Or – “Continuing The Difficult Task Of Rebuilding A Sympathetic Anthony Stark…”

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When Captain America #26 came out back in May, I complained about the fact that the story referenced the wonderful words that Sam Wilson (The Falcon, pictured above in his swingin’ 70’s green and gold original costume, complete with extra-groovy bird of prey medallion) said at Captain America’s funeral without actually telling us what those words were. Some have argued (Tom Grice among them) that this makes the moment more poignant by letting us all write our own eulogies, but part of me felt that it was short-changing the readers NOT to show it. Now, six or seven weeks later, the funeral of Steve Rogers is the centerpiece of this (rather late) issue, and the mysteries are revealed… but is it as inspiring as the characters indicated?

Previously, on Fallen Son: The five stages of grief were the basis for a wildly mixed series of stories. Issue #1 featured Denial, as Wolverine phones in an issue that didn’t really ring Fall1.jpgmy bell, Issue #2 (Anger) featured the Avengers in a mixed-bag whose highlight was the return of Ben Grimm’s floating poker game, #3 (Bargaining) was a wonderful piece of writing with stellar John Romita, Jr. art featuring Tony Stark’s attempt to replace Steve Rogers with Clint Barton and a reiteration of what made Hawkeye hero material, while issue #4 (Depression) featured Spider-Man finally succumbing to the endless horrors of his existence, nearly collapsing under the weight of the death of Gwen, Uncle Ben, Aunt May (twice), and Cap, with Wolverine acting once again as Dutch Uncle of the Marvel Universe. But for all the talk, all the processing, all the jibba-jabba, the one thing that we haven’t dealt with is a the issue of physical remains… As awful as it is, the hardest part of dealing with mortality is the body itself, the preparation and disposition thereof, culminating in an interment. With a character as long-lived and beloved as Captain America, that process comes with a singular honor…

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I have to think that if Steve Rogers saw all this fuss, he’d be a little bit concerned. After all, he thought of himself as just a man, like any other. Back in the day (waaay back in Captain America V.1 #250) when a political party tried to convince him to run for President, he wouldn’t stand, saying that he was just an old soldier and that leadership was better left to others. Of course, *I* think he was wrong (but I really wouldn’t want to read the adventures of a superhero President, at least not in the regular Marvel Universe) and apparently I’m not alone. As the carriage arrives at Arlington National Cemetery, the pallbearers (The Black Panther, The Thing, Ms. Marvel, The Falcon, Rick Jones and Tony Stark) carry the casket to a huge memorial statue, and the actual funeral proceedings begin. We’ve seen in the last two issues of Captain America what happens to Tony Stark, but it’s heart-rending to see it up-close, drawn by an artist with an emotional range like John Cassaday.

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Ouch. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into that, but that remark makes me think that Ben Grimm holds a grudge, especially in the moments right after, when Tony can no longer speak and silently leaves the stage. “Oh, brother,” remarks Ben with a huge eye-roll. I don’t want to harp on this point for too long, but at least some of the people in the audience have to think that Stark grossly mishandled both the Civil War and the SHIELD prisoner transfer. I’m pretty sure that Tony believes it himself, and it honestly makes me feel as bad for him as I have since Frontline #11. As a momentarily-lost Anthony Stark silently walks into the rain, a man who was one of Steve Rogers’ closest friends steps to the podium, and gives him the proper eulogy that the man within the red-white-and-blue costume deserves…

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“Cap-Wolf.” Heh. Falcon asks the people who served in World War II to stand, and remarks that the soldiers (including Dum-Dum Dugan of the Howling Commandos) and survivors of the war are testaments to what Cap and his generation did. He asks the heroes of that era to join them in standing, and speaks of Steve’s work in forming the Invaders, The All-Winners Sqaud, and others. Steve Rogers, he says, knew that he would outlive the people and places that Steve loved. As he speaks of the accident on Zemo’s robot plane, and how the world must have been nearly crushed to hear that news, and how the miracle that came later (how much later isn’t mentioned, since the sliding Marvel timeline now places it as approximately 15 years ago, or a gap of as much as 50 years) when the Avengers found him floating in that block of ice. Each reminiscence is accompanied by a simply beautiful Cassaday splash page, this one with Namor holding aloft the ice block with Steve’s body in it, and terrorizing the native who were blithely worshipping it. He asks the heroes in the audience to stand, and then mentions the heroes who were unable to attend due to their status as “criminals.”

