Inside Pulse 12

Retro-Reviews: Captain America Vol. 4 # 1-16 By John Ney Rieber, Chuck Austen, John Cassaday, Jae Lee & Other For Marvel Comics

Captain America Vol. 4 #1-16 (June ‘02-October ‘03)

Written by John Ney Rieber (#1-9, 12), Chuck Austen (#8-16)

Pencilled by John Cassaday (#1-6), Trevor Hairsine (#7-9), Jae Lee (#10-16)

Inked by John Cassaday (#1-6), Danny Miki (#7- ), Allen Martinez (#9), Jae Lee (#10-16)

Colours by Dave Stewart (#1-9), Jose Villarrubia (#10-16)

Spoilers (from thirteen to fourteen years ago)

The events of September 11, 2001 had long-lasting effects on America, and it only makes sense that this be reflected in the most visible and recognizable patriotic superhero’s title.  In 2002, Captain America was relaunched under the auspices of the Marvel Knights imprint, which conferred upon it a certain prestige.  

The book was given to John Ney Rieber to write and John Cassaday to draw.  Rieber was coming from a long run on Vertigo’s Books of Magic, and the incredible John Cassaday, who was also working on Planetary at the time.

Apparently this title was in the works prior to the 9/11 attacks, which occasioned a re-write to make it responsive to that event.  

Here are the characters that Cap interacts with through this run:

Villains

  • Al-Tariq and his terrorist group (#1-3)
  • Other terrorists (#4-5)
  • Unnamed terrorist ‘master’ (#6)
  • Barricade (#7-8)
  • Inali Redpath (#8-9, 11)
  • Severs, a former American, now Lemurian and called the Interrogator (#12, 14-16)
  • Three Lemurian members of the Assassins Guild (#13-14)

