Inside Pulse 12

Retro Reviews: Captain America & the Falcon #1-14 By Priest, Sears, Bennett & Jurgens For Marvel Comics

Captain America & The Falcon #1-14 (May 2004 – June 2005)

Written by Christopher Priest (#1-14)

Penciled by Bart Sears (#1-4), Joe Bennett (#5-7, 9-11), Andrea Di Vito (#8), Greg Tocchini (#12), Dan Jurgens (#13-14

Inked by Rob Hunter (#1-4), Bart Sears (#3-4), Jack Jadson (#5-7, 9-11), Scott Koblish (#8), Oclair Albert (#12), Nelson (#13), Pond Scum (#13), Tom Palmer (#14)

Coloured by Mike Atiyeh (#1-4), Transparency Digital (#5-14)

Spoilers (from eleven to twelve years ago)

So right in the middle of Robert Morales’s run on Captain America, which I was enjoying a lot, comes word that a new series, featuring both Cap and the Falcon, is going to be coming out at the same time, and it’s going to be written by Christopher Priest.  By 2004, I am a huge Priest fan, having thought then (and not having been given reason to change my mind since) that his Black Panther is one of the greatest Marvel comics ever written.  Before that, I enjoyed his work on books like Ray and Justice League Task Force, and at this point, was still feeling the loss of his too-short and incredibly brilliant The Crew.  

I also liked the idea of Sam Wilson getting a fair share of the spotlight, as for most of my reading history, I’d been told how he and Steve Rogers were best friends, but it was rarely shown in any way, let alone believably.

That Bart Sears was the announced artist did deaden my anticipation a little, but I was more than ready to dive in to this series, and hoped that it was going to last at least half as long as the Panther series did.  Of course, this title had the misfortune of being launched a little while before Avengers Disassembled derailed some of Priest’s plans, and then the critical and sales success of Ed Brubaker’s run on the main title demanded a more singular vision.

So, how was this series?  How does it stand up today?  Let’s find out.

As always, it’s helpful to keep track of the characters that played key roles in these issues.

Villains

  • The Anti-Captain America (#1-6, 8-11, 13-14)
  • The Rivas Drug Cartel (#1, 4-12)
  • Admiral Jimmy Westbrook (#4-6, 9-10, 14)
  • AIM (#7)
  • MODOK (#7-12)

Guest Stars

  • Robbie Robertson (#1-6, 8, 10, 14)
  • Scarlet Witch (#1-7)
  • Iron Man (#3, 7)
  • Yellowjacket (#3, 6-7, 12)
  • Nick Fury (#4-6, 9, 11)
  • J. Jonah Jameson (#5-6, 8)
  • Luke Cage (#5)
  • Hulk (#11-12)
  • Reed Richards (#12)

Supporting Characters

  • Leila Taylor (#1-4, 7)
  • SHIELD agent Ali Morales (#1-4, 9-14)
  • Omoro (at the Wakandan embassy; #5-6, 8, 14)

