Best Shots Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA, GREEN LANTERN, More

NEW COMICS DAY Twitterama

Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here, coming to you with your Monday helping of Best Shots Reviews! Your team of crackshot reviewers has a ton of content for you today, including books from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and IDW. Want to see more of this week's books? We've got you covered over at The Best Shots Topic Page. And now, let's wish Steve Rogers a happy 70th, as Jennifer takes a look at the anniversary issue for Captain America

 

Captain America #616

Written by Ed Brubaker, Howard Chaykin, Cullen Bunn, Mike Benson, Frank Tieri, Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel

Art by Travis Charest, Justin Ponsor, Mike Deodato, Rain Beredo, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Val Staples, Howard Chaykin, Edgar Delgado, Jason Latour, Rico Renzi, Paul Grist, Lee Loughridge, Paul Azaceta, Matthew Wilson, Pepe Larraz and Chris Sotomayor

Lettering by Joe Caramagna

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Click here for preview

Captain America #616, the 70th anniversary issue of the title, is a monster of a book with 8 different stories filling its pages. The only way to properly review it is to break it down story by story, giving credit where credit is due to the two dozen creators who brought it to life.

The book opens with a one-page retelling of Steve Rogers’ origin, written by Ed Brubaker and gorgeously rendered by Travis Charest. At five panels and 19 words it doesn’t quite match the ingenuity of Grant Morrison’s famous opening to All-Star Superman, but the page displays a sheer elegance in its simplicity that serves to define Captain America for all the stories to come.

Next up is the story most central to the current ongoing plot in Captain America, the tale of Bucky’s capture and imprisonment by the Russians. It’s an intriguing beginning that, given more room to breath over the issues to come, promises to unfold into a layered and gripping plot. But these 15 pages alone manage to pack in mystery, violence, ghosts from Bucky’s past and a giant bear, all of which make for an excellent read. Plus, Mike Deodato’s art, with no extra inker and compatible colors from Rain Beredo, looks better than it ever has before, with intricate crosshatching and incredibly expressive faces.

The following story, in which Ed Brubaker and Ed McGuinness explore how Steve Rogers is considering retaking the mantle of Captain America, is perhaps the best of the book and a reminder that, despite his obvious affinity and preference for Bucky, Ed Brubaker writes some of the best Steve Rogers stories in modern comics. Over 14 pages of memories, interior monologue and conversations with Sharon Carter and an old war buddy, Steve interrogates his role as Captain America and his current role as head of national security, driving home the fact that he never truly wanted to be a symbol – he just wanted to serve his country as one of many. This is an important point about Steve, who at his origin believed he would be just one of a fleet of super-soldiers and it’s a thrill to see this character note struck so poignantly at exactly the right time. McGuinness’s bright, heroic art, meanwhile, fits the story perfectly, combining with Val Staples’ colors to create the sense that even when Steve doesn’t want to be an iconic, primary-colored hero, he can never quite escape it.

The rest of the stories in the issue are written by various creators with little to no experience with the character and unfortunately they never quite reach the highs of Brubaker’s work. First up is Howard Chaykin, who brings his characteristic style to the story of Steve’s brief flirtation with a fellow model for a painting by a Norman Rockwell-analogue. The result is some nice art (particularly in the action scenes and in the central painting itself) accompanying a fairly run-of-the-mill story of Nazi subterfuge and wartime loss. The insertion of random temporary love interests into Captain America’s past always feels a bit artificial, since he’s never been portrayed as the freewheeling Iron Man or Wolverine type and the romance element here feels particularly misplaced at a time when Peggy Carter consumed Steve’s mind.

Next we see Cullen Bunn and Jason Latour exploring what happens when Captain America discovers an AIM cell beneath a small Oklahoma town that has recently been struck by a tornado. Latour’s clean, deceptively gentle art is perfect for the story and Rico Renzi’s colors do a fantastic job of making Steve’s red, white and blue costume stand out amid the grays and browns of the depressed town. The story, though, feels incomplete, raising moral issues (Is it ok to make a deal with the devil to protect your home and family, when no one else is reaching out to help?) that it doesn’t have the space to resolve and/or explore deeply.  With a whole issue to breathe this story might have shined, but here it unfortunately falls a bit flat.

