A Civil War II #6 Review – Following the Moral Compass

Civil War II #6, 2016, cover, Marko DjurdjevicTITLE: Civil War II #6
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLER: David Marquez. Cover by Marko Djurdjevic.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: October 26, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

An irony occurred to me after reading Civil War II #6. All this in-story drama and controversy among the superheroes is occurring because a teenager named Ulysses can supposedly see visions of the future. The actions taken by the heroes as a result of these visions have brought about the deaths of James Rhodes and Bruce Banner, the ruining of Clint Barton’s public life, and a lot of bad blood among our characters.

But now it’s all come to a head thanks to a vision of Miles Morales, Spider-Man, another teenager. As if we needed further confirmation that this story is really about the violence we see on the news every day, particularly involving young people.

After last issue’s startling vision of Spider-Man moments after murdering Steve Rogers, the battle between the heroes has come to a stand still. Our characters reel from what they’ve just seen and ponder their next move.

This issue brings us some of the best work David Marquez and have done together. Naturally, much of it involves Miles. The genuinely unsettling two-page spread of Spidey and a dead Captain America is simply re-printed from last issue. I’d normally call that shamefully cheap. But it works to preserve the emotional intensity of the moment.

Civil War II #6, 2016, David Marquez, Miles Morales visionThe page at right is the best in the issue. It shows us Miles’ emotional state after seeing what he did, and is a classic example of showing instead of telling. I love that they took us inside the vision for one panel, and the red smears in the page gutters are a nice touch. Though that actually looks more like paint than blood. I think I had walls that color once…

Marko Djurdjevic’s cover also adds a new dimension to the idea of Miles murdering Captain America. With his own shield? Really? C’mon man.

The reaction that Steve Rogers has to this is important. It’s as big a character moment for him as anybody else. Not surprisingly Bendis gets it right, positioning Rogers as the compassionate moral compass. He then accents it by having Black Panther switch sides, saying that “if you are on Captain America’s side…you can rest easy knowing you are on the right side.”

This, of course, casts poor Carol Danvers as the bad guy. Her protege Ms. Marvel even   stands against her in this issue (Though she’d already done that in the Ms. Marvel ongoing.). Carol has more or less been in the bad guy position the entire time, making her decisions based on events that could happen, rather than what has happened. Perhaps recognizing this, Bendis takes time in this issue to remind us she’s still trying to do the right thing, and doesn’t want to hurt Miles. We see her guilt, and she gets a nice moment of reassurance from Peter Quill. But the violence that’s resulted from all of this is causing her case to fall apart. Kitty Pryde’s expression in the image below says it all.

We get what I imagine was meant to be a bit of foreshadowing for Champions, as Ms. Marvel, Nova, and young Cyclops rally to protect Miles. The delays that have plagued Civil War II obviously tarnish that. But this scene was my first exposure to Riri Williams, who will be taking on the Iron Man role soon. I imagine that’s the case for quite a few readers. So perhaps the upside is worth it.

civil-war-ii-i-am-grootCivil War II showed up late, in more ways than one. This story just found its second gear last issue, and it finally feels it has the stakes an event comic should have. Hopefully those stakes continue to rise. Toward the end of the issue there’s a spooky page with Ulysses. A descent into evil may be forthcoming.

The question is, does he drag Carol Danvers down with him?

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A Civil War II #5 Review – A “Black Lives Matter” Moment

Civil War II #5, 2016, coverTITLE: Civil War II #5
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLER: David Marquez. Cover by Marko Djurdjevic.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 21, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s been a bumpy road for Civil War II. Despite its epic scope and game-changing plot points, it’s largely been a big bag of “meh.” And that’s not even getting into the scheduling delays.

Now, five issues in, it looks like things have finally picked up. The end of this book left a knot in my stomach. Despite having already killed off Rhodey and Bruce Banner, this series now finally has that heart-wrenching element that so many event comics strive for.

Thanks Miles Morales, and uh…sorry?

Ulysses, a new inhuman who can apparently see visions of the future, has torn the Marvel heroes apart. In Civil War II #5, they finally come to blows. Captain Marvel, who believes in using Ulysses to stop certain events before they happen, has assembled a group to fight against a team led by Iron Man. Tony Stark vehemently opposes acting on these visions, and questions their credibility. But by the end of the battle Ulysses has yet another vision, in which one of the Marvel Universe’s youngest heroes does the unthinkable. In a story that’s already seen the Bruce Banner murdered by Hawkeye, and Rhodey die in battle, the burning question is: Will Miles Morales be next?

