime partner, gives a stirring speech that lasts nearly the length of the issue, cutting away nicely to various famous scenes of Captain America, both old and new. Tony Stark meanwhile continues to look like a complete and utter asshole, event when he’s supposed to be remorseful and guilt-stricken.

fallen son #5

The death of a major character isn’t exactly treading new water. It’s happened countless times and become a bit of a running joke. Still, Captain America is just about the highest-profile character that Marvel had targeted in some time, and his death is treated with all the emotional gravitas and status-quo altering implications you would expect. It flows out naturally from Civil War and helps set the state of the fear-mongering, government-controlled era in the Marvelverse that would persist for the next three years (Cap himself comes back in two, still an impressively long time for any hero).

Civil War is about as required reading as you can get, and Fallen Son acts as both a wonderfully somber epilogue to those events, as well as a fitting tribute to one of Marvel’s greatest all time heroes. Rest in Peace, Cap.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 4-5

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

new avengers #16 coverWriter: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Steve McNiven (#16), Mike Deodato (#17-20), Howard Chaykin (#21), Leinil Francis Yu (#22), Olivier Coipel (#23), Adi Granov (#24), Jim Cheung (#25)

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #16-25

If you were looking for a series heavily mired in ongoing Marvel continuity and events, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend anything before New Avengers. Writer Brian Michael Bendis has been instrumental in ushering in the age of events that has dominated Marvel comics for the last decade, and New Avengers was his main ongoing series that picked up after “Avengers Disassembled,” leading through the events of Civil War and Dark Reign and culminating in Siege.

The first three story arcs (see Final Thoughts – New Avengers, Vol. 1-3) set up the reason for the new team and gave them some room to stretch and grow. The next two arcs – Volume Four’s “The Collective” and Volume Five’s “New Avengers Disassembled,” are very reflective of the state of the Marvel universe, and would be incredibly confusing for anyone that wasn’t also keeping up with other trades and series.

Thankfully I’ve been diving into Marvel comics whole-heartedly. “The Collective” finally answers the question that was posed at the end of House of M – If so many mutants lost their powers, where did all that power go? Turns out they were all absorbed by a quiet mutant living in Alaska. Michael Pointer had no idea he was a mutant – his power was to absorb other powers (Like Rogue I suppose) and he had never lived near any other mutants.

The resulting influx of millions of mutant powers makes him an energy being of god-like power, and he destroys his poor hometown and everyone in it in a sudden rampage. Alpha Flight is called in to stop him as he travels through Canada to America, and he promptly wipes them out (Which begets a new team called Omega Flight at the end of Civil War). The Avengers are called in to deal with them, as well as some guest stars like Ms. Marvel. Most of the story is spent simply keeping him at bay (mainly using Sentry’s equally god-like powers) while they figure out just who the hell he is, and the mystery and reveal is quite cool.

new avengers #18

The combined mutant powers eventually leave Pointer’s body and enter’s Magneto, now powerless and writing his memoirs in the ruins of Genosha. I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve enjoyed Magneto’s older post-war attitude, so it’s fitting that he fights the possession every step of the way. It all ties back into Xorn, which is the overly confusing and frankly terrible plot web that tangled up the X-Men just before the era I returned to in Marvel continuity (circa 2004).

Thankfully it’s handled much better here – Magneto/Xorn raises the dead bodies of mutants while our New Avengers battle them in an epic climax. Agent Daisy Johnson (whom is apparently Skye in the Agents of SHIELD TV show) is brought in by SHIELD to cause a localized quake in Magneto’s mind, ripping Xorn from his body. Sentry then hurls the energy ball into the sun. Does this effectively destroy the last vestiges of all those lost mutant powers? Either way it was a fun, action-packed story and neat way to tie into a dangling thread from House of M.

new avengers #23On the other hand the “New Avengers Disassembled” story arc is nothing more than a series of single issue tie-ins that attempts to shed some background light on some of the team members during the events of Civil War. Each issue is drawn by different artists with very different art styles, so it’s a bit jarring to read them one after the other. The five issues serve as one-offs for Captain America, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, Sentry and Iron Man. Luke Cage and Spider-Woman were the best; Cage and Iron Man have a deliciously tense discussion over the Superhuman Registration Act (Luke Cage would go on to join Captain America’s resistance team), while Spider-Woman’s personal arc with Hydra fits nicely for a one-off adventure where they try to openly recruit her – and her answer involves driving a speedboat away from an explosion.

