Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Captain America: The Man With No Face

With Steve Rogers dead, Bucky Barnes grapples with wearing the uniform and the terrible things he did as the Winter Soldier.

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!

marvelWriter: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Steve Epting, Butch Guice

Issues: Captain America (2004) #43-48

 

Been awhile since I read Ed Brubaker’s fantastic Captain America series, which began in 2004. The last volume I read was a gigantic 20 page tome covering everything from the Civil War to Steve Rogers’ death to former Winter Soldier Bucky picking up the shield.

The six issue volume The Man With No Face continues Bucky Barnes’ adventures as faux Captain America, while also battling his own guilt of the assassinations and killings he performed as the brainwashed Winter Soldier. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Captain America: The Man With No Face”

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

The Death of Captain America is a massive twenty issue collected volume that tells the epic and satisfying arc of Steve’s void in an increasingly panicked country on the brink of anarchy.

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!

death of captain americaWriter: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Roberto De La Torre, Jackson Guice

Issues: Captain America (2004) #22-42, Winter Soldier: Winter Kills #1

Steve Rogers is dead. Long live Captain America!

You’d think that when your title character is murdered it would bring an end to that series. Steve Rogers’ Captain America is a legacy that will not be so easily snuffed. In the hands of skilled writer Ed Brubaker and one of my favorite comic artists Steve Epting, The Death of Captain America is a massive twenty issue collected volume that tells the epic and satisfying arc of Steve’s void in an increasingly panicked country on the brink of anarchy.

The Legacy of Captain America may have been a better title for the trade, as the eponymous death happens early on in issue #25. The first three issues (#22-24) are direct Civil War tie-ins, offering some side plots starring Agent 13, SHIELD and Cap. Most tie-ins are not great but Brubaker does a masterful job making these interesting while not derailing his own lengthy main plot that he’s been carefully constructing since the first issue.

There’s a several month gap between #24 and #25, and Cap’s series is briefly replaced with a single one-off issue called Winter Soldier: Winter Kills. It’s our first real glimpse into the mind of James “Bucky” Barnes and nicely foreshadows his future role as the new protagonist of the series. James is an amazing hero to root for; he’s got the tragic past in spades, he’s already lived a lifetime’s worth of memories and his moral fiber is deliciously sinewy. It’s revealed in an earlier Civil War tie-in that he’s directly working for Nick Fury (who’s been off the grid for years now) as a spy and adjusting to a somewhat normal life. Mostly we get a lot of flashbacks to World War II from Bucky’s point of view, and it’s a fascinating look at someone who idolized Steve and what he stood for more than anyone.

Captain America #25The death issue has become one of the more infamous comics in history. Hats off to Marvel for managing to create a huge media blitz and keep everything under wraps until it released. Steve’s on his way to trial after surrendering at the end of the Civil War, finally seeing that the cost was too high to keep fighting. He’s initially shot by Crossbones armed with a sniper rifle in a nearby building (very Kennedy), and then a brainwashed Agent 13/Sharon Carter (that would be Peggy’s niece) finishes the job with multiple gunshot wounds to the gut.

It’s a very stark and shockingly realistic event, made all the more powerful by Epting’s fantastic art. Every character looks real without dipping into crazy Uncanny Valley territory, and the heavy use of shading creates a wonderfully bleak and serious tone that has endured throughout the entire series up to this point.

Steve’s death created a mini-event in of itself, as the death of such a major character created shock waves in the Marvel Universe. Most of it is handily contained in the limited series Fallen Son, when various heroes mourn Steve’s death and go through the five stages of depression.

captain america #30“The Death of the Dream,” covers the first six issues following his death. Brubaker takes his time exploring his supporting cast and continuing to set up the intriguing plot. Every couple pages in each issue is given its own title and jumps around to different characters and events, creating a sporadic and scattered tone that fits well with everyone feeling lost after Steve’s death. Winter Soldier wants revenge on Iron Man. Falcon and Agent 13 hunt down Red Skull. Tony Stark finds Steve’s last will and testament and brings Black Widow on board. Sharon reels from her murderous act and continued brainwashed programming and we see the further machinations of Red Skull, Arnim Zola and Dr. Faustus’ evil alliance in bringing about this whole sequence of events.