Civil War II #5, 2016, Spider-Man, Captain AmericaThe image at left is our big vision reveal. Miles clutching a dead Captain America in front of a decimated Capitol Building. It may as well be an page from Red Skull’s dream journal. Now all the prior emphasis on Miles makes sense. Bendis and Marquez were planting a seed with a character they both have a lengthy history with. It’s fitting.

Virtually every Marvel book that doesn’t have Star Wars in the title has been effected by Civil War IISpider-Man is no exception. But in the main series Miles has mostly been a background character, albeit one Bendis and Marquez have made sure to keep around. I keep circling back to the two-page spread of Spidey watching the Hawkeye trial verdict on one of the big screens in Times Square. Intentional or not, it brilliantly positioned Miles as someone removed from some of the larger issues that plague more experienced heroes. There’s a certain naivety about him, partially because he’s so young. Those two elements are what set this moment apart from, say, the vision of the Hulk from issue #2.

But lets not kid ourselves. Like its predecessor, Civil War II is trying to be more than just another event comic. Its subtext speaks to the world we live in right now. Civil War speaks to post-9/11 paranoia, and Civil War II speaks to police profiling. It’s not an accident that Miles, a young minority, is shown harming Captain America, a symbol of American justice and values. This entire sequence with the vision and the subsequent arrest of Miles Morales is a Black Lives Matter moment. It’s Marvel looking at what happened with young men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Ms. Marvel, Civil War II #5, 2016It’s one thing to show us characters dying in a story about proactive justice. It’s another thing to really connect it to the real world. This is the emotional punch that Civil War II has been missing. It’s a shame we had to wait this long to feel it.

Ms. Marvel also accentuates the big reveal very well. It feels a little too coincidental that the other teenage minority in the scene just happens to be the one consoling Miles.

Speaking of subtext, Miles has an awesome line during a fight with Venom. As the longtime Spidey villain is taking shots at Miles for not looking or acting quite like Peter Parker, our hero replies with: “Another Spider-Man expert telling me how it should be.” That’s barely even subtext. He may as well be looking up at his critics.

The sad thing is, most of what we see up until the vision sequence is largely forgettable. Marquez, artist Sean Izaakse, and colorist Justin Ponsor give us a very action-posed two-page spread of the heroes about to collide. There’s also a lovely shot of Hawkeye cloaked in shadow as he presumably goes into hiding (shown below). But by comparison, it all seems very generic and business as usual for a superhero epic.

Hawkeye, Civil War II #5, 2016, David MarquezFrom a comic book sales perspective, DC Comics has outpaced Marvel since the start of its Rebirth initiative. I estimate Civil War II is largely to blame for that. Marvel may have banked too much on the success of its predecessor, and additional eyes from Captain America: Civil War. The story has failed to capture imaginations until now. We finally have something to sink our teeth into, but it may be too little too late.

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A Captain America: Steve Rogers #2 Review – What Do You Mean, Hail Hydra???

Captain America: Steve Rogers #2, 2016TITLE: Captain America: Steve Rogers #2
AUTHOR: Nick Spencer
PENCILLER: Jesus Saiz
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: June 29, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

See? It’s not so bad. Bet the folks who threatened Nick Spencer’s life over last issue feel pretty silly right about now.

In issue #1, Steve Rogers did the unthinkable. He uttered the words: “Hail Hydra,” seemingly pledging his allegiance to the terrorist organization. But what’s really going on? Has Captain America truly turned to the dark side?

Nope. Not really.

Cap’s sudden change in allegiance can be attributed to Kobik, the sentient embodiment of cosmic cube fragments that has taken the form of a little girl. Just as a cosmic cube can alter reality itself, Kobik has altered Steve Rogers’ memories. In restoring him to his younger self during the Pleasant Hill storyline, Kobik also shifted Steve’s loyalties. And the person guiding Kobe’s actions? Red Skull himself.

Captain America #2, Red SkullSo basically, they went the mind control route. And that’s fine. There’s been some speculation that this issue was somehow changed following the backlash issue #1 got. That’s laughable. This is the story that Spencer wanted to tell, and it’s a story he stands by. As he should. Had he made the Hydra stuff part of Cap’s backstory, as opposed to a lie created by a cosmic cube, he’d have made it work. Was it controversial? Absolutely. Did it strike a nerve with readers? Of course it did. This character stands for something, and means a lot to people. But sometimes stunning revelations like this lead to great stories.