Mike Benson and Paul Grist tell a WWII-era Baron Blood story next and the narrative device – of an army officer coming up with completely mundane explanations for a vampire attack in his official report while the art shows exactly the opposite – is extremely clever.  Unfortunately, that device is at times clumsily executed, with the report's captions distracting from the real narrative and thus making the story difficult to follow.  It’s a fun romp, though, with cameos from Namor and the Human Torch as well as Bucky and Grist’s stylized, cartoony art fits the tone (and the ludicrous-looking Baron Blood) quite well.

Frank Tieri and Paul Azaceta’s story that follows, however, is far from fun and light and is easily the most troubling tale in the bunch. It features an Adolf Hitler clone who is living as an art dealer in New York City without knowledge of his origins, leading Steve Rogers to surreptitiously investigate him by pretending to be an artist looking to sell his work. The use of Steve’s art background is always nice to see, but the story itself hinges on a fatalistic idea of genetics in which a person with Hitler’s DNA will automatically believe in Aryan superiority and find himself attracted to swastikas, German shepherds and girls named Eva. As a scientific or moral exploration, this is simply unbelievable and in the context of the story it makes Steve Rogers look like an idiot for deciding to leave him be after his investigation. As a simple attempt at cleverness, devoid of the scientific implausibility, it’s highly problematic, serving to trivialize Hitler’s evil. Either way, it’s an unfortunate inclusion in what is otherwise a strong book and doesn’t seem quite fair to Azaceta, whose art is lovely and detailed and far better than the story it illustrates.

Finally, we round out the issue with the best of the non-Brubaker stories, written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel and drawn by Pepe Larraz. Set in France near the end of the war, the story features Captain America and British hero Union Jack attempting to hold and then finding themselves trapped inside, a French town bombarded by Germans. The story utilizes the symbolism of flags and national superheroes in a way that, despite the WWII setting, never feels jingoistic or xenophobic; instead, it emphasizes the unity of the Allies and the equality of all symbols of freedom, from the American and British flags on the heroes’ chests to the French flag the townspeople will one day fly again. The action bits are occasionally a bit muddled and confusing, but Larraz does a great job depicting still shots of characters and all the emotional beats feel exactly right.

Like most anthologies, Captain America #616 is hit-or-miss, but the good far outweighs the bad. With 95 pages of content and very few ads, it’s well worth the $5 price tag and ultimately promises great things for the future of Captain America as a title and as a character – particularly in Ed Brubaker’s hands.

 

Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #8

Written by Peter J. Tomasi

Art by Fernando Pasarin, Cam Smith and Gabe Eltaeb

Lettering by Steve Wands

Published by DC Comics

Review by Scott Cederlund

Click here for preview

Concluding the first month of “War of the Green Lanterns,” Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #8 showcases fisticuffs between Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner, influenced by the fearful Parallax creature.  You remember him, right?  Turned Hal Jordan evil, destroyed the Corps, was trapped in the giant power lantern on Oa and is the entity powering the Sinestro Corps yellow power rings.  Now with almost the entire Green Lantern Corps possessed by the Parallax entity, Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner try to fight off its influence even as they trade punches, saying everything they’ve wanted to accuse each other of and, ultimately, return to being the purebred heroes that they have to be in order to sail off into the next issue of “War of the Green Lanterns.”

For the past six years, the Green Lantern Corps has been at the center of some of DC’s most exciting super-hero epics; Green Lantern Rebirth, The Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night.  These stories about the death, life and the mythology of the Green Lanterns have been the (please excuse the weak pun) bright light of DC’s costumed characters.  Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi have told fun stories, highlighted by colorful villains and built on the legacy of the Green Lantern stories of the past.  On the surface, “War of the Green Lanterns” looks to be following on with that successful formula, using the past stories of Krona, the Manhunters and even the hopes and fears of the Green Lanterns to craft a story that features Lanterns punching and fighting other Lanterns.

The biggest disappointment of Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #8 is that we just saw this same story a week ago in Green Lantern Corps #58 where Kyle Rayner and John Stewart filled in the same roles as Gardner and Jordan do in this new issue.  Both issues are over-written expository issues where the Green Lanterns yell out every plot point that the other has ever been involved in, accusing the other of being the most worthless Lantern of all time.  In this issue, Jordan and Gardner trade off a list of each other’s crimes and sins.  Jordan destroyed the corpse.  Gardner is hot tempered.  Jordan only became Green Lantern because he was closer to a dying alien.  Gardner is one step removed from being a raging Red Lantern.  This issue is a laundry list of character defects and past history, disguised by a fight and passed off as being part of a crossover series.