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

  • This series launches with the Two Americas arc.  We begin in Cuba, where a large man questions a homeless man in Spanish, looking for Sam Wilson.  The man doesn’t want to give up any information, claiming Sam is a friend of the Rivas, a drug cartel that even Castro leaves alone.  We find out that the man is Captain America.  At a different time (the book keeps flipping from early morning in Cuba to night in New York, suggesting that the NYC scenes are flashbacks).  Steve Rogers is at the Daily Bugle talking to Robbie Robertson.  As it turns out, one of Robertson’s reporters, Leila Taylor, was digging into some dirt in Guantanamo Bay, and found some drug labs.  Somehow she ended up in detention at Guantanamo as a suspected terrorist, and it is believed that this was done either to protect the Rivas, or to hide the CIA’s complicity in their drug operations.  It also seems that the Falcon flew down to help her escape custody, and is now in hiding somewhere in the country.  Cap wants to go down and help his friend, although Robbie is suspicious of Cap’s motivations and who is pulling his strings.  In Cuba, we see “Cap” take out a sniper.  Oh, there’s a hurricane moving into Cuba, which makes things difficult.  “Cap” takes out a few more Rivas men, and discovers that they’d been involved in human trafficking/tourist kidnapping.  He frees some captives.  In Avengers Mansion, Cap is shown chatting with Scarlet Witch about what’s happened, and refuses Avengers’ assistance in getting him.  In Cuba, “Cap” finds out where the Rivas operate out of.  In Miami, Cap is grounded by the weather.  In the Rivas’ estate, Falcon gives a long talk, while smoking a cigar, about how a teenage girl taught him principles by not giving in to his teenage urges.  It seems that Leila is in the room, being held at gunpoint by the Rivas (and with a sack over her head) so it’s a little hard to understand the dynamic in this scene.  “Cap” arrives at the estate and starts working his way through the various goons, even mowing a bunch down with a machine gun.  Falcon lets the main Rivas guy know that this is not the real Captain America.
  • “Captain America” arrives at Guantanamo Bay with two prisoners (Leila and Falcon) and demands entry.  Once the gates are opened, he attacks the soldiers there, steals a Hummer (wouldn’t that be a Humvee?), and then a C-130, and takes off into the worsening hurricane.  Captain America calls Robbie Robertson at the Bugle, and lets him know that he’s grounded temporarily in Florida.  This scene mostly recaps the plot from the first issue, and reminds us that the Rivas are no good.  Cap goes to board a military AWACS that is designed to study storms, and is surprised to learn that Scarlet Witch is onboard, undercover, to support him.  She is using her powers to move the hurricane a little so that Cap can parachute into Cuba in the eye of the storm, but their plane collides with “Cap’s” stolen C-130.  With his plane going down, “Cap” prepares to kill the unconscious Falcon and parachute out, but Leila cold cocks him.  We learn that Sam was awake and was waiting to hear him explain his plan.  Leila goes to put on the single parachute left when “Cap” attacks; she opens the rear of the plane and “Cap” and Falcon are blown out.  Leila jumps out after them, and manages to grab ahold of Falcon, who uses his flight rig to save them from hitting the water.  Cap and Scarlet Witch arrive in Cuba, but Steve convinces Wanda to stay out of things and look after the plane.  Cap arrives in the place where “Cap” stopped the traffickers, and we learn that one of the victims was actually an undercover SHIELD agent with knowledge of the man we now start calling the Anti-Cap, who is probably a product of Naval Intelligence, and likely enhanced by something like the Super-Soldier Serum.  While they talk about him, we see that Anti-Cap survived the fall from the plane.  We also learn that Leila had stolen some sort of bioweapon from the Rivas, and that the Anti-Cap is after it.  The Falcon, still flying Leila and himself over the ocean, worries about how long his flight rig can handle the storm, and just then it explodes.  They start to fall.