As Spencer himself wrote on his Twitter account: “[The] idea that we should treat a character with kid gloves due to symbolic value is a great way to lose symbolic value.”

Getting more into the issue itself, I love that this has all been Red Skull’s doing. He can’t compromise Cap’s values or integrity by himself, so he literally has to alter reality to do it. It’s perfectly twisted, insidious, and in character. Jesus Saiz also draws a hell of a Red Skull, particularly on the splash page shown above. From an art standpoint, he’s the highlight of the issue. Saiz makes him more expressive than many other artists do.

The events of the Pleasant Hill storyline factor heavily into what we see here. Bluntly, none of the Pleasant Hill stuff caught my interest, so I’m seeing a lot of this information for the first time. Spencer, Saiz, and the team walk you through everything. There’s still a frustrating, perhaps inevitable, disconnect for new readers. But the look back at Red Skull’s deliberate and drawn out plan is satisfying, and a lot of fun.

Red Skull, Captain America Steve Rogers#1,2016, Jesus Saiz

While we now know the truth behind Cap’s sudden allegiance to Hydra, from an in-story perspective, nothing has changed. For all intents and purposes, Captain America has now become an agent of evil. But what happens when his true allies learn what he’s done? What happens when Steve Rogers becomes an enemy of liberty, instead of its champion? We’ve already seen so much controversy. But this is only the beginning.

Images from author’s collection. 

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A Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 Review – Hail Hydra?!?

Captain America #1, 2016TITLE: Captain America #1
AUTHOR: Nick Spencer
PENCILLER: Jesus Saiz
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: May 25, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This is the one everybody’s talking about. The one where Cap says “Hail Hydra.” You already know about it. Every fan with internet access knows about it. So why dance around it?

Steve Rogers has had his youth restored and is Captain America once again. He and Sam Wilson now share the title, with Rogers getting a new suit and shield. He’s also got new partners. In addition to Sharon Carter and the crew at S.H.I.E.L.D., Rick Flag and Free Spirit are back in the picture, with Rick Jones backing them up from home base. Our team faces off with a new incarnation of Hydra, and them comes face-to-face with Baron Zemo.

This issue establishes our cast, shows us who the bad guys are, and gets the plot moving. All in all, it’s a pretty standard issue. Until it isn’t.

Steve Rogers- Captain America #1, Hail HydraThe story ends with a serve turn, as Cap shoves Rick Flag out of a plane during their rescue mission against Zemo. It closes with a splash page of Rogers next to the victim saying two words many believe Captain America should never say: “Hail Hydra.”

At face value, this is truly a shock. The incorruptible Captain America is a Hydra agent! Somebody get Jim Ross on the phone. He needs to call this one. “My God, I don’t believe this! Steve Rogers has sold his soul to Satan himself! Someone tell me why!!!”

That’s a sentiment shared by many a reader. Nick Spencer apparently received death threats last week. Apparently some fans are burning copies of the issue.

Alright, let’s all settle down here…

Firstly, remember what we’re reading. It’s a mainstream superhero comic book. Owned by Disney, no less. This Hydra thing is a stunt. In a year or two at most, this all will have blown over. Anybody freaking out THAT much about a comic book, or any seriously needs to find other things to do with their time.

What’s more, things may not be what they seem. The issue shows us that in 1926, Steve’s mother was befriended by a Hydra agent. At the time he’s a little boy. The implication is that Hydra got to him before he was old enough to know what was happening. It’s not as if he willingly turned his back on his country.

Steve Rogers Captain America #1, 2016, Hydra recruitmentWhat’s more, this is only the first chapter. For all we know, Steve knew Flag would be saved somehow, and the Hydra line was part of a ruse of sorts.

But of course, the only way to find out is to come back for issue #2. There’s your real motive right there.

Spencer’s take on Hydra is very compelling. They’re bad guys, obviously. But via a flashback scene with Red Skull, Spencer makes it very plausible that someone from a certain background or facing economic hardships could fall in with this crew. Rarely has Hydra been so…relatable.

Jesus Saiz handles the pencils, inks, and colors all himself here. His best work in the issue are the flashback scenes with Steve, his mother, and the mysterious but kind stranger who invites her into Hydra. Her facial expressions are done particularly well during the first half of the issue, and her 1920s flapper style makes her stand out. The cool blues and deep reds add a nice dramatic flair to things.