The Civil War stories are a good example of when an event completely stalls another series. While the event itself is fantastic, New Avengers definitely suffered and was hamstrung into doing side stories with little to no actual plot development. In my perusal of more than half the Civil War tie-ins, it was definitely one of the worst.

However, I do look forward to the new world order that’s created after that massive event as Tony Stark creates his own officially government sanctioned Avengers team in Mighty Avengers, while New Avengers continues on as an underground resistance still fighting the good fight.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Civil War

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Civil War #1Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Steve McNiven

Issues: Civil War #1-7*

*I also cover the following tie-ins: Iron Man: Civil War, Civil War: Thunderbolts, The Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War, Civil War: Choosing Sides, Civil War: The Confession

 

“Was it worth it?”

In the excellent one-shot issue Civil War: The Confession, written a few months after the main events of Civil War, Tony Stark visits Captain America on the helicarrier and spends about a dozen pages trying to justify why he did what he did, eventually breaking down crying. The last panel reveals that Stark had been talking to the body of the murdered Steve Rogers, and he quietly sobbed the reply that Cap had asked him when he was first arrested – “It wasn’t worth it.”

Civil War marked a huge turning point in Marvel comics production. While House of M successfully pulled together many of Marvel’s heroes and included numerous tie-ins, it had the distinct advantage of taking place in an entirely different reality (though it did have long-lasting consequences).

The events of Civil War built upon the longstanding X-Men plot hook of the Mutant Registration Act, only this time applying it to all costumed superheroes (and oddly enough leaving the X-Men pretty much out of it). A young group of reality TV starring superheroes attack a villain hideout, only to get in over their head when they try to apprehend Nitro near a school. Nitro unleashes his explosive attack, killing hundreds of innocent people, including dozens of kids.

The public is understandably outraged in the wake of this tragedy and the Superhuman Registration Act, which requires all super-powered people to officially register with the government (divulging their secret identity among other things) swiftly passes through Congress. Tony Stark had seen this coming in his crossover with Amazing Spider-Man (see The Road to Civil War) and tried to fight it, but with public and political opinion so strongly swayed he immediately decides to switch gears and become the leader and figurehead for registration in an attempt to make the transition as easy as possible.

Captain America is not so easily convinced it’s a good thing, and believes the Act is a gross infringement on the civil rights of superheroes. In the first issue he escapes the SHIELD helicarrier and becomes a wanted man. Soon he gathers together a resistance formed of many of his allies in the New Avengers and Young Avengers to create an underground rebellion, and the core of Civil War is about the two opposing sides.

Civil War is unique among my Final Thoughts as the one TPB and event that I’d actually read before. The story of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 depicts most of Civil War (albeit with a much different final act) and as someone that’d been out of the comic loop for awhile I was interesting in reading about it. I was fairly lost on many points – why is Thor a robot clone, who are the Young Avengers, where are the X-Men, why is Tony Stark such a dick, etc. But as a single seven issue event, it does tell an epic, heart-wrenching story about friendship, politics and the horrors of war.

Re-reading it this many years later and armed with all the rapid comic knowledge I’ve acquired has been immensely rewarding. I get a better understanding of where Stark’s coming form (though he still comes off as a cocky, manipulative jerk in the main story) and I recognize many of the faces that show up to the big battles.

