Comic Book Review – Captain America #4 (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week I’m reviewing Captain America #4 (or #708 with Legacy numbering), written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, with pencils by Leinil Francis Yu, inks by Gerry Alanguilan, colours by Sunny Cho and letters from VC’s Joe Caramagna, with cover art by Alex Ross.

Cover art by Alex Ross

Steve Rogers is still trying to make up for what was done in his name, and with his face, when Hydra took over the United States. He’s lost the trust of his government and the American people, and is now rushing to the aid of Sharon Carter, Agent 13, who has been working with the government and has been captured during her latest mission. Cap goes in alone, tearing his way through a base full of goons before coming up against an opponent who’s battle abilities rival his own. Meanwhile Sharon is questioned and tortured by members of the mysterious Power Elite, the next group who are looking to take over the US!

Coates’ run so far on Captain America has been thrilling, and in this issue he shows off a deep and clear understanding of the character, as Cap narrates over his fights. See Cap is an idealist, and truly believes in America and the ideals it should stand for. It’s why he is the Captain of it. But his issue increasingly lies with people who call themselves patriots but act like nothing but, people who “swear by the flag one day, and set it on fire the next”. Even without a familiarity with Coates’ non-fiction writings (with which you should get acquainted), it’s difficult not to see the commentary here on the current climate in the United States. The plot here is good, and it’s ties some of the best Cap stories in the past 20 years is a big plus, but it’s the characterisation of Steve Rogers this commentary that makes the book shine. More is being done and said with the aftermath of Secret Empire here and with a more deft hand than in the event itself.

Art by Yu, Alanguilan, Cho and Caramagna

Yu’s Cap is fierce with a real sense of power. For such an action-heavy issue, nothing drags and it feels kinetic and brutal. At the same time, the interrogation scenes with Sharon are dark and ominous, allowing the threat level in both scenes to come through very strongly. The colours are slightly washed out and dulled, which suits the tone and the base environs of the issue.

Coates and Yu’s Captain America is my favourite book on the stands right now, and goes to the top of my reading pile whenever it comes out. The art is strong and the plot and character musings are incredibly timely. Don’t sleep on this. Pick it up at your LCS, and the first 3 issues if you haven’t already read them!

Comic Review – Secret Empire #0 (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week saw the start of Secret Empire, the latest event from Marvel comics that marks the culmination of over a year of build up in Captain America Steve Rogers. We’ve been assured that this will be the last major event from Marvel for 18 months after this 9 issue series (although I don’t know if this issue counts as 1 of 9, or 0 of 9…), which is definitely a good thing since everyone is feeling serious event fatigue. Not that every event has been bad (Secret Wars was great), but a break in the constant story interruptions, world resetting, series ending and new #1s is certainly welcome. Here is hoping that Secret Empire leads us into that break on a high. Secret Empire #0 was written by current Captain America (both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson) writer Nick Spencer, with prologue art by Rod Reis, main story art by Daniel Acuña and letters by VC’s Travis Lanham. Cover art was provided by Mark Brooks.

Cover by Mark Brooks

Following on from the events started in Captain America Steve Rogers #1 in May 2016 and the Pleasant Hill event, Captain America has had his reality rewritten by the Red Skull and a sentient cosmic cube in the form of a little girl, known as Kobik. You may have heard about it when the internet melted down as a result. In the new reality, Steve Rogers was recruited by Hydra at a young age to be their spy, and so unbeknownst to all of his allies, Captain America has always been an agent of Hydra. Over the last year he has been maneuvering and scheming his ultimate plan to take over the world, now finally revealing himself and his allegiance to all who thought they knew and trusted him.

I won’t go much more into details of the plot, but Secret Empire #0  is action packed and a thrill to read. Spencer has weaved a layered and complex plot with the fall of the greatest Avenger and his betrayal, and the time he has spent with the character really pays off. The most puzzling aspect of this issue is therefore the question of why this is a #0 rather than the opening issue of the event itself? Zero issues typically set the table for the event, and recap the plot leading up to it for anyone that might not have been following. But Secret Empire #0 seems to be essential reading and an integral part of the story, and it would be confusing and a shame for readers to miss out due to that #0 rather than #1 on the cover. Also I don’t know why Tony Stark is back in the land of the living. I read Invincible Iron Man too and as far as I was aware the only Tony was RiRi Williams’s AI. Is this the AI? Because there was definitely a man inside that can at one point. Those quibbles aside, the storytelling in this issue was great.

