Comics // Weekly Pull List // 14/10/15

Many of the so far great Secret Wars tie-in series’ are bowing out now with a couple more ending this week. Just in time too, as the all new, all different, all at the same time Marvel universe relaunch has already started (even though the main Secret Wars book hasn’t even finished!).

Weekly Pull List 14.10.15

A-Force #5 // Secret Wars – Writer Marguerite Bennett can do no wrong at the moment, and working here with co-writer G. Willow Wilson, she has delivered a great start for what will hopefully become a regular all-female Avengers book. Although this series started off a little slow it has really grown into an exciting epic that has been well worth the read.

DC Bombshells #3 – The second book from Bennett this week and it is great to see artist Marguerite Sauvage return, albeit not for the full issue. Sauvage’s art is so perfectly matched to this world and story that it really elevates the entire endeavour.

Captain America: White #3 – I never thought I’d see this book come out at all, let alone regularly. Tim Sale’s art is as amazing as ever, nuff said!

Civil War #5 // Secret Wars – The original Civil War was a solid superhero blockbuster event and I wasn’t sure where this return would really have to go; fortunately Charles Soule has managed to find a very interesting alternate history that remains true to the characters involved. Lenil Francis Yu has also delivered some great art to complement the epic tale. I’m very excited to see how this one wraps up.

Diesel #2 – Tyson Hesse’s indie book about an overly eager young would-be captain and the flying city ship she inherited has some wonderful ideas and gorgeous art in its favour. The dialogue in the first issue felt a little off though, with a few jokes and scenes that didn’t quite work for me. There is a lot of potential here though, so I’m looking forward to another look at this world.

Spider-Gwen: Radioactive #1 – I have literally no understanding of how the timeline/multiverse elements of this book reconcile with the events of the still unfolding Secret Wars. My understanding is that the new Marvel U books take place 8 months after the end of SW, but whether that is true of Spider-Gwen’s pocket universe I do not know. Basically I’m imagining that this book will continue straight from the last issue, which is totally fine by me!

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Comics // Review // All-New Captain America #5

Concise

This issue takes some disappointing turns that undermine the momentum of the story and cheapen some of what we have seen so far in this arc. The art remains great and there are still some clever and well delivered sequences here, but the escalating tension and narrative power that had been expertly built over the last few issues seems to have been squandered to some degree.

All-New Captain America #5 Cover

Spoilerful

This issue opens with a tough scene for Sam, not a fight or chase, but rather the reaction of a random narrow-minded New Yorker (no doubt echoing the views of some narrow-minded real people) to the news that the mantle of Captain America will be taken up by the Falcon. Despite the crowded cafe, brilliantly rendered by artist Immonen, this is a powerful and intimate scene, which is thanks in no small part to the wonderful colouring by Marte Gracia who draws attention to Sam and the random guy (who wears prison orange). As the guy rails against Wilson as Cap because he feels it is unearned tokenism, Sam listens quietly and takes in the unfounded criticism; criticism that stays with him as he fights desperately against Baron Zemo. This is a powerful opening, in keeping with the various reflections on how he came to be here that Sam has had in previous issues, and it speaks to an important point – whatever your feelings about heroes being replaced and rebooted, it would be impossible to argue that Sam Wilson is unfit to carry the Captain America name or shield. Rather he has been a strong, noble, and compelling holder of the title.

Unfortunately this issue goes on to take a few unfortunate turns after this point. Chief amongst them is the startling return of Ian Rogers, until now thought dead after Zemo cut his throat and bled him dry.  In one regard it is probably testament to Remender’s breathless and believable writing that I bit down so hard on Ian’s supposed death; the scene itself a few issues ago was visceral and shocking, a practically unthinkable twist so early into a new run. Which, of course, it now proves to have been. So why bother with the fake out at all? Nomad’s death was a powerful moment not just because it was surprising, but also because it was an immediate reminder that this isn’t a game, Sam doesn’t get to just put the suit on and then relax, he is fighting real brutal villains and anyone can make a mistake that gets them killed. Ian Rogers was a good man and a strong hero in his own right, and his death was a tragedy in no uncertain terms. This unproven team with an unproven Captain America, immediately taking a casualty offered so much potential tension and dramatic weight for future arcs. Instead we are treated to a classic and cliched deus ex machina.

