Captain America and Black Widow


By Cullen Bunn, Francesco Francavilla & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6528-6

The Star-Spangled Avenger was created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at the end of 1940, confidently launched straight into his own title. Captain America Comics #1 was cover-dated March 1941 and made the flag-draped hero an unstoppable, overwhelming overnight success.

The absolute and undisputed star of Timely Comics’ “Big Three” (the other two being Human Torch and Sub-Mariner), Cap was also amongst the very first to fade as the Golden Age ended.

With the Korean War and Communist aggression gripping the American psyche, freedom fighting Steve Rogers was revived in 1953 – along with Torch and Subby – for another brief tour of duty before quickly sinking back into obscurity…

A resurgent Timely – now calling itself Marvel Comics – drafted him again in Avengers #4. It was March 1964 and Vietnam was just beginning to pervade the minds of the American public. This time he stuck around. Whilst perpetually bemoaning the tragic, heroic death of his young sidekick (James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky) during the final days of World War II, the resurrected Sentinel of Liberty stole the show; promptly graduating to his own series and title as well.

He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history, struggling to find an ideological niche and stable footing in a precarious and rapidly changing modern world. After decades of vacillating and being subject to increasingly frantic attempts to keep the character relevant, in the last years of the 20th century a succession of stellar writers finally established his naturally niche: America’s physical, military and ethical guardian…

In continuity terms, Cap is a rough contemporary of Natasha Romanoff (sometimes Natalia Romanova): a Soviet Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s most successful female stars.

The Black Widow started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, battling against Iron Man in her debut exploit (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – and finally becoming an agent of SHIELD, freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of the Avengers.

Throughout her career she has always been considered ultra efficient, coldly competent, deadly dangerous and yet somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that Natasha had undergone experimental processes which enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological procedures which had messed up her mind and memories…

Despite always being a fan-favourite, the Widow only truly hit the big time after the release of the Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers movies, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her printed-page escapades have always offered a cool yet sinister frisson of dark delight.

This particular all-action pairing collects Captain America (… and the Black Widow) #636-640 from November 2012 to February 2013, during which time Cap’s own title had become a team-up vehicle, with previous part-time partners including Bucky/Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Iron Man and Namor.

A good deal of that period had been spent thwarting the schemes of a mysterious villain with incredible resources and astoundingly grandiose schemes. Her name was Kashmir Vennema and this book describes how she was finally brought low…

The tale opens in Central Park as the Black Widow meets a mole to secure crucial intel. Although she was apparently incarcerated by Cap weeks ago, Vennema is still murderously active and the files reveal her secret. “Kash” is a high-end broker: supplying arms, tech, information, people or whatever her elevated clientele desire. Her motto is “Infinite profit in infinite worlds” and her organisation plunders the entire multiverse for suitable wares, before selling them to the worst despots of an uncountable number of Earths.

Moreover, the reason for her success is that everyone who works for her is a Kashmir doppelganger recruited from every alternate world…

Even as the Widow absorbs the implications of these revelations, in some other place a Doctor Doom dies whilst conducting business with a Vennema: their meeting ending in bloody assassination at the hands of infallible sniper Natasha Romanoff. This implacable Black Widow is working for an unknown client who plans to end the Vennema scourge forever…

And on our Earth at maximum detention centre The Raft, Hawkeye and Captain America interview the captive Kashmir and realise she is not of this Earth…

Acting on information received the Sentinel of Liberty later interrupts another buy between a Vennema and a terrorist group. The Secret Empire are looking to buy enslaved metahumans from other Americas but are driven off by the fighting-mad super-soldier. Tragically Cap is totally unprepared for the Black Widow to show up and murder Kashmir. Only after she tries to kill him too does he realise that she’s not his Black Widow…

Things look pretty bleak until she is suddenly taken out by her own counterpart, but the ‘Superhero Horror’ only increases when Vennema Multiversal HQ realises the deal has gone sour and the supreme “Kash” orders all evidence dumped. That involves a dimensional transport trap which lands Cap, Natasha and the killer Widow in a dustbin dimension where all Vennema’s failures and embarrassments end up…

Forging an uneasy alliance with the other Natasha, Cap goes scouting and walks into a catastrophic war amidst the ruins…

‘Tripod Terror’ sees the heroes ferociously battling crazed survivors of other cover-ups, unaware that Kash has despatched her metahuman Hunt Squad – culled from numerous worlds – to ensure their destruction, but the tables are about to be turned thanks to the ‘Raging Reptiles’ of alternate Earth inmate Curt Connors.