Tomasi’s writing is largely unimaginative as nothing that the two characters have to say or accuse each other off comes off as any kind of surprise.  There is nothing shocking, revelatory or even interesting in their laundry list of why they don’t like one another.  The one nice character moment comes at the end, after they’ve regained their senses and access what just happened.  Jordan calls his and Gardner’s relationship a rivalry while Gardner brushes everything off and says he’s always looked at it purely as a difference of opinion.  Coming out of the testosterone, he-man fight club story that this issue mostly is, Tomasi gets in that one nice moment, giving both men a defining moment as both express their true, manly feelings for the other.

Fernando Pasarin and Cam Smith are solid artists, delivering everything that Tomasi’s script calls for even if they don’t add any flavor to the story beyond the script.  Pasarin has been toiling around DC for a couple of years now, most notably as Dale Eaglesham’s substitute artist on many issues of Justice Society of America.  Here, Pasarin ably illustrates the story without any flair or personality.  His artwork falls into the faceless house-style that DC has developed over the last couple of years.  Its workman-like devotion to expressing the script’s narrative beats don’t leave Pasarin any room to instill any unique character into his linework. It’s pleasing art to look at but ultimately there’s nothing in the art to compel a reader to linger over a panel or to marvel at how a page is put together.

Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #8 is a standard superhero fight, a case of two heroes and friends forced to throw punches and insults at each other for the purposes of showing just how truly evil the bad guy is. Krona wins because he’s got the heroes fighting one another.  We’ve now seen this same story in the second and third installments of “War of the Green Lanterns” where the plot is the same but only the actors have changed up on the stage.  Tomasi and Pasarin  tell a perfectly acceptable chapter to a Green Lantern story.  It’s just disappointing that after what we’ve come to expect from Green Lantern epics, we are not getting anything more than “perfectly acceptable” this early in the newest event.  

 

Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1

Written by Eric Powell and Tracy Marsh

Art by Phil Hester, Bruce McCorkindale and Ronda Pattison

Lettering by Chris Mowry

Published by IDW Publishing

Review by Shanna VanVolt

Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1 is not a functioning first issue of a comic book: it’s memorabilia.

The majority of the book is more-or-less a summary of Gojira, the first Godzilla movie, presented in slide projector-esque format. For a Godzilla fan, the epic visuals, stompy monster and references to some of the campier moments of the first movie are like butter to a mashed potato soul. However, if the reader is not an obsessive connoisseur of Japanese monster movie lore, these pages are all destruction without the accompanying constructivism.

The book opens with the monster inexplicably emerging and smashing stuff — and never goes any further. To be sure, a moral ambiguity is a part of the fun of Godzilla, but there is not enough plot or character development to help the reader care one way or the other. The original movie was a long allegory about the horrors of nuclear war; the comic so far dispenses with any larger picture and features some bratty kids and clueless bureaucrats.

Eric Powell and Tracy Marsh seem to have a long-term plan for the series, but one that doesn’t take account of newbies. Instead of thrusting the reader Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters as an IDW comic, the writers have given a long opening-credits montage retelling the age-old tale of “giant monster smash-smash.” I like nostalgia, but this issue needed more.

That said, Phil Hester’s art is worth picking up the book. Hester delivers angular line structures and clean layouts considerate of white space that read like a collection of Imperial Japanese propaganda posters. Devoid of dialogue for the majority of the book, Hester's dramatic 1-3 panels per page constructions, boldly inked by Bruce McCorkindale, carry the issue. At least three pages of Godzilla #1 readily demand to be framed and added to a Godzilla geek's wall décor.

Hester's art is so strong, in fact, that I want more of it. While the open format and minimum panel structure lends well to art appreciation purposes, it feels a little sparse. The pages where Godzilla #1 succeeds the most are when people are actually interacting, with more than three boxes of the same characters on a page talking and moving around — which, y’know, are logically necessary actions to humanity dealing with a sudden monster attack.

