Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Captain America Micro-Reviews - Streets of Poison (Part Two)


CAPTAIN AMERICA #375 - No double-sized anniversary here.
Witness the scourge of drug trade menaces Jerkweed and Ground Chuck.
Also witness Captain America steal a plate of spaghetti from the Kingpin while resisting Typhoid’s subtle advances.
Gru is writing Cap as an utterly delusional zealot who’s going to violently take down the drug trade singlehandedly.
The story’s explanation is that Cap was unwittingly exposed to Ice, so now he’s hopped up on the junk he’s trying to stop.
I assume Gru was going for something deeper; Cap reads as a parody of every anti-drug action hero of the era.
When someone mentions societal issues that might lead someone to turn to drugs, Cap shuts down that hippie talk.
So Gru’s writing an action-packed anti-drug story…as a response to action-packed anti-drug stories?
Finally, in the back-up, a captive Battlestar is advised not to strain too hard and “bust a nut.”
Is there a variation of this expression that I’m not aware of?

CAPTAIN AMERICA #376 - The Red Skull returns for his 495th shadowy scheme.
The Spirit’s “I’m not on drugs!” catchphrase from his movie never caught on. Can Cap sell it this issue?
Apparently, it’s Daredevil’s fight with Crossbones that leads to him developing amnesia in his own book. Never made that connection before.
Funny to think that Nocenti had Daredevil brainwashed into becoming a Marxist by a young bohemian -- while Gruenwald was doing this rather odd take on the War on Drugs with Cap.
Marvel was very mainstream, but also quite strange during this era.
The back-up has Battlestar facing a villain who’s grown so muscular, he needs a “hover-harness” to move.
He could’ve made a killing selling these things a mere two years later…


CAPTAIN AMERICA #377 - Bullseye vs. Crossbones is pretty great.

Loved this fight as a kid. Hero guest spots are nice, but it’s also fun to see villains pop up in unexpected places.
This is the issue that has Cap officially losing his Super Soldier Serum through a blood transfusion.
During the operation, he hallucinates his origin story and remarks that the Dr. Erskine’s needle resembles a junkie’s.
As ridiculous as this is, Gru does introduce an intriguing question -- what is Cap without the Super Soldier Serum?

CAPTAIN AMERICA #378 - Yeah, Cap vs. Crossbones is cool…
…but the real highlight is Kingpin and Red Skull wrestling in their underwear to determine who runs New York’s drug trade.

Gru is working under the assumption that Cap will maintain his muscle tone after losing the Serum -- which enables him to battle Crossbones successfully and declare that he doesn’t need the Serum again.
Gru thought it was important that Cap of all people “Just Say No” and not use the Serum as a crutch, but this doesn’t work.
The muscle tone that Cap enjoys today exists because of the Serum. Even if he never takes it again… …and works to maintain his physique, Cap still has the physique BECAUSE of the Serum.
So regardless of everything Gru’s tried to do, Cap still has abilities thanks to “drugs.”
The back-up story, meanwhile, has Battlestar happily accept “augmentation” to revive his super-strength.
Clearly, Gru ran these stories simultaneously for a reason, but it also works to undermine his point.
Are we to believe that Battlestar is “less” of a hero for accepting pseudoscience as the means of his strength?
Or is the Powerbroker’s strength augmentation process somehow morally superior to Dr. Erskine’s treatment?
If so, since Cap has suddenly developed a moral issue with the Serum, why wouldn’t he just go to the Powerbroker?
Meanwhile, in the backup, we learn that USAgent has changed his identity from Johnny Walker to…Jack Daniels.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #379 - The rare issue that required a fill-in for Ron Lim.
Introducing Nefarious, the blond version of Count Nefaria.
Nefarious gained his powers through an experiment much like the one that granted Cap his powers …Gru is exploring the consequences of people so easily gaining powers through these experiments, presumably to emphasize just how heroic Cap is for rejecting the Serum today. I don’t personally buy it.
I can see where Gru’s coming from, but dwelling on the moral implications on a fictional serum that has no side effects, and connecting it to steroids is just reaching for a moral quandary.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #380 - More fun with the Serpent Society.
The Society refuses to believe that A) he’d ever touch supervillain trash like her, and B) that she hasn’t sold out their secrets.Diamondback is on trial, due to her relationship with Cap. 
I always loved the Serpent Society as a kid; just villainous snakes constantly turning on each other and endless in-fighting.
Meanwhile, Cap’s reunited with his old girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal, written out by Gru years earlier.
Bernie’s graduated law school since her last appearance, indicating old Marvel’s resistance to a stuck timeline.
This means that students can graduate from school, couples become parents, and even (gasp!) Spider-Man grows up.
The USAgent back-up stories are by Mark Bagley. He captures Agent’s barely restrained fury quite well.
Gru was probably thinking about steroids even before Streets of Poison.
USAgent always seemed like a roided-out version of Steve Rogers to me.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #381 - Paladin appears to creep things up.
I’m going to assume that Paladin’s gimmick of constantly hitting on female heroes has been dropped by now -- lest Marvel tempt the wraith of The Dreaded Social Justice ThinkPiece That Might Eventually Lead to a Hashtag.
Diamondback turns to Cap for help, but he can’t promise that he won’t arrest her two remaining friends in the Society.
So, she hires Paladin instead, who keeps reminding her that he wants more than cash as his payment.
The way Gru writes the Society continues to impress me. Most of its members are conflicted about turning on Diamondback -- but they’re also loyal to their leader, King Cobra, and believe that the Society is their only real shot in life.
There’s real drama during the fight; it’s character vs. character instead of sadist vs. sadist.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #382 - As much as I liked Lim’s CAP, that shield was occasionally off-model.
The Cap/Diamondback/Serpent Society arc ends, and I have to gripe about one dropped plot.
Last issue, Diamondback was terrified that she’d killed Bushmaster by accidentally tossing the wrong diamond down his throat. This issue, Bushmaster is fine and the acid-bomb he ingested last issue is never mentioned. Disappointing.
Even though Gru introduced the Society fifty issues prior, this is the first conclusive victory Cap’s had over them.
It’s a shame the Serpent Society never caught on. They would’ve suited most of Marvel’s “street level” heroes.
Remember when the Circus of Crime kept popping up in the late 90s? Just imagine the Society getting some of those roles.