Art by Daniel Acuña

As for the art, it is consistently strong throughout. The prologue from Rod Reis is a gorgeous and ethereal opener that displays the weight of the story to come. Acuña’s art throughout the main story is similarly incredible, jumping between some fantastic action that stretches from New York, to Earth’s orbit and the skies above Sokovia, and the dark, heavier moments that drive the plot and show the determination and grim resolve behind the master strategist with his efforts aimed at dominating the world rather than saving it. Acuña’s bold art makes these latter character moments really land, with the surprise these heroes are experiencing feeling really genuine.

Secret Empire is off to a good start, with strong art and a story that feels like a real payoff to a year of story. Issue #0 feels like essential reading for the plot, and even then it may be a little impenetrable to new readers. Even so, I definitely recommend Secret Empire #0,  which you can pick up at your local comic shop or digitally now!

Score: 8 Helicarriers out of 10

 

Pick up the first two volumes of Spencer’s Captain America Steve Rogers run here and here!

Captain America and the Rise of Hydra

Kit reviewed Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 this week (check his review here). He also had a few thoughts about how the story reflects the current political climate in the wake of this week’s election.

Spoilers for the current Captain America story are included

Captain America always has been and always will be a political story. From his original conception of pro-American propaganda during World War 2, to his stance on civil rights and personal freedoms during Civil War and the times he has given up the role of Captain America due to the state of American politics. In my view, this is still entirely the case. I would clarify though, that this is only my reading into and what I took from the comic (Captain America: Steve Rogers #7). It may well not be the original intention of writer Nick Spencer to include such a political message in this story, but if that is the case I would argue Barthes’ Death of the Author theory applies (the idea that whatever the reader reads into a story is valid, whatever the intentions of the author).

It is entirely my belief that Steve Rogers’ current conversion to Hydra is representative of the political climate in the US, UK and large parts of Europe. He is the embodiment of what America should be, and now ideologically he’s a fascist. The fact he’s still working with SHIELD and with the governments of the west against the more blatant fascism of the Red Skull really brings home the point that the current ideals of the west have lurched to the far-right. If he was standing by the Skull, laughing manically it would be a more traditional mind control story, but no, this is the story of western ideology being rewritten to support the political far right.

hydra

One of the things that cut a bit close to the bone was the Red Skull’s speech itself. It is not that far removed from what we hear some political leaders say these days. He simply takes it one step further, not just ‘blame the existing establishments for your suffering’ or ‘blame those who are different’ he’s simply added one or two more steps to reach the point of ‘we must tear them down’. This is why this story is important. It is reflecting the current political mood of populist and charismatic leaders acting as if they’re above the existing establishments and by extension the law, hijacking the narrative to say that it’s those who are different to use that are to blame for our misfortune, despite the fact they face the same struggles we do and while pointing to some parts of the establishment glossing over the fact that they themselves are embedded into other parts of it.

There is sometimes a strange idea that fiction and entertainment should remain politically neutral. That has never been the case. It exists to give us a medium to explore ideas and make sense of them. To show us what is happening and make us think about it.

The thing is, reading this story I have no doubt that soon enough his history will be corrected and Steve will be his good old liberally minded self again. And, if like me you think that way and you’ve been despairing at recent political events, it’s worth remembering that this is not the first, and will not be the last time that it will feel like the world is going to shit, that ignorance, prejudice, discrimination and every ugly aspect of society is on the rise. Every time that has happened though, the world has turned, not without pain, but equality, empathy, compassion and kindness haven’t gone away before and aren’t going to go away now, especially if we stand up for what we believe in and try to understand why someone who thinks otherwise does so.