  • Issue three opens with a series of flashbacks that fill in the background for Anti-Cap.  We see him on a farm in Oklahoma nine years before this story, making plans with his girlfriend, who we learn was killed the next day in the Oklahoma City bombing.  Later, the young man is rejected from signing up for military service, but the following day two men in suits come to talk to him.  In the present, Anti-Cap has washed up on the shore of Miami Beach, and kills two cops who try to help him.  At the Rivas compound in Cuba, Cap discovers Redwing waiting for him.  We learn that the SHIELD agent is named Ali Morales, and they figure out that Falcon and Leila would have come to the Rivas compound for a reason.  They discover that Falcon hid the virus there for Cap to find, and that’s why Redwing is still hanging around there.  Falcon and Leila show up at a housing complex in Miami, where some old friends from Harlem help them out, but can’t do much for them because of the storm.  Cap talks to the Avengers, and Yellowjacket tells him that the virus by itself appears to be harmless, but won’t say more over a coded channel.  Cap and Morales are en route to Miami.  Falcon and Leila go to a children’s hospital, where Leila’s old friend is a doctor, a clown, or both.  The clown doctor, Deke, can’t figure out what the virus is (I guess Leila is still carrying a sample too – it seemed before like she wasn’t), and Robbie refuses to run her story until she knows everything.  Anti-Cap appears at the hospital, and Falcon shoots him.  Deke tries to help him (I guess he is a doctor) and is killed.  Anti-Cap and Falcon fight brutally for a few pages, with Anti-Cap getting the upper hand.  Falcon tells Leila to run so that his death isn’t for nothing, but then the real Cap appears.
  • The final chapter opens with a flashback that explains the technique that the Navy used to create Anti-Cap.  Basically, a computer implanted on his spine uses a drug, Acetovaxidol, or AVX, to enhance him, although it looks like it wasn’t really working.  In the present, Anti-Cap threatens to kill Falcon if Cap doesn’t give him the virus, but then doesn’t believe he has it.  Agent Morales lets the heroes know that Anti-Cap has AVX in his blood.  Cap goes after Anti-Cap while Falcon argues with Leila and then calls Robbie Robertson to discover what he can find out about what AVX is, and they learn that it leaves the body through sweat.  Cap and Morales fight Anti-Cap on the rough of the hospital.  Morales is tossed off, while Cap and Anti-Cap fight brutally for a while, before Cap is also tossed off the rough, and Anti-Cap has possession of his shield.  In a flashback we see that the admiral in charge of the AVX program shot Anti-Cap in the head, and that is what finally triggered his transformation.  Cap and Anti-Cap keep fighting, while Anti-Cap mocks Cap’s values as old-fashioned (echoes of John Walker).  Their fight takes them to a SHIELD submersible that Morales has booby-trapped.  Falcon catches up and tells Cap that he can beat Anti-Cap by wearing him down.  Anti-Cap brags that he has disabled the traps on the sub, but didn’t know that Cap and Falcon planted some white phosphorus on the inside of the shield, which they trigger to take him out.  They find an AVX patch on him and remove it.  Cap is concerned that if they send Anti-Cap back to the Navy, they will kill him.  Later, Cap, Nick Fury and the Admiral meet in a remote diner.  Cap refuses to give him either Anti-Cap or the AVX, and Fury comments that life is going to be interesting now.  In Cuba, Scarlet Witch is posing as a cleaner at the Rivas compound, where the surviving Rivas brother swears revenge on the people who he feels are responsible for his brother’s death.
  • Joe Bennett came on the title with issue five, and the change is stunning.  Bennett is a great artist, but his more recent work does not look at dynamic or individual as the work he did in the early 90s (on The Crew, this title, Hawkman, and others that don’t come to mind as I type this).
  • Cap and Falcon are running the rooftops of Brooklyn before dawn.  Falcon hasn’t replaced his flying rig yet, and so it just wearing a leather jacket over his outfit, and is not flying.  A Spanish speaking guy is watching Cap’s apartment.  The Falcon holds a gun on him while Cap enters his apartment, which has been trashed.  The two heroes discuss who wrecked things, the Rivas, the Office of Naval Intelligence, or SHIELD.  Cap is attacked by some guys (who must have been in their apartment) while Falcon recaps the plot up to this point, making it clear that the bug is still a bug and not more AVX.  Cap and Falcon leave, while still under fire, and get picked up by Scarlet Witch, who is inexplicably driving a cab.  At the Daily Bugle, Nick Fury and Jimmy Westbrook await Cap and Falc in Robbie Robertson’s office.  They posture and argue over who should get possession of Anti-Cap.  Cap and Falcon go to Harlem, where they surprise Luke Cage, looking for a blood sample since his blood is supposed to contain AVX, and they need to synthesize more for Anti-Cap.  Driving back, Cap is angry to learn that Wanda has brought the Rivas’s bug into the US, and he gets out of the cab (it’s not clear if, when she leaves, she still has the virus).  Priest is hinting heavily that something’s up between Cap and Wanda.  We learn that Cap is hiding Anti-Cap in the Wakandan embassy, and that they are going to help him kick the AVX.  Anti-Cap is not being a good prisoner, and Omoro, who runs the embassy (?) is not happy about having him there.  Anti-Cap rattles Cap a little.  Finally our heroes arrive at the Bugle offices.  Fury offers to take Anti-Cap into his custody, but Cap refuses, since Nick can’t defy direct orders to turn him over.  Cap is in fact ready to be arrested by Westbrook to buy time to fix the AVX addiction issue, but Westbrook refuses to take him into custody.  Instead, he signals a bunch of marines (I’m guessing) to arrest Falcon.  Instead, Falcon pulls his gun and shoots Westbrook.