Guest-Stars

  • Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD (#1-2, 4-5, 10-11)
  • Sam Twotrees (#7)
  • Hana the Atlantean (#10-16)
  • Thor (#11)
  • Dum Dum Dugan (#11)
  • Namor, the Sub-Mariner (#12, 16)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • The comic opens on one of the planes that were used on 9/11.  After seeing some men carrying box-cutter knives, we cut to a group of men surrounding Osama Bin Laden.  From there, we move to Steve Rogers, who is digging in the ruins of the World Trade Centre, trying, without success, to find a survivor.  He chats a bit with another rescuer, and they talk about how they know who is responsible for what happened.  Steve is visited by Nick Fury, who wants to send Cap to Kandahar; Steve insists on continuing his work at the WTC.  Later, Steve reflects on how the country has changed.  Walking home, he passes a young Middle Eastern man, and suggests (somewhat threateningly?) that he should be home.  The youth replies with bravery, but is then set upon by a trio of men, one of whom has a knife.  As the young man is about to be saved, Cap saves him with his shield.  The attacker explains himself by making it clear that he lost someone in the attack, and Cap and the young man show him sympathy.  Cap’s narration shifts to a discussion of the American Dream.  Seven months later, we are in the town of Centerville, where a large number of landmines are dropped from a plane; it is suggested that a number of people are killed by them.  Fury sends Cap into this zone; he explains that if Cap fails, he will send in Delta Force, even though that will increase the number of hostage casualties.  We learn that the person behind this attack is named Al-Tariq.  Cap leaves a CAT-tag, a device that monitors his vitals, behind and jumps out of the SHIELD helicopter.  Landing in the ruined town, Cap worries that he will once again be unable to rescue people (the art echoes Steve’s first scenes in this comic), and heads into town to ‘make a difference’.
  • We see a young woman in Centerville get abducted by a man with a knife.  We back up a little, to Cap’s conversation with Nick Fury while en route to Centerville, and jump back and forth from there to scenes showing us Al-Tariq’s men taking the townspeople hostage in a church (it’s Easter Sunday), wiring the building so if anyone moves around, the place will explode.  Cap recognizes that within two hours all of the bombs will explode.  He learns from Fury that Al-Tariq wants Cap to come.  To reiterate, the abducted woman, who is a television journalist, repeats the demand that Cap come to the town, at gunpoint.  We see Cap run through the town, avoiding bomblets and tripwires.  He takes out a pair of snipers, and thinks back to his earliest days in the Second World War.  John Cassaday is given lots of room to blow us away, as Cap continues to run through the town.  As he approaches the church, four children, in Middle Eastern-style garb, and wearing speakers broadcasting Al-Tariq’s voice, encircle him, carrying small axes.
  • In a flashback, we learn that the town of Centerville was chosen because there is a weapons components plant on its outskirts.  Cap begins to fight the four children who have attacked him, and he learns that they are all landmine or unexploded munitions victims, now with cybernetic limbs.  When one sets off grenades strapped to his chest, Cap saves another of his attackers.  That one realizes that Al-Tariq has been lying to them, and gives him some advice to stop the bombs.  Cap has less than ten minutes to disarm the bombs before they explode, and he rushes to the church.  While Cap is running and taking out some of Al-Tariq’s men, the terrorist himself speaks to the media, calling out America’s hypocrisy.  Cap arrives, and the two men fight, as Cap scrambles to stop Al-Tariq from setting off the bombs.  He punches him, and Al-Tariq dies (he and his child soldiers are all wearing the same CATtags that Fury offered Cap before.  Upset that he has killed, Cap turns to the live TV camera and unmasks, revealing his identity (which, to be fair, has never been much of a secret since the mid-Gruenwald days).
  • Nick Fury is in a secret military installation in Virginia, meeting with Secretary (of Defense?) Dahl.  They are discussing whether or not Cap has compromised his mission by revealing his identity when they receive word that Cap has come to meet with Fury.  Fury denies the meeting, so Cap starts making his way through the facility anyway.  The Secretary wants him stopped, but Cap gives the order for him to be allowed to come to them.  Cap shows Fury that Al-Tariq was wearing a CATtag and wants to know how terrorists would get ahold of such high tech material, like the cluster bombs he also used.  The Secretary claims that the knowledge Cap wants is a matter of national security, but Fury writes down some information on a paper and gives it to him.  The Secretary tells Fury to, “make the call.”  Cap leaves, and after a short exchange with a soldier, gets on his bike to drive off.  His narration says that he’s returning to Dresden.  As Cap drives past some celebrations (it’s the Fourth of July), he muses on how his life might have turned out had he retired from superheroing.  As he thinks about this, driving over a dam, his motorcycle explodes, and he is surrounded by soldiers.  Cap dives off the bridge, grabbing an American flag hanging on its side on the way down.  A soldier fires a grenade launcher at him, and we get a lovely image of Cap falling, with the flag burning around him (Rieber is not subtle, is he?).  We see the not-even-charred flag float down the river.