Civil War #6

There are only two direct battles in the main story; the first has the anti-registration team stumbling into a trap set by Stark, and Goliath is killed by Stark’s and Mr. Fantastic’s secret weapon – a clone of Thor called Ragnarok. Many are horrified by the events of that battle (which spans issues #3 and #4), and Sue Richards suddenly switches sides and protects them with a forefield so they can escape. The Fantastic Four are split down the middle as Sue and Johnny flee to join the resistance, while Reed remains a major player for the pro-registration side, designing a prison in the Negative Zone to house all the captured superheroes and villains.

The biggest side-switcher in the conflict is Spider-Man. In the events leading up to Civil War it’s clear he wants to help Stark fight it, and when Stark decides to join up Parker follows suit with his Stark-built spidey-suit. Tony convinces Peter Parker that unmasking on national television would galvanize both the public and the superpowered community into supporting registration, so Spider-Man finally reveals himself as Peter Parker in a memorable scene at the end of issue #2.

Unfortunately this reveal pretty much ruins his life, which is detailed in the excellent Amazing Spider-Man tie-ins. He and his family (Aunt May and Mary Jane) are attacked by mobs of people (both fans and protesters). J. Jonah Jameson blows a gasket and The Daily Bugle sues him for millions. Aunt May is shot and put in a coma. Parker makes Stark take him to the Negative Zone prison, and he’s horrified to learn that they’re imprisoning people permanently for not registering (plus, Reed and Tony are making billions in government contracts).

civil war spider-man editAll this adds up and Peter Parker switches sides, battling Iron Man (after fighting Cap earlier in a fun one-on-one melee) and going on the run before sneaking onto national television to declare his new intentions. I was originally going to skip the Spider-Man tie-ins, as the Spider-verse has a fairly dense continuity and I’ve honestly never been a big spidey-fan, but Civil War really gives him plenty of room to shine and squirm, and he becomes the defacto protagonist trying to do the right thing during a war with terrible things happening on both sides. Even if you’re not a Spider-Man fan, I would highly recommend reading his Civil War tie-ins (including the issues leading up in Road to Civil War) to get a bigger picture of the whole event.

The main trade ends with the epic final battle between the two sides. Cap and company get inside the Negative Zone prison thanks to Black Panther and Punisher sneaking into Stark and Baxter buildlings. Tigra had been spying on the rebels for Stark, so they were there to meet them, but Cap pulls his own ace in the hole, and Hank Pym (Yellowjacket) reveals that he’s been a shape-shifted Hulkling all day, and was able to free everyone that was imprisoned. The giant slug-fest we’ve been waiting or is unleashed in the final issue, but when Cloak tries to teleport everyone out of the prison, he drops them in the middle of New York City and the resulting battle causes widespread collateral damage – exactly the catastrophe this new registration was working to avoid.

Lots of cool little fight scenes break out: Spider-man is faster than Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman fiercely retaliates against Taskmaster when he shoots Reed, Iron Man punches Human Torch in the face, Captain America is beaten up by nanite-controlled supervillains consisting of Lady Deathstrike, Venom and Bullseye, Namor shows up with a bunch of atlanteans to even the odds for the resistance, Vision punches Iron man through the chest while Hercules smashes the Thor clone.

civil war #7It finally ends just as Cap is about to deliver the final blow to a disabled and broken Iron Man. A bunch of civilians tackle Captain America to the ground and beg him to stop. Cap takes a look around at the devastation this war has wrought and weeps, surrendering to nearby authorities and putting an end to the war. In fighting for the values and rights of the people he recognized that it was a costly battle, and he was unwilling to pay the price in innocent lives. It’s a poignant, heart-breaking end as Iron Man’s new Initiative comes to fruition – a registered super team in all fifty states.

Like House of M, Civil War had a massive impact that rippled throughout the Marvel Universe for years to come. The New Avengers series kept going, but centered on the surviving members of the anti-registration resistance who continued to operate in secrecy, while a new official Avengers team was launched in Mighty Avengers. New registered superhero teams would be trained in Avengers: The Initiative. Captain America would be shot and killed a few months after his arrest, though his fantastic solo series would continue on as friends and allies help take up the mantle. The ex-villain Thunderbolts would be gutted and reconstructed as an official supervillians-working-for-superheroes team (with interesting ramifications in the future).