It’s an interesting way to write what amounts to Act 1 of the lengthy story, and things are a bit slow until the next six issue arc. In “The Burden of Dreams,” Winter Soldier is freed from Dr. Faustus’ grasp (where he was being unsuccessfully tortured and programmed) by Sharon only to be swiftly captured by Iron Man and SHIELD. He breaks free and much of issue #33 is the two having a knock-down drag-out fight in the helicarrier. It ends with Bucky ripping off Iron Man’s helmet and pressing a gun to his head, as Stark holds his hands on either side of Bucky’s head, repulsor’s ready to liquefy his brain.

The two come to an understanding once Tony shows him the Steve’s letter, which beseeches Tony that someone needs to continue on his legacy. It doesn’t take much for the Winter Soldier to agree, mostly as he doesn’t want anyone else to do it, and in issue #34 we get our first glimpse at the new Captain America suit, worn by Cap’s old sidekick.

Bucky, former Winter Soldier now reluctant new Captain America takes center stage as the new protagonist of the series, with Black Widow as his primary partner and love interest. At this point the main plot really starts rocketing ahead as Sharon is firmly in the clutches of evil, Falcon supports Bucky/Widow, and the entire country goes through a rocky phase of near anarchy in the wake of the Civil War and Steve’s death, as well as the savvy political maneuverings of Red Skull. The Skull has been sharing a body with evil CEO Aleksander Lukin since the first trade volume, and he flexes his powers of influence in some startlingly realistic ways, subtly drawing the American people into a frenzy before unleashing his master plan – a presidential candidate in his backpocket.

captain america #34Brubaker’s style and overall tone of the series is very grounded in reality. Despite obviously taking place in a world of hundreds of super-powered people, alien invasions, dimensions, time travel, etc, Brubaker’s Captain America series has always focused on very relatable politics, people and situations. All of the supporting cast are just normal people with high amounts of training and badassness; no energy spewing death-dealers like in the Avengers, and it’s incredibly refreshing. Brubaker touches on this several times whenever Bucky engages someone in a fight – he’s not a super-soldier and a particularly tough battle will leave him exhausted and with broken ribs, making his struggles and battles all the more exhilarating.

Red Skull’s master plan is revealed in the final six-issue arc, “The Man Who Bought America.” Sharon Carter, former Agent 13 and Steve’s love interest is our window into our evil trinity, and Brubaker spends plenty of time letting us into the inner workings of this evil cabal hellbent on overthrowing the American government. A big part of Red Skull’s plan is to activate a former character in Cap’s past – the Captain America of the 1950s, later retconned to be an insane Cap-wannabe also known as The Grand Director.

Since the familiar story of Cap being frozen and flung forward in time creates a paradox with Cap running around briefly in the 50s fighting communists, it was retconned as an impostor who worshiped the original Captain America, even surgically altering his face and voice to mimic Steve Rogers. I had to look it up on Wikipedia but credit to Brubaker for smoothly explaining this odd character within the comics. He becomes a fairly major villain for Bucky and company though he’s definitely portrayed as a tragic, manipulated figure.