  • So it seems I was incorrect discussing the last issue, because those weren’t soldiers that attacked Cap, but highly-organized and outfitted terrorists that just looked like soldiers.  All the people hanging out at the Fourth of July celebrations who watched the attack figured it out, and we see a montage of them calling 911 as we recap the event.  The terrorists signify that they are terrorists by referring to Cap as an “American dog”, and make reference to a place or person called Alamut.  Cap comes out of the water and manages to take a bunch of the terrorists down in some very beautiful action pages.  The person in charge shoots a bunch of his own people trying to hit Cap.  He empties his rifle, and then has a bit of a conversation with Cap.  Clutching his CATtag, he tells Cap that he cannot die, and refers again to Alamut, which was a fortress for Medieval assassins.  The guy dies suddenly, and the green light on his CATtag turns red.  Nick Fury arrives, and Cap asks if the CATtags are capable of killing someone.  Nick claims to not know much about the CATtags, despite wearing one, and refers to them as an edge that his enemies have (but this doesn’t make a lot of sense).  Cap is angry with Nick, claiming his priorities are not straight.  Cap flies coach to Dresden, and plays chess with a German woman on the plane.  They discuss the way in which civilian deaths have become a greater percentage of war casualties since the First World War.  In Dresden, Cap reflects on the great fire caused by the Allies in the Second World War.  He goes to some office building, and discovers an explosive on the wall.  He is barely able to raise his shield before it explodes and the building starts to fall on him.
  • Cap is trapped under the collapsed building, but uses his shield to create a pocket with enough space that he can change into his uniform.  Cap starts digging out, and the person who blew up the building throws another explosive at him.  Cap emerges unharmed, and we see that the guy he’s squaring off against is wearing a very large CATtag.  Cap is surprised to see that the guy has been badly burned at some point.  This guy explains how he was going to keep leaving clues to lead Cap around the world chasing him, while Cap gets the upper hand.  The German Polizei arrive, but we see that they are all wearing CATtags, and one of the hits Cap with the butt of his weapon.  The guy, who the cops refer to as ‘master’ orders them to leave.  He explains to Cap that with his CATtag, he can control other tags, causing the deaths of their wearers.  His plan is to get one issued to every member of the American military, and then kill them all simultaneously.  Cap asks him who he is, and the guy says that he will surrender and give over his fortress, Alamut, if Cap can guess where he’s from.  He goes on to describe a childhood marred by American Cold War foreign policy, and points out how his story could have taken place on almost any continent.  Cap claims that ‘his’ people never knew what was happening (and, in fairness, Cap would have been on ice throughout almost the entire Cold War with Marvel’s sliding continuity scale by this point).  Cap knocks the guy out, then throws his CATtag into the wreckage of the building.  In the end, he picks the guy up and starts to carry him out of the wreck, which is clearly meant to evoke the World Trade Center post 9/11.  That’s it for Cassaday’s time on this comic, and that’s a shame, as his work is gorgeous.
  • Issue 7 sparks off The Extremist, which the cover states is a four issue arc, but the inside of the comic, and the number of subsequent comics published, make it clear that it was actually five issues.  Cap has a dream about the Holocaust and being trapped in ice.  He wakes up to the sound of gunfire outside his new apartment in Red Hook Brooklyn.  He jumps out the window, and takes down some gang members who were harassing a guy from a rival gang.  It looks like Cap is now working, completely by himself, in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, unloading ships.  Walking home after work, he chats with a local kid, and then convinces the members of a local gang to get rid of their guns, saying that he will protect everyone in the neighbourhood now.  At home he practises using his shield to light a Zippo, when Nick Fury calls him.  Steve is upset with Nick because of the whole CATtag thing, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, so their conversation is antagonistic, until it becomes clear that Nick was calling to let Cap know of a recent death.  Two days later, Cap is in Florida talking to a woman named Sam Twotrees.  It seems that an old friend of Cap’s named Inali has been killed by a tornado.  We learn that Inali once taught Cap to track, and that he also taught Sam.  We know that she has something to do with SHIELD, but nothing is explained about that.  We also learn, because Inali had a black box on him, that he spent hours talking to a tornado, before it rammed some posts through him, and destroyed a SHIELD genetics research center.  Cap points out that Inali’s body is actually a clone.  Cap accuses Sam of trying to manipulate him, and rides off.  She calls someone to let them know that Cap is cutting off communication with Fury.  As he drives through a forest, walls suddenly appear around him, as do a number of armed men accompanied by their lead, named Barricade.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 2002 lists Cap as having an average press run of 70 000.  Newsstand returns are no longer listed, suggested that the newsstand market no longer existed by this point, or that books were just no longer returnable through them.