  • Issue six opens on Cap and Falcon fighting their way out of a Daily Bugle newsroom full of navy men, and while they fight, Cap and Falcon disagree on what they should do next.  Falcon moves to escape out J. Jonah Jameson’s window, but troops bust through.  Cap, meanwhile, pulls a bit of a Sex Criminals, when Scarlet Witch appears and freezes time around them so they can have a chat about her history.  Cap moves in for a kiss, but Yellowjacket is also there, wanting to talk about the virus from Cuba.  Jameson calls Falcon out for acting differently from normal, as they get into an elevator together.  Rather inexplicably, Omoro, from the Wakandan consulate, is there, with a new flying rig for Falcon, which uses solid holographic wings.  We learn that Admiral Jimmy (as Westbrook gets called a lot) was not killed, because Falcon knew he was wearing a bulletproof vest, and as he, Robertson, and Fury argue, Damocles Rivas shows up (it’s a busy day at the Bugle).  Yellowjacket explains to Cap that the virus is actually DNA belonging to someone Cap knows, but doesn’t say who.  Cap and Falcon, fleeing the Bugle together, are tracked by more Navy people, including a pair of Black Hawk helicopters.  Falcon flies off, while Cap gets in a cab, and weirdly hallucinates that Wanda is driving it, and then imagines that he is frozen in ice again, and seeing Bucky Barnes.  Later, at the Wakandan consulate, Cap goes to see Anti-Cap, finding Wanda already there, but keeps thinking about Bucky.  Wanda pulls Cap back to reality, and they kiss, and then acknowledge that things are going to get complicated before making out some more.
  • In the middle of the night, we see that Wanda is sleeping on a couch in a hotel room Steve has rented.  She starts talking about her upbringing again, and then starts talking about starting a relationship with Steve.  At the same time, Falcon breaks into Leila Taylor’s boyfriend’s place to warn her that the Rivas and the Navy might be coming after her, and decides that they should lay low in that apartment.  When the boyfriend objects, Sam gets aggressive and attacks him.  Back in the hotel, Steve starts having a weird dream about drowning, and then gets resuscitated by the Scarlet Witch, before being woken up to find his bed soaked in water, and hotel management complaining about water coming through the floor into the unit below.  Steve realizes that Sam is in the room, and they start talking.  Steve confesses that he keeps hallucinating, and Sam thinks whatever’s happening is Admiral Jimmy’s fault.  Sam wants to turn over the virus and story to the Bugle to expose the Navy’s doings with the Rivas, but Steve explains that the virus is the DNA of someone they know, but doesn’t say who.  Steve leaves it to Sam to decide what to do, and then tells him that he spent the night with Wanda.  Sam is not impressed, and Steve admits that he doesn’t know if he has feelings for her.  Later, at the UN General Assembly, Iron Man and Yellowjacket discuss Tony’s coming address (did I mention that issues 5-7 tie into Avengers Disassembled?) while Cap and Scarlet Witch wait outside the room.  Cap tries to talk about the night before, but the Witch acts like she doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Hank hints to Cap that the DNA thing is a big deal, again without revealing the source’s name.  In a Rivas compound in New Jersey, a young man is awoken by numerous screens displaying the phrase “Designed Only for Killing”.  He puts on an AIM suit and goes into a room where MODOK’s possibly dead body is hooked to some machines.
  • Andrea Di Vito comes on as artist for the first chapter of the Brothers & Keepers arc.  It opens in Germany where some guy sleeping in a trashy apartment wakes up, sees the ‘Designed Only for Killing’ phrase on every screen, and runs out to be killed by MODOK.  Cap is in Colombia attacking a Rivas drug camp, while Falcon is attacking a bank of theirs in New York’s Chinatown.  The action switches between both places.  We learn that Falcon knows the guy who runs the Rivas’ bank, and ran with his father when he was a gangster.  Falcon takes some money from the ‘bank’ before burning the rest, while Cap discovers one of Admiral Jimmy’s SEALs working for the Rivas.  In Berlin, a man sees the ‘Designed Only for Killing’ phrase in the tiles above a urinal just before MODOK’s face emerges from the wall.  