Rapid-Fire Reviews: Independence Day Edition (First Salvo)

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Or – “Do You Know How Many Captain Americas There Actually Are?

As part of my Major Spoilers Star-Spangled Weekend™, I’m going to be periodically checking in with you, the Faithful Spoilerites to talk a little pop culture during my long weekend off.  (Vacation from two out of three jobs is the best I’m going to get.)  This time around, Captain America, American Son, as well as the greatest heroes of China and Russia take center stage as we look at the best and worst of last month with our monthly Rapid-Fire REVIIIEOOOOOOOOooOOOOOEWWWW!

Previously, on Everything:  William Naslund was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  An athletic young man, hoping to help the Allies’ World War II efforts in a unique way, he develops exceptional fighting skills and learns to copy some of moves Captain America employed with the discus-like shield that the superhero carried.  He is recruited by a mysterious man called “Alfie” to become a costumed hero in the new team of adventurers called the Crusaders, alongside Dyna-Mite, Ghost Girl, Thunderfist, Captain Wings, and Tommy Lightning.  The team eventually learns that Alfie is a German agent, but not before he has manipulated them into fighting the Allied super-team the Invaders.  Upon learning how they had been duped, all the Crusaders but Naslund left costumed adventuring.  When the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, and his sidekick, Bucky Barnes, went missing in action in 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman recruited Naslund and a young man named Fred Davis to become the new Captain America and Bucky.  Alongside Namor the Sub-Mariner and the original Red Guardian, the new Captain America stopped a Nazi plot to destroy the Potsdam Conference.  They briefly fought alongside the post-war All-Winners Squad, battling Isbisa, and with the Blonde Phantom, fought to prevent a criminal attempt to steal the atomic bomb, encountering a time-traveling She-Hulk during this mission. Naslund was killed in 1946 in the line of duty when he was crushed to death by a robot serving the android named Adam II while warning the rest of the All-Winners Squad of Adam II’s attempt to kidnap or kill then-Congressional candidate John F. Kennedy in Boston.  Naslund was succeeded as Captain America by Jeffrey Mace, formerly the superhero the Patriot.

Adventure Comics #466:  Not so very long ago, Adventure Comics didn’t even RUN superhero stories, but the return of the Spectre brought us back to the DC Universe, and now Adventure has been reborn as a Giant-Size comic featuring 5 or 5 anthologized stories at a time.  Flash takes the lead with a completely run-of-the-mill story pairing him with/against Weather Wizard, while Deadman gets a more unusual tale with some really impressive art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  That’s a name I’m going to look for in the future, as his work here is really well-handled. 

The real meat of the issue comes in a JSA flashback story which explains for the first time where the team went after their 1951 disappearance.  Joe Staton delivers an impressive art job as we learn that the JSA came before the HUAC and were ordered to unmask, causing them all to retire in protest.  The title of the story, “The Man Who Defeated The Justice Society,” is revealed to be none other than Senator Joseph McCarthy himself.  It’s a good one, coming on the heels of the JSA crossover last month, and makes me think that Earth-2 still has gas in the tank.  Here’s hoping the Dollar Comic format is here to stay.  An Aquaman short has little going for it other than the wonderful art of Don Newton, so overall it’s a mixed bag.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★★½☆

 Amazing Spider-Ham 25th Anniversary Special:  My biggest problem with this issue comes on the cover itself…     

Maybe I’m just an elitist, but for this kind of mistake to end up on the COVER of a nationally published issue, in huge WHITE letters, just galls me.  (I’m a member of a Facebook group called “I Judge You When You Misspell Things.”)  This is why they have editors, folks, and the reading of the issue is inevitably bent  by that preconception.  This is a cute issue, bringing back most of the original cast, but replacing the character of Mary Jane Waterbuffalo with a bird-girl named Mary Crane.  I was immediately thrown out of the story and spent the rest of the time wondering if Mephistork somehow changed Peter Porker’s history.  Combined with the huge glaring spelling error, it was not a fun read for me.  

1 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Angelus #4:  So, the Angelus is designed to be the opposite of The Darkness, whose own book also comes out from Top Cow each month.  After her brief run as the Witchblade, Dani Baptiste has been possessed by another of the ancient artifacts and has become The Angeuls (not to be confused with Buffy’s ex-boyfriend.)  We start out with Dani in the possession of the Darkness, about to be killed and possibly have her remains violated as well.  Her fellow angely types arrive in time to bust her out, and a big fight between her heavenly host and his dark minions begins.  Dani and The Darkness agree to disagree and part ways with quiet action-movie threats.