This plane’s Lizard is also its Doctor Octopus and he has redemption in mind. He only thought to help his people after a great war but his meddling resulted in a planet of monsters…

Now as the Hunt Squad attacks, Connors buys time for Cap and the Widows to escape, plunging into uncontrolled inter-dimensional chaos and fetching up on a myriad of incredible alternates before finally finding the mystery client who ordered the hits on the assorted Kashmirs.

She has her own team of oddly familiar metahuman champions and wants to dismantle Vennema Multiversal. With Captain America and two Black Widows ‘Taking it to the House’, the hostile takeover is brief and very bloody…

But when the dust at last settles is the convoluted interconnected web of Realities actually a better, safer place?

A dazzling display of pure Fights ‘n’ Tights razzamatazz, this short, sharp and super-heroically sweet team-up tale from scripter Cullen Bunn and illustrator Francesco Francavilla captivatingly capitalises on the popularity of the filmic iterations of these particularly long-lived metahuman marvels whilst playing delicious games with the established comics continuity. The end result is a fast and furious treat all action addicts will be unable to resist.
© 2012, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Adventures Avengers: Captain America


By Scott Gray, Roger Langridge, Todd Dezago, Roger Stern, Craig Rousseau, Matteo Lolli, Lou Kang, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4562-3

Since its earliest days Marvel always courted the youngest comicbook consumers. Whether animated tie-ins such as Terrytoons Comics, Mighty Mouse, Super Rabbit Comics, Duckula, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Disney licenses and a myriad of others, or original creations such as Millie the Model, Homer the Happy Ghost, Li’l Kids and Calvin – or as in the 1980s Star Comics line – an entire imprint for originated or licensed comics targeting peewee punters, the House of Ideas has always understood the necessity of cultivating the next generation of readers.

These days, however, general kids’ interest titles are all but dead and, with Marvel characters all over screens large and small, the company usually prefers to create child-friendly versions of its own proprietary pantheon, making that eventual hoped-for transition to more mature comics as painless as possible.

In 2003 the company instituted a Marvel Age line which updated and retold classic original tales by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko, mixing it with the remnants of the manga-based Tsunami imprint, all intended for a younger readership.

The experiment was tweaked in 2005, evolving into Marvel Adventures with core titles transformed into Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man. The tone was very much that of the company’s burgeoning TV cartoon franchises, in delivery if not name. Additional Marvel Adventures series included Super Heroes, The Avengers and Hulk. These iterations ran until 2010 when they were cancelled and replaced by new volumes of Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man.

Those tales have all been collected in welcoming digest-sized compilations such as this one which gathers a selection of yarns starring the Sentinel of Liberty. This particular patriotic play-list comprises three all-ages tales – taken from Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #8 and 12, plus an early outing from Marvel Age Spider-Man Team-Up #2 and rounded out with a mainstream continuity yarn from Captain America volume 1 #255 from March 1981.

The Sentinel of Liberty was created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at the end of 1940 and launched straight into his own Timely Comics’ (Marvel’s earliest iteration) title. Captain America Comics #1 was cover-dated March 1941 and was a monster smash-hit. Cap was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely’s “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. He was also one of very the first to fall from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated the American psyche in the early 1950s Cap was briefly revived – as were his two fellow superstars – in 1953 before sinking once more into obscurity until a resurgent Marvel Comics once more needed them. When the Stars-&-Stripes Centurion finally reappeared he finally found a devoted following who stuck with him through thick and thin.

Soon after taking over the Avengers, he won his own series and, eventually, title. Cap waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in American history but always struggled to find an ideological place and stable footing in the modern world, plagued by the trauma of his greatest failure: the death of his boy partner Bucky

If you’re of a slavish disposition continuity-wise, the first three Star-Spangled sagas all occur on Marvel’s Earth-20051 whilst the last is situated in the regulation Earth-616.

It opens with an updated origin – in keeping with the later filmic iteration – as ‘The Legend Reborn’ (by Scott Gray & Craig Rousseau as seen in MASH #8, April 2009) sees World War II’s greatest hero decanted from an arctic iceberg by agents of SHIELD.