Speaking of tragic figures, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how Sharon’s arc is treated. First, she’s directly responsible for Steve’s death, though she was brainwashed by Dr. Faustus and acting on his orders. The events understandably haunts her, and we get uncomfortable shots of her crying in the shower and revisiting the scene over and over in her mind. She soon joins up with Dr. Faustus and with a shred of herself intact she frees the Winter Soldier. From there she’s psychologically tortured and rendered a slave to Dr. Faustus. Eventually she mounts an escape and fights with Sin, who had previously battled and been injured in a fight with Bucky but she’s quickly subdued again. Oh and she was also pregnant with Steve’s child but loses the baby in the knife fight with Sin when she plunges the knife into her own belly to stop the Red Skull from getting it. That is…pretty messed up.

captain america #38Thankfully she finally gets to do something during the climax. As Falcon and Widow mount an attack on the AIM base she escapes and shoots and kills Lukin/Red Skull (while an also escaped 1950s Cap kills Zola). It’s a violent but triumphant moment, but her whole storyline made me fairly uncomfortable for the most part, and I feel like her victimization as played up for dramatic effect is a tiresome trope. It’s also painfully obvious that Black Widow replaces her as Protagonist’s Love Interest as the only other woman of note in the entire series (besides Sin, Red Skull’s one-dimensional daughter). Credit to Epiting, however, for drawing the women just as shadowy and powerful as their male counterparts.

A major part of the climax is Bucky coming to terms with being the new Captain America. While everyone else attacks the AIM base, he goes to the presidential debates to foil an assassination attempt by Sin, becoming a hero in the process. Bucky, like Steve, cares more about doing the right thing than being a hero, though he begins to grasp the gravitas and power that the uniform wields.

Ultimately the country needs Captain America, especially a country teetering on the edge of economic collapse and anarchy. Brubaker really plays up the chaotic aspect of people in the streets, angry at the government, and peaks when Faustus’s other brainwashed SHIELD agents open fire on a group of protesters. Stark himself is used sparingly in the second half of the book, and the only time he’s actually in his suit fighting is during the one on one match with Winter Soldier before he recruits him.

The good guys win at the end and things wrap up nicely – almost too nicely. Skull and Zola are downloaded into another of Zola’s endless robots while Faustus betrays them in the end (activating Sharon’s GPS tracker which leads to the final assault) and escapes. Bucky is the new knife and gun-wielding Captain America (with a slightly different uniform that nicely shows off the old triangular shield of the 40s) and presumably continues to work for Stark and SHIELD without ever having to officially register (Bucky’s terms).

captain america #41

The Death of Captain America is one of the best trade paperbacks I’ve ever read. Right now I’d put it just under Planet Hulk on my personal list of favorites. Both gave their writers well over a dozen issues to tell massive and satisfying stories – in the case of Cap, 18 total issues jumping out of Steve’s death.

Even more impressive is that the plot threads had been layered in since the first issue back in the Winter Soldier volume. Brubaker not only had to craft a story without his title character, but created an all new one to take the mantle, and dare I say I loved everything about how James “Bucky” Barnes is portrayed. The supporting cast is fantastic, the villains are evil without being too cheesy, the world and story are grounded in political upheaval and government control and the action is always exciting and satisfying. Though you’ll definitely want to read the first volume, Captain America: Winter Soldier (and possibly Red Menace) first, The Death of Captain America comes as one of the most easily recommendable comic book stories and collected volumes I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Deadpool & Cable Ultimate Collection, Book 3

While the previous collected volume had its ups and downs trying to give our unlikely duo things to do, the final Ultimate Collection almost solely focuses on Deadpool’s wacky adventures, to the great benefit of the series.

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!

Deadpool & Cable ultimate collection book 3Writer: Fabian Nicieza

Artist: Reilly Brown

Issues: Cable & Deadpool #36-50, Deadpool/GLI Summer Spectacular #1

It’s the Cable & Deadpool show! Starring Nathan Summers and Wade Wilson, but mostly everyone’s favorite fourth-wall breaking, pop culture referencing, Merc With a Mouth Deadpool! While the previous collected volume had its ups and downs trying to give our unlikely duo things to do, events to crossover with and guest stars to battle, the final Ultimate Collection almost solely focuses on Deadpool’s wacky adventures, to the great benefit of the series.

Although the series retained its Cable & Deadpool titling (which then gets changed to Deadpool & Cable for these Ultimate Collections – I like to think that was Deadpool’s doing), Cable only actually appears in three total issues among the final 15 issues. Cable has a major role to play in the adjective-less X-Men series as he joins Rogue’s team in the Supernovas volume of stories.