Robbie Robertson gets shot at while in his bathroom.  Back at his New York hotel (we are never told why he’s not staying at home) Steve is in the shower, trying to figure out what all has been happening to him, specifically with regards to Wanda and the DNA sample from Cuba.  Falcon is on the couch, and we learn that the DNA belongs to MODOK.  Sam and Steve try to figure out what’s going on.  Steve believes that Wanda not remembering sleeping with Steve is part of an attack, while Sam thinks she was just letting him down easy.  They want to know if Westbrook is running the MODOK program, or if things are the other way around.  At the Wakandan consulate, Anti-Cap is not helpful.  As Falcon leaves his cell, he drops a note that says ‘Bite Me’ on it.  At the Daily Bugle, Robertson balks at printing the story again, and mentions that the Rivas sent him a message.  J. Jonah Jameson distracts Falcon, while Robertson gives Cap grief for not noticing that Sam has changed – carrying guns, invading Leila’s boyfriend’s place, stealing money from the Rivas.  Robertson also thinks it was Sam that shot at him, because he thought he saw someone flying away afterwards.  Falcon storms off from his chat with Jameson, and Cap receives an urgent call.  He rushes back to the Wakandan consulate, where he watches Anti-Cap die (most likely from something to do with the synthesized AVX), and then blames himself.
  • Back with Joe Bennett, in flashback, we see how MODOK was created, and then in the present, we see MODOK kill a woman on a cruise ship in Azerbaijan.  At the Rivas compound in New Jersey, Damocles Rivas questions MODOK to learn if it had left the place, and it avoids answering him.  On an aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic, Cap attends the Anti-Cap’s burial at sea.  Admiral Jimmy assures him that there are no divers present to tamper with the body, but we learn that’s not true as three divers approach the coffin, and are attacked by Falcon, who makes off with Anti-Cap’s body, and flies off without being noticed by Cap or Westbrook, who are discussing MODOK and how to clear Falcon’s name.  Westbrook invites Cap to a party that night.  In Harlem, Anti-Cap comes to, and we learn that he’s not dead; instead the note the Falcon left him was laced with chemicals that made it possible for him to fake his death.  Falcon gives him some AVX and tells him that he wants to use him to clear his own name.  In Chelsea, Steve chats with Nick Fury about the AIM agents being killed across the globe, which Fury thinks Westbrook is somehow involved in.  They decide that Steve should take Agent Morales (who has recovered from her earlier injuries) to Westbrook’s party.  We see Anti-Cap rob a gun shop in Jersey City.  Falcon visits Steve at his hotel, where Morales and he are getting ready for the party.  The two men speak in private about how Wanda was behind the weird hallucinations Cap was having (all a part of the Disassembled storyline in the Avengers), and Steve wonders if Sam was similarly ‘destabilized’ by her.  At Westbrook’s party, Steve and Morales come across Damocles Rivas, who is instantly attacked by Falcon, who swoops in to punch him, and flies off, chased by Steve.  Falcon gives Cap his shield, and he gets into a submersible piloted my Morales (making me wonder why they went to the party), which they then drive to the Rivas compound while talking about how they don’t know where Falcon went.  They arrive at the compound, and Steve finds something surprising, but we don’t know what that is yet.
  • Cap is attacked by MODOK and some Rivas soldiers, but refuses to let Agent Morales help him out.  When Cap puts on an AIM helmet, MODOK stops attacking him, and instead answers his questions, more or less.  It becomes obvious that MODOK does not have the personality he once had.  Anti-Cap plants a bomb on the bottom of Admiral Jimmy’s yacht.  On that ship, Damocles Rivas complains about being attacked by Falcon, and then Robbie Robertson and his wife show up.  In the Rivas compound, MODOK gives Steve a data dump of his history, and then teleports him through some of the scenes where he has been killing the AIM agents that made him.  They end up back in Cuba.  Anti-Cap, meanwhile, has shut down the security on Jimmy’s yacht.  An unnamed Senator is carjacked in Jersey City, and then seemingly rescued by the Falcon, who, it turns out, is actually shaking him down for the money that the Rivas pay him every month.  Cap and Morales continue arguing about whether or not she should come help him, but he never mentions that he’s actually in Cuba (and that their radios have a really long range).  Anti-Cap blows a hole in Jimmy’s boat, and then starts shooting his way through his guards.  Jimmy shows up, and the Anti-Cap asks who’s actually in charge – Jimmy or MODOK.  We learn that Anti-Cap can’t kill Jimmy, because of a neural lock, and Jimmy has a device that can hurt Anti-Cap (because of course he would keep it on him, even though he thought Anti-Cap was dead).  Falcon shows up to stop him from using it, and then who I can only assume is Damocles Rivas shows up, with a weirdly shaped head, lightning coming from his forehead, and repeating MODOK’s line, “Designed only for killing.”