Future-shocked and mistrusting, Steve Rogers breaks out of protective custody and explores the 21st century beside teen-rebel and street-performer Rick Jones, until secret society Hydra try to “recruit” him and Cap is finally forced to pick a side…

The introductory epic is augmented by an enticing war-time tale. ‘Spy for the Cameras!’ (Roger Langridge & Rousseau) finds Cap and annoyingly plucky reporter Rosalind Hepburn exposing an undercover plot in Hollywoodland…

Issue #12 (August 2009) saw Cap and Rick return in ‘Web of Deceit’ by Gray & Matteo Lolli. Here the time-lost hero is transported into Hydra’s digital domain to face unimaginable and lethally implausible peril, until Rick’s buddies in the Online Brigade log in to save the day…

This is followed by another deliciously wry WWII romp from Langridge & Rousseau, with news-hen Rosalind, Cap and Bucky battling a prototype mutant cyborg in ‘If This Be P.R.O.D.O.K.!’

‘Stars, Stripes and Spiders!’ is by Todd Dezago, Lou Kang & Pat Davidson (originally debuting in Marvel Age Spider-Man Team-Up #2, December 2004 and inspired by Len Wein and Gil Kane’s tale from the original Marvel Team-Up #13).

When a certain wall-crawling high-school student and part-time hero stumbles into Captain America tackling an AIM cadre stealing a super-soldier serum, the nervous lad learns a few things about the hero game from the guy who wrote the book. Not making that lesson any easier is petrifying super-villain the Grey Gargoyle

Closing out this fast-paced primer of patriotic action is a classic retelling of Cap’s early career by Roger Stern & John Byrne. The story was the finale in a superb run by the duo: a mini-renaissance of well-conceived and perfectly executed yarns epitomising all the fervour and pizzazz of Captain America in his glory days. ‘The Living Legend’ is a moody, rocket-paced origin saga which was the definitive version of the hero’s nativity for decades…

Never the success the company hoped, the Marvel Adventures project was superseded in 2012 by specific comics tied to those Disney XD television shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”, but these collected stories are still an intriguing, amazingly entertaining and superbly accessible means of introducing characters and concepts to kids born sometimes three generations or more away from the originating events.

Beguiling, enthralling and impressive, these riotous super stories are extremely enjoyable yarns, although parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action” and might perhaps better suit older kids…

© 1981, 2000, 2009, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Captain America volume 6


By Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, Don Glut, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5091-6

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of ferocious patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and exceedingly bombastic response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamics pantheon before accepting that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Seeing which way the winds blew, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a promise of free rein, concocting a stunning wave of iconic creations (2001: a Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur). At the same time he was handed control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established characters Captain America and Black Panther – to do with as he wished.

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity and went explosively his own way. Whilst his new works quickly found many friends, his tenures on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of Captain America

This sixth Essential monochrome collection features the last contentious stories by “The King”, before Kirby quit writing, drawing and editing the Sentinel of Liberty; abruptly returning the patriotic paragon fully to Marvel’s restrictively overarching interlinked continuity.

Gathered within are Captain America #206-229 (cover-dated February 1977 to February 1978) and Captain America Annual #4 plus a bonus crossover tale from Incredible Hulk #232.

At the end of the previous volume the Fighting American had saved the nation from a conclave of aristocratic oligarchs attempting to undo two hundred years of freedom and progress with their “Madbomb”, visited another dimension and liberated its human abductee-inhabitants and spectacularly turned back an invader from the far future.

The non-stop nightmares resume here with Captain America and the Falcon #206 as ‘Face to Face with the Swine!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) sees the Star-Spangled Sensation mistakenly renditioned to deepest Central America and toppling the private kingdom and hunting ground of psychotic sadist Comandante Hector Santiago, unchallenged monarch of the prison of Rio del Muerte

Never one to go anywhere meekly, Cap escapes and begins engineering the brute’s downfall in ‘The Tiger and the Swine!!’ but soon finds the jungles conceal genuine monsters. When they exact primal justice on the tormentors, Cap’s escape with the Swine’s cousin Donna Maria down ‘The River of Death!’ is interrupted by the advent of another astounding “Kirby Kreation”… ‘Arnim Zola… the Bio-Fanatic!!’

