Steve Rogers, Starving Himself To Be Pretty

Several of this week’s Marvel offerings had a teaser image in them that showed a white star on a black page with the word JULY underneath. This is probably just an ad for THE MARVELS PROJECT, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s upcoming mini about the early days of the Super-Soldier Project and the creation of the original Human Torch, but it’s obviously supposed to make everyone think that Steve Rogers is coming back. And who knows? Maybe he is. Probably sooner rather than later. However, I’m pretty sure that this is the same gag Marvel pulled when they released an Alex Ross Cap image awhile back with the word RETURN underneath…which turned out to be nothing more than a teaser for the AVENGERS/INVADERS mini. My point is, it’s not enough to simply kill a character off anymore—as a publisher, it is also apparently your job to begin teasing the character’s return almost immediately. It’s like that story in THE ONION compilation, OUR DUMB CENTURY, reporting on the death of Elvis; the headline reads “ELVIS DEAD”, with the words “Is Elvis Alive?” underneath. None of this may seem very relevant, but I am going to review both a new CAPTAIN AMERICA comic and the comic that reintroduces Barry Allen to the land of the living, so as introductions go, it seems fairly solid. Anyway…

CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS  #1 70th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: This is basically the opening sequence from INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, but with horrifyingly skinny, pre-Super-Soldier-Serum Steve Rogers instead of River Phoenix. In this flashback-within-a-flashback, Steve Rogers—who is always depicted as little more than a walking skeleton before Dr. Erskine juiced him up...

...has to keep a military secret safe from a trio of Fifth Columnists. Like in LAST CRUSADE, Steve is chased across a bunch of train cars, even using a garbage can lid as a makeshift shield at one point. It’s a cute enough story by James Robinson, one of those “he was a hero before he got the costume” dealies (albeit one that stretches credibility a fair ways—Steve’s pretty able-bodied for a 98-pound weakling who only minutes before was labeled 4-F at the recruiting station!), but the reason to check it out is the always-outstanding Marcos Martin (BATGIRL YEAR ONE, DR. STRANGE: THE OATH) on the art. This guy needs a regular gig, stat. There’s also a great Simon and Kirby Cap reprint where he and Bucky foil a villain named the Black Toad, who’s out to kill a bunch of baseball players.

Check it out! Those dudes are totally sliding into their own tombstones, and Death's like, "You're outta here!" This forces Cap and Bucky to join the game, which is undeniably awesome, although they never question why a guy who calls himself the Black Toad is dressed in a bat costume.

Yep, fangs and everything.

FLASH: REBIRTH #1: After Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s super-successful relaunch of the GREEN LANTERN franchise a few years back, it’s no surprise that DC wanted them to do the same with Silver Age FLASH protagonist Barry Allen. It makes sense on a number of levels, really—like Hal Jordan before him, Barry’s the Flash with the least amount of continuity baggage and the most easily explainable origin. Also, comic books regularly sold in the millions back in the heyday of Hal and Barry, so why wouldn’t you try to recapture that? This, however, is a very different animal than GL: REBIRTH, since Barry already came back to life in FINAL CRISIS, with some sort of hasty explanation that involved him being “reverse-engineered back to life in a blizzard of faster-than-light particles” or some such. The mission of this 5-part mini seems to be the re-establishment of Barry as the DC Universe’s most prominent speedster, which, it seems, may require some pruning of the family tree. Let’s face it, the DCU is lousy with speedsters young and old, and the creative team seems intent on scaling back the cast, hopefully giving Flash back some of his uniqueness. This is a potentially controversial move, but I think it’s necessary—the last two FLASH incarnations failed because they started out with too-cluttered mythologies (that’s my theory, anyway). So this book sees Barry Allen, still clinging steadfastly to his old-fashioned notions of guilt and innocence, eager to get back to fighting the good fight, while the re-appearance of super-villain Savitar seems to indicate that something is up with the Speed Force (the otherdimensional source of all the speedsters’ power). For a FLASH title, this is a pretty slow-moving first issue, cycling through tons of supporting cast before introducing its title character, and Van Sciver’s hyper-detailed art doesn’t really convey the sense of movement that a FLASH title desperately needs. I’m as happy to see Barry back as most fanboys, but this franchise may not, er, find its feet until the inevitable ongoing title (much like Johns’ GREEN LANTERN did, say).