Cable’s “Fractured” story in Cable & Deadpool (#40-42) act as a bit of an epilogue to those adventures, as well as writing him out of his own series in preparation for the mega X-Men crossover Messiah Complex. His island of Providence is attacked and he’s forced to sacrifice himself to keep Gambit and Sunfire (see “Blood of Apocalypse“) from learning any of Apocalypse’s secrets. It leads to some exciting moments, and its fun to see Cable flashing back (or is that forward?) to his past life in the future as a soldier and commander making the tough decisions.

cable & deadpool #41

That just leaves Deadpool, whom Nicieza excels at writing and definitely feels most comfortable with. Deadpool’s solo adventures first have their seeds properly planted in the first few issues of Book 3. In “Unfinished Business,” (#36-39) Deadpool is steel reeling from the physical and emotional ass-kicking he got from Civil War, and ends up grappling with Taskmaster and then the Rhino. In the latter fight he’s shrunk down with Pym particles, which leads to another few issues of tiny Deadpool hilariously taking on an entire Hydra base and holding a Hydra agent hostage with a plastic card.

That Hydra agent would go on to become Deadpool’s new sidekick Bob in one of the more brilliant and hilarious characters I’ve ever seen. Together they rescue Agent X, a previous guest-star and regular Deadpool supporting cast-member whom has been hit with an obesity ray and is now an overweight cream-puff. Deadpool gets hired on by X’s company Agency X after Cable’s ordeal, and his first mission is to rescue his previous sidekick Weasel from the Hydra base where he accidentally left him.

cable & deadpool #47

In these final eight issues Deadpool and Bob (and later Weasel) get paired with a different Marvel character every issue – literally on the cover Cable’s name is crossed out and replaced with Wolverine, Dr. Strange, the Fantastic Four, etc. Rescuing Weasel sends Deadpool and Bob hurtling through time due to Weasel’s new teleporting suit, and they team up with Captain America and Bucky in the 40s before getting into an appropriately confusing and messy time-travel plot with the Fantastic Four.

Upon returning to their proper time, Dr. Strange enlists the help of Agency X to help with some mystical mumbo jumbo, leading to more excitingly random battles, including battling Brother Voodoo’s Zombies in Louisiana. Bob’s strategy of Run and Hide nearly steals the show from Deadpool’s own wise-cracking and violent antics and I was pretty much grinning throughout the entire arc.

cable & Deadpool #50It all ends with a trip to the Savage Land. In a neat tie-in to his former compatriot, Deadpool goes to the dino-infested jungles to get a power source for Cable’s former liberated country of Rumekistan and ends up battling Brainchild and some random mutate villains. The fun part comes at the end as they attempt to teleport an army of dinosaurs away. Deadpool picks Genosha as the destination, forgetting that Genosha was destroyed about five years ago. The dinosaurs thus get dropped into the Genoshan embassy in Manhattan, crash into the Mighty Avengers and unleash the Venom symbiote – leading to an epic final issue where Deadpool joins forces with the Avengers to defeat a bunch of dinosaur symbiote monsters rampaging New York!

This run of Cable & Deadpool marks the first time I’ve ever read a series to completion. All fifty issues, four years worth of comics, in a few months. Having the same writer and generally consistent, satisfyingly action-packed art style throughout helps immensely in rewarding loyal readers. Cable’s semi-frequent tie-ins to other ongoing Marvel events created some problems, but the series treated them amiably and mostly succeeded on Deadpool’s everlasting charisma and unique charm that makes him more lovable than irritating.

The latter half of Book 3 creates a worthy finale full of exciting scenarios and awesome guest-stars, but it never loses the funny. I was always fan of future-soldier and all-around badass Cable, but Cable & Deadpool definitely made me a huge fan of Deadpool. I look forward to exploring both characters’ solo series next.

cable & deadpool #48

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