Thursday, November 2, 2017

Micro-Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA EPIC COLLECTION - “Justice is Served” (Part Two)

CAPTAIN AMERICA Annual #8 - The comic every blogger was obligated to pull out of storage in 2005.

Marvel was pulling out all the stops to revive interest in CAP - the return of Zeck and a Wolverine guest shot! Surprisingly, their team-up against the Overrider & Tess-One runs pretty smoothly, until the end. Wolverine disobeys Cap’s orders, allowing a fall to nearly kill Overrider. Cap’s infuriated, telling Wolverine he’s lucky the X-Men tolerate him because “The Avengers would never have you.”

The fight we’re promised on the cover only lasts three panels, and Cap’s road trip with Wolverine in the middle is left off-panel. That would be its own full-issue chapter of the multi-part story today.

Much of the story has Wolverine solo, and Gru seems to be making an intentional choice to write Claremont-style captions in those scenes. It’s not parody, but it’s a nod to the older fans who get the reference. No first-person captions, though. Wolverine wasn’t defined by those yet, and Gru tended to dislike them anyway.

I Love the ‘80s Moment: Wolverine is allowed to smoke in the hospital room of an injured mutant.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #321 - September 1986. (Captain) America! &%#$ Yeah!

This is one of the defining stories of Gru’s run - the issue that has Cap gunning down a terrorist in order to save ULTIMATUM’s hostages. Gru’s adamant stance that Cap’s never killed before is central to his view of the character; and viewed as laughable by many readers…and comics pros. To Gru’s credit, the issue was addressed head-on in the letter column, just like his later stand against Cap using the Super Soldier serum.

The concept is a great moral quandary for the hero, and typical of the “I can’t, yet I must!” conflicts that Shooter advocated. Also, Flag-Smasher, a man who rejects all forms of patriotism is a nice foil for Cap (who can’t even conceive of how anyone could feel this way.)

Unfortunately, this specific issue is fairly disappointing. One of Gru’s quirks is to over-explain every tiny detail, so instead of a tense, multi-page action sequence of Cap sneaking around ULTIMATUM’s base, it’s a slog of giant word balloons, as Cap mentally fixates over every detail of his plan.

By the time you reach the climax, you’re just ready for the issue to end. Credit to Neary/Beatty for a nice-looking issue, though. And that cover…! You can see why Hasbro feared Zeck was too “intense” for G. I. JOE covers.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #322 - October 1986. Cap’s so upset after last issue he’s gone full first-person caption.

Part Two of the definitive Gruenwald CAP story, an entire issue devoted to Cap’s views on killing, one that ends with him risking frostbite or possible death in order to save the Flag-Smasher’s life.

This could come across as incredibly corny, but Gruenwald writes Cap’s stance as such a moral absolute, it does read as a fundamental aspect of his character. Not that everyone agreed, of course. And Marvel’s official stance now is certainly NOT that Cap has never killed. Gru might’ve gone too far with his stance that Cap didn’t even kill in WWII, but it’s essential to Gru’s view of the character.  Gru, coming of age during the 1960s peace movement, views killing in any circumstance as the ultimate violation of someone’s freedom. If Cap truly values freedom, he can’t justify killing.

Gru also has Cap reassert that he represents the ideals of America, not the government. This was an important distinction for Boomers who lived through Vietnam; it’s revived here perhaps to fight against fan perception that Cap takes order from the government. (Although, G. I. JOE was insanely popular then, so I don’t think most kids cared.) The distinction does play a major role in the next arc, so this could be intentional foreshadowing.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #323 - November 1986. Imagine the internet of 1986 reacting to those cover borders.

The Super-Patriot, later the US Agent, debuts this issue. Initially conceived as a strawman argument against perceived ‘80s excesses, we see Super-Patriot as desperate for fame as America’s new hero, but unwilling to stop a mugging, because it isn’t “glitzy” enough.

Gru’s plan all along was to replace Cap with this “’80s Captain America,” who initially reads as a hippie’s cartoon parody of Reagan youth. Later, Gru develops him into a more credible character; the US Agent we know today would NEVER allow an old lady to be mugged. If anything, that scene would be an excuse to show how intolerant he is of crime. If anyone did try to revive the fame whore element, it’d read as totally out of character.

Meanwhile, Cap is offered an official job with SHIELD, to avoid possibly facing trial in Switzerland for killing that terrorist. The threat of legal jeopardy, and outraged public opinion, is overplayed, and some fans were furious Gru took this story so far. I personally enjoy the pure moralistic view of Cap, who refuses to join SHIELD just to avoid legal jeopardy.

I hold the unpopular opinion that Brubaker got Cap’s character wrong from the first page of his first issue. Cap would not coldly kill a regiment of terrorists, regardless of the provocation. The lush colors and pretty Epting art can’t cover just how fundamentally flawed this interpretation is. It was, ironically, a very ‘90s reinvention of Cap, even as the ‘90s were being rejected across comics.

Cap killing people in the movies also feels wrong, aside from maybe the WWII montages. A much better alternative to the retcon of AVENGERS 2’s ending (which was all about the heroes SAVING innocents) would be for the indignant mom at the opening of CIVIL WAR to be the mother of one of the Loki-enchanted soldiers that Cap killed in AVENGERS. It would’ve played against his “brainwashing doesn’t count!” defense of Bucky, and not undermined the entire point of another film.


thinkingcog said...

Been enjoying your views on this era of Cap. I'm curious as to what you made of Mark Waid's run in the late 90s. There's a story about an all powerful Red Skull and the issue of Cap not being able to kill him comes up.
I personally love the run but it definitely feels more indebted to Gru.

That being said, despite broadly agreeing with you, I like Brubaker's take. After the stylized heroics, an espionage vibe was refreshing.

G. Kendall said...

I like that era of CAP, even though the later Andy Kubert issues become frustrating, with the constant back-up stories and obvious filler. I use to kick around the thought of examining all of the "Heroes Return" books one day, but I don't know if it will ever happen.

Matt said...

I just want to throw out there that I would love to see a series of reviews of the Heroes Return books (and Heroes Reborn as well, if you were so inclined...)

thinkingcog said...

I'd second an overview of Heroes Return and also kinda Heroes Reborn as well if I'm honest though the latter would be more perverse!

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