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That’s a wonderful, perfect, awesome Iron Fist, and a very attractive Spider-Woman. I want John Cassaday to draw New Avengers! And, while I’m not sure I completely agree with Luke Cage here, I have to respect what he’s saying. In his eyes, the whole thing must look like nothing more than a farce, a rewriting of history by the victors of a senseless conflict, perhaps even using the loss of a man whom he agreed with and fought beside to support an Initiative that he absolutely doesn’t. Luke’s leadership of the New Avengers is interesting to watch, as it’s almost instinctive rather than the measured stewardship of Captain America. In Arlington, Falcon continues speaking, entreating people to stand as their memories of Captain America are referenced. The rain parts at a perfect dramatic moment, and The Falcon finishes his point, with the entire audience on its feet…

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“This doesn’t have to be a day of sadness. We can accept it as a gift of unity and hope. The kind of day Captain America lived for.” Okay, I have goosebumps. While I’m an instant gratification kind of guy, I loved this moment, and now I can agree with what all the characters said in Cap #26 & 27. These are inspiring words, and very much in keeping with what Captain America stands for. As I understand it, this series was meant to come out much sooner than it did, with the funeral hitting the stands (presumably) before #26, which referenced it… I suppose I can see the point, however, of having us wonder what it was, to let our minds fill in the blanks until the point where we actually got to “hear” Sam’s words, with the expectation of greatness. The official funeral concludes soon after, and the nation returns to it’s lives, with the notable exception of the surviving founding members of the Avengers.

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Whether he meant to do it or not, Tony Stark is showing his elitist side, here. I said in my review of The Initiative #1 that I disagree with the portrayal of the founding Avengers as some sort of pseudo-royalty. There are others who have served alongside them who certainly deserved to know of this secret ceremony, and the fact that the body buried in Arlington (not to mention the uniform and SHIELD in the National Museum) isn’t the real deal. I’m sure Iron Man simply wanted to protect Cap’s body and legacy, but the way he’s gone about it proves that he hasn’t learned a thing from the events of Civil War, contrition be damned. And, yes, I’m biased, but doesn’t Hank’s remark of “It’s pure Tony Stark” sound like a quiet accusation? Remember what I said up above about how the body is the most difficult part? Notice how Tony was able to use the comfort of his old friend technology to render the question of a body more palatable, with a mechanical “something like that” buried in Arlington, supposedly to comfort ‘the people.’ Grief is a weird beast, and Jeph Loeb has written a wonderfully believable sequence here, especially as I.M. finds that what he couldn’t say as Tony in front of a crowd, he can finally admit in his Iron Man armor in the middle of nowhere. “Steve… These are things I wanted to say in front of everyone at Arlington… But… I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

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I think the saddest part of that speech is the fact that all of those people are alive or about to return to life, and that two of them are beyond reach entirely by Tony’s actions. Either way, it’s hard to watch this moment, with Tony admitting that he misses Cap’s battle cry, accompanied by a beautiful Cassaday rendering of the first nine member of the Avengers, two pages wide, and heart-breakingly impossible for my scanner to faithfully reproduce. As Tony finishes saying what he needs to, I’m gratified to see that Iron Man did, at least, tell the one person who absolutely deserves to be a part of this ceremony, politics be damned. As one of Cap’s oldest and most respected comrades, Prince Namor the first should be allowed to say his farewell.

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“One era ends,” says The Wasp, “and another begins. We’re going to have to accept that, right, Tony?” Iron Man doesn’t respond, watching silently, seemingly on the verge of tears, as the casket disappears into the icy depths… It’s a very touching moment, and one that works for me on a number of levels. I’m certain that Iron Man blames himself, and in that realization I see the man whose adventures I read for so long, rather than the schmuck who flounces about the Marvel Universe remaking everything in his own image. I’m starting to accept that the changes in Iron Man’s character haven’t completely destroyed him, and I can see why Joey Da Q believes he’s a stronger and more interesting hero now. I don’t necessarily share that assessment, but I guess I don’t have to.

