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 – New Avengers (2005), Vol. 6

With the death of Captain America and the passing of the Superhero Registration Act, the New Avengers are still reeling in the aftermath of the Civil War.

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!

New Avengers Vol. 6Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Leinil Francis Yu, Alex Maleev (#26)

Issues: New Avengers (2005) #26-31

With the death of Captain America and the passing of the Superhero Registration Act, the New Avengers are still reeling in the aftermath of the Civil War. During the time period known as The Initiative (most of 2007) many Marvel books had tie-ins that followed the fallout from the Superhero Civil War and how the registration act affected other heroes.

The Initiative affected the New Avengers more than anyone. Though Steve Rogers surrendered, many of his allies went underground and continued to oppose the Registration Act. Previous New Avengers members Spider-man, Wolverine, Luke Cage and Spider-woman are joined by Iron Fist, Dr. Strange and a different Ronin ninja who’s eventually revealed to be Hawkeye in a nifty bit of flashbacking.

Issue #26 drops in with the newly resurrected Hawkeye – last seen sacrificing himself at the end of Avengers “Disassembled” in 2004 and brought back by Scarlet Witch during the House of M event in 2005. Hawkeye goes to Dr. Strange looking for answers, then hunts down Wanda Maximoff – whom at the end of House of M we saw had magically lobotomized herself to forget her powers and who she was. Clint ends up in a romantic fling with her, and decides revenge for House of M is no longer an appropriate course of action.

New Avengers #26I really dug Alex Maleev’s art style in this one-off issue. The whole comic is drawn as if carefully constructed by water color painting, and the panels are frequently light on dialogue and heavy on intense human emotion. It works quite well given there’s very little action in the issue, and the style really carries the brief but interesting story along.

The full story of “Revolution” begins in #27, though it almost feels like a one-off as well. The previous mysterious ninja known as Ronin, Maya Lopez, was given the mission to stay in Japan and monitor the Hand while everyone else was fighting the Civil War. She gets herself captured and tortured by current Hand-leader Elektra, and it’s up to the rest of the team to save her. Eventually.

First the New Avengers have to deal directly with their underground status as rebels, and the newly christened, officially government-sanctioned team the Mighty Avengers (Final Thoughts coming soon) actively hunt them throughout the volume. The New Avengers hide out thanks to Dr. Strange’s magic, and there’s some tense moments as his magic masks them even while Iron Man and company are exploring the house they’re hiding in.

At one point the Mighty Avengers manage to draw them out using Steve’s fake body as bait (“That was dirty pool, man” – Spider-Man), and they’re able to escape thanks again to Dr. Strange’s incredibly useful and always ill-defined magic powers. The big battle they tease between the two super-teams never does happen, though to be fair we kind of got our fill of that during the whole Civil War event. The rebels quickly realize they’re no longer safe in the US, and flee to Japan where they rescue Maya and battle lots of Hand ninjas – essentially rehashing the battles of New Avengers Volume 3.

new avengers #29

While I respect that writer Brian Michael Bendis weaves the backstory of the New Avengers struggling against the Mighty Avengers with their ninja battles, it does get quite muddled and confusing to read from panel to panel. Yu’s art style is also quite unique and somewhat distracting. It’s extremely heavy on the pencils and shading. Normally I’d dig it but the characters themselves are drawn with a somewhat cartoonish and exaggerated look that I don’t quite mesh with. I like that the art is different enough to make the title really stand out from the rest (especially the bright and very traditional Mighty Avengers) but I still haven’t quite decided if I actually enjoy it or not.

Although the art is dark and the stories somewhat bleak, the dialogue is still snappy – almost jarringly so. Spider-Man, Wolverine and Luke Cage compete for biggest wise-ass as they constantly fire off comments and one-liners during every scene. It fits their personality and nicely balances the series and the team members – though I wonder what the hell Spider-Man and Wolverine are still doing on this hunted team.

At the end of the bland ninja fighting story, Maya rebels against her brainwashing and stabs Elektra. As she dies she suddenly reverts to her true form of a skrull! Dun Dun Dunnnn! Knowing what I know of Marvel continuity this must be an early and nifty tease of the next big crossover event Secret Invasion in 2008, and it’s definitely shocking and satisfying.