  • Cap and Agent Morales swim into the now-sunk yacht, looking for Admiral Jimmy, who is missing.  They are attacked by some SEALs, until Cap shows them that he is not the Anti-Cap.  They find Falcon’s mask, but no evidence of where he’s gone.  Damocles Rivas, who we learn has been taken over by MODOK, has Anti-Cap and Falcon in his psychic grip.  Anti-Cap is shown the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, while Falcon is taken back to the island where the Red Skull made him the Falcon.  Falcon is more confused than Anti-Cap, which he attributes to the changes made in him by the Scarlet Witch.  Anti-Cap convinces him that MODOK’s psychic control over him will be weaker, because of his connection to Redwing.  Back at the Rivas compound in New Jersey, now under SHIELD control, Nick Fury talks about how MODOK can ‘e-mail’ himself anywhere now (which really doesn’t explain how he took Cap with him on his earlier trips).  They’ve figured out that Damocles Rivas is trapped in MODOK’s body, which is missing.  Cap decides to use Damocles’s niece, Amari, as bait.  We learn that the MODOK DNA Admiral Jimmy had is a virus designed to kill MODOK now (that thing has been a lot of things since this series began).  At an AIM base, we see Damocles/MODOK holding Anti-Cap and Falcon in thrall, while AIM agents lie dead around him.  He sees Amari on a vidscreen, and Agent Morales threatens to kill her with the MODOK DNA, which shouldn’t really work that way.  MODOK/Damocles shows up and Cap tries to reason with the dormant Damocles side of him.  While this is going on, Falcon escapes Damocles/MODOK’s control, and frees Anti-Cap, who shoots him.  Morales hits MODOK/Damocles with the virus, but it doesn’t act right away.  He takes control of Cap.  Falcon wants to go to rescue Cap, but Anti-Cap decides to use this as a chance to escape.  Amari gets hit by a mental blast and is killed, which brings Damocles’s mind to the forefront of the MODOK/Damocles pairing.  Suicidal, he teleports away, and Cap follows (turning himself into e-mail?) and finds himself face-to-face with The Hulk on a rampage.
  • Greg Tocchini steps in to finish off the Brothers & Keepers arc, looking nothing like he does today on books like Low.  Cap and MODOK/Damocles are in Singapore, where MODOK/Damocles and the Hulk are brawling and generally tearing the city apart.  Cap follows, and sends Falcon back to the Rivas compound in New Jersey, to disable MODOK’s transportation system.  It seems that now our heroes know (but never mentioned before) that if MODOK were to die, the MODOK virus would spread, causing people to become MODOKs before killing them too.  I think.  This virus changes as the story needs it to a lot.  Cap tries to reason with the Damocles side of MODOK/Damocles, who wishes to die.  Agent Morales joins Falcon in looking for the transportation controls, Cap having sent Nick Fury and the rest of SHIELD out of the compound, for no good reason, really.  Things get worse in Singapore, as Ali thinks she’s found the control switch.  MODOK blasts the Hulk, bringing Banner to the fore, just as Damocles takes control of MODOK.  They agree to work together to try to stop the virus.  All issue, Falcon has been making comments to Morales about how she should stop trying to get Cap’s attention, as he’s not dating at the moment, but really, she’s been after Falcon, and kisses him.  They make out while Hulk works via video link with Hank Pym and Reed Richards to stop the virus.  They think they have a cure, but aren’t sure.  The Singapore army, or SWAT, attack, and both Banner and Damocles lose control of their bodies to their more vicious sides.  While Falcon puts his clothes back on, Morales triggers the transport device, bringing MODOK and Cap back to the compound.  Cap has two vials of the serum, but none of the talking heads are sure if it will work, or if it will mutate the virus further.  MODOK is shut down, but Cap wants to use the virus immediately.  Falcon has Redwing smash the vials, and then he flies off.