This story will then be seen, if anyone ever looks back at it, as a reflection of what was happening during 2016, something comics can do so incredibly well. From Steve Rogers punching Hitler, to Iron Man fighting Communists and even Captain Planet telling kids to stay in school and pick up their litter. I consider this to be an ugly year, maybe next year and the year after will be too, but the only good thing about a bad year is that thanks to time being linear it ends. Then we’ll move on and away from it and look back at 2016 and simply wonder “what the fuck” or finally prove that up until then David Bowie was the one holding the fabric of reality together.

Kit

Comic Review – Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 (Marvel Comics)

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: minor spoilers.

“I want to restore the glory of Hydra” Captain America

I’ve been meaning to pick up more Captain America comics. He’s one of my favourite Avengers, especially the way he’s portrayed in the MCU. These days things are not quite as rosy in the comics as they are on the big screen. To bring you up to speed with Issue #1 – 6 there is one big thing you need to know. (SPOILER!) The cosmic cube has been used to warp reality so Steve Rogers has always been a Hydra Agent. I’m sure some fans won’t be too keen on this (see what happened last time) but this is the world of comics. People die, reality gets rewritten, and as long as your name isn’t Uncle Ben one day you’ll be bought back to life/un-mind controlled or reality set back to normal if you’re from the main Marvel or DC universe. Issue #7 is picking up a new story arc, so it’s a good jumping on point. Anyway, this comic was bought to you by:

  • Writer – Nick Spencer
  • Artist – Jesús Saiz
  • Letterer – VC’s Joe Caramagna (when does this guy get time to rest? He seems to do every Marvel issue)
  • Cover – Stephanie Hans
cap-7

Cover by Stephanie Hans

The comic is set during two time periods. One, back when Steve Rogers was a young, proud, Hydra Youth back in 1935, and the other the present day. The flashbacks provide an on-going narrative to give the reader context as to why Cap is now the way he is and fills in a brand new, much darker past for our ‘hero’. Meanwhile the Red Skull is rallying the people of Sokovia while he gathers his plans to take on the world, march across Europe and do all of those classic Nazi things. Steve Rogers meanwhile is having none of that. Yes, he is a Hydra Agent, but he wants the Red Skull out of the picture so he can ‘restore the glory of Hydra’. The Red Skull of course has his own plans. He’s going to take on the world and has something up his sleeve to bring down the best of the best.

Although there’s some action in this comic it is absolutely not the focus. There’s plenty of text to read and story to get into. The stage is being set for the Skull’s, and Cap’s big plans and there is certainly the promise of battles to come. Every character has a very strong presence. I’ve read comics where you could switch the villain, give them the same text and get the same impact. Not this one though. The Skull, Cap, and supporting cast each fulfill their roles as only they can.

cap-interior

Art by Saiz

There are two predominant art styles throughout. The present day and the flashbacks. The present day art itself comes in two tones. When Cap is involved colours are brighter and more intense. When the focus is the Red Skull the pallet is muted and greater attention given to the detailed line work. During the flashbacks Saiz has opted for a more colourless, greyscale pallet, with the exception of school ties and badges. The school kids definitely have a Slytherin-ish feel about them, which fits the setting. They are Hydra, and even at a young age pretty evil afterall.

Saiz has taken on a hell of a lot, doing the entirety of the art for this issue. Are his hand drawing skills up to scratch? With the limited action in this comic the majority of the hand drawing is done to support conversations, communicating power through the Red Skull, nervousness through General Novty and defiance through Steve Rogers. I’d like to see what Saiz can do in a fight scene or two and look forward to the next issues to see. It’s a very solid effort this time around. 8/10 for hand drawing skills!

Final Verdict

One review for this comic dropped it a couple of points for the lack of action and how much text there was. Personally, for the first issue of a new arc I’m don’t think these take away from the issue at all. The characters are given a chance to develop and the stage is now set for what I hope will be a fantastic new arc in Captain America’s story.

Score: 8.5 Unsupervised Creative Expressions out of 10

 

Kit had a few extra thoughts on what the current arc of Captain America represents in the wake of this week’s US Election, the current global political climate and the role of art and fiction have when discussing politics. They are well worth checking out, which you can do right here!