I have a question: How old is Sharon Carter supposed to be? I get what they’re going for, with Steve being young again while Sharon continues to age. But Saiz’s depiction of an older Sharon looks, shall we say, unnatural. He seems to be going for someone akin to Michelle Pfieffer or Sharon Stone. But he’s trying too hard, and winds up landing closer to Willem Dafoe. That’s particularly uncomfortable mid-issue when Sharon kisses Steve.

Jesus Saiz, Steve Rogers, Sharon CarterNick Spencer finds himself in a unique position here. We’ve got two Captain America books on the stands right now, each starring a different hero, and he’s writing both of them. So in approaching Steve Rogers, he obviously needed to find a way to clearly differentiate it from the Sam Wilson book. Whether you like the Hydra route or you hate it, you’ve got to admit he succeeded in that sense. He also got people talking about Captain America, and thinking about what the character really stands for. While this issue may be pretty standard up until the big reveal, it still does what very few issues have done over the course of Cap’s run. That makes it a winner, like it or not.

Images from author’s collection.

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An All-New, All-Different Avengers #4 Review – Avengers on a Budget

All New, All Different Avengers #4 (2016)TITLE: All-New, All-Different Avengers #4
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
PENCILLER: Mahmud Asrar. Cover by Alex Ross.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 27, 2016

***Need to jog your memory? Go back to the beginning with our review of All-New, All-Different Avengers #1.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The last two issues of All-New, All-Different Avengers didn’t do much for me. Much of it had to do with the involvement of Warbringer, whom I’m unfamiliar with. But now that we’re getting into the team dynamic and the nitty gritty of how they work together, things are picking up.

Our ol’ pal Jarvis joins the team at their new headquarters at a condemned airfield formerly owned by Tony Stark. As Tony brings Jarvis up to speed, our younger heroes wonder why The Vision has been acting even more robotic than expected. But a sudden attack from Cyclone in Atlantic City brings the Avengers into battle. And the thrill of the action causes Thor to do something unexpected. Here’s a hint…it’s on the damn cover.

All New, All Different Avengers #4, QuintetWhile I haven’t been thrilled by All-New, All-Different Avengers thus far, I continue to love this team line-up. It’s a great mix of classic Avengers (Iron Man, Vision), legacy heroes (Captain America, Thor), and next-gen heroes (Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Nova). Waid gives them a fun chemistry, which is added to by this low-budget story he’s going with. It almost has a Justice League International vibe.

There’s not much point to skating around the kiss between Cap and Thor, as they’re advertising it up front. While I won’t go into the specifics of how it happens, it’s not nearly as epic as the cover leads you to believe. Unless this is just the start of some grand romance between the two, which definitely has some intrigue to it. It would certainly be new and different, which seems to be Marvel’s M.O. these days.

It’s interesting to see how The Vision is portrayed in this book, as it matches up with what’s happening in his title. He seems to be raising red flags with the younger characters, which could create some interesting conflict between the new and established heroes down the road.

Ms. Marvel, All-New, All-Different Avengers #4, Mahmud AsrarMs. Marvel gets put over really nicely in this issue. Being so young, her perspective may be a bit more simplistic than the others. So during the attack, she cries to Cyclone: “You’re killing people! Why? They didn’t do anything to you!” To which Cyclone simply replies: “I’m a hired gun…Body count isn’t my problem.” Then at her request, Spider-Man flings her right at him, allowing her to hit several big blows. It’s a great moment for her, and a sign that she won’t be overshadowed.

Is Mahmud Asrar as step down from Adam Kubert? I don’t think so. Obviously he’s done ancillary work on this series with the recap pages and back-up stories, so he’s a natural plug-in without Kubert there. They’re fairly evenly matched as far as I’m concerned. Though Asrar has a cleaner, less sketchy touch to his work.

As much as most of us love Mark Waid’s work, I’m inclined to say All-New, All-Different Avengers has underperformed thus far. I don’t have a story that I can really sink my teeth into yet. But the upside is it’s laid some nice groundwork in terms of the relationships between the characters. And that’s undoubtedly one of the most important ingredients in any team book. If you’re an optimist, this is a series that can easily get better very quickly.

Images from author’s collection.

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An All-New, All-Different Avengers #1 Review – The World’s Mightiest Teen Angst

Avengers #1, 2015TITLE: All-New, All-Different Avengers #1
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
PENCILLERS: Adam Kubert, Mahmud Asrar. Cover by Alex Ross.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: November 11, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Mark Waid and Adam Kubert on an Avengers book, with Alex Ross doing the covers. That’s not exactly a hard sell, is it?