  • Issue 8 has Chuck Austen join Rieber on the writing.  This is at the same time that Austen was writing Uncanny X-Men, when the book focused on Sammy the fish boy, had Angel have sex with Cannonball’s teenage sister in the sky above her mother, among other evils.  This issue opens with Inali Redpath wandering Washington DC thinking about how his people (Native Americans) were left out of the American dream.  He calls Sam Twotrees to let her know he’s still alive, and learns that Captain America has left her behind.  It’s clear the Twotrees and Redpath are not friends.  There is a flashback to five years previous, where Redpath and Steve Rogers are on a humanitarian mission in the Balkans, which is a cover for a mission to free women and children from a prison camp.  He mentions that this is not the kind of mission that Cap would normally take, but that doesn’t really make a lot of sense.  Together they attack the prison camp, and free everyone without killing any of the guards.  In the present, Redpath phones Barricade, who is setting up his ambush on Cap.  Redpath creates a tornado that doesn’t do much.  Cap arrives, bringing us to the end of the last issue.  Cap fights Barricade’s men, and the two of them get into it.  We learn that Barricade was also enhanced by the US government (although Cap doesn’t know that).  A school bus drives into the area, and Barricade jumps in, threatening to blow it up if Cap doesn’t put on some high-tech shackles.  He complies, and Barricade is about to blow up the bus anyway, when a tornado appears, blowing out the fires, apparently killing Barricade (although that’s not very clear until the next issue) and blowing the manacles off Cap’s wrists.  Inali Redpath has arrived (from Washington to Florida in a few pages).
  • Cap stands and talks with Inali, while Barricade’s men look on.  It is made obvious that Chuck Austen is writing the dialogue when Inali says, to Captain America, “You exposed yourself like a five dollar stripper without so much as a ‘tickle and tease’ during prime time news hour on every TV in America.”  Because that’s how people talk to Cap.  Inali sort of suggests that there is something going on in SHIELD to protect Cap, but Cap is mostly angry about the kids on the school bus being in danger, and doesn’t want Inali calling him ‘Steve’, so he beats them up.  When the other men, who now maybe work for Inali (?) pull their guns, Cap threatens them too.  They start getting the kids off the bus.  Inali explains that everyone except for him (now) work for SHIELD and talks about his anger at how Native Americans have been treated historically and at present.  We learn that Inali has been joined by the Sioux thunder god Haokah, and that he wants to use his power to remove the white invaders from his people’s land.  He uses his wind powers to take Cap’s shield, and then forcefeeds him some liquid that is going to take him on a vision quest so that he can better see America for what it is.  Inali gets on a helicopter with the armed men (who, a couple issues ago, were sent to kill him), and Cap, angry that people are putting America down, jumps and grabs the copter.  Inali talks briefly with Nick Fury on the phone, where he threatens to destroy Miami, and then jumps out of the chopper, using his powers to stay aloft and to pull together a massive storm.  Cap climbs into the copter, and the pilot now pledges to work with him.  Cap borrows a parachute, and jumps into the storm.  He crashes to the ground just as his vision quest kicks in, and he sees Batroc, the Red Skull, Ultron, and Baron Zemo.
  • With issue ten, Chuck Austen becomes the only writer on this book, with expected consequences.  Drugged and confused, Cap mistakes three people trying to help him with old enemies, and he attacks them, and a tree that he thinks is MODOK.  He ends up in the water, hallucinating about the death of Bucky Barnes, only this time, it seems that he’s in a contraption that is feeding those memories to him before freezing him.  In the ocean, an Atlantean woman (with pink skin) comes to him and keeps him from drowning.  Above, Inali continues to trash Miami.  The Atlantean, who can apparently breathe air, takes Cap to a ruined hotel to wait out the hallucinations.  He wakes up and thinks she’s Sharon Carter.  They talk, mostly about Bucky, and things don’t make a lot of sense for anyone.  Cap finally sees the woman, Hana, for who she really is, and he surveys the damage Inali caused.  Nick Fury shows up in a helicopter, and he and Cap talk.  We learn that Cap hasn’t talked to Fury since 9/11, and many of the inconsistencies of this series get addressed (but not in a very satisfying way).  Fury acknowledges that Inali Redpath is a SHIELD agent, who was sent to investigate the genetics facility he eventually destroyed.  We also learn that although Barricade and Sam Twotrees are SHIELD, they weren’t following Fury’s orders.  Fury takes Cap and Hana to the new SHIELD Sky-Destroyer, but doesn’t want Hana to enter.  Inside, we learn that the soldiers who were working with Barricade and then Redpath are all clones of Captain America and Bucky Barnes.
