Comic book reviews: Captain America vol 6 #11-14

Back to talking about mainstream comic books for a bit.  I previously decided that, after over two decades of following it regularly, I was going to drop Captain America from my reading list.  Since then, I found out that current writer Ed Brubaker will be ending his nearly eight year long run on the series in a few issues, with Captain America volume six issue #19.  So I made the decision to stick it out and see how he wraps things up.

Brubaker’s penultimate story arc, “Shock to the System,” continues his ongoing subplots concerning Codename Bravo and the Hydra Queen, who have systematically been taking a wrecking ball to Steve Rogers’ life while simultaneously undermining the public’s already shaken faith in the government.  Bravo and the Queen are relegated to behind-the-scenes players in this arc.  Truthfully, I don’t mind, since I haven’t warmed to either character.  Instead, taking center stage is government agent Henry Peter Gyrich and a new vigilante Scourge, assassinating supervillains who have been placed in a witness protection program.  And the mysterious Scourge turns out to have ties to Captain America.

I might have been more impressed with this arc if it wasn’t for the fact that the central conceit, namely “Hydra brainwashes Gyrich to recruit a new Scourge who happens to be an old friend of Cap” hadn’t already been done before a number of years ago by Fabian Nicieza in the pages of Thunderbolts.  Consequently, some of “Shock to the System” felt like a retread.

Captain America vol 6 #14
Captain America vol 6 #14

I was also, once again, underwhelmed by Brubaker’s decompressed writing style.  So much of the time, Brubaker has done quality work on the Captain America series, but at the end of each arc I couldn’t help saying “That was really nice, but maybe it could have been told in one or two fewer issues.”  Well, I had the same reaction to “Shock to the System,” which felt like a nice three part story padded out to four issues.

I don’t know, perhaps I am being too critical of Brubaker in this respect.  The entire trend of decompressed storytelling, of writing for the “trade paperback,” has become so much of a house style at both Marvel and DC.  Pretty much every writer utilizes it.  For me this is frustrating, because Brubaker is generally a very good writer, but that practice of decompression serves as something of a liability to his stories.

On the plus side, “Shock to the System” did see the return of two long-time supporting characters from the Mark Gruenwald years, one of whom I am a big fan of.  It was nice to see both of them back, and Brubaker uses each of them very well.  Okay, true, one of them does end up dying.  But it was well-done and dramatic.  Brubaker really made it a tragic event, rather than merely a throw-away death.

The strongest aspect of Captain America #s 11-14 was actually the artwork by Patrick Zircher, or, as he seems to be calling himself now, Patch Zircher.  I’ve written before that he started out penciling New Warriors back in the 1990s, doing good, solid work.  Well, he’s definitely improved & grown as an artist, becoming even better over the years.  His artwork on “Shock to the System” was extremely well done.

So, five more issues of Captain America remain until Ed Brubaker’s departure from the title.  I don’t know how he is going to bring closure to all of his plotlines in that remaining amount of time.  I’m hopeful that he doesn’t have to rush things and/or leave some of his subplots unresolved.  It’s true, I’ve been underwhelmed by Cap volume six.  But on the whole, Brubaker’s work on this series has been very good, and I would love to see him go out on a high note.

Comic book reviews: Captain America & Hawkeye #629-632

I never thought I’d see the day when I would decide to drop Captain America from my monthly comic book reading list.  As I’ve said before, I am a huge fan of the character, and I have not missed an issue of the series since 1989.  But I have just gotten weary of Ed Brubaker’s decompressed writing on the main series.

The second Captain America ongoing book has the original numbering but now features a rotating co-star each story arc.  I believe that, to tie in with the Avengers movie, Marvel is going through the team membership.  Hawkeye was featured in issue #s 629-632, and Iron Man comes on-board next month.  Unfortunately, I’ve likewise been underwhelmed by the last few issues of this title.

There are also financial considerations at play here.  Right now I can’t really afford to purchase too many comic books.  I would much rather save my funds for Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon and Supreme, and a few other independent titles that I’m enjoying more than the majority of the material from Marvel or DC.

Anyway, what exactly did I think of Captain America & Hawkeye #s 629-632?  Well, to be fair, this four issue arc written by Cullen Bunn did have a lot of potential.  Cap and Hawkeye are in the San Andreas Mountains, searching for a missing group of environmental activists.  The two Avengers come across a government research facility named Damocles which is acting in an extremely secretive manner.  Despite a hostile reception from Damocles, Cap and Hawkeye continue their search in the caves underneath the base.  There they encounter an army of reanimated dinosaur skeletons, brought back to life by an insidious parasitic life form, one that is seeking to expand its control to living human beings.

Captain America & Hawkeye #632
Captain America & Hawkeye #632

Bunn is drawing on some near-forgotten subplots here, specifically material written by Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo in the early 1980s.  Bunn does put it to good use, though, giving those decades-old storylines from Ms. Marvel and ROM Spaceknight an interesting twist.  As a fan of the books those plot strands were originally featured in, I enjoyed seeing something unique being done with them.  If you’re going to recycle the past, you ought to put a unique spin on things.

The problem with Captain America & Hawkeye is in the execution.  We basically get four issues of Cap and Hawkeye fighting Dire Wraith-dinosaur hybrids.  The story feels extremely decompressed.  It could easily have been told in the space of three issues, rather than four.  Conversely, at the exact same time, the readers are given no answers as to the mysteries of what Damocles is really up to, and the identity of their mysterious benefactor.  Some of the space that Bunn devoted to the Avengers / dinosaurs slugfests could instead have been utilized to explain what was going on behind the scenes.

Perhaps Bunn is intending to develop this further in upcoming issues of this title.  I would not have minded that as much if, again, this opening arc of his had been more tightly plotted.  This is the major problem a lot of writers have when it comes to writing for the trade paperback, in that they just do not have enough material to their stories to fill up the space.

I don’t mean to say that this story arc was bad.  There was a lot to it that was fun & entertaining.  It just needed some serious tightening up in the plotting department.

I did enjoy the artwork by Alessandro Vitti.  Admittedly it was at times somewhat unclear as to what was taking place in some of the action sequences.  But Vitti’s style was extremely well suited to the horror content of the story.  In an arc like this, it makes sense to not have Cap or Hawkeye look too clean-cut, to make them slightly more shadowy & gritty.  And I was especially struck by Vitti’s renditions of the dinosaur parasites spawned from the shape-shifting Dire Wraiths.  It really captured the gruesome, alien quality of the original Wraiths seen in the pages of ROM Spaceknight.

Captain America & Hawkeye #629 features a beautifully painted cover by Gabriele Del’Otto, while for the next three issues the cover art is from the talented, underrated Patrick Zircher.  I’ve enjoyed his work since his days penciling New Warriors.

Right now, I still haven’t decided if I am going to pick up Captain America & Iron Man.  It really depends on what else happens to be on sale a month from now and, more importantly, how much money I have in my wallet at that time.

It’s strange, because for a long time I thought Captain America would be the very last comic book series I would ever stop reading.  But times change, and so do people, and I guess I’m just more interested in other material right now at this point in my life.