While the art is well-drawn and the story is well-loved, Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters #1 lacks fluidity. Flip books work on the brain's interaction with the pictures—where every movement is not actually depicted, each successive action has to be close enough to the previous that the reader's brain fills in the logical steps between, making it look like fluid motion. In this opening issue, it seems like only the Godzilla-aholic retains the necessary synapses to fill in a myriad of gaps. For a reader relatively new to the who and what of the King of Monsters tale, this issue flippantly hands out surface-deep glimpses of a destructive lizard in an almost strobe-like disjointed way. The future-promise of who and what creep up in the last page, but without enough pith to bring clarity to the issue as whole.

All hope is not lost, however, for the series. As written, the last page of this issue — hopefully — is where the homage to the first movie ends and this title begins. While it is kind of awkward and confusing to see our president confronting a monster in Japan, the device did rope me in to following along. I will be picking up the next issue. I will be happy to see more of the cleanly explosive monster art delivered by Hester, but if things don't start gaining context and characters, it may be hard for my love of Godzilla depictions to continue to outweigh a lackluster plot.

 

Ultimate X #4

Written by Jeph Loeb

Art by Arthur Adams, Mark Roslan and Peter Steigerwald

Lettering by Richard Starkings and Albert Deschensne

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

"What's wrong with being a mutant?"

With these six words, Jeph Loeb cuts to the chase, casting aside the space opera and melodrama and getting straight to the heart of what being an X-Man is really all about. And in a lot of ways, from a storytelling perspective, that's a lot more satisfying than the big team relaunch that Marvel teased for Ultimate X those many moons ago. Similar in structure to Nick Spencer's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, this is the most human storytelling Loeb has told in recent memory, and is absolutely gorgeous, to boot.

And it's funny to say that, when all things considered, this issue also ties some long-standing loose ends. Brian Michael Bendis played up the character of Liz Allen shortly before he relaunched Ultimate Spider-Man, revealing that the cheerleader was in fact also a mutant, a true Human Torch. Yet when Bendis was able to get the "real" Torch, Johnny Storm, as a supporting character for his relaunched series, poor Liz simply vanished.

So what happened to this beautiful, conflicted girl, whose mother was a trophy wife and her father was the mutant terrorist known as the Blob? Loeb answers that question here -- and thankfully, it's such an open-ending question, the nine-month delay for this book isn't that big of an obstacle to overcome. There's a lot of different themes at play here, ranging from the obvious -- how does one deal with being different? Do you let it stew and fester and destroy yourself? Do you hide your light under a bushel? -- to the less obvious, such as seeing the human side of a man who, yes, was crazy enough to actually eat another human being.

But I'll be the first to admit that this all probably wouldn't fly without Arthur Adams. Seeing his work under the digital inks of Mark Roslan and the digital colorwork of Peter Steigerwald is probably more inspirational than it has any right to be -- it shows that the true masters of the form can transition into modern sensibilities without losing those qualities that made them legends to begin with. Every face of Adams' is expressive, every woman a gorgeous, if exaggerated, beauty -- there's a design to Adams' work not unlike an animated film, with some real acting that dredges up emotion for the reader.

While the overall subplot of the growing team does feel a little jarring -- because yes, nine months is a long time to remember an overarching serialized arc -- thankfully, that doesn't take up too much of the story, and by the time you do get into the nitty-gritty of different paths for mutantdom, you've already gotten your character moments, your transitions, your catharsis. The structure of this book has proven to be a smart one, because it's largely accessible to anyone who loves character pieces or gorgeous art. I don't know when -- or if -- we'll see Ultimate X again, which is a shame, because this is definitely an overlooked gem.

 

Jimmy Olsen #1

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by R.B. Silva, DYM and Dave McCaig

Lettering by Rob Leigh

Published by DC Comics

Review by David Pepose

Click here for preview

So you've got your Men of Steel, your Dark Knight Detectives, your Fastest Men Alive. Well, move over, Super-Friends, because you ain't never had a pal like Jimmy Olsen.

To say that this book is slick is an understatement. To say that it's funny and likable? Also not giving it enough credit. Nick Spencer and R.B. Silva deliver a 68-page romp that goes from genies to space aliens to winning back the girl of your dreams, and they do it with style. While $5.99 may seem like a high price point to many, think of this book as a mini-trade paperback that was one of the most entertaining reads I picked up this week.