  • Now that Cap has seen the clones, he, Fury, and Hana go to the deck of the SHIELD Sky-Destroyer to talk about them.  Fury is resentful that Hana keeps interjecting her opinions, and they start to argue, but then Thor arrives to help take out Redpath.  They all go inside and start planning.  We see video that shows how Redpath was stopped by scientists when he tried to infiltrate the genetics plant, and see that as he was dying, he invoked his people’s beliefs.  Cap and Hana work out together, and Steve accuses her of being sent by someone to help him.  After that she disappears from the comic.  Redpath has arrived in Washington DC, and is ripping things up, when Thor appears ranting about how Redpath is encroaching on his connection to ‘the weather’, which he refers to as a female, and then calls Redpath a rapist, because this is a Chuck Austen comic.  Thor and Redpath fight for a bit, and Cap uses the distraction to start beating on Redpath with his shield.  Redpath tries to reason with him, but Cap rejects his argument that all Americans are complicit in the oppression of Native Americans as “terrorist double-talk”.  Redpath insists that the American government froze Cap in ice at the end of the Second World War, because he would have fought against the use of the atom bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Redpath reveals that if killed by Cap he will be able to return in a new clone body, but Nick Fury shows up in North Dakota, where Redpath’s “anti-American” grandfather is tending to thirty clone bodies.  Fury blows up the building and all the clone bodies.  Cap enters into a long monologue about how he still believes in the American people, and he and Thor quote Richard the Third to each other.  This is the end of the Extremists arc.
  • Issue 12 starts off the Ice arc, and John Ney Rieber is credited as a co-writer inside the book, but not on the cover.  Steve gives one of the neighbourhood kids grief for hanging on an American flag, then goes into his home to put on his uniform and splinter some wood with his hand and shield.  He receives a delivery, a beat up old crate with an Army stamp on it.  In Lemuria, which is under the sea, but which has stars in the sky, a man with a weird looking hand (it has an eyeball in the palm, long nails, and is connected to his arm by a long metal tube) talks to Hana, who is apparently not Atlantean, about how Steve Rogers once saved his life.  In a flashback, this man, named Severs, is working at an American research base in the Arctic.  He distracts the guy he’s with so some other people can come into the facility and do something.  Explosions outside suggest something is setting off landmines; we learn that it is Namor.  The men in the facility work to cut the hand off an Atlantean while Namor yells and accuses them of being Nazis.  He stops to pray at some ancient ruins, and finds Captain America frozen in a block of ice.  Namor smashes the ice, and then throws a tank around while Cap slowly wakes up from his suspended animation.  Namor enters the facility, and is about to punch Severs when Cap uses his shield to block him.  Cap works for a few pages before finally saying Bucky’s name.  Severs asks Namor to let him take the severed hand back to the US, and Cap protects him again from Namor.  Using Cap’s shield, Namor removes Severs’s hand, and Cap and Namor fight.  The severed Atlantean (although I suppose it could be Lemurian – clear narrative is definitely lacking here) hand looks like it attaches itself to Severs, who then sets the base’s self-destruct.  Apparently four minutes later, Cap would meet the Avengers for the first time.  Severs, in the present, commands Hana to bring Cap to him.  Back in Brooklyn, Cap watches an old film that shows him encased in ice, being either lowered or raised by the American army.
  • Hana goes to Steve’s Brooklyn apartment, where she uses a lockpick concealed in her handwrap to enter his place.  She finds him in his uniform, clutching the American flag and sad.  She tells him she could never leave him.  He explains that someone has sent him film and photos proving that the American government froze and buried him and Bucky in ice in the Arctic (although there is no actual sign of Bucky in the stuff we see).  We then see a long flashback of the Avengers finding Cap in the ocean, as Cap questions whether or not they were involved in what appears to have been a conspiracy against him.  Hana hands Cap his shield just as three masked women bust through his window.  He puts them down quickly.  He identifies them as Atlantean, and Hana corrects him, suggesting they are Lemurian.  She identifies their masks as being that of the Assassins Guild.  That these women look like Hana goes unremarked upon.
  • Hana narrates a flashback that has her working at the Atlantean ambassador to Lemuria, where she had to meet with the Interrogator, who we know as Severs, who apparently now is blind and deaf, aside from his ability to speak through his alien hand.  He wants Hana to bring Captain America to Lemuria, but she refuses, and is then attacked by the same three women who attacked Cap last issue.  Leaving Lemuria, Hana realizes she is in love with Cap, who she knows doesn’t love her (perhaps because they just met and have barely spoken to each other?).  We see that the Interrogator is somehow watching what they are doing.  Cap and Hana go to a Veterans’ Hospital in Kentucky to visit General Phillips, who ran the Super Soldier Program.  Phillips was a General in 1942, and is still alive sixty years later, which is impressive.  Hana thinks Cap should be dealing with the Lemurian threat instead of chasing truths about his past.  