With Cap on the ropes Nomad steps in to swing a few punches Zemo’s way. This fight has been going on for two issues, and it delivered some quality thematic resonance and dialogue, but there are two moments here that serve to weaken the entire affair; the ridiculous grab-the-sword-by-the-blade move which would have left Cap handless the rest of the issue (it deflated the tension of the fight because rather than roll with it I had to stop and think about whether or not it would work – and it absolutely not) and the afore mentioned return of Nomad. Cap’s noble battle in the face of undefeatable odds and subsequent sacrifice to concentrate on the virus-bugs instead becomes a rather stale side-kick saves the day moment, the threat of Baron Zemo is gone and everything Cap has done up to this point feels somehow undermined. And when you couple this with that opening scene and Sam’s own narration, “This was the only way it was ever going to end“, it all seems to paint an odd message – are we supposed to believe that Sam wasn’t ready to take up the shield? That he is a poor choice for the role?

And then this fight underwhelmingly ends in exactly the same way as the last one did just before Nomad died, a point that Sam even raises, with Cap having to race away on the chase whilst Nomad is left behind to hold off the bad guy. Whereas last time there was a sense that anything could happen, here there can be no tension because now we know that Nomad could be killed a hundred times over and just pop back up a couple of issues later. This whole side-kick death imbroglio is then (presumably unintentionally) hilariously spoofed by Remender himself when Redwing gets taken out by a Nazi Vampire. This plays like a curiously underwhelming rehash of that powerful death from just a couple issues ago – again is this supposed to be a point about Sam’s ineffectiveness as Cap, his inability to save anyone (Nomad, the child prisoner, now Redwing)?

There are some good reasons to read this book, Sam Wilson is an excellent Captain America and Remender writes him very well, the flashback scenes have all offered strong characterisation, and there are smart moments like the use of Sam’s ‘bird call’ to deal with the virus-bugs. Unfortunately this isn’t a particularly strong issue in the run, and a few of the narrative decisions feel a little hollow. I am sure this arc can get back on track, so hopefully next issue will do more things right.

This makes no sense
This makes no sense

All-New Captain America #5 // Writer – Rick Remender / Penciler – Stuart Immonen / Inker – Wade Von Grawbadger / Colourist – Marte Gracia // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • I was sorry to see that Misty only got a single panel, even if Taskmasters betrayal of Zemo was fun.
  • I took a few minutes and read all of Bram Stoker before coming” – you literally just got done being killed Nomad, maybe not with the smug straight away.
  • Also, how and from whom did Nomad get all this information about Zemo’s Nazi Vampire plan B?

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Review: All-New Captain America #4

Concise

Rick Remender’s all new Cap story has so far been a brutal imagining of classic Captain America tropes and this issue is no different. The man behind the shield may have changed, but Captain America is still fighting Nazi’s, jumping on flying vehicles, and inspiring those around him to step up. This is a fast paced book, the art is clean and punchy, and there is some solid action; if you’re looking for a modern telling of classic super heroics this book would be a good choice.

All-New Captain America #4 Cover

Spoilerful

There are plenty of hallmarks of classic Captain America, the shield, the moves, the commitment, but for me the key one is his ability to inspire people to do good, whether that is the heroes who stand beside him, the people he saves, or in this case one of the villains he fights. Sam Wilson has always been a strong character willing to make sacrifices and push himself hard to make sure the bad guys get beat and Remender does an especially good job in this issue bringing those two traits together – Sam won’t ever stop trying to do the right thing, and that can inspire even the hardest of hearts to do the right thing.

After the cliffhangingly surprising death of Nomad (Steve Rogers’ alternate dimension son Ian Rogers) this issue opens with a slower paced flash back to Steve and Sam talking shop after an apparently devastating fight in a city centre (I wonder if this can be placed in the Marvel timeline using Sam’s outfit and injuries?). This is a great scene, one that we are rarely shown, as the heroes take stock in the immediate aftermath of a tough fight (and with more rounds left to go) and the sentiment here is also a rare one; Sam has forsaken a family and a peaceful life so that he can make the world a better place. Heroic sacrifice in comics is more often than not weighed in blood and bodies, it is unusual to see its currency measured in something far closer to home, and it brings home the conflict at the core of Sam’s being – he wants to have kids, but not in an imperfect world, so he can’t stop fighting until every danger has been eradicated. It is a touching scene that adds greatly to Sam’s character, and also speaks to his mental state later in the issue by foregrounding the real costs (Nomad’s life) and opportunity costs (Sam Wilson’s family) of being a superhero.