Even more enjoyable was the neat little twist about Hawkeye joining the team as the new Ronin. I guess training with a bow carries over to sword skills? Either way it’s cool for Clint Barton to have a nifty new role, and be an Avenger again. Even more poignant that he would choose to join the rebels after he was directly offered the role of being the new Captain America by Iron Man himself.

new avengers #30

I find it fascinating that Marvel kept the New Avengers team together and the series ongoing during The Initiative time period and beyond, even as multiple Avengers-focused series were being launched. New Avengers succeeds with its own distinct art style and fun team dynamic that is far, far more like-able and interesting than the Mighty Avengers’ ensemble. And who doesn’t love rooting for the rebels?

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 – Deadpool & Cable Ultimate Collection, Book 2

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!

Deadpool and Cable ultimate collection book 2Writer: Fabian Nicieza

Artists: Patrick Zircher, Lan Medina, Reilly Brown

Issues: Cable & Deadpool #19-35

The second massive volume of everyone’s favorite Marvel odd couple, Cable & Deadpool is going to be one of the harder Final Thoughts for me to recount, simply because I read it over the whole last month.

It starts with Issue #19, an epilogue of sorts to their House of M ordeal (which I find weird wasn’t included with the House of M tie-in’s in the first Book), while Issues #28-32 tie in to Civil War. I’m attempting to get better about starting and finishing at least whole story arcs before picking up more series, but some of these long collected volumes are a bit tricky – especially in this case where the stories are more about fun and humor than actually telling a coherent story.

Most major series have at least one major branching story line to along with minor vignettes along the way, but Cable & Deadpool is pretty much only the latter style in this second volume. Ironically my favorite issues were the nearly self-contained one-shots. Issue #19 stars Deadpool taking care of a rapidly re-aging Cable after his dimensional-hopping adventures. This mostly constitutes going to a bar and drinking together, but also includes some surprisingly poignant and rare revelations about Deadpool’s tragic past.

Issue #24 involves a fun match between Deadpool and Spider-Man, with all the verbal smack-talk slinging you can imagine. Issue #25 has Captain America infiltrate Cable’s little utopian project of Providence as a normal citizen, and becomes delighted with what Cable’s built and how he runs things (leading to a nicely logical reason why Cable helps support Cap in Civil War). We also get some fun glimpses into Cable’s dark future, where he wielded Cap’s iconic shield to inspire his own soldiers in the war against Apocalypse.

The other stories are varying degrees of quality, with the only notable importance to the series continuity being Deadpool stealing technology that allows Cable to simulate his lost telekinesis and telepathy. It leads Deadpool to a fun fight against Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the B.A.D. Girls.

Deadpool-versus-Avengers

With Cable’s ties to Apocalypse, it makes sense that he’d be involved in the “Blood of Apocalypse” storyline that hits the X-Men book around the same time. Issues #26-27, “Born Again,” act as a spiffy, if cheesy prologue to those events as Cable witnesses Pocky Lips’ premature resurrection and we got tons of backstory involving a mullet sporting Cable wielding a sword. It’s alright, and certainly leagues better than the ill-conceived X-Men story.

Unfortunately both the story telling and art gradually start to decline in the later issues. Domino, Cable’s ex-lover and former X-Force compatriot takes center stage in a few issues involving a coup in a made up Eastern European country. She’s not particularly interesting and her character doesn’t seem to have much to do outside of complaining about Cable.

Cable & Deadpool #30The Civil War tie-ins are also profoundly disappointing. I was hoping to shed some insight in how Cable joins the resistance, but instead I get some pithy fights between Deadpool and the Anti-Reg team. Cable then goes on a round-about way to show Deadpool how wrong he is for the side he’s chosen. That story bleeds over into the next, involving the lame Six-Pack team that showed up in the previous Book attacking Cable’s newly liberated country of Rumekistan and Providence. Cable of course swiftly kicks all their asses.

I still enjoy my time with the dysfunctional duo. Fabian Nicieza’s writing remains funny and enjoyable throughout, and Deadpool is still delightfully hilarious. It’s a shame the series starts turning over artists as it’s definitely not for the better, and I’m hoping Nicieza can find his footing again with telling some more interesting stories.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Black Panther (2005), Vol. 3-4

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!

