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Avengers Disassembled: Captain America & Falcon (Review/Retrospective)

If any of the Avengers: Disassembled tie-ins make a case for the drastic shake-up that took place amid Marvel’s Avengers-themed titles in 2004, it’s probably Captain America & Falcon. By the time the tie-in to the event began, the book was only on its fifth issue, but it had already found time for the juvenile and shallow conspiracy-theory mongering that would make John Nay Rieber and Chuck Austen’s Captain America proud. Still stuck in a hamfisted attempt to tie into the post-9/11 zeitgeist, the book offers some of the worst examples of comic book storytelling at Marvel at a time when their Avengers line wasn’t particularly strong to begin with.

Not a smashing success…

Today, Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run is regarded as a phenomenal run on the character – arguably one of the best ever, standing alongside Engelhart and Gruenwald’s iconic tenures. Looking back at some of the stories told in the years before Brubaker took over the character, it makes his success all the more incredible. Christopher Priest’s Captain America & Falcon reads like a collection of awkward comic book clichés in a book trying too hard to be relevant. Indeed, the book seems almost fixed in a strange time loop, capturing seventies anti-establishment sentiment far more effectively than it manages anything pertinent to the America of the time.

“Post-9/11, we’re all trying to redefine our purpose,”the Daily Bugle’s Robertson states, and it feels like Priest is trying too hard to tap into the existential milieu that developed in the wake of those attacks. Due to his nature as the embodiment of American patriotism, Captain America feels like an appropriate vehicle to explore the changes that occurred in the wake of those terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, most writers seem to play the most trite and clichéd soul-searching imaginable, the most shallow commentary possible.

Stuck in a moment…

Here, Steve Rogers is confronted by a “Super-Sailor”, a Navy soldier built for modern warfare, rather than the old forms of conflict. “I’m fighting the New War, while you’re just a relic of the old ones,” the soldier boasts from inside his cage, as if trying to get under Captain America’s skin. The tie-in feels a little awkward, as we join the plot all ready in motion. The “Super-Sailor” has already been captured, but he still dominates the three issues here. Steve Rogers spends the bones of the three chapters here getting angst-y about what to do with his prisoner. While I don’t mind the idea of Captain America reflecting on his duty to his country, three issues of going back and forth on the same point feels like a bit much.

It doesn’t help that Priest tries to muddy the water with the most superficial and shallow moral ambiguity possible. It feels like the most tasteless conspiracy theory possible, as Priest posits Captain America and Falcon as the last soldiers defending their captive from a corrupt and villainous U.S. government. “I’m not so sure there are ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys anymore, Cap,” the Falcon states as we’re presented with the notion of the U.S. Navy conspiring with foreign drug cartels for some reason. Falcon’s statement suggests some sense of ambiguity, but it doesn’t exist. The individuals we see representing the government might as well be outright villains, revealed as racist untrustworthy scum.

Kiss and spell…

When he admits he can’t arrest Captain America, the officer in charge decides to arrest the Falcon. “So, it’s a lucky break for me that — nobody gives a damn about him! Sergeant — Arrest the Falcon!” The reason that he believes “nobody gives a damn” about Falcon should be obvious, but the officer makes it explicit. “Sam Wilson — formerly ‘Snap’ Wilson — a ruthless street hustler — soul brother. Yah. I can sell that.”

This sort of storytelling might have been compelling or subtle in the seventies or eighties, but it feels far too blunt today – it’s clumsy, awkward and stilted writing. If the officer is racist, there must be a more subtle way to show it – after all, it’s unlikely that anybody in the room today wouldn’t call him on it. It feels like Priest is trying to channel that sort of social relevance, but has fallen slightly out of touch. It seems like he’s writing all his characters in a regressive seventies style. Hell, J. Jonah Jameson even makes the point within the story, but it’s never addressed. He asks the Falcon, “What’s this Richard Roundtree business all about –?!?”

Not quite a soaring accomplishment…

When Luke Cage makes an appearance, it serves to illustrate how far Bendis developed the character during his New Avengers run. His opening line is : “I’ma say this once and once only — never touch a black man’s remote.” I know the character began as a crude stereotype with all manner of “jive turkey” dialogue, but it’s no excuse for a conscious failure to develop him in the decades since. (That said, I do kinda like the idea that guy with unbreakable skin is afraid of needles. It’s probably the best moment of the entire crossover.)

Over the course of the crossover, the Falcon becomes a stereotypical “badass” with little or no reason. He’s suddenly wearing a leather jacket over his outfit and carrying a gun he’s strangely comfortable with. “I’m not your mother,” he warns one goon, sticking a gun in his mouth.”I’m the baker. And you get to chew on this until you tell me — who is on the other end of your comm link?” It feels like the worst excesses of the nineties, as he is forced into the mold of a bad-ass anti-hero. At one point, he beats up a guy and steals his apartment. It seems like Priest’s villains are unambiguously evil, but his heroes are just jerks. I don’t think that counts as moral complexity.

A smack in the face to fans…

More than that, though, Priest seems to feed into Avengers Disassembled in the most ridiculously petty way imaginable. He has Wanda and Steve hook up together, for some strange unforeshadowed reason. And then he has them break up, just before the events of Bendis’ story. The implication is clear, but somewhat uncomfortable. It seems like Priest is none-too-subtly suggesting that Captain America’s decision to break up with Wanda was one of the factors that pushed her over the edge. I’m not mad about the portrayal of Wanda in Avengers Disassembled, but it does fit with John Byrne’s characterisation, and the reasons for her breakdown feel a bit more developed than “was dumped by Steve Rogers.”

I can’t help but feel a little glad that Ed Brubaker’s Captain America arrived to put this story out of its misery.

Check out our look at the Avengers: Disassembled tie-ins:

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