In a lot of ways -- and I'm sure I'm not the only one here -- I think comics take themselves just a touch too seriously. I'm not saying that we should be throwing custard pies into Batman's face, but I'm saying that the mythology and world-building becomes first priority, and the story and character behind it then has to be in rigid lockstep to keep the house of cards from tumbling down. But Jimmy Olsen? At his core, he's a guy who just wants to get his girl back -- but being Jimmy Olsen, that means he's got plenty of weirdness to overcome first.

That sense of humor, in a lot of ways, lightens the burden on Nick Spencer, as he makes for a sympathetic character that has literally no dead weight slowing him down. It's Silver Age spectacle told through Modern Age sensibilities, and Spencer's able to throw in a lot of new, interesting concepts based on the tried-and-true mythology of Superman lore. Ideas like Co-Superman, alien versions of Lindsay Lohan, Smallville alum Chloe Sullivan or the best one-liner in the book -- Jimmy heroically shouting "I've gotta go to the bathroom!" -- there's a great energy to this book, one that'll win over old fans and new converts alike.

R.B. Silva, meanwhile, churns out some really fantastic work, a really expressive, really animated look that contextualizes Jimmy Olsen for a brand-new era. It'd be all too easy to make the boyish, bow-tied journo into some sort of carrot-topped Tucker Carlson, but instead you've got the shaggy-haired, slightly awkward everyman that doesn't look tough enough to win, but you still root for him anyway. One thing I think Silva will not get nearly enough credit for is his panel composition, as well -- this book doesn't ever look cramped, and that sort of smooth layout works wonders for driving the book forward.

Sadly, with Nick Spencer taking an exclusive at Marvel, Jimmy Olsen is one of those stories that's a one-shot only deal. But it's absolutely worth the time and the money to buy this book. It's funny, it's smart, it looks great and it'll hit just about every note you can think of outside of buying you dinner. He's the man with the plan, even if the plan is just flying by the seat of his pants -- so if you didn't do it already, go back to your LCS and demand your Jimmy Olsen. He's the hero that Metropolis deserves.

 

Scarlet #5

Written by Brian Michael Bendis

Art by Alex Maleev

Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Icon/Marvel Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

As book one of this story comes to a close, Scarlet has been raised up as a hero by the public and is speaking at a rally when everything goes horribly wrong. A grenade is tossed and she disappears amid the chaos.

Most of the issue actually focuses on Detective Going, recently pulled from the Scarlet case and Federal Agent Daemonakos, who has requested her assistance in the federal investigation. Bendis is clearly setting these two up to be the "good cop" faction in Scarlet's world of "bad cops." Aside from the grenade and riot that start off the issue, there isn't much action going on in issue five and certainly not a level of action I would expect in closing an arc.

While this is coined at the end as being the end of book one, there really is nothing resolved in this issue and it comes across more as a build up for the next installment. While the dialogue is well written and clearly sets up the mind set of these two detectives, the issue didn't have the level of excitement I've come to expect from previous issues. I understand the need to set up these characters, but can't help but wonder if it could have been done in less pages and therefore given us more of Scarlet's story. We go from seeing her at the riot, to waking up in a strange bed. Will we find out anything that happened in between? I guess we'll have to patiently wait for issue six in a couple of months.

Alex Maleev's signature style continues to set the tone of this book, as his images look like highly manipulated photos. I enjoy the photo-realistic style for this type of comic, as it feels much more like I'm in the midst of a gritty crime drama, as opposed to a cartoon of sorts. The style just lends itself to thinking of Scarlet as someone who very well could be real and I really like that about the book. It looks different than anything else I'm reading and it's clear that Maleev has a unique talent above and beyond traditional comic art.

I imagine there's a Scarlet trade on tap -- and if you're not familiar with the series, that's the way to go. Current readers may find this issue a bit lackluster story wise, but it's still a must read if you plan to continue on with the second arc.

 

Conan and The Scarlet Citadel #2

Wrtiten by Tim Truman

Art by Tomas Giorello and Jose Villarrubia

Lettering by Richard Starkings

Published by Dark Horse Comics

Review by Kyle DuVall

In the prose world, the fantasy genre is in the midst of a hard-bitten renaissance. Writers like George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss have made sword and sorcery a little less snicker-worthy by integrating cynicism, moral ambiguity and politics in their cinder-block sized tomes. As a fan of the genre, I don’t really miss the simplistic morality and “chosen one” cliches that once made sword-and-sorcery fiction a literary whipping boy, but there is one thing I do miss:

Those wonderful old-school covers.