The former Nazi geneticist was absolute master of radical biology, dragging Cap and Donna Maria to his living castle and inflicting upon them a horde of diabolical homunculi at the behest of a mysterious sponsor even as the Avenger’s partner Falcon was closing in on his long-missing pal.

Indomitable against every kind of shapeshifting horror, Captain America battles on, enduring a terrible ‘Showdown Day!’ (with Mike W. Royer taking over the inking) whilst back home his girlfriend Sharon Carter uses her resources as SHIELD’s Agent 13 to trace wealthy Cyrus Fenton and expose ‘Nazi “X”!’ as the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest nemesis…

With his time on the title counting down, Kirby ramped up the tension in #212 as ‘The Face of a Hero! Yours!!’ finds Zola preparing to surgically give the Red Skull Cap’s form, resulting in a cataclysmic clash which leaves the hero bloodied and blind, but ultimately victorious…

With the hero recuperating in hospital, Dan Green steps in to ink #213 as ultimate assassin ‘The Night Flyer!’ targets the ailing Captain America at the behest of unfettered capitalist villain Kligger from the insidious Corporation, but inadvertently triggers the return of the victim’s vision in blockbusting – if abrupt – conclusion ‘The Power’ (Royer inks)…

Reading slightly out of sequence here, Captain America Annual #4 ‘The Great Mutant Massacre!’ ends the Kirby contribution to the career of the Star-Spangled Avenger: a feature- length super-shocker which again eschewed convoluted back-story and the cultural soul-searching which typified the character before and after Kirby’s tenure.

It saw America’s Ultimate Fighting Man strive against humanity’s nemesis Magneto and his latest mutant recruits Burner, Smasher, Lifter, Shocker, Slither and Peeper. This riot of rampaging action and end-of-the-world wonderment pitted the Sentinel of Liberty against a Homo Superior hit-squad aiming to take possession of a super-powered being whose origins were far stranger than anybody could conceive…

When Kirby moved on it left a desperate gap in the schedules. Captain America #215 saw Roy Thomas, George Tuska & Pablo Marcos remix the hero’s origin story for the latest generation with ‘The Way it Really Was!’: reiterating also the history of the heroes who also wore the red, white & blue uniform whilst Steve Rogers was entombed in ice and ending with our hero desperately wondering who the man beneath the mask might be…

For all that, #216 was mostly a reprint. With a framing sequence by Thomas, Dave Cockrum & Giacoia ‘The Human Torch meets…Captain America!’ was written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Kirby & Dick Ayers, rerunning November 1963’s Strange Tales #114. It featured the return of the third of Timely Comics’ Golden Age Big Three – or at least an impersonation of him by the insidious Acrobat – in a bombastic battle romp.

Here’s a quote from the last panel…

“You guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to Return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!” I wonder how that turned out?

‘The Search for Steve Rogers!’ by Thomas, Don Glut, John Buscema & Marcos began in #217 and with SHIELD’s record division, but the Falcon was soon distracted by a surprising job offer as Nick Fury, busy with the hunt for the Corporation, asked Cap’s partner to train the agency’s newest project: the SHIELD Super-Agents

These neophyte wonders consisted of Texas Twister, Blue Streak, Vamp and a rather mature Marvel Boy, but the team was already flawed and deeply compromised…

Issue #218 saw Cap targeted by a Corporation agent and fed data which turned his legendarily-fragmented memory to his thawing from the ice. Heading north to retrace his original journey, Cap spent ‘One Day in Newfoundland!’ (Glut, Sal Buscema & John Tartaglione) and uncovered a secret army, an old foe and a colossal robotic facsimile of himself…

In #219 ‘The Adventures of Captain America’ (Glut, Sal B & Joe Sinnott) reveals how, during WWII, the hero and junior partner Bucky were ordered to investigate skulduggery on the set of a movie serial about them and exposed special effects wizard Lyle Dekker as a highly-placed Nazi spy.

Now in modern-day Newfoundland that warped genius has built a clandestine organisation with an incredible purpose; revealed in ‘The Ameridroid Lives!’ (inked by Tartaglione & Mike Esposito) as the captive crusader is mind-probed and dredges up shocking submerged memories.

When he and Bucky were chasing a swiftly launched secret weapon at the end of the war, the boy died and Steve Rogers fell into the North Atlantic and was frozen in a block of ice until found and thawed by the Avengers. At least, he always thought that’s how it happened.