All-New, All-Different Avengers begins at street level, as Captain America (Sam Wilson) and Tony Stark have an impromptu reunion in front of numerous civilians. Sam continues to struggle with his every move being analyzed by the news media (as we’ve see in Captain America: Sam Wilson), and as he’s been offworld for some time, Stark Industries has been crumbling without him. But our heroes snap back into action mode quickly, when they come across Spider-Man (Miles Morales) taking on Warbringer.

We then jump six weeks backward, to see a charmingly awkward meeting between Ms. Marvel and Nova. Ah, the trials and tribulations of a budding teenage romance. At least, I think that’s what this is. Who knows? Teenagers are weird…

Avengers #1, Adam KubertSo our new and different line-up of Avengers consists of: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor (Jane Foster), The Vision, Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), Nova (Sam Alexander), and Spider-Man. What makes this group interesting is not only the diversity we see on the team, but how they’ve mixed the newer, younger heroes in with the veterans. Kamala, Sam, and Miles are all teenage heroes, so they’re bound to have a different worldview than their teammates. Plus, as editor Tom Brevoort said in a recent Newsarama interview, half the team goes to school, which means different hours of operation.

This issue does something many team books don’t take time to do initially: Establish a solid rapport between the characters. Not just the ones who haven’t met before, but the ones who have. Stark and Wilson obviously know each other. But this book gives us a nice look at the sort of friendly antagonistic relationship they’ve developed over the years. That sort of familiarity is a good way to kick off a legacy team book like this, especially given the exposition they have to get out on the table.

Adam Kubert is in his usual form here. Which is to say, good. His attention to detail is excellent, and while we only get a moderate amount of action from his half of things, he brings a nice sense of gravity that you’d associate with a more traditional Avengers book.

Avengers #0, Nova, Ms Marvel, Mahmud AsrarMidway through, we switch our focus to Kamala and her friends in Jersey City, as Nova chases a monster from the Microverse through the city. Waid does an amazing job writing not just awkward teenage dialogue, but freaked out teenage inner monologue. It’s immensely endearing, as most of us have been in front of a crush and not had a clue what to say. Asrar’s animated pencils match Waid’s tone perfectly, particularly when it comes to our characters’ nervous, apprehensive, or outraged faces. I’m very interested to see how this book blends the world-shaking crises with the more personal ones. Our opening page seems to indicate we’ve got both on the horizon.

Also worth nothing here is that Tony Stark has a hovercar that can transform into Iron Man armor. Why? Because he’s Tony Stark.

All-New, All-Different Avengers #1 definitely leaves you wanting more. There are plenty of questions left to be answered, including how Thor and Vision fit into all this, and how Miles may effect the dynamic between Sam and Kamala. As the months go on, hopefully this will indeed prove to be a new and different kind of Avengers team.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 Review – On Wings of Partisanship

Sam Wilson Captain America #1, 2015TITLE: Captain America: Sam Wilson #1
AUTHOR: Nick Spencer
PENCILLER: Daniel Acuna
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE:
$3.99
RELEASED: September 14, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Alas, poor Sam Wilson. He flew too close to the sun on wings of partisanship…

Yeah, that’s right. Wings of partisanship. Because his suit has big wings. And because apparently, Captain America is sounding off on the issues facing his beloved country these days. Of course, this issue doesn’t tell us exactly what his opinions are. But whatever he said, it was enough for S.H.I.E.L.D. to drop him from their ranks. Captain America is now a DIY project, with Sam and his remaining cohorts resorting to crowdfunding to restore some of their resources. And what of Steve Rogers? Has Sam even lost the faith of his former partner, the original Captain America?

I like the subtext of a half the country turning Captain America for “coming out” (for lack of a better term) about his true feelings. As the character himself says, our country is so divided right now. Opinions are widely different (at times violently so) about what America should be. Captain America now reflects that. He’s not above the squabbling anymore. That opens the door for compelling, emotional storytelling. Taking S.H.I.E.L.D. resources away from Sam and his cohorts also plays up his everyman appeal.

Captain America vs. Crossbones, Daniel AcunaCap runs into Crossbones early in the issue, and they have a funny little exchange. They’re about to fight, they know they’re about to fight, but first they shoot the breeze a little bit. They’re clearly enemies, but they’re almost old acquaintances too. That’s a funny dynamic. You wouldn’t want to see that with everybody, but ot’s cool once in a blue moon.