The General reminisces, and we are given a lengthy flashback to young Steve being rejected from military service, throwing a bit of a fit in recruitment office, and being selected by the General for the Super Soldier Program.  Later, we see that it is Phillips who secured permission from the President to make Cap disappear towards the end of the war, since he was frustrated by Cap’s new ‘humanist’ ideals.  Cap and the General meet, and exchange some small talk before the three Lemurian women attack again (did Steve just leave them unconscious in his apartment?).  They fight, and because this is a Chuck Austen comic, the General declares it as being “better than viagra.”  One of the women gets Cap’s shield, bragging that he will have to follow them to Lemuria now to get it back.  We learn that the General has had his throat slit, and is dying.  The General tells Cap that things were done to him to save the world, and that’s it for him.  Cap says they are going to Lemuria not to get the shield back, but to avenge General Phillips.
  • The recap page lets us know that Cap has acquired a ‘makeshift’ new shield, which the art in this issue makes look identical to the one he just lost.  Cap and Hana fly a plane towards Lemuria without talking to one another, while Cap thinks about all he has learned, and the questions he has about why he is alive and Bucky isn’t.  They dive out of the plane and into the ocean, where they swim down to Lemuria, entering an underwater chamber, where they meet the Interrogator.  He lets Cap know that he’s met him before; Cap threatens to arrest him, and three Lemurian guards appear.  The Interrogator explains that he doesn’t want to punish Cap for causing him to live the way he does, but instead wishes to understand his worldview.  Cap starts fighting the guards, with help from Hana.  The Interrogator sends tendrils from his hand into Cap’s chest and head, and also starts talking from his mouth instead of his hand, but that could just be a lettering mistake.  Hana breaks the tendrils and drags Cap out of the chamber, back to the water.  She offers to breathe for him again, as she did when they first met, and they start swimming to the surface together, pursued by Lemurians.  Cap refuses to take a breath, and then they arrive on a pretty deserted island, with all Lemurians gone.  Cap bandages Hana’s arm with his torn-up gauntlet, and they kiss.  Cap apologizes for stopping the kissing, and Hana begins to question the surface world’s, and especially America’s, sense of shame and morality.  She keeps talking about how nice it would be to be naked with Cap, and he admits to being uncomfortable around women.  She again pushes the idea of ‘naked bodies… entwined in consensual pleasure’ when she is stabbed through by a spear (oh yah, they are being pursued!).  The Interrogator has arrived, with some more Lemurians, and he takes the same rhetorical approach Hana took with Steve, this time wondering if Cap would be willing to relax his moral code about killing since there is no one else on the island who would know if Cap killed him.
  • I’d stopped buying Captain America with #15, as I remember at the time hating what Chuck Austen was doing with the comic.  Now, rereading these so many years later, I still hate what Austen was doing, but knowing that he only had one issue remaining, I got curious and decided to pick up the finale to his (and Rieber’s) run on Comixology.
  • This issue opens right after Hana has been killed, and the Interrogator continues to goad Cap, who basically pulls off his alien hand, and stomps on it.  Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, and a bunch of SHIELD people just appear, to take Cap home.  We learn that SHIELD isn’t able to help Hana, who is dead, that Sharon is the Director now, and she and Steve have sex in her office.  Now it’s becoming clear, through the random jumping around of scene and timeline, that Cap is imagining all of this or something.  Sharon asks him a lot of questions, looking like she’s trying to get him to agree that killing can be justified.  Cap fights Baron Blood, after the Baron has slaughtered a ton of people, but stops short of killing him.  We find out that Cap and Sharon are married and that she’s pregnant, and while they are out to dinner planning their life, the Interrogator appears again and kills Sharon.  Cap squeezes his alien hand, which stops the blood flow to his brain, but again stops short of actually killing him.  Cap finally figures out that he’s being manipulated, and comes to in the Interrogator’s underwater chamber, where Hana and Namor are basically watching him being tortured.  We learn that Namor learned that someone had hired the Interrogator to figure out if Cap will kill, and that he sent Hana to protect him, with orders to hide the reason behind her presence.  Cap pulls off the Interrogator’s hand, effectively killing Severs, but the hand let’s him know that it was hired by Dell Rusk, the Secretary of Defense (who we learn later, or perhaps around the same time, in the Avengers, is really the Red Skull).
  • So basically, at the end of this arc, we are left with the following questions:
      • Where is Cap’s shield now?
      • What’s up with the Cap and Bucky clones?  Where did they come from?  Where are they?
      • Did Cap get purposely frozen, and Bucky purposely killed, by the US Government?
      • What’s the deal with the shadow SHIELD organization that tasked Barricade and Twotrees with whatever they were up to before?
      • Was Nick Fury really complicit in anything bad that’s happened?