Now as the probe does its devilish work, Captain America remembers that he was in fact picked up by Dekker after the spy was punished by the Red Skull and exiled for his failures. Deciding to work only for his own interests, Dekker then attempted to transfer Cap’s power to himself and it was only in escaping the original Newfoundland base that Rogers crashed into the sea and froze…

Now decades later, the vile scheme is finally accomplished: Cap’s energies are replicated in a fifteen foot tall super-android with the aging Dekker’s consciousness permanently embedded in its metal and plastic brain.

…And only then does the fanatic realise he’s made himself into a monster at once unique, solitary and utterly apart from humanity…

The deadline problems still hadn’t eased and this episode is chopped in half with the remainder of the issue giving Falcon a short solo outing as ‘…On a Wing and a Prayer!’ by Scott Edelman, Bob Budiansky & Al Gordon finds the Pinioned Paladin hunting a mad archer who has kidnapped his avian ally Redwing…

The remainder of the Ameridroid saga appears in Captain America #221 as Steve Gerber and David Kraft co-script ‘Cul-De-Sac!’, wherein the marauding mechanoid is finally foiled by reason not force of arms whilst ‘The Coming of Captain Avenger!’ (Edelman, Steve Leialoha & Gordon) provides another space-filling vignette with former sidekick Rick Jones being given a tantalising glimpse of his most cherished dreams…

Issue #222 sees Gerber fully in the writer’s seat as ‘Monumental Menace!’ (by Sal B, Tartaglione & Esposito) as “The Search for Steve Rogers” storyline moves to Washington DC.

As our hero examines army records at the Pentagon, the Corporation’s attempts to destroy him become more pronounced and bizarre. After escaping an animated, homicidal Volkswagen Steven Grant Rogers learns at last that he was once the son of a diplomat and lost a brother at Pearl Harbor (all these revelations were later rather ingeniously retconned out so don’t worry about spoilers). Soon however events spiral and Liberty’s Sentinel is attacked by the Lincoln Memorial, sacrilegiously brought to lethal life…

The madness continues as the hulking, monstrous horror responsible screams ‘Call Me Animus’ before unleashing a succession of blistering assaults which result in hundreds of collateral casualties before being finally repulsed…

The epic is again interrupted as Peter Gillis, Mike Zeck, Esposito & Tartaglione contrive a thrilling mystery with a battered Cap awakening in a river with partial amnesia and a new face. Forced to find out what happened to him, the sinister trail leads to guest-villains Senor Suerte and Tarantula in ‘Saturday Night Furor!’

The Search Saga resumes in #225 as ‘Devastation!’ (Gerber, Sal Buscema, Esposito & Tartaglione) as Fury gives Captain America access to incarcerated mind-master Mason Harding (inventor of the “Madbomb”,as seen in Essential Captain America volume 5) who uses his embargoed technology to unseal the Avenger’s closed memories at long last…

Sadly the cathartic shock has terrifying repercussions: although Rogers regains many memories, the mind machines somehow denature the Super-Soldier serum in his blood and he is forced to ask ‘Am I Still Captain America?’ when his perfect warrior’s frame reverts to the frail, sickly mess it used to be.

New scripter Roger McKenzie begins his superb run of tales – with Sal B, Esposito & Tartaglione still illustrating – as SHIELD puts all its resources into restoring the One Man Army but is suddenly brought low by an invasion of body-snatching Red Skulls.

Back in fighting trim, the incursion is repelled by the resurgent Patriotic Paragon in ‘This Deadly Gauntlet!’ but the aftermath sees the too-often compromised Peacekeeping agency mothball many of its facilities. During the closure and destruction of the Manhattan branch, Cap is ambushed by the Constrictor in #228’s ‘A Serpent Lurks Below’ and subsequently gets his first real lead on the Corporation…

The trail leads back to Falcon and the Super Agents, and with ‘Traitors All About Me!’ the Cap exposes the rotten apples working for Kligger – and another enemy force – leading to a spectacular ‘Assault on Alcatraz!’ (McKenzie, Roger Stern, Sal Buscema & Don Perlin) to rescue hostage friends and end the Corporation’s depredations in Captain America #230…