Black Panther BrideWriter: Reginald Hudlin

Artists: Scott Eaton, Manuel Garcia, Koi Turn bull

Issues: Black Panther (2005) #14-25

 

When I first heard that Storm had wed Black Panther I rolled my eyes. It all seemed just a bit too convenient – the only two notable African superheroes in Marveldom fall in love and get married? I’m glad I started reading Black Panther (2005) and noticed a steady improvement in the dozen issues I’d read so far, otherwise I might not have experienced one of the most touching and poignant stories of a love rekindled I’d ever read.

The impetus for Black Panther’s previous arc was to go out and find a wife (which is, uh, also the plot hook of The Santa Clause 2), and in “Bride of the Panther” he realizes his heart never left Storm’s. Their past is detailed further in a harmless retcon exploring the exploits of young lovers T’Challa and Ororo in the six-issue Storm (2006) mini-series, but even without the extra reading Reginald Hudlin does an excellent job conveying their complicated past and their feelings for each other (Storm’s adventures in Africa are detailed in Uncanny X-Men Annual #1, which is like Black Hawk Down with X-Men – awesome). I am a bit bummed that this effectively writes Storm out of the X-Men, but she’s been generally absent anyway, and frankly seems above many of the petty squabbles those teams find themselves embroiled in.

The five issue story lovingly takes its time rekindling their relationship. They fight about when they were young and dumb and Ororo’s answer to The Question is interrupted by some silly and fun comic book fights. Storm’s past relationships with Wolverine and Forge are acknowledged and addressed and Hudlin seems to have a firm grasp on Marvel continuity. Storm is even reunited with her lost grandparents (and nephew) in another touching moment. Oh and Luke Cage throws a bachelor party with Namor, Logan, The Thing and a bunch of strippers in Rio. T’challa, ever the honorable gentlemen, promptly excuses himself at the beginning to fly back into Ororo’s arms. D’awwww.

Black Panther #15

Eventually Ororo accepts (and Hudlin pulls off an honest-to-god funny mile high club joke) and she’s treated to a whirlwind of activities that’s associated with becoming Queen of a country, including a jealous neighboring African princess, shopping with fellow X-ladies and dealing with the fairly xenophobic, isolationist people of Wakanda. T’Challa and Storm get equal screen time and while there’s no real threat of danger nor villain, it’s a surprisingly fun and sweet storyline.

Unfortunately for our newlyweds, Civil War hits around the same time. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are both invited to the wedding and both leave when they see each other, and the next two story arcs are tied into the ongoing Civil War event.

“World Tour” takes our new power couple to various diplomatic meetings around the world (and beyond) as they visit Dr. Doom in Latveria, Namor in Atlantis and even the Inhumans on the moon. Their last meeting takes them to America where they try and discuss the Superhuman Registration Act, but when they try to make Storm register (as she’s American) things go South and Iron Man and Black Panther end up having a scrape.

Black Panther #21Tensions are diffused when Black Panther ends up saving James Rhodes’ life but T’Challa and Ororo agree to stay in the U.S. to try and deal with the upcoming war. Given how big of an asshole Stark is it takes about two seconds for our heroes to side with Captain America, first unofficially and then getting directly involved and instrumental in helping the rebels in the final battle.

In fact, issue #25 takes place directly during the events of the final issue of Civil War, including a different fight scene from the final battle – Storm vs Thor clone! It ties in nicely to the Civil War continuity by adding some fun extra scenes, but it’s definitely not required reading, and I felt the globe-trotting “World Tour” issues were a bit more fun than the latter “Foreign Affairs” direct Civil War tie-ins.

Hudlin’s improved immensely as a writer and I have a keen grasp on who T’Challa is. Scott Eaton’s artwork is also fantastic (Storm has never looked sexier and T’Challa is chiseled from pure obsidian) but unfortunately he drops out during the Civil War tie-ins in issue #20. Manuel Garcia does a fine job but the art takes a noticeable nose dive with the last two issues as a third artist is brought in.

I’d never thought a storyline about two superheroes getting married and dealing with the political ramifications would become one of my favorites, and I hope that T’Challa’s and Ororo’s loving relationship continues to be highlighted and strengthened throughout their adventures.

Black Panther #25

 

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.