This issue also sets up a nice supporting cast for Sam. I don’t know as much about these characters as other fans do. But Sam’s partnership with Misty Knight is obviously intriguing. Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuna put together a nice sparring session between the two that’s ripe with sexual tension. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got D-Man to provide a little levity, along with some mechanical exposition. We also get a nice two-page scene between Sam and his brother Gideon, a pastor who brings a very personal, and potentially spiritual perspective to things. And of course, you’ve got our ol’ buddy Redwing. Add this all up, and it potentially gives the book some solid depth.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #1, Daniel AcunaDaniel Acuna is mostly on point here. He draws a good Sam Wilson, and I love his rendering of Pastor Gideon. He’s also good with the explosive moments. He’s also good with the explosive action moments that come during fights. Where Acuna lacks here is in Sam Wilson’s acting. When he’s in the mask, he almost always has the same blank and stoic expression. Granted, Acuna doesn’t have Sam’s eyes to work with, which I’m sure makes it harder. But even during the sparring scene with Misty, they both have expressions that aren’t blank (Acuna plays with the eyebrows a bit), but feel very lifeless. I hate to use the term “Captain A-Mannequin”… so I won’t. When Acuna has Sam’s eyes to work with, things are much better. But c’mon, man! You’re not working with a Spidey mask or an Iron Man helmet! Gimmie some feeling!

Sam’s stoic nature notwithstanding, we’re off to a really good start with Captain America: Sam Wilson #1. They’ve definitely got me coming back for issue #2. Something tells me old man Rogers ain’t too happy.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Captain America: White #1 – The Band is Back Together

Captain America: White #1TITLE: Captain America: White #1
AUTHOR: Jeph Loeb
PENCILLER: Tim Sale
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: September 17, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Finally, after so many years of waiting, the band is back together.

Actually, Captain America: White #1 is more akin to discovering old recordings than an actual reunion. The last page is dated 2008. But who cares? Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have a new comic book out. In the funny book industry, these two are as formidable as Cap and Bucky.

Seven years after the release of Captain America: White #0, the next installment in Loeb and Sale’s “color series” continues. After being awakened from his decades-long coma by The Avengers, Steve Rogers is horrified to learn how his young partner Bucky died. Now, Captain America, a relic of an era long gone, is left with nothing but the memories of the young man he knew so well, and trusted as his comrade.

Captain America: White #1, Cap and BuckyPart of the formula for a “color book” is that our main character is longing for someone they’ve lost, and is flashing back to their early days as a hero to remember them. In Spider-Man: Blue that person was Gwen Stacy, in Daredevil: Yellow it was Karen Page, and in Hulk: Gray it was Betty Ross. This story breaks that pattern with Bucky being in that spot. That’s all well and good, as it eliminates a certain repetition and keeps these stories from sounding similiar. Given Cap’s disposition as, in Sale’s words, “a fightin’ man” and “romantic neutral” (The latter is debatable, I suppose.), the partner dynamic makes more sense. Sales also presents a lot of cool big size/medium size visuals with Cap and Bucky, my favorite of which is the motorcycle shot above.

Sale is in mostly great form here. He starts things off with an awesome two-page spread of Cap literally leaping out of his coma as the original Avengers (clad in their ’60s era gear) look on stunned. Later, there’s another spread which mostly consists of a black and white news reel detailing Cap’s exploits. You can actually hear the ’40s style announcer’s voice in your head on those pages. Sale’s quirky style also lends itself very well to expressiveness, specifically during the scenes between Cap and Nick Fury, or Cap and Bucky.

Captain America: White #1, Nick Fury, Dum Dum DugganFrom a color standpoint, Sale and colorist Dave Stewart do beautiful work. These “color books” have always had a nice moody art to them that fits the deep and personal tone set by Loeb. Whether it’s the grim and shadowy reunion between Rogers and Fury, the lantern-lit moment in the tent when Bucky learns Cap’s identity, or the fiery skies of a battlefield, Stewart draws from a tremendous pallet, albeit one that’s a bit washed out at times.

I don’t get on Sale about his figure construction very often, but there are isolated moments in this issue where dynamism leads to awkward anatomy. Case in point, Cap’s pose on the cover. I assume that’s supposed to be his bicep covering his left cheek. But even if you stretch your standards, that’s a little too Rob Liefeld-esque for me. Ditto for the splash page where Cap extends his hand to Bucky. His chest is too puffy for my tastes. I hate even the thought of comparing Sale to Liefeld, but that’s where my mind went.