While this solely unfolding epic was entertaining readers here, fans of the Hulk were reading of equally shady shenanigans in his title (and Kirby’s Machine Man) where the Corporation’s West Coast Chief Curtiss Jackson was ruthlessly enacting his own perfidious plans. This volume concludes as parallel plotlines converge into a bombastic action-extravaganza as the crossover conclusion from Incredible Hulk #232. ‘The Battle Below’ by Stern, David Michelinie, Sal Buscema & Esposito…

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is as good as any of his post Fourth World stuff. However, it does make the collection a bit of a double-edged treat. Engaging and impressive as the last two thirds of this volume is, the stories are worlds away in style, form and content from the perfect imaginative maelstrom of Kirby at his creative peak.

Not better but very, very different.

You can hate one and love the other, but perhaps it’s better to try to appreciate each era on its own merits…

Fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America: The Chosen


By David Morrell & Mitch Breitweiser with Brian Reber & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2016-2

The Sentinel of Liberty was created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at the end of 1940 and confidently launched in his own title Captain America Comics #1, cover-dated March 1941. He was an unstoppable, overwhelming overnight success.

The absolute and undisputed star of Timely – now Marvel – Comics’ “Big Three” (the other two being Human Torch and Sub-Mariner), he was amongst the very first to fade as the Golden Age ended.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression gripped the American psyche Steve Rogers was briefly revived in 1953 – along with Torch and Subby – before sinking once more into obscurity…

A resurgent Marvel Comics drafted him again in Avengers #4. It was March 1964 and Vietnam was just beginning to pervade the minds of the American public…

This time he stuck around. Whilst perpetually agonising over the tragic, heroic death of his young sidekick (James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky) during the final days of World War II, the resurrected Rogers stole the show, then promptly graduated to his own series and title as well.

He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history, constantly struggling to find an ideological niche and stable footing in a precarious and rapidly changing modern world.

After decades of vacillating and being subject to increasingly frantic attempts to keep the character relevant, in the last years of the 20th century a succession of stellar writers finally established his naturally niche: America’s physical, military and ethical guardian…

That view was superbly taken to its most impressive extreme in an evocative 6-issue miniseries under the adult-attuned Marvel Knights imprint. As explained in David Morrell’s fascinating Afterword to Captain America: The Chosen, the author of First Blood (the original Rambo novel, and many others such as The Brotherhood of the Rose and Fireflies) jumped at the chance to play with America’s other abiding patriotic symbol…

Running November 2007 to March 2008, Captain America: The Chosen takes a simultaneously down-to-Earth and metaphorically fanciful look at the nation’s saviour which begins in ‘Now You See Me, Now You Don’t’ as Marine Corporal James Newman takes heavy fire after his patrol enters a seemingly quiet village in Afghanistan.

He’d rather be home in San Francisco with wife Lori and baby boy Brad, or at the very least just certain who the bad guys are and who the victims American like him are here to help, but a furious assault by Al Qaeda insurgents soon drives all thoughts other than survival out of his head.

Pinned down in a house he thinks his time has come until Captain America suddenly appears. The hero’s mere presence drives doubts away and steadies his fear. With the mighty crusader’s inspirational assistance – always repeating a mantra of “Courage. Honour. Loyalty. Sacrifice” – Newman breaks out of the trap and rescues his endangered men from certain death.

In the aftermath the weary Corporal ducks the thanks and praise of his grateful comrades, attributing the lion’s share of credit to the Star Spangled Avenger. He cannot understand where Captain America vanished to, nor why nobody else saw him…

And thousands of miles away in a secret laboratory a Super Soldier lies dying…

The mystery deepens in ‘The Shape of Nightmares’ as a bevy of scientists assess the Sentinel of Liberty’s rapidly declining state in the very building where he was created, whilst in Afghanistan Newman ruminates on the apparent hallucination which saved his life one day ago. As his squad investigate a cave his mind goes back to his own childhood, a time when an innocent game trapped him in a car boot and almost killed him. The event left its mark and he’s terrified of entering the hole in the ground which might hold all manner or peril…

The threat comes from enemy combatants with grenades and a brief fierce firefight results in a rock-fall which buries the squad under tons of rock. As Newman radios for help with mounting panic, Captain America is there again calmly repeating “Courage. Honour. Loyalty. Sacrifice.” None of his fellow survivors can see him as the superhero explains what’s really going on…

In a secret US citadel a paralysed Captain America is linked to radical technology. His perfect body is dying as the serum which created him fails, but has linked his still valiant mentality to experimental Remote Viewing equipment to provide strategic intel for the American forces in combat.