The issues closes with Dani at home, being nursed back to health by a woman who wants to be her girlfriend.  Just as they begin a half-naked, sexy embrace, Dani’s father walks in.  That ought to be an interesting conversation.  Back in Angel-land, a character who has broken out of Hades brings Dani’s chief lieutenant another mystical artifact, only to get horribly killed as we find that maybe she’s not the loyal second that we thought she was.  I’ll say this, it’s beautiful to look at, but I’m unclear as to what’s really going on, and The Darkness gets most of the good lines in this issue.  Perhaps I’ll look into this one again in the future, but for right now pretty pictures and shopworn words combine for a slightyly above average experience.   

3 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Age Of Heroes #2 (of 4):  The Age of Heroes has begun, and we’re pulling all sorts of people out of the woodwork to be all heroey, including Young Allies member Gravity in a tale that serves as a precursor to that series, even though it has already debuted.  Peter Parker’s friend Norah is the narrator of a tale of American Son wherein it is never actually confirmed that the man in the armor is actually Harry Osborn, and leading into HIS limited series.  The Young Masters (the quasi-villain counterparts of the Young Avengers) get a moment in the sun (literally a moment, it’s two pages long) and Gauntlet of Avengers: The Initiative gets one page showing his return to Iraq…

Anthology is a dangerous and unpredicable Beast at best, and this issue suffers not so much in quality of stories, but in choice and length.  Gravity gets nearly half the book, and by the end it’s as if we’re playing “Hey, It’s That Guy!” in the Heroic Age.  There’s bits of good stuff here, but it’s pretty much all in trailer form, and doesn’t get any sort of resolution or development.  

2 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Avengers #2:   The ranks of the primary Avengers team are filled out this month with Noh-Varr (aka Marvel Boy, aka Captain Marvel, aka “the kid who up and disappeared from Dark Avengers”), now calling himself The Protector.  Noh and Iron Man create a time machine so that they can get to the future and see what’s wrong with the children of the Avengers.  Their experiment is interrupted by Wonder Man, who attacks out of nowhere with unexplained fury and vehemence, then explodes into nothingness.  There’s a lot of talk about time as a non-linear construct, but Bendis can’t really deliver a solid punch when it comes to technobabble. 

Somehow, their “Time Viewer” opens a portal allowing Apocalypse and his horsemen (seemingly consisting of Wolverine, RedHulk, Anti-Venom and the Scarlet Witch) to show up and look creepy for a split second as we fade to black.  The whole issue is very scattered, and the only part that really works is Tony Stark and Noh-Varr’s banter, during which Tony seems to think he’s a mega-bajillionaire again, contrary to what we see during Invincible Iron Man.  This book, as the center of the Avengers franchise, seems to be the big-time summer blockbuster movie version of the team, but there’s very little substance thus far.  We’ve got a time-travel plot, an all-star cast, a couple of big cameos and senseless fighty-fighty.  It’s the weakest of the relaunches this far, based on what I’ve read…  

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Booster Gold #33:  Man, but can Chris Batista draw…  This issue is a joy to look at, even as parts of it vex me beyond words.  The cute little girl (Rani by name, an omen of bad intent for all of those who know Doctor Who) from last issue is still here, living in Rip Hunter’s lab, calling him Grampa and basically being super-cute and a little bit annoying.  Booster ends up fighting a moron called Brigadoom, get chewed out by Cyborg, and ends up jumping back into his own past for a mission with the JLI.  Seeking out proof of Maxwell Lord’s existence, Booster ends up stealing a videotape from his past self, only to find that it wouldn’t make it back through the timestream…

There’s a lot of interest going on here, but Booster’s time mission seems to have lost some of it’s importance and uniqueness given his front-and-center role in Generation Lost, as well as the focus on the current DCU or it’s recent past.  Rani is an odd addition to the cast of this book, consisting of it does of a young man, his son from the future, and the robot who is the only one of them with any real sense in his head.  She’s almost a Cousin Oliver, except for some odd bits about whether or not she is drawing on Rip’s super-secret time board (the same one filled with cryptic entries circa ’52.’  Not a bad issue, just one that doesn’t seem to have a lot of focus for me.  Damn pretty art, though.  

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Captain America #606:   Bucky-Cap!  Strike up the band and fire some fireworks, the Sentinel of Liberty is in the HOOOUSE!  This issue sets us off on a new tangent, starting with a chance meeting of Baron Zemo and the Ghost (two different eras of Thunderbolts, same old evil) leading to the revelation to Zemo that the new Cap is the old Bucky.  While Zemo puts his evil plan into place, The Falcon and Steve Rogers take Bucky out for a drink, trying to find out why he’s acting so out of sorts and nearly getting himself killed.  The issue ends with The Falcon taking a blast meant to take Captain America out of action, and a cliffhanger ending.

