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Fear Itself (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Part of what is so remarkable about Fear Itself is how uncomfortably it fits into the “huge event” role that Marvel cast for it. Matt Fraction’s seven-issues-and-change epic crossover event is really just a Thor story arc that dips its toe in the waters of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. Instead, Marvel cast it as this gigantic universe-altering mega-important miniseries with over 100 crossovers and tie-ins from all corners of the Marvel Universe.

Positioned to capitalise on the release of both Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Joe Johnson’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Fear Itself seems like a story told in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like Brian Bendis’ Secret Invasion would undoubtedly have worked better as an arc of New Avengers than as a full-blown “nothing is ever the same again” epic, Fear Itself would have been a much stronger comic had it been allowed to play out on a smaller stage.

Hammer time!

Hammer time!

Still, despite the problems inherent in large-scale epic crossovers, Fear Itself works surprisingly well. Indeed, it it probably the strongest Marvel “mega-event” of the past decade if only because it is built on a strong ideological premise and develops some of the underlying themes and ideas of Fraction’s other Marvel work. Treated as a seven-issue story arc from Matt Fraction’s The Mighty Thor, it’s a fascinating climax of ideas that bubble away in the background of his run.

The choice to let Fraction craft Fear Itself, with assists from Ed Brubaker on the prologue and epilogue to the event, is inspired. Fraction is not the most consistent of comic book writers, but he is also incredibly wry and self-aware. There’s a sense of charming self-deprecating to Fear Itself, as Fraction allows the characters involved to reflect on the absurdity of it all without ever losing track of their humanity. Fear Itself might be far from perfect, but it is clever, fun and thoughtful. And those are endearing virtues.

Suit up!

Suit up!

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Cullen Bunn’s Run on Captain America & … (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Following Ed Brubaker on a Captain America book was always going to be tough, even if Brubaker had simply been providing the story for his last couple of Captain America & Bucky issues. Indeed, Cullen Bunn took over for Brubaker on one of three on-going Captain America books; with Brubaker still writing Captain America and Winter Soldier. As such, Bunn is somewhat trapped. He can’t really continue Brubaker’s still-unfolding story, but he can’t strike out with his own bold direction like Rick Remender would on a relaunched Captain America.

So it’s no surprise that Bunn’s thirteen issue Captain America & … run feels fairly indistinct. It’s a competently-produced piece of comic book writing, but it doesn’t stand out in the way that it needs to, feeling neither weighty nor fun enough to make the book stand out from the crowd.

He always said Cap was a dinosaur...

He always said Cap was a dinosaur…

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Captain America Lives! Omnibus (Review)

In celebration of the 4th of July and the release of Captain America: The First Avenger this month, we’re jumping into Marvel’s comic book alternate history and taking a look at the star-spangled avenger every Wednesday this month.

I have to say, I am genuinely quite pleased with how they’ve been chunking up Ed Brubaker’s well-loved run on Captain America for these oversized omnibus editions. Each of the three omnibus editions – Captain America, The Death of Captain America and, now, Captain America Lives! – represent an act in his over-arching story, with the status quo continually changing and shifting. The first set of issues closed with the assassination of Steve Rogers, while the second set saw Bucky Barnes assuming the mantle in Steve’s absence and defeating the Red Skull. So the third collection returns Steve Rogers to the Marvel Universe. Does it make me a bad person if I kinda don’t want the original character back so soon?

Stars and stripes...

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Like a Good Kick in the Side: Sidekicks and Superheroes – a Childish Combination?

Let’s be honest, a lot of the early superhero movie adaptations – from Richard Donner’s Superman to Tim Burton’s Batman – played fast and loose with the source material that they were drawn from. There wasn’t really the same sense of fidelity that one sense at work in modern comic adaptations, the sense that modern audiences are geeky enough to accept concepts like superhero nostalgia or deconstructions of comic book heroism without having to “sanitise” them for mass consumption. There’s a sense that there’s relatively little that can be deemed “too geeky” or “too corny” for a mainstream audience, at least not if done in the proper manner. However, there is one concept which still seems a little too “out there” for popular audiences: that of the kid sidekick. Captain America: The First Avenger cast its sidekick as 27-year-old Sebastian Stan, rather than the teenager of the comics. Why are we so embarrassed by this one element of superhero lore?

Compare and contrast...

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The Death of Captain America Omnibus (Review)

I was impressed by the original Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus, but I wasn’t as blown away by his run as almost everyone else seems to have been. A lot of my problems were outside Brubaker’s control – the big Civil War event in the Marvel Universe loomed large over the climax of his run – and, in fairness to him, he worked around it as well as he could have been expected to. His on-going run is continued in a second (albeit smaller) omnibus, succinctly entitled The Death of Captain America Omnibus, which does exactly what it says on the tin, following the events which immediately followed the climax of the last omnibus (even going so far as to reprint the last issue in that volume as the first one in this volume). It’s just over half the size of the early collection – even factoring in the reprint – but I’ll concede that I actually enjoyed it a lot more. Maybe it was the sense that Brubaker was delivering a pay-off to all the threads opened in the first part of his run, or that he was solidly unfettered by editorial mandate this time around, or even that the storyline was considerably more streamlined and focused – no matter what the reason, the vast majority of my (already admittedly small) qualms about the first collection are dealt with here.

That's gonna be a pain to clean...

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Captain America by Ed Brubaker Omnibus (Review)

There’s a lot of buzz out there suggesting that Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America might be the run on the character, the one for the ages – like Frank Miller’s tenure on Daredevil, for example. I decided that – with the movie coming out next year – it might be worth bringing myself up to speed on the character. While I haven’t finished Brubaker’s run (it’s on-going and I still have to read The Death of Captain America Omnibus), it is a very solid run, packed with great ideas. It’s a clever and well-crafted story that demonstrates that Brubaker has more in him than just gritty pulp like his fantastic runs on Daredevil and Gotham Central. On the other hand, I’m slow to call the run an instant classic – I’d rather finish his run before I make that judgement. Towards the end it feels like Brubaker’s own story has become somewhat derailed by the larger events looming in a shared universe. He’s still an amazing writer and succeeds in keeping the train mostly on the tracks, but one gets the sense that the collection would have been better if he had been granted complete control over it.

"Hey, Cap, what are we staring at?""You'll know it when you see it, Bucky; you'll know it when you see it."

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