Best Shots Reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA #7, PETER CANNON: THUNDERBOLT #1

"Captain America #7" panel
Credit: Adam Kubert (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Caspar Wijngaard and Mary Safro
Lettering by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Published by Dynamite Comics
Review by Joey Edsall
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Spoilers ahead.

When you strip Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 from the substantial amount of extratextual baggage it carries, there is an interesting story delivered in the comic’s closing moments. To get to it, reader’s must first get through an abridged and legally distinct Watchmen climax that not only shows writer Kieron Gillen homaging Alan Moore, but also sees artist Caspar Wijngaard channeling a mix of Dave Gibbons and Doomsday Clock’s Gary Frank. The problem is that all that external baggage weighs the issue down before the closing moments can revive it. Peter Cannon is, perhaps most famously, the inspiration behind Watchmen’s Ozymandias, who in turn is the prime influence for the latest incarnation of Peter Cannon, and it is hard to get invested in the opening because of how close it plays to its inspiration.

The issue opens on a person’s dead face, with blood streaking from their upper right forehead down across the center in a way that mirrors the iconic smiley face button from Watchmen. It’s too deliberately focused upon to be a coincidence. From there, readers learn that an alien invasion has laid to waste an entire city. The U.S., China, Russia, and the private sector have all sent their best heroes to convince the aloof and aristocratic hero Peter Cannon. Cannon knows deep down that society is not worth saving - I guess he’s a little Rorschach now, too. After some dialogue that is probably intended to make Cannon appear to have a dizzying intellect, he resolves that he will help, because saving people is the only hope for something other than the current society. The dialogue, like the action of the comic’s middle act, is difficult to follow. Conflicts and character interactions that seem major are resolved very quickly in order for Gillen to get you to his admittedly cool twist.

Once the alien menace has been defeated, Peter confides in his assistant Tabu. He deduces that the entire alien invasion was an elaborately designed hoax to instigate a piece between the U.S., Russia, and China. Peter also reveals that he is the only one who could think of executing such a plan. When Tabu asks if Peter really committed this atrocity, to which Peter says no. This is where the comic picks up a lot of the momentum it lost at the start. Rather than making this just an Ozymandias-POV sequel, this adds a further twist by revealing that an alternate universe Peter Cannon is responsible. Why that Peter would use this universe is unknown, as is pretty much everything about him save for his even more ‘80s-inspired costume.

Those final moments of the comic are also where Wijngaard and colorist Mary Safro are at their best. There’s too much happening too quickly before then, but when it’s just Peter and Tabu, the art has a chance to breathe. There’s an incredible conveyance of emotions in the facial expressions between the two, and the smaller scale of what is happening makes the nine-panel page setup feel less claustrophobic. Safro does a great job with the magic lighting that comes with sunrise, and does enough with colors alone to make the alternate universe Peter Cannon look obviously like he resides somewhere very different. If later issues focus on these more intimate looks at the character, then narratively and visually they’ll be a treat for readers.

The unfortunate effect of all the Moore homage frontloaded in this book is that Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #1 reads like a issue where the writer is upset with how Doomsday Clock has been as a Watchmen sequel and decides to try it for themselves. It’s a shame because that leads to the concept being fatiguing as soon as readers figure out what is going on. It concludes uniquely enough, and in a very this-changes-everything Gillen fashion, so here’s to hoping following issues elevate the series to being unique enough to warrant the talent behind the book.

Credit: Alex Ross (Marvel Comics)

Captain America #7
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Adam Kubert and Frank Martin
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Mid-way through this issue of Captain America, as Steve and Sharon discuss their dwindling options out of the chaos being orchestrated to weaken them, Adam Kubert cuts to an exterior angle, showing the couple through a window via a skewed angle, almost as if someone’s snooping from across the street or lurking with a camera. The effect conjures up a mood that’s more befitting of a conspiracy thriller rather than that of a superhero story - which is appropriate, considering what’s at stake thus far is not the destruction of the world via alien invasion, but whether Captain America can still mean something after all that transpired in Secret Empire.

“And now it seems so obvious. Disgrace the shield and you disgrace the dream.”

Thus begins the second arc penned by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his run, one that starts by immediately expanding the scope of the story and the web of characters entangled within it by roping in Baron von Strucker. Strucker’s come into possession of a prison which can hold enhanced people like Steve Rogers. Not forever, but long enough for Selene and the Lukins to go about the next stage of their plan. Yet the prison doesn’t really come into play as a setting within this issue - Coates sets it up with this opening scene, but then lets the mere idea of it hang over the rest of the story. That looming dread shows how well Coates has taken to comics, and how well-paced this series has been, as he doesn’t feel the need to rush Steve into incarceration. Instead, it’s about wringing as much hopelessness as possible, to better situate the readership to the Sentinel of Liberty’s perspective.

As you can probably imagine, being framed for the murder of Thunderbolt Ross has put Steve in a tricky position, and it’s likely going to get far worse before it possibly gets better. But Steve isn’t alone - he’s got Sharon by his side and they’re both going to fight against the conspiratorial forces working against them, albeit in different ways. One of the best things about Coates’ first arc was how much it emphasized Steve and Sharon’s relationship. This issue takes that one step further, and while neither knows the easy way out this predicament, their individual decisions set-up their own plotlines that will eventually converge and the cliffhanger that stems from Sharon’s choice is an exceptional one.

Another pairing which finds new strength this issue is Adam Kubert and Frank Martin, who provide surprising yet welcome results when it comes to the art. Kubert’s linework on All-New All-Different Avengers felt stiff, a quality which is at odds with how bright the disposition of the coloring is on a flagship title. Meanwhile, Martin’s usual collaborator, Mike Deodato Jr., also finds himself subject to criticisms of static and posed artwork. Which makes Kubert and Martin’s work so interesting together because it eludes these criticisms, with the muted aesthetic created by Martin’s colors resulting in Kubert’s lighter looking linework.

In a scene involving Bucky, the visuals becomes more nimble, acrobatic even without sacrificing the power on display. The red that marks the impact of a hit stands out against the more earthy and urban palette despite not being an intense shade of the color. In an issue that’s primarily driven by conversation, the way that Bucky moves through the pages is distinctive. Unlike Steve, he’s not boxed in by nine-panel grids - a page structure which the book is not beholden to, and all the better for it - and that freedom allows him an alternate means to try and unearth some intel.

From the outset, it was evident that Coates was running with what Nick Spencer did during his time on Captain America, turning it into something genuinely interesting and nuanced. As the series has progressed, it is scenes like the aforementioned one that also show this is a follow-up of sorts to Ed Brubaker’s work. To some, Captain America isn’t just a man, but a symbol. Under Coates’ lens, he’s using the shield itself as the focal point, acknowledging how more than just one man has utilised the iconography, all in their own particular ways. The Supreme Commander wasn’t Steve, but “he was Captain America.” This is bigger than Steve and his acknowledgement of this is a major part of his decision making process, and in turn, his reasoning also informs Sharon’s choice. There’s more than one way to fight for freedom.

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