It’s interesting to see some actual analysis of the mind of James Barnes here, as regards his seeming inability to open up to his friends.  As I said yesterday during the review of NEXT issue, this book feels oddly out of place in the new world order, but it’s not as though I don’t like it.  I’m actually quite glad to see that Bucky is still Captain America, and there’s no quantitative reason for me to feel this way, and yet I’ve got a bit of ennui about it all.  Lovely art, and the alternate cover is pretty awesome as well, so it’s at least good to look at.  Hopefully there is something around the corner that will change my mind, but for now Captain America and I will agree to just coexist in entropy…   

3 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Darkstar And The Winter Guard #1 (of 3):  As a young man in the 1970′s, The Champions was one of the comics I remember reading briefly, and I now have a complete collection of the team, one of Marvel’s most outre and bizarre casts of characters.  Though the Darkstar from that team is dead, the new Darkstar has been genetically infused with her energies and powers, and this issue plays on the various appearances of the Soviet Super Soldiers/Winter Guard, a minor team that gets revamped pretty much every time they appear.  There’s some interesting character dynamics, a guy who turns into a bear, and it’s all tied together on bits of ephemera from 15 years ago, so it’s nice.  We even get a last page appearance by the long-missing Vanguard and the second Red Guardian (who has a new name that I can’t remember.)

This is an odd little book for me, but I’m enjoying Marvel’s tendency to spotlight oddball concepts in new ways.  That thought process was the only really positive part of Jemas’ Marvel tenure (although he had a tendency to retcon and give everyone Wolverine powers) and it’s good to see that they’re at least willing to roll the dice on something that’s not instantly recognizable.  Throw in a cameo appearance by the ever-awesome Agents of Atlas (Gorilla-Man FTW!) and this is nothing but pure happiness on two staples…  

4 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Doom Patrol #11:  This issue has a lot of things going for it…  A villain made of porcelain.  The return of the most absurd supervillain of all time, the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man.  Excellent pencil work by Matt Clark.  But the piece de resistance, the true crowning achievement of the modern DC era is the return of Ambush Bug to continuity under the pen of his creator Keith Giffen.  The newest resident of Oolong Island (living, interestingly enough, inside the bungalow that used to be Danny The Street) helps the team to track down Conrad Thayer Jost, the man behind the early 2000′s incarnation of the Doom Patrol as well as the kidnapper of Elasti-Girl.  There’s other stuff going on here, including a woman with toothbrushes on her head that I believe came out of Morrison’s run on the DP.  The issue ends with the return of the greatest villain of that run of Doom Patrol, and a clear mission to reconcile all aspects of the Doom Patrol into one team.

There’s really not a lot that you can even call wrong with this book, as the art is great, the characters are phenomenal, and it’s even back at a $2.99 price point.  Giffen’s work here seems effortless in its simplicity, and the core members of the team are each interesting enough that they could carry their own series.  I was skeptical about another revamp of this book when it started, but now I’m firmly on board with the Doom Patrol, and I believe you should be as well. 

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★★★½

The Great Ten #8 (of 9):  Shaolin Robot takes the stage, and there’s more than just an awesome name to it.  An ancient construct, the Robot is nearly as old as China itself, and it even manages to illuminate the truths of several of it’s teammates.  The plot (about ancient Chinese deities returning in metahuman forms, only to be discovered as fakes utilizing secret government technology) heads towards a resolution here, and we start to see the team act like a team for the first time in this issue.  The revelation of the villain comes as no surprise to those who have been paying attention, and next month’s climax should be interesting.  

This is another off-beat book that I’m sad no one seems to be loving as much as I am.  Tony Bedard is giving us amazing work (and Morrison’s concepts, like an ancient robot who speaks entirely in hexagrams) and Scott McDaniel’s art is always a treat.  I truly hope that we’re giving more of the Great Ten in the future, as they’re one of the most awesome concepts to come out of 52 that aren’t getting enough play in the DCU.  (Batwoman and the Super-Young Team are likewise neglected.)  Even if it’s the last hurrah for this unusual team, it’s a pretty decent hurrah nonetheless.   

4 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

A 3-star average isn’t bad at all for the pretty much awful month of June…  Stay tuned throughout the weekend and into Monday for more Rapid-Fire reviews, 4th anniversary goodness and Major Spoilers awesome!

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