These new novels inevitably have covers designed to avoid embarrassing the straights. Gone is the age of metal bikinis and sweaty musclemen cleaving scaly monstrosities. The covers today are all about typesetting and subdued photo montages. Where are the Boris Vallejos, The Frank Frazettas of today? the Larry Elmores screaming barbarian whoops of blood and thunder from the bookstore shelves? Who today is making fantasy art worthy of airbrushing on the side of your van?

Well, if Dark Horse’s  Conan and The Scarlet Citadel is any indication, the tradition lives on in comics. On the pages ofConanthe warrior spirit of the paperback vikings endures. Artist Tomas Giorello's taps the intersection in the collective unconscious where Hal Foster meets heavy metal and hacks his way across your retinas like Conan himself. To put it simply, when I finally get my Econoline the first thing I’m going to do after I staple the shag pile carpet to the ceiling is head out to the custom shop and get the splash that spreads over pages 5 and 6 of issue #2 painted on the side of that bad boy. Then I’m going to roll around town with the windows down blasting Molly Hatchet out of the stereo.

By Crom, did I love this book. Giorello’s panels and spreads are leathery, cold-forged masterpieces, each panel reminiscent of a rip-roaring illustrated plate torn from the spine of a pulp magazine. At the same time Giorello maintains a fierce command over characterization and sequential storytelling. Witness the reaction shot of Conan and, wryly, a giant snake on page 7, or the sequence of Conan fleeing like a scared puppy on page 20. Giorello definitely knows how to set up a shock panel too, pacing layouts perfectly for each bloody surprise. Jose Villarrubia’s coloring is equally inspired, with washes of color that give the glossy pages the texture of a coarse old pulp page. You can almost feel the ragstock between your finger. Glorious.

The visual design of the comic is simply spectacular. Despite being the launch point for a thousand sword and sorcery cliche’s, Howard’s original Conan stories are maddeningly, subtly eclectic. the look of Conan and The Scarlet Citadel perfectly evokes the seamless blending of heroic traditions Howard established in those primal Conan tales. Shades of high gothic, antediluvian barbarism and high renaissance all combine, not in a crudely sampled mash-up, but in a visual symphony.

None of this would be possible without the foundation laid by writer Tim Truman, who orchestrates the tale with Hyborian gusto. The words are often florid to the purplish point of near self-parody, but that’s what channeling the pulps is all about. You can almost picture Truman rattling this story out on a rickety typewriter in some bowery hotel room in between penning installments of The Spider or Doc Savage. Conan and The Scarlet Citadel is a heavy-metal trip into the teeth of 30’s style weird adventure. Test your mettle and pick up a copy if you dare. Then go buy a van.

 

Gotham City Sirens #21

Written by Peter Calloway

Art by Andres Guinaldo, Lorenzo Ruggiero and JD Smith

Lettering by Dave Sharpe

Published by DC Comics

Review by Amanda McDonald

Last we saw Harley, she was on her way into Arkham Asylum to kill the Joker. Armed with a few seemingly random items, she had just one item left -- a rusty nail and one obstacle left in the form of a security guard.

Guinaldo and Ruggiero's art took a new direction in issue twenty and that style remains in place for this current issue. The theme of telling a flashback story within a splash page shaped like one of Harley's seemingly random tools continues as we see the significance of the nail she has in tow.

Other splash pages have a rough sketch feel, while others have a nearly cartoony feel. They border on a Dustin Nguyen style, but in more of a sketchy fashion than a more refined way. In fact, as the story progresses, these collage-type pages become less refined and seem to mimic the waning strength of Harley's conviction to kill her former lover. I've really enjoyed the art in these past couple issues and hope it continues to have a strong, distinct style as it has recently.

Calloway's story has followed Harley's inner dialogue as she embarks on this mission and it's been a treat to see her in a more serious fashion than in previous issues. This issue adds in another layer, as we see Selina and Ivy arguing about how to deal with the Harley situation and sets up further conflict as the series goes on. We're finally seeing these characters as multi-faceted women, rather than just a bunch of Batman's rogues.