Captain America: White #1, Bucky!This issue is somewhat reminiscent of Loeb and Sale’s work on Batman: Dark Victory for obvious reasons. But there’s a significant difference in how both Captain America and Steve Rogers are perceived not only by Bucky, but by Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, and the American troops. Fury seems to regard Cap as more of a publicity stunt than a soldier, referring to him as a show off, a circus performer, and even “flagface.” It’s an interesting reminder that Cap wasn’t always a universally accepted personification of patriotism. It’s a cynicism that’s surprising, but insightful.

There’s also a scene where we get a sense that the younger Bucky may have a better aptitude with the opposite sex than Steve Rogers. Not only does he say it outright, but we later see the premise in action, as Steve interacts with ladies at a bar. Again, insightful.

Considering everything that’s happened to the Captain America status quo in recent years, i.e. Sam Wilson taking over the role and Rogers becoming older, it’s nice to see a throwback to Cap’s roots. It’s even nicer to see it done by such a masterful team. Considering Loeb’s role as head of television for Marvel, it seems unlikely we’ll see more comic book writing from him in the near future. That only serves to make Captain America: White more special, and more worthy of savoring.

Image 1 from Insidepulse.com. Images 2 and 3 from forbiddenplanet.co.uk.

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A Secret Wars #1 Review – A Noob’s Nightmare

Secret Wars #1 (2015)TITLE: Secret Wars #1
AUTHOR: Jonathan Hickman
PENCILLER: Esad Ribic. Cover by Alex Ross.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: May 6, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not a Marvel noob by any means. I’ve been a reader for a long time. But full disclosure: I’ve been out of the loop lately. As such, Secret Wars #1 was bewildering to me on a number of levels. But my God, if it threw me for a loop, imagine what it must have done to those poor noobs…

You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones that saw Avengers: Age of Ultron on the first of the month, then came out to the comic shop several days later to see what the hell these Marvel comic books were all about. And low and behold, they found this: A book that pits the primary Marvel Universe against the Ultimate Marvel Universe in a desperate fight to survive as the multiverse collapses. And what’s more, it’s wrapped in a gorgeous Alex Ross cover (Oh hell, they’re all gorgeous.) very much reminiscent of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Secret Wars #1, 2015But indeed, a new Marvel Universe is about to be formed. And to  be fair, Marvel is doing what it can to keep everybody in the know. The book has a plain white expository page that simply says: “The multiverse is dying. Only two universes remain. Today, Earths collide.” That’s a pretty simplistic view of something that’s not simple at all. But it states things pretty plainly. We also get cast page, that diagrams almost everybody in the issue. Hell, the issue even comes with a giant foldout of Battleworld, which as I understand it, is where much of the story will take place.

The issue also has a pretty damn good hook, as Doctor Doom, Doctor Strange, and Molecule Man come face-to-face with the Beyonders, as an unknown narrator talks to us about God, and what happens when we die. Heavy stuff. But appropriate I suppose, considering, you know, it’s the end of the universe. When we circle back to it at the end, it’s fairly strong.

If you’ve been following the Ultimate books and the main Marvel stuff, there are some cool moments to be found here. Captain Marvel and Ultimate Iron Man face off. We see the Triskelion fly into primary Marvel Manhattan. Both versions of Spider-Man seem to simply be caught up in the mayhem, which I find fitting considering their standing within their respective fictional universes. But most of my cool points go to the sequence with The Punisher in the bar (see below). Talk about a scene with a punch line…

Secret Wars #1, Punisher, bar sceneStill, the issue jumps around so much between different characters that it can almost be frustrating, especially if you’re not familiar with who’s who. It’s understandable, considering the scope of what’s happening. But in the span of one issue (An oversized issue, but still a single issue.), we jump from Luke Cage and Iron Fist, to the Guardians of the Galaxy, to Storm and Thor, to Captain America and Iceman. And that’s just one page (shown above in part)! Throw in the fact that some of these characters don’t look the way mainstream culture knows them, i.e. Thor being a woman and Sam Wilson being Captain America, and the cyclone of confusion only gets stronger.

Both Esad Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina deserve much credit for the much-needed epic feel they inject into the issue. While we don’t see a great deal of it here, Esad’s rendering of the Doctor Doom mask is awesomely intimidating. The desperation, terror, and determination he draws our heroes with is a beautiful thing. And Svorcina makes the issue a beautiful blaze of color, particularly in the way she reflects the colors in the sky off the various costumes. The issue as a whole is a lot to take in. But once you do, you know it’s gorgeous.