CAPTAIN AMERICA #383 - Cap officially enters the ‘90s.
Although Gru is back to channeling Silver Age DC -- using Cap’s anniversary as an excuse for him to meet figures like Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed.
I’ll be honest; I’ve never liked this logo change. I realize it’s the classic logo to many people -- but I prefer the more solemn logo that doesn’t scream “comic book.” Think it fits the tone of Gru’s earlier issues well.
Maybe the logo change is signaling an intentional change of direction? Less political intrigue and more high-adventure?

CAPTAIN AMERICA #384 - Deceptive cover alert.
Iceman is certainly not in this issue, although Jack Frost is rendered as his twin, right down to the briefs.
Gru reveals this issue that Jack Frost was also frozen in the arctic at the end of WWII and is only now being revived.
Jack’s frozen *again* during the climax, but Gru does throw some theories out regarding his origin -- and reveals that D-Man is *also* frozen up there in the cold.
But the real significance of the issue is Gru simply giving up on the “Super Soldier Serum is a drug” plotline.
Cap learns that there’s no way the Serum can truly leave his blood, so he’s stuck with it, regardless of his feelings.
Cap shrugs his shoulders and declares that comparing the Serum to recreational drug use was kind of silly. The End.

I wonder if Gru would’ve backtracked if he received as many letters criticizing his stance against Cap working as a commercial artist.
The idea that Cap would have a deep moral conviction against drawing toothpaste ads always seemed ridiculous to me.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #385 - The Watchdogs fight against that raunchy rap music of 1991.
While one of Cap’s old neighbors joins the Watchdogs, Cap tries to reconcile his feelings for Bernie and Diamondback.
I remember one of the letter pages from the Waid era questioning if CAP lends itself to these romantic subplots.
Waid’s Cap was very much an icon, the character everyone in the book stands in awe of. Gru tends to avoid this.  Cap’s legendary status is occasionally given a nod, but Gru is more interested in writing Cap as a man.
Diamondback stars in the back-up, creating Bad Girls, Inc. with two other Society members.
It’s actually kind of amazing that Marvel didn’t publish a Bad Girls, Inc. comic circa 1995.
Can’t you just see it, with a Mike Deodato, Jr. cover? Broken back poses everywhere…


CAPTAIN AMERICA #386 - Party on, USAgent.
For the first Cap/USAgent team-up, there’s not a lot of USAgent here. I would’ve expected more of an “event.”
Given the grim tone of the original Watchdogs arc, I’m surprised that Gru’s writing this as a more traditional action arc.
The early Watchdogs story seemed incredibly edgy to me as a kid; this one is much safer.
The Watchdogs have gone from firebombing adult book stores to kidnapping artists and brainwashing them into loving mom, baseball, and the American flag.
The Diamondback story has Dan Panosian penciling and inking, now in the style of regular back-up artist Mark Bagley.
Unfortunately, it ends in a cliffhanger -- and it’s the last regular issue reprinted in the book. Next story is an unrelated annual story.
I think these Epic collections are great, but I wonder who’s served by only printing single chapters of annual crossovers.
I’d much rather have four additional monthly CAPTAIN AMERICA issues in place of the two annuals.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Milch Studies Continue...