It's no secret I've been disappointed with this book in previous arcs, but this one seems to have the story and the art coming together well and in a way that not only makes me want to read more but also is good enough to feel comfortable recommending it to others.

1st Look: CAP & THE SECRET AVENGERS #1
1st Look: CAP & THE SECRET AVENGERS #1
 

Captain America and the Secret Avengers #1

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Art by Greg Tocchini and Paul Mounts

Lettering by Dave Lanphear

Published by Marvel Comics

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

Click here for preview

There’s always a moment, as you settle down to read a book you’ve been hotly anticipating for months and months, when your breath catches in your throat and you hope against all hope that the book won’t fail to meet your expectations. Captain America and the Secret Avengers #1 was just such a book for me. As a fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick, Captain America and the ladies in the Cap universe (Sharon Carter and Natasha Romanov in particular), I’ve been eager to get my hands on this one-shot from the moment it was first announced. My hopes were high, raised by months of waiting and I couldn’t quite shake the fear, however irrational, that they’d be dashed.

Luckily, I need not have worried. With Captain America and the Secret Avengers, Kelly Sue DeConnick handles the complicated characterizations of Sharon Carter and Natasha Romanov (a.k.a. the Black Widow) with all the expected aplomb, crafting a stirring tale of espionage, moral grey areas, mentorship and the complicated nature of female agency.

This story is technically a sequel to DeConnick and Jamie McKelvie’s Black Widow story in the Enter the Heroic Age one-shot, in which Natasha rescues a young Russian girl named Tatiana who, much like Natasha herself, had been trained from a young age to become an assassin and a tool of powerful men. In this issue Tatiana returns, luring Natasha and her Secret Avengers colleague Sharon into a violent trap set by a woman who has taken Tatiana (and dozens of other young girls) out of safety and back into the underworld of crime. Knowledge of that previous story isn’t necessary to understand this one, as all the important information is laid out on the page in direct exposition and nuanced characterization, but for fans of Enter the Heroic Age it’s thrilling to see DeConnick expand its boundaries.

Natasha Romanov and Sharon Carter are strong, competent spies and heroes, but they’re also not the most emotionally healthy individuals. With all they’ve been through, including repeated brainwashing, it’s not surprising that they’d make it their mission to save a young girl from their fate when she still has a chance at normalcy. What’s more interesting, however, is the difference between Sharon’s and Natasha’s reactions. Natasha, fully aware of the horrors of her own past and the psychological damage they inflicted, is fiercely devoted to the plan – as Sharon points out, Natasha explicitly sees herself in the young girl and she knows that’s not a good thing to see. But Sharon, who only recently recovered from brainwashing and is currently deeply invested in her self-image as a controlled, autonomous secret agent fighting for justice, is more hesitant. To admit that Tatiana is anything like her is to admit that she has trauma in her past and in Sharon’s current state of denial that’s much more difficult.

This isn’t to say that the story is all gloom and doom. There’s plenty of high-octane action and laugh-out-loud jokes, especially in the villain’s taunts, the women’s bickering and Sharon’s teasing of Steve Rogers, stuck home with paperwork while the girls fight the good fight. And the story does, ultimately, have a cathartic happy ending. But none of that would work without the grounding in Sharon and Natasha’s contrasts and deeply layered characterizations and it’s these characterizations that DeConnick drives home with force and accuracy.

Greg Tocchini’s art is perhaps the only weakness of the book, with some confusing articulation in action scenes and a few strange-looking faces. But he’s clearly a talented artist, as his covers for all of these recent Cap 70th anniversary one-shots have proven and his more pinup-y shots are lovely. Paul Mounts on colors is a bonus, too, as he manages to convey a sickly brightness in the main action scenes that is perfect for the contrast between deadly action and the brightness of a formal ballroom affair. His coloring of Sharon and Natasha’s hair, in particular, helps to drive home their differences visually as DeConnick does so verbally.

All in all, Captain America and the Secret Avengers is everything I hoped it would be, with solid characterization grounding a suspenseful, exciting action plot. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s even remotely curious and I genuinely hope this isn’t the last time we see Kelly Sue DeConnick working with these characters.

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