The massive one-shot issue Civil War: Choosing Sides acts similarly to Decimation: The Day After in launching many of the new series in the emerging era, including Irredeemable Ant-Man, Immortal Iron Fist and a new Canadian team to replace Alpha Flight (which was slain during the events of New Avengers Vol. 4) – Omega Flight (which ran for an embarrassing five issues). Oh, and also a randomly funny story involving Howard the Duck trying to register. It was a fun one-shot that was made up of several different stories written and drawn by different people, serving as a nice springboard to multiple new series.

Another massive one-shot issue was written at the end of Civil War, called The Initiative. Like Choosing Sides this comic also included a lot of mini-stories introducing the new teams that emerge from the Superhero Registration Act – namely Omega Flight, Thunderbolts and Mighty Avengers. These one-shot issues helped cement Marvel’s new era of massive events as global game-changers to the status and situations of every character and series.

civil war the initiative omega flight

I really enjoyed the event itself, and many of the tie-in issues cleverly incorporated interesting background information or side-plots. But other series suffer for it as their own plots are sidelined to deal with the events of Civil War, such as the first few issues of The Death of Captain America trade and the official Thunderbolts tie-ins (which centers around Baron Zemo’s team of reformed villains working with Iron Man to capture heroes). Iron Man’s two-issue solo tie-ins are similarly pointless, though they do paint a slightly better picture of Tony as a conflicted man rather than a self-imposing asshole (the TPB also includes The Confession, which is amazing). I also had to skip some tie-ins just for the sake of my own sanity, including Wolverine’s solo series tie-ins (can’t stand that manga/cartoony art style) and a mini-crossover between Young Avengers and Runaways.

Plus, my beloved X-Men aren’t anywhere to be found, other than a single brief scene where Tony Stark visits the X-Mansion and tries to get them to help (there is a mini-series tie-in that shoehorns them in involving Bishop, which I skipped). Being used to hunted and hated Emma Frost quickly refuses, but agrees to remain neutral in the conflict (and they’re still pretty much licking their wounds from the Decimation). It makes sense for the x-Men to stay out of it, and frankly the war is full of enough superheroes as it is, but as a big X-Men fan it’s still a bummer, and forever makes Civil War just not as interesting to me as other events and stories that star my favorite mutants.

civil war the initiative

Civil War was a massive critical and commercial success. The storyline was recognizable and very human – civil rights and the endless debate between freedom and security. It lasted over half a year beginning in the Summer of 2006 and, according to Marvel Unlimited, including nearly 100 official tie-in issues from nearly every ongoing series at the time. The age of events was here to say, and has continued on in varying degrees of great to horrid in the years since. Civil War is still considered one of the best events they’ve ever done, and clearly important enough to even warrant its own big screen adaptation in the upcoming third Captain America film.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Captain America: Red Menace

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Red Menace coverWriter: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Mike Perkins, Steve Epting

Issues: Captain America (2004-2011) #15-21

Writing a follow-up adventure to the excellent Winter Soldier story that kicked off Captain America’s gritty and personal run that began in 2004 could’ve easily crashed and burned under the weight of high expectations. The newly crafted Winter Soldier could’ve been exploited to rehash more of Steve Rogers’ tumultuous emotions and responsibilities toward his former sidekick turned brain-washed villain turned questionable outlaw. What we get instead is a nice story that includes Bucky as a piece of a much larger tale involving the not-quite-so-dead Red Skull that was teased at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Red Menace contains two main story arcs, though the trade itself is much shorter than Winter Soldier’s, clocking in at seven total issues. In the first story Cap and Agent 13 visit a small town as part of their ongoing search for Bucky Barnes, who’s seemingly on a personal vendetta against those who used him. Something’s not quite right, and eventually they stumble upon a hidden AIM base underground.