These comics were a mess.  They were visually on the spectrum between stunning (Cassaday) through to interesting (Hairsine), but the writing was pretty universally awful.  Rieber’s stuff felt like it was trying too hard to be something it wasn’t, while Austen was Austen; disrespectful to unaware of continuity, sexually awkward, and really, just flat out bad.

I think we could look at these sixteen issues as indicative of the state of America, or its sense of itself, following 9/11.  Rieber’s run seems to deal, in a ham-fisted way, with the intertwined feelings of helplessness, rage, and distrust that grew from the terrorist attacks.  It’s not a surprise that he’s going up against terrorists, but the CATtag storyline meanders and really, isn’t all that clear.  The beginnings of the Redpath storyline are completely opaque, and were it not for the recap pages, I wouldn’t really understand what was happening at all.

America was forced to redefine itself, mostly by doubling down on its worst aspects in the name of patriotism, so it makes sense that Cap would feel the same way.  I don’t like that the target of some of this anger gets directed towards a First Nations American who is outraged at how his people were treated.  That quotations are put around the phrase “Native American” is offensive to me.  

Rieber’s Cap stories are very decompressed, and so Cap is barely a character in them.  Yes, he’s upset about 9/11, and is still standing up for anyone in the country, as shown in the scene where he stands up for a Muslim shopkeeper, but nothing about these stories build Steve Rogers as a person.  Even having him reveal his identity does little to drive the story, nor improve his character.  For a counterpoint, look at Mark Waid’s work in the earlier volume, when Cap was having to deal with his increased popularity after returning from Heroes Reborn.

I have no idea why Chuck Austen came in mid-story arc to take over from Rieber, but I also have no idea why Marvel continued to give this guy any work whatsoever.  As I mentioned above, he was working on Uncanny X-Men at the same time, which is the lowest point in the X-Franchise’s entire history.  

Austen likes to bring characters in and out of the story with no explanation or reason.  Characters are not introduced, they just appear.  The relationship between Hana and Steve felt so forced, as did Cap’s apparent depression at learning that he was perhaps duped by his country.  The Captain America who turned over his shield and uniform to the Commission at the high point of Mark Gruenwald’s run would have never wrapped himself in a flag and sat on his floor crying.  He would have sought and found answers.  

The entire Interrogator storyline is such a muddle of bad ideas and dangling plotlines that I don’t even want to say anything else about it.  These are terrible comics.

Artwise, John Cassaday’s work on this book is groundbreaking.  Sure, by this point, Cassaday’s skills were well-known, but by taking a more realistic approach to Cap’s uniform, drawing in individual links of his chain-mail, and giving his cowl a more helmet-like quality, Cassaday redefined Cap’s look for a new century.  I remember being very excited by Cap’s look in this comic, and I think that initially helped pave over the poor writing.  It was interesting to see how artists like Hairsine and Lee worked with this new approach as well.

I think a few things need to be said about Jae Lee’s work here.  He’s always been a striking artist, but taking a very goth approach to a character like Cap only works some of the time.  Lee’s Cap has a weird steampunk/goth film projector.  Characters like Hana walk around with bandages wrapped around their hands for no reason (except, perhaps, to conceal lockpicking tools).  Lee’s visual aesthetic does not work here.  What made him such a perfect artist for the Inhumans miniseries with Paul Jenkins just before this is what makes him the wrong artist for this comic.

The Marvel Knights approach to Cap was pretty much a disaster, except for the visual reworking of the costume, and the excellent Cassaday covers (which began with some very propagandistic themes, but which settled down to being iconic and wonderful).  I even loved the new logo that was designed for the book, but really, I should have given up on this title as soon as I saw Austen’s name creeping into the credits.

After issue 16, Dave Gibbons wrote an arc set on a parallel Earth, which I’ve never read, and don’t feel the need to track down now.  After that, Robert Morales came on, and gifted us with a run I remember very fondly.  Before I get to that though, I’m going to move a little sideways for my next column, and take a look at the Truth miniseries Morales did with Kyle Baker, which I remember very fondly.  We’ll see how it stands up today.

If you’d like to read any of the columns about Captain America that preceded this one, you can check these links.

#266-300 – JM DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s classic run

#301-306 – Mike Carlin’s placeholder run.

#307-332 – Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary’s run

#333-350 – John Walker as Captain America run (Gruenwald and mostly Dwyer)

#351-386 – Steve is back as Cap; Gruenwald, Dwyer, and Lim’s runs

#387-413 – Gruenwald and Levins, at least until I dropped it

#449-454 – The back half of Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s first run

Volume 2 #7-11 – Heroes Reborn (James Robinson issues only)

Volume 3 #1-11; Sentinels of Liberty 1-3, 8 – Heroes Return (Waid’s second run, with Garney and Kubert)

Dead Men Running – Miniseries by Macan and Zezelj

If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you can follow these links for trade paperbacks that encompass some of these issues.
Captain America: Marvel Knights Vol. 1
Captain America Volume 2: The Extremists TPB (Marvel Knights) (v. 2)
Captain America Volume 3: Ice TPB

 

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