  • Dan Jurgens joins the crew for the last two issues of the series.  The issue begins with Anti-Cap flying a helicopter through the city, dragging a Dr. Trevian below it, and dropping him on a bus.  In Harlem, Falcon is hanging out in boxers and a doo-rag, holding an AK-47, and recreating the famous photo of Malcolm X looking out his window.  He has Agent Morales over, and they talk about Sam’s new badass routine, and how it works for Morales.  Captain America shows up (it’s almost three in the morning), wanting to talk about what’s going on with Sam.  Morales basically disappears at this point, and isn’t seen again this issue (I guess she hid in the bathroom?).  Steve is upset about the choices Sam has made, and wants him to see a professional to talk about things.  Sam gets mad, and plays the card that it’s impossible to live up to Steve’s standards.  Steve lists Sam’s sins, including taking money from the Rivas, and mentions him breaking Anti-Cap out of prison (although it was a lot more elaborate than that).  Steves suggests that perhaps they can’t be partners anymore.  We see that Norman, Leila’s boyfriend is hiding in the hallway outside Sam’s apartment.  There is an awkward scene where the Falcon looks to be storming away from Steve, which means he’s walking away from his own apartment, just as Norman jumps out from around a different corner that he’s shown standing by the page before.  He shoots at Sam who rushes him, before turning around and seeing that Steve was hit by Norman’s bullets.  Sam takes the time to put on his costume before accompanying Steve in the ambulance.  Following that, scenes of medical professionals working on Steve are intercut with blue-tinged memories of his childhood, and an imagined fight with the Red Skull.  As Steve does better in his imagined fights, which incorporate people like Baron Zemo and Hydra, so does his health, but when Anti-Cap arrives in his imagination, to call him a relic some more, his health does worse.  Wanda arrives to take him into a house, and the doctors declare him dead at 3:08 AM.  At the same time, Anti-Cap flies his helicopter in an attack on the Baud Olan Embassy.  Inside, he kills a bunch of people, and holds three men in Arab desert garb at gunpoint, rants about how their country has supported terrorism while receiving money from the guy he killed at the start of the issue, and then kills them all.  In the hospital, ten minutes after Cap is declared dead, Sam shaves his goatee.  A little later, Anti-Cap is on a fire escape, and is attacked by Redwing.  We see the newly clean-cut, leather jacket-less Falcon standing over him.
  • This issue opens with Cap running through Paris in the early morning, chasing Redwing.  Then, we back up six weeks, and see the supposedly dead Steve Rogers wake up in the hospital, looking completely uninjured, save for a thin bandage around his head.  This guy was supposed to have been shot last issue.  Agent Morlaes is there to tell him that he shouldn’t worry about Falcon.  Together, they go to the Wakandan Consulate, where Omoro fills them in on the attack that Anti-Cap made on the Baud Olan embassy, and how most of the royal family is now dead.  We learn about how Baud Olan is a stand-in for Saudi Arabia, and that the Falcon’s flying rig contains a tracking device, which somehow shows that Falcon is in Baud Olan (even though it’s on the opposite side of the world, and very little time has passed since we last saw the Falcon in New York.  Morales offers to fly Cap there in her submersible.  Yes, I didn’t get that either.  Luckily, Morales had disguises in her sub, so she and Cap can dress as a pair of Arab men upon their arrival in the country.  They track the Falcon, who is supposedly in a warzone, although all we see are some locals and the goat from Quantum and Woody, wearing Falcon’s tracker.  Some masked men arrive to arrest Captain America (who is still dressed as an Arab, even holding a book that we can assume is a quran, although Morales has taken off her face mask showing that she is a woman).  Admiral Jimmy is hiding out with the last living member of the Baud royal family.  He tries to get Cap to track down Anti-Cap with him, but Cap refuses.  Six weeks later, Cap is in Harlem, packing up Sam’s apartment in his uniform, when Robbie Robertson comes by to tell him that he’s finally publishing his exposé on Admiral Jimmy, and that the money that Sam was stealing was given to community centres.  He suggests that Steve should stop worrying about Sam, but then also tells him that there is proof that a French doctor is buying the components needed to make AVX.  In Paris, Cap finds the doctor tied to a chair, and is attacked by Anti-Cap.  They begin to fight and debate over many pages.  When Cap has him subdued, he refuses to tell him where the Falcon is.  Their fight ends up in the Metro, and eventually tells Cap that Sam is dead, but at that same time, Redwing shows up and scratches his face (again).  Cap gives him a good punch, they acknowledge that he’s sweat all the AVX out of his system, thereby draining his powers, and Anti-Cap kneels in front of an oncoming train.  It’s suggested that he’s dead.  Cap follows Redwing into a cemetery, where the bird lands on a homeless man’s arm, the man calls Cap an “ugly American”, and Cap discovers Sam’s empty costume.  The end.