Captain America crossbones & sinThose events almost make up the ‘B’ story to the bigger focus on our villains – Crossbones and the newly deprogrammed Sin (Red Skull’s daughter). During one of the issues in Winter Soldier, Crossbones stole a somewhat rehabilitated Sin from a government facility, and he spends the entire first issue here deprogramming her with physical and verbal abuse. It never veers into crazy dark territory but it did make me a bit uncomfortable at times, and when Sin ’emerges’ to embrace her captor it’s all the more heartbreaking. It’s a bold start to a new story to focus completely on the villains – Cap doesn’t even make an appearance in issue #15!

At the AIM laboratory our heroes and villains finally cross paths, but our evil duo manages to escape, hoping to track down Red Skull’s killer. The Skull, as teased in Winter Soldier, now inhabits the body of the villainous Aleksander Lukin, and the two share some neat Jekyll and Hyde scenes together.

The plot leads Captain America to London in the four part “21st Century Blitz,” where he meets up with British heroes Union Jack and Spitfire as they untangle the dark threads that Lukin has crafted. The story remains straightforward and fun as Cap and company spy on Lukin and follow leads, eventually battling against a new version of the Nazi’s Master Man, and culminating in an epic battle against a giant reawakened robot from World War II. Spitfire and Union Jack are used effectively as both witty allies and powerful combatants, and we finally get to see an awesome team-up and reunion between Rogers and Bucky to defeat the gigantic foe.

Unfortunately the intriguing criminal duo from the last story arc are sidelined a bit here to make room for our multiple heroes and menacing Red Skull/Lukin mixture.  Crossbones and Sin show up in London with intent to blow up Lukin’s building, eventually capturing Agent 13. It’s annoying that as strong and responsible as Sharon is in these stories, she manages to get herself captured in just about every story arc.

Red Menace isn’t quite as tight as or as personal as Winter Soldier but it does offer a fun plot and continuation of the Lukin/Red Skull villain, and the climax with Cap and Bucky is very fun and rewarding. Ed Brubaker continues to make this run of Captain America absolutely phenomenal, and the art work remains as consistently great as the previous story. Bring on Civil War!

captain america #20

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 1-3

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis new avengers issue 1

Artists: David Finch, Steve Mcniven, Frank Cho

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #1-15

The Avengers have disassembled – long live the New Avengers!

I was honestly never a big Avengers guy until the Marvel Cinematic Universe came along and suddenly made me care about the likes of Iron Man and Captain America. In 2004 Marvel kicked off what would be the first of many large-scale events and shake-ups with “Avengers: Disassembled,” a story arc that would finish off the then prolific Avengers series after some notable deaths.

Of course no way Marvel actually goes without an ongoing Avengers series, and thus the New Avengers were started, with now main Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis at the helm. Our new team comes together by sheer happenstance in the first story arc, “Breakout,” when a high-tech supervillian prison known as The Raft is shut down by Electro and dozens of villains begin escaping. Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and Luke Cage are there to meet up with an unknown superhero that may be imprisoned there, The Sentry (which foreshadows the next story arc), while SHIELD Agent Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman) escorts them. When the prison begins its exciting breakout, Captain America arrives with more SHIELD agents, Spider-man tags along to help out, and finally Iron Man shows up to see what all the hubbub is about.

While it leads to some silly comic moments of “Hey! I’m here to help out and fight bad guys with y’all,” the prison scene is still an exciting backdrop and a fun opportunity for some harrowing fights. Carnage was one of the escapees, and begins kicking the crap out of Luke Cage, Spider-Woman and Daredevil before The Sentry mysteriously grabs him and flings him into space. Spider-man gets thrown into the prison and literally surrounded by various minor and random villains, savagely beaten and left with a broken arm before Cap and company can fight their way in.

new avengers issue 2

By the end of the ordeal they tally that over 40 supervillains have escaped the prison. Based on the way this group of heroes were able to quickly lock down the situation, Cap proposes that they form a new Avengers team to help track down the loose ends. Their first lead takes them to the Savage Land and Karl Lykos, a.k.a. Sauron. The team stumbles upon Wolverine who’s there because of reasons and the whole group is swiftly captured, and then fights a bunch of Savage Land Mutates. Other SHIELD agents show up and there appears to be a vast conspiracy with something they’re mining in the Savage Land before it all blows up.