I'm still working my way through the work of television writer David Milch on the Gentlemen of Leisure site.  My final entry on the forgotten series Brooklyn South was posted today, and if you're interested in Austin's take on the early '90s era of the X-Men titles, he's well into the madness of the Chromium Age.
http://www.therealgentlemenofleisure.com/

Monday, July 4, 2016

Captain America: Epic Collection - Streets of Poison (Part One)



Don’t know if I’ll make it to Capwolf, but I am glad these trades exist.
Leaving Gruenwald’s Captain America run out of print for so long was always a glaring oversight on Marvel’s part.
I realize his run ended during an era Marvel would rather erase entirely, but that doesn’t mean you throw the whole thing out.
Gru’s Cap is just so MARVEL to me, at least Marvel of this era. It sums up the late ‘80s/very-early ‘90s so well.
Streets of Poison is, famously, Gru’s attempt to address the drug problem, which was essentially THE issue of the day.
Not sure if things ever really changed, but the media’s attitude towards drugs has certainly lightened up.
Drugs are either a casual joke, a source of phony “edginess,” or usually just ignored in the press today.
Can’t imagine a comic devoting a multi-part story today to the issue. Gru’s writing from the POV that Cap just HAS to address the topic.
So, the first chapter opens with Cap discovering that Avengers lackey Fabian is using the new street drug Ice.
He forces Fabian into treatment, but is floored when Fabian suggests that Super-Soldier Serum is just another drug.
“Floored” not because it’s such an inane comparison, but because Gru just decided one day that the Serum was essentially steroids.
Cap decides to wage a war on drugs.  Meanwhile, Bullseye escapes from prison in a fantastic scene.

Ron Lim doesn’t emphasize the grit, but it’s easily something you could see Miller doing. Teeth work just as well as paperclips, apparently…
The backup story stars two of my favorites from this era -- USAgent and Battlestar.
Battlestar wants to know why Agent didn’t tell him that he faked his death earlier. Agent has no idea what he’s talking about.
And when ‘Star mentions Agent’s dead parents, he breaks into a psychotic rage and tries to kill his friend.
I’ve always been intrigued by Gru’s take on USAgent…on paper, it sounds like every cliché that I normally hate.
But I seem to recall Gru pulling it off. The friendship between USAgent and Battlestar was the center of the book for a few months -- and I’m glad he hasn’t kicked the guys out of the series, even if the “replace a hero” arc is long over.
The backups were often the highlight of this book. Love the way Gru turned the book over to villains, bit players, & washed-up replacement heroes…

CAPTAIN AMERICA #373 - Hey, Diamondback had her own logo.
Last issue, Cap narrowly escaped an explosion triggered by Napalm, he of the wifebeater & shoulder-length mullet.
Cap’s invasion of the drug trade has somehow convinced Napalm’s men that the Kingpin is moving in on their turf.
Leading us to Kingpin’s introduction into the arc. He hires Bullseye to find who’s running this rival drug trade.
As Bullseye points out, he’s not a detective. He just wants to kill people. He needs a job, though.

Meanwhile, Cap’s acting oddly after escaping death, and Diamondback & Black Widow have a misunderstanding fight.
60-ish Peggy Carter is in the background, watching Cap cavort with his new girlfriend, who’s around her granddaughter’s age.
Diamondback’s sporting that half-shaved look that came back into style 4-5 years ago. Peggy must’ve been thrilled.
Not only is Cap dating someone 1/3 his age, but she’s a hipster cat burglar with an obnoxious hairstyle.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #374 - continuing the unofficial crossover from DAREDEVIL #283.
Not sure if the details match; DD didn’t return to his old identity after only one day in his book.
Even Cap isn’t sure how he ended up in upstate NY in that story, either. If only both books shared the same editor.
Oh, wait. They did.
It’s nice to know why Cap was out of character in that DD issue, though. He absorbed Ice during the warehouse explosion.
That means…Cap’s on drugs!
Now, his friends are secretly keeping an eye on him, when they’re not busy dodging drive-by fire.
Diamondback goes undercover by wearing a different diamond-themed outfit. (Okay, and a wig.)
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