This is a wonderful book. Fallen Son has been all over the map for me, ranging anywhere from “unmitigated disaster” to “qualified success” but this issue is mighty impressive. Maybe it’s that we’ve reached the stage where the story has closure, maybe writer Jeph Loeb just has a clear understanding of survivor’s guilt, I don’t know. But his writing, combined with Cassaday’s beautiful rendering, make this book feel right. It’s the sendoff that Captain America really deserved, showing friends new and old coping with his loss and honoring his memory, not just as a Sentinel of Liberty, but as a friend, a brother, a guy you’d want to spend time with, and that works for me.

5 stars out of 5. ‘Nuff said.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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12 Comments

  1. Sean Curley
    July 6, 2007 at 2:25 pm — Reply

    I didn’t read the rest of the Fallen Son series, but I decided to get the actual funeral issue, for John Cassaday’s lovely art if nothing else (although his being assigned to/taking this job is just spitting in the face of Astonishing X-Men readers, although God knows we’re used to delays).

    But I thought it was a very well-done issue, for what it was: remembrance of Cap’s career. There are some genuinely touching moments, and Loeb’s handle on the character’s history is quite firm; the final resting place seemed very fitting. We get mentions of and appearances by basically everyone important.

    I thought it was best for Sam’s speech to remain unheard, but Loeb managed a very stirring address, especially the ending.

  2. July 6, 2007 at 2:39 pm — Reply

    …and a fitting way to leave the door open for a return down the line. Fine with me. I love Cap.

  3. The Enigma
    July 6, 2007 at 2:47 pm — Reply

    Didya know that Wilson’s speech was based on the eulogy that that was delivered at Jeph Loeb’s son’s funeral?

  4. July 6, 2007 at 4:42 pm — Reply

    Eric, you’re in the Wolverine stage – Denial. This Issue only seems to solidify for me that Steve is Dead for good. It actually looks and feels like a real person’s death.

  5. Mark I.
    July 6, 2007 at 5:26 pm — Reply

    How can this country be expected to move forward without James Brown and Captain America?

    These are the end days, my friends.

  6. July 6, 2007 at 9:11 pm — Reply

    After reading this issue I finally had to swallow that bitter pill, Steve Rogers is actually dead. This isn’t some Hawkeye or Thor deal … Steve Rogers was taken down by a sniper’s bullet on those court room steps. The question remains whether someone will reclaim the mantle of Captain America. Eventually someone will, but not anytime soon … in an effort to underscore the gravity of the situation.

  7. Brent F.
    July 6, 2007 at 10:03 pm — Reply

    And thus we’re given some clue as to how Steve Rogers will be revived.

  8. Rowan
    July 7, 2007 at 12:34 am — Reply

    I hope to all of high hopes , that for once , FOR ONCE we let someone in comics stay dead and stay dead forever they made it so real and if they were to ever bring him back it would just fuck everything up so hard and I swear to god if he is a Skrull good lord I will never read a Marvel comic again , excuse the language but damn seriously let someone be dead and not be a Skrull , PLEASE !

  9. July 7, 2007 at 11:39 am — Reply

    You’re preaching to the choir here, Rowan…

  10. Brent F.
    July 7, 2007 at 12:08 pm — Reply

    Now that Bucky’s back, Barry Allen and Uncle Ben are the only people who aren’t allowed to be revived.

    Of the two major publishers, I think Marvel handles death the worse. For a long while it seemed as though writers had free reign to kill and revive whoever they wished. I absolutely hate it when a writer brings back a character just because he’s a fan, Joss Whedon did that with Colossus.

  11. July 7, 2007 at 1:34 pm — Reply

    Rowan, I second your claim. We should start a movement that swears to never let Marvel touch our money again if they bring Steve back. It would betray the character, the death, even the medium itself.

  12. Baal
    July 8, 2007 at 1:52 am — Reply

    I read every interview Loeb gave on this issue despite being convinced t would lessen its impact and was greatly relieved to discover I was wrong. This was one of the most powerfully emotional stories I have read in a good long time. I’m not ashamed to admit I teared up more than a few times while reading it. This issue belongs in anyone’s top ten list of greatest single comics ever produced.

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