Monday, June 30, 2008

Captain America returns (sort of)

When the shot heard round the world was fired last year, major news sources like USA Today and even CNN jumped onto the coverage: Captain America was dead. The living legend and icon was gone in a time when America needed stability the most. Of course, this is the world of comic books and no one really stays dead, so who was holding their breath it would last?

Captain America #39 hit the stands last week and the cover says it all. Cap has returned to face his replacement, namely Bucky Barnes (aka "Winter Soldier"). The only hitch is that this isn't the Steve Rogers Captain America, but the Cap from the 1950's.

See, comic books went through a hard time in the 50's. They were blamed for juvenile delinquency everywhere and were even publicly burned by concerned parents' groups. Comics did manage to weather that storm, but the outcome was hard for superheroes. Western comics came through smelling like roses, but heroes didn't make it as well. When Marvel decided to attempt to relaunch Captain America, he would no longer be fighting Nazis, but Communists. This required a little playing around with his origin, so a new Cap was created. This same hero was eventually tucked away in the Marvel Universe until he was revived as the new Hate Monger and thought to be killed. Turns out he was being held in suspended animation the whole time. Now he's back and ready to take on the mantle of Captain America again. Unfortunately, someone else is wearing the stars-and-stripes at the moment.

This setup is awesome for Marvel. I've really enjoyed Captain America since the Civil War happened and his death was faked--I mean, he was killed. Bucky's done a great job as Cap and now we have a great turnaround here with the appearance of the 1950's Cap.

For years, the 1940's Cap was teamed with the 1950's Bucky (Jack Munroe, who later became Marvel's coolest hero ever: Nomad). Now the 1940's Bucky meets the 1950's Cap, but there's a small bit of animosity between them: Bucky killed Jack Munroe when he was still Winter Soldier. The new/old Cap knows this, and we have the setup for some great fights ahead.

While this issue is a great start, it only sets the stage for the upcoming battle next issue. Will this Cap stick around for a while? Who knows. He won't replace Bucky (that'll be Steve Rogers' job when he comes back), but he could add a new hero to the Marvel roster. Of course, with US Agent running around out there, we don't really need another Cap rip-off, so I say this guy is heading for a dirt nap before his storyline is through. We'll see. Either way, it's been a great story so far and looks like it will only get better.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Whatever Happened to Hank Pym?

Well into the middle of the Skrull Invasion of Marvel, we are finally getting a chance to catch up to everything that has gone on behind the scenes for the past few years with Skrull activity. Who was replaced? And how? Last month, we saw the master plan to take down Sentry, Marvel's favorite schizophrenic superhero. For some reason, he's supposed to be the key to defeating the Skrulls, and yet Marvel has never used him effectively in any way since he killed Carnage in New Avengers #2. At any rate, we ended Mighty Avengers 14 with the Sentry in space and now replaced by a strange "dark" version of himself. Ready to see what happens next? Well, keep waiting.

Marvel has jumped on the DC bandwagon of storytelling by giving us several individual issues of stories that start but never end. This month in Mighty Avengers #15, we are treated to the background info on how (and why) the Skrulls replaced Marvel's other resident schizo: Hank Pym. To be honest, it's a good story for the most part. I've always enjoyed Ant-Man and hated his Yellowjacket phase. I have to admit a certain satisfaction at the flashback Marvel did to the very first issue of New Avengers to show us how the criminals escaped The Raft, and why. Of course, the question has to be asked: "Where are the heroes who have been replaced?" No doubt, Marvel is going to answer that soon. If nothing else, at least they're honoring their major crossover story by having it tie into other titles for a reason.

So what's the score so far? Hank Pym and Spider-Woman are both Skrull agents. Tony Stark? Nope (even though it was the popular vote of choice when the whole "Civil War" started). Dead Captain America? Nope (again, Marvel ignored the popular ideas and just plain killed the guy). Nick Fury is back too with his own little group of soldiers determined to take down the bad guys. Will he succeed where others have failed? You won't find out next issue, because Marvel's taking the focus on the first Skrull reveal: Electra. Why would they do this in "Mighty Avengers" since Electra was never even an Avenger? Because it's Marvel Comics and they can.

Major Skrull reveals still ahead, I'm sure. Any ideas?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Mess That is "Final Crisis"

Well, the big moment has finally arrived folks and DC's much-hyped "Final Crisis" is upon us. We've had 53 weeks of the "Countdown to Final Crisis", so we should be well-versed in exactly what awaits us, right? Well, after two issues, it's safe to say: "Huh?"

"Countdown" wasn't the greatest thing in the world, but it did manage to have some sparkling moments. One of the biggest was when Jason Todd took on the mantle of Red Robin from Alex Ross's "Kingdom Come". Even though the character had all of one page and really no action sequences, it was something fans everywhere loved. Seeing the costume in the final issues of "Countdown" was great, and Jason turned the character into a tougher version of Batman. I was looking forward to seeing him really be a big player in "Final Crisis". Alas, it was not to be.

Looking at the first two issues of FC, it's safe to say Grant Morrison never bothered to read any of the comics DC had put out in recent years. Instead, he decided to start his own series and hope the rest of the books could keep up.

Two issues so far and we've seen the death of a major character (Martian Manhunter) in a beautiful ONE PANEL death scene. I've never been a huge fan of MM, but even he deserved some sort of better send-off than this.

Then issue 2 comes out and readers everywhere are going "What in the world?" and trying to find the missing pages of the book. There aren't any. This incoherent mess really was published this way on purpose. And we end on what's supposed to be the biggest bombshell moment of DC in recent years: the return of the Flash.

Is this the "YEAH!" moment comic fans everywhere have been looking for? Has Barry Allen returned to bring the Flash back to the comic icon he once was? Given Morrison's track record so far, don't hold your breath. More than likely, Bart Allen would return permanently before Barry did. A guest shot, maybe, but is Barry sticking around? Nope. DC hasn't done well lately in keeping a story strong, so there's no reason to think they would start now.

So where do we go from here? Given the patchwork storytelling we've seen so far, I think it will be another 2 or 3 issues before any of the storylines started here are resolved. We'll probably see about 4 more tragic beginnings next issue and have to pick up the one-shot or mini-series that finishes it. But hey, it's not like Marvel's doing much better with the Skrull war. More on that one later.

DC, the fans are beginning you to tell a coherent story. When "Crisis on Infinite Earths" came out, it did manage to cross over a few titles. All the same, you can read the collected maxi-series and keep up with everything going on. Even "Infinite Crisis" made sense in that format. This one is relying way too much on other books to clean up the mess they're starting. You've still got 6 issues left of this. Fix it...please.
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