“Breakout” serves as an exciting jumping on point for this new team of Avengers that includes a few fresh faces as well as a hodgepodge of famous heroes. The team itself isn’t super balanced ability-wise. Cap, Cage and Wolverine are all melee fighters, while Iron Man provides the only real firepower (Daredevil turns the team down during the official recruitment issue, presumably to stick with his own successful solo series at the time). Spider-Man provides all the comic relief you’d expect while Spider-Woman fills the role of the token woman…at least until her ongoing shadowy side plot is further explored in the third story arc, “Secrets and Lies.”

New avengers issue 9After “Breakout” the team digs into the mystery surrounding the superhero The Sentry in the next story arc, aptly titled “Sentry.” Turns out the Sentry is an extremely powerful hero that had his mind wiped by Mastermine, as well as the minds of anyone that ever meets him. The New Avengers want to recruit him into the fold, but first they have to unlock his mind. They call in Emma Frost of the X-Men, and we’re treated to a cavalcade of cameos as the X-Men, Inhumans and Fantastic Four help battle The Sentry’s terrifyingly manifested demons as Emma works to heal his mind.

“Sentry” also introduces to the Illuminati, a group of the world’s most powerful figures (all men, sadly) that make major decisions in secrecy. The Illuminati is composed of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Professor X, Black Bolt and Namor, and we get some fun scenes as Iron Man attempts to explain his new Avengers team.

new avengers issue 7 illuminati

Volume 3, “Secrets and Lies” follows the trail of one of our villainous escapees from the Raft, The Silver Samurai. The evil ninja clan The Hand brought him back to Japan and wants to prop him up as their figurehead, but Harada was simply imprisoned without trial or explanation by SHIELD and wants no part of it. The plot is mostly our heroes fighting a bunch of ninjas as they introduce a new mysterious ninja-hero known as Ronin, but quickly takes a backseat to exploring where Jessica’s loyalties lie as she seemingly makes contact with HYDRA.

Turns out she’s working for an off-the-grid Nick Fury directly and implanted as a mole to help HYDRA, even though HYDRA were able to restore her waning powers. By the end of the arc we’re still not completely sure if she’s playing both sides or ultimately working for one and betraying the other, but the double agent duty certainly takes its toll on her psychologically, and there’s a touching scene between her and Captain America where he’s both firm and sympathetic. I fully expected Spider-Woman to be nothing more than the eye-candy token female hero and was pleasantly surprised to find that she’s by far the most interesting character on the roster.

Despite using three different artists in the first fifteen issues, the art remains consistent and pleasantly comic book-y, that is with just enough exaggerated cartoon style that I dig it. The art and writing together aren’t anything to write home about but the New Avengers provides a wonderful baseline experience for simple fun comic book action and character development. I’m perfectly fine with other series’ experimenting with art and storytelling or delving deep into individual character psyche’s, but New Avengers is definitely more of a fun Summer blockbuster, and a big reason why comics are just plain fun in the first place.

With writer Bendis at the helm the series was lovingly mired in current Marvel events and continuity, making it one of the main ongoing series to read throughout the years it was active (an impressive six years and 64 issues). I definitely plan on sticking with the entire run, and using it when I want to turn my thinking cap down a few notches and just enjoy the ride.

New Avengers issue 15

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Captain America: Winter Soldier

Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Writer: Ed Brubaker winter soldier cover

Artists: Steve Epting, Michael Lark

Issues: Captain America (2004-2011) #1-9, #11-14*

*Issue #10 is a one-off House of M tie-in, and I’ll discuss it when I write about House of M.