This ended up being a very strange series.  You know when you read a Priest comic that it might get pretty unconventional, but I wasn’t prepared at the time for this book to go so strongly off on its own, nor did it really work for me reading it again after all these years.  

Apparently, there was a lot of stuff going on in the background, as Priest outlined on his own website.  To boil it down, this book was the victim of poor collaboration with artists (especially Bart Sears), editorial interference (the Avengers Disassembled event having to drive story), and eventually, the success of Ed Brubaker’s relaunch of the main Cap title.  Priest’s explanations make a lot of sense, but at the end of the day, we are left with comics that aren’t as good as they could have/should have been.

And really, that’s a shame, because I’m sure I would have loved to read a Falcon series written by Priest, or really, anyone else.

There’s some good stuff here.  Joe Bennett was at the top of his game during this era (his more recent work at Valiant is pretty disappointing by comparison), and I liked the idea behind the Anti-Cap.  With that character, Priest borrowed from the classic Mark Gruenwald story that led the Super-Patriot (John Walker) into becoming Cap, but kept the character true to his original, red state nature.  I would have actually liked to see this character survive this series, as I think it would have been interesting to see more of him, and the murky world of Naval Intelligence.  I also liked the way that Robbie Robertson was used as a moral conscience for our heroes, and it’s not hard to hear Morgan Freeman’s voice when he speaks.  

The coolest thing about this series was the new holographic wings that Priest (and Wakanda) gave Falcon.

The other stuff with the Falcon confused me.  I could never tell if he was destabilized by the Scarlet Witch, and that explained his odd behaviour, or if he was actually reverting to his ‘Snap’ Wilson persona, or if he was really just finally emerging from Steve’s shadow.  One issue I’ve always had about the relationship between these two characters, which is evidenced in just about every appearance of Sam Wilson since the JM DeMatteis days (see the list of columns I’ve written below to recognize how deep my research goes – back to the early 80s!), we are told they are best friends much more than we are ever shown it.  Yes, Steve can be shown relying on Sam time and again, but I don’t really see the deep connection that their friendship is allegedly built on.  Truthfully, I don’t see it in the current titles, now that they are both Captain America.

Another big issue with this series, that Priest doesn’t address in his blog, is the shifting nature of the storytelling.  Yes, he had to adjust to fit editorial fatwas around characters like Scarlet Witch, but really, what is up with the virus/MODOK DNA MacGuffin?  Characters’ understanding of just what the virus was shifts from issue to issue without any kind of clear explanation, and whatever change takes place often leads to new story possibilities.  It made following the larger story pretty much impossible.

With the end of this series, I am also at the end of my long run of columns about Captain America.  I started reading one Cap comic a day back in November, but I don’t consider Ed Brubaker’s classic and revitalizing work to be ‘retro’ enough to consider reading it now.  Maybe I’ll revisit it in a few more years.

It has been very interesting to see how different writers have taken different approaches to Cap as a character, and to see the slow creep of progress and modernization influence and shape the character.  I don’t think he went through any changes as drastic as the ones that followed 9/11, but that makes a lot of sense when you consider that Cap is a reflection of the country he’s named after, and it is still recovering from the shock of that day, and living the consequences of choices its leaders made and continue to make in its aftermath.  

The Anti-Cap would most definitely be voting for Donald Trump.

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

Volume 4 #1-16 – Marvel Knights series by Rieber, Cassaday, Hairsine, Austen, and Lee

Truth: Red, White & Black – Robert Morales and Kyle Baker mini about the 1st Captain America

Volume 4 #21-32 – Morales and Bachalo, Kirkman and Eaton

If you’d like to read the stories I talk about here, you can follow this link for the trade paperback that encompasses these issues.
Captain America & The Falcon by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection

For my next batch of columns, I’m going to be looking at a DC series that I largely ignored when it came out (I’ve noticed that’s what I tend to do with my DC retro reviews; it’s harder for me to pick a title that I want to revisit), despite the fact that it features one of my all-time favourite characters in terms of costume design, and that it gave him (or is that her?) a pretty drastic revamp.

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