Cap wandering the slums of an Indian city presents some tough visuals and the art team do some strong work here, the colours by Marte Gracia are particularly striking as Sam’s costume and the vibrant colours of passers-by are shrouded in shadows, dust, and desperation. Stuart Immonen is on fine form depicting the action with Armadillo and Cobra with pace and power (Armadillo looks very impressive), and it feels believable that Sam would be in trouble in this fight. In fact, Remender continues to do great work writing Sam’s inner monologue throughout combat scenes – Sam doesn’t have super soldier blood, or x-genes, or terrigen mist juice, he is just a highly trained human and he has to work that much harder to keep up with the super powered villains he fights. Watching Sam pushing his limits, fighting beyond the failure point, and just keeping his head in the game when everything is going to pot, is what makes him such an endearing hero, we want him to win, but know that the odds are stacked against him a way they rarely are for Steve Rogers or Superman or Wolverine.

Captain America is an inspiring figure, a paragon of virtue that doesn’t stand for the American way, but rather the just way. We see last-minute betrayals all the time, an ally of the hero turns his coat and joins the villains (we even saw the hostage do this last issue), so it is nice to see it go the other way for a change. It is testament to Remender’s characterisation of Sam, and Immonen’s rendering of him in a near-death situation, that this scene is both tense and, when Armadillo does switch sides, believable. Sam Wilson is a man who I can believe would inspire a borderline villain to balk at the idea of wiping out generations of innocent civilians. Sam speaks to Armadillo like a fellow-man, uses his real name, and asks for his help. It is good to see Misty Knight join Sam’s team too, it further emphasises that he can bring people together to get the job done, and it makes sense that he would be looking for help wherever he can get it in this situation.

Cap’s battle with Baron Zemo is well constructed, Sam just let’s out all of the frustration he is feeling and pummels Zemo. Immonen’s tight panel work effectively shows the quick-paced cut and thrust of the fight, and Sam’s inner monologue shows how focused he is on beating Zemo. This opens the door to Sam losing focus and letting Zemo get the upper hand by the end of the fight. Tying in Sam’s thoughts of missing out on a family to the Hydra plan to sterilise humanity and then to the death of Steve Rogers son creates an effective theme for the this story, and gives Sam further motivation over and above saving the world. However, as Sam monologues to himself he places a lot of emphasis on how the tragedy of Nomad’s death affects Steve. Sure, that is the theme of this story, and Sam is exploring his own feelings of familial loss through Steve’s imagined pain, but it also seems a little strange that he really mourn his partners death for what it was. Nomad, Cap’s friend and sidekick, is dead, but all that matters to Sam is how that will make Steve feel. I guess the point is that Sam is angry right now, not sad, and mourning may come later, but it did seem a little dehumanising to me.

This continues to be a strong, action-packed run, with some solid character and thematic work at its core. The art team are all delivering good work and the plot is moving forward pretty well. I think this is ultimately a very successful, if ‘traditional’, superhero book, albeit one with some occasionally dark content. Sam Wilson continues to grow into the Cap role, and his adventures continue to offer some exciting comics moments.

All-New Captain America #4 Panel

All-New Captain America #4 // Writer – Rick Remender / Penciler – Stuart Immonen / Inker – Wade Von Grawbadger / Colourist – Marte Gracia // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • Steve bringing Sam a cup of coffee in the flashback scene – a simple and realistic gesture that reminds me how much I love the character.
  • Captain America uses his wings to form a makeshift shield against Armadillo’s ram; inventive, practical, and very cool.
  • Pet peeve alert – Misty takes out one of the other Hydra facilities in Madripoor, and it just happens to be ‘manned’ by Viper. All too often it seems like comics avoid having female heroes face male villains, like women can only fight women for some reason. Annoying.
  • I picked up my third Phil Noto variant with this book – his retro-photographic covers are really doing it for me at the moment.

All art belongs to copyright holders