Aside from being the obvious major storyline that inspired the latest Captain America film, the massive 13 issue “Winter Soldier” arc also serves as an excellent jumping-on point for Captain America (as it should be considering it’s #1). Thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe I’m very interested in reading more about Captain America, and these issues provide a ton of World War II backstory, Cap working with SHIELD, Nick Fury and Agent 13 and several fun guest stars like Tony Stark and Falcon.

The biggest shocker comes at who the Winter Soldier actually is, which obviously I already knew thanks to the film (and the fact that this story is 10 years old). Being armed with that knowledge is a bit unfortunate and causes the big buildup in the first issues (“Out of Time”) to lose some of its edge.

The comic does do an excellent job exploring Steve Rogers’ past in the war and particularly his relationship with Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, which is easily the best hero-sidekick relationship I’ve seen (it helps that Bucky is only a few years younger and they’re both equal soldiers – Cap just has the super soldier serum). Entire flashbacks and pages (and really an entire issue) is spent painstakingly delving into Cap’s past with Bucky and the war, but it all works really well, and is especially helpful and entertaining for someone like me that hadn’t really read a Captain America comic before.

Unlike the film, the comic arc doesn’t involve the dissolution of SHIELD and the uprising of HYDRA. Instead the Red Skull is murdered by an unknown assassin and the main villain is a Russian corporate schmuck that gets his hands on the cosmic cube, that useful little all-powerful McGuffin device that even MCU fans will recognize by now. His main weapon is the Winter Soldier, whom we learned was originally Bucky Barnes – previously thought dead, and captured and psychologically programmed by the Soviets.

There’s a neat bit where they discuss the Winter Soldier’s programming, and how too much time in the field causes him to go off the grid and start subconsciously exploring his past, to where they can no longer use him in the US, and only activate him every few years for short bursts at a time. The idea that a lot of major assassinations and killings were done by this sleeper agent is pretty nifty, and the fact that it’s Cap’s oldest and dearest friend takes a huge toll on our hero, one that writer Ed Brubaker does an excellent job with.

winter soldier moment

The art and action are really fantastic as well, and I really enjoyed the darker tones of the entire book, almost coming off Noir-ish in most scenes. The realistic art style meshes well with the action sequences, as Cap is a natural fighter that jumps, dodges and punches (with the occasional homing shield-boomerang throw). Fans of over the top action or Cosmic level entities blasting each other may feel something missing here, but I really enjoyed the much more down to earth butt-kicking of our heroes and villains.

The supporting cast is also done decently well, though this is first and foremost Captain America’s (and Bucky’s) story. Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter (descendant of the original Agent Carter) is Cap’s primary partner in the field, and though they’ve got some romantic history their relationship is built out of mutual respect and that of soldiers working together, which I enjoyed (even if she’s annoyingly damsel’d at one point). Nick Fury also plays a big role as our primary info-dumping character, and someone we sympathize with as he tries to keep the harshest truths away from Cap for as long as he can.

Cap’s fellow superheroes are utilized sparingly; Tony Stark has a brief scene but ultimately he’s unable to help Cap in the finale. Falcon does show up to help (literally in a ‘hey I’m here to help,’ way) towards the end but he’s not given a whole lot to do. The story’s sharp focus on Cap and Bucky remained the primary hook for the entire run, and though I felt a bit too much time was given to flashbacks (it feels like at least half the panels were in the past) overall it worked really well.

winter soldierThe climax itself was a slight letdown though. There’s not much of a final fight (similar to the film, Cap drops his guard and just talks to the Winter Soldier after a brief scuffle) and ultimately uses the cosmic cube to ‘fix’ Bucky’s mind and restore his memories. After that Bucky teleports himself away by shattering the cube, and then we get a tease that the Red Skull is somehow living on inside our evil Russian friend.

Overall it’s a fun if subdued adventure, and I love the tight focus on the mystery behind the Winter Soldier and Cap’s guilt-ridden past with losing his friend. It’s a fantastic intro to Captain America and the writing and art are both top notch. I definitely plan on continuing the series, which eventually leads right up to Civil War.