SEAGUY: SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE #1: The original 2004 SEAGUY miniseries was one of those Grant Morrison comics like THE FILTH (or FINAL CRISIS, even) where, as a Morrison fan, I just shrug and go along for the ride, not really understanding what the hell’s going on half the time but enjoying it nonetheless. The three-issue mini, illustrated with whimsy and creepiness by Toronto artist Cameron Stewart, seemed to be Morrison’s satire on the absurdity of superhero comics--the protagonist lived in a science-fiction amusement park, repeatedly playing chess with a goofy, easily-cheated Death, all the while bemoaning the lack of excitement in a world where the ultimate evil, Anti-Dad, had been destroyed by the sacrifice of somebody called Teknostrich. SEAGUY was also some strange parody of corporate domination, featuring an omnipresent logo/mascot/TV show called Mickey Eye and a sentient foodstuff called Xoo that is offered to the book’s bored, complacent superhero characters at every turn. The book’s namesake hero went on a doomed quest to save Xoo from corporate/industrial slavery, trying to win the heart of heroine She-beard along the way. Oh yeah, and there was a mummy on the moon as well. Still with me? This long-rumoured but unlikely sequel kicks off with Seaguy realizing once again that his amusement park world might be a lot more sinister than it appears, while Seaguy’s lost sidekick Chubby Da Choona appears from beyond the grave to offer cryptic warnings that soon send Seaguy off another crazy quest, pursued by the forces of Mickey Eye. If this description has you rolling your eyes, than SEAGUY is probably not for you. However, if you like the idea of a funny, disturbing adventure book that reads like a collaboration between Gardner Fox and David Lynch, and are prepared to shrug and go along for the ride no matter how crazy it gets, than check it out.

MARVEL SPECTACULAR ASSISTANT-SIZED SPECIAL #1:  Back in ’84, Marvel’s editors relinquished control of their books to their assistants for the duration of “Assistant Editors Month”. This wasn’t really an event, more like a month of somewhat goofy stories (or in some cases, a goofy letterhead illustration and not much else), but it gave us some classics like the MARVEL TEAM-UP where Aunt May became herald to Galactus, the Avengers appearing on “Late Night with David Letterman”, and a great IRON MAN story featuring a bunch of neighbourhood kids with an Avengers club whose Iron Man is booted out of the team in disgrace, just like his drunk-at-the-time namesake. However, in today’s hectic, crossover-driven marketplace, there’s no way Marvel would give up a month of their books to the whims of their assistant editors, so instead we have this two-issue miniseries that sees the lowly assistants convening in the Marvel bathroom to have their own pitch session. The resulting anthology features a Middle-Eastern-set D-Man tale by Brian Patchett and Xurxo G. Penalta, an American Eagle vs. Cottonmouth story by Jason Aaron and Richard Isanove, and an always-welcome MINI MARVELS entry by Chris Giarrusso…apparently, the only place a Clint Barton Hawkeye fan can get a fix these days. The resulting mix of tone and style in these stories is pretty weird—the D-Man story has a very indie comics feel, the American Eagle number is fairly gritty (and Isanove’s art makes the whole affair look like a DARK TOWER outtake—but the cute framing sequence by Chris Eliopoulous and Jacob Chabot and the Giarrusso story make it all better. The whole affair is topped off by a dope David Williams (HULK/POWER PACK) cover, who needs to do some more interiors, pronto.

KILLER OF DEMONS #2: This three-parter from Christopher Yost (X-FORCE) and Scott Wegener is a bit like the 2001 film FRAILTY, only less homespun and more crazy. An office drone named Dave starts seeing that most of the people around him are demons, and embarks on a mission from God to wipe them out. But is Dave actually being shown visions of Hell from his angel guide, Uriel, or is he just a plain old homicidal loony?

KILLER OF DEMONS is heavy on zany humour—Dave works for a tobacco company that is always looking for new ways to market their product to an increasingly younger audience, his FBI agent brother gleefully uses online gaming to trap pedophiles, Satan enlists a stripper-assassin to kill Dave—but this week’s issue two brings with it some surprising twists as well, like the lengths Dave’s cop girlfriend goes to in order to protect her guy when she learns about his hobby. Wegener’s angular, cartoony art is a lot tighter and more assured with the second issue as well, and Yost’s script has a nice balance of humour and action that has me looking forward to the wrap-up.