Regardless of how you rate the issue, between Secret Wars and Convergence, I’ve officially got event comic fatigue. More specifically, multiverse fatigue. No matter which worlds survive these respective crises, I can honestly say I’m ready to go back to my regularly scheduled comic books. Anybody else up for a non-event comic or two?

Image 1 from pastemagazine.com. Image 2 from gaish.tumblr.com.

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A Captain America: Cast Away in Dimension Z Review – About a Boy

Captain America, Vol. 1: Cast Away in Dimension ZTITLE: Captain America: Cast Away in Dimension Z
AUTHOR: Rick Remender
PENCILLER: John Romita Jr.
COLLECTS: Captain America #15
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: June 12, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Of his current run on Captain America, Rick Remender has said he was hoping to channel Jack Kirby and showcase Cap’s gutsy and noble spirit in a sci-fi environment. I’m not sure I expected things to get this sci-fi. But nevertheless, it works better than I ever expected it to.

Mere moments after being proposed to by his girlfriend Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers finds himself suddenly transported to a dimension ruled by the ruthless and sadistic Arnim Zola (a character created by Jack Kirby in the late ’70s). When Captain America escapes yet another one of Zola’s genetic experiments, he finds himself caring for an infant child rescued from Zola’s lab. Now, as he struggles to survive in a world he knows nothing about, Steve Rogers will know what it’s like to have a son. But despite his dramatic change in environment, Rogers will lives by a cardinal rule. A rule he learned from his mother while living as a poor child on the streets of Manhattan: When the odds are stacked against you, you always stand up.

Captain America #1, 2012When I opened Captain America #1, I had never been a huge fan. I liked him, and of course there was the obvious patriotic appeal, but the character had never connected with me on a personal level. This run by Remender and John Romita Jr. changed that. Despite the grand sci-fi setting, Remender injects a lot of great, relatable humanity into the story. The theme of Cast Away in Dimension Z is all about finding strength in the face of adversity and pain. It’s about finding the will to stand up, when it would be so easy to submit and stay down. That’s a pretty inspirational message coming from any character, but it’s especially so coming from Captain America. Amidst all the ridiculous chaos we see him facing in this story, he’s embodying what many believe is the true spirit of America. That’s a great thing.

While Remender and Romita are trying to channel Jack Kirby here, there’s more than a little Frank Miller to be seen here too. This book takes place over the span of about 11 years, so we get to see an older Steve Rogers who’s even more war-hardened than he was before. His bearded look, combined with the image of him running around with a kid, along with the way some of Zola’s minions look and speak, is very reminiscent of what Miller did with The Dark Knight Returns. The stories aren’t similar, but the the stories have a slightly similar feel. But then, given the involvement of inker Klaus Janson on both stories, it’s hardly a coincidence, is it?

Captain America: Cast Away in Dimension ZJohn Romita Jr’s gritty feel fits nicely with this story, given that much of it takes place in a bizarre wasteland. But once we get into Dimension Z, the real star of the book is colorist Dean White. Everything looks very faded, rusted, grimy and worn. This is in contrast to our flashbacks to Steve’s childhood in the ’20s, which are tinged with just the slightest amount of of sepia. It sets the mood and the tone perfectly for both settings.

Lest we forget, Cast Away in Dimension Z makes Steve Rogers a surrogate father to a young boy he names Ian. Hey Cap! Cap! Don’t do it, man! We’ve seen this episode! Mainstream superheroes do not have a good record with children, surrogate or otherwise. Aquaman’s son was suffocated by Black Manta. Superman lost his adopted son in the Phantom Zone. Wolverine ended up drowning his adult son. Let’s not even get into the two dead Robins that Batman has on his conscience. Heck, what about Captain America and Bucky? That’s been a rough road to travel in itself! But aw heck, the quiet scenes with Steve and Ian work pretty well, and Cap’s love for the kid comes off very effectively. So let’s go ahead and ride this train until the inevitable wreck…

Cast Away in Dimension Z does a great job of cutting to the core of Steve Rogers, and illustrating just what it is that makes him endure as Captain America. At the same time, it takes him out of his natural environment, and introduces some fresh elements. It’s not the best book we’ve seen from the Marvel NOW! initiative, but it’s definitely in the top tier.

RATING: 8.5/10

Image 1 from marvel.com. Image 2 from brokenspinecomics.tumblr.com.

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