It’s fortuitously also allowed him to contact kindred spirits like Newman but being ‘Out of Body… Out of Mind’ is only the start. Despite being also able to terrify many particularly receptive insurgents, his time on Earth is ending…

As the entombed soldiers slowly expire in the collapsed caves, Cap’s calm discourse again inspires Newman and the claustrophobic Corporal begins digging deeper into the mountain looking for a way out.

‘Fear in a Handful of Dust’ follows as he strives, accompanied by an ever-more skeletal patriotic phantasm. Perhaps to keep him steadied, Captain America tells James how it all started: how a skinny physical specimen, rejected by the army, was transformed into the perfect soldier during World War II, of the friends he made, the family he formed and the losses he endured for the sake of his country and the world…

As Newman burrows through the mountain Captain America shares the most intimate details of his life in ‘The Crucible’ of service, but as the Corporal stubbornly overcomes every obstacle, on an operating table the Spirit of a Nation is dying…

The saga ends as the President rushes to the side of America’s greatest resource. The hero’s mind is elsewhere, imparting details of his return after decades frozen in ice and the new world he found himself lost in, further triumph and sacrifice and his recent decline into frailty and powerlessness.

And how he knows one thing above all else: Captain America is not unique and a ‘Multitude’ of good people like him can be united to carry on his work. He has been patiently seeking them all out whilst his life was leaking away…

As Newman inches his way to sunlight and freedom the communication suddenly ends. He has no idea that a world away the Star Spangled Avenger has seen one final crisis and overcome the body that has betrayed him to save America one last time…

Scrabbling into the open air, the Corporal is ambushed by insurgents but somehow seems imbued with the energy of a superhero triumphing over impossible odds to save his men. He isn’t tired and knows this is only the beginning…

Moving, mythological, elegant and illustrated with sublime understatement by then-newcomer Mitch Breitweiser (ably augmented by colourist Brian Reber), this powerful paean to symbolism also offers Morrell’s complete script for the first chapter and a superb gallery of a dozen covers-&-variants from Breitweiser, Travis Charest & Julian Ponsor.

© 2007, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America & the Korvac Saga


By Ben McCool, Craig Rousseau, Rachelle Rosenberg, with Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Pablo Marcos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5160-9

Over the decades since its founding, Marvel has published a number of popular and/or critically successful mega-epics which fans always talk about with great fondness. In relatively recent years the company began to reconfigure some of them – such as Avengers & the Infinity Gauntlet and Spider-Man & the Secret Wars for younger readers in the manner of the company’s all-ages Marvel Adventures format: notionally “in-continuity” tales offering cosmic thrills, chills and light drama as a (possibly misdirected) way to bring kids in on the House of Ideas’ biggest successes.

This yarn is one of the most intriguing, greatly diverging from its source material as writer Ben McCool, illustrator Craig Rousseau and colourist Rachelle Rosenberg wittily wove an alternate interpretation adding a contemporary tone to the twice time-displaced Sentinel of Liberty.

This highly entertaining digest-sized collection collects the 4-issue miniseries Captain America & the Korvac Saga from February-May 2011 and also re-presents the opening shot in the original epic from Avengers #167 (January 1978) as crafted by Jim Shooter, George Pérez & Pablo Marcos.

The new yarn retells the saga, giving the Star-Spangled Avenger the leading role in an engaging and appealing way, adding contemporary sensibilities and a lighter take to a classic but rather dark and gritty Fights ‘n’ Tights yarn.

I would strongly suggest, however, that if you’ve never seen the original epic, you track it down either in Essential Avengers volume 8, Avengers: the Korvac Saga or elsewhere: it’s not strictly necessary but you will get to read an extremely classy piece of fantasy fiction as it was originally intended…

The action here opens in ‘Strange Days’ as Cap leads his avenging comrades Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Vision, The Beast and Iron Man against a quartet of super-villains inexplicably amped up and retooled into major menaces.

Maelstrom, Quasimodo, Living Laser and Super-Adaptoid are putting up far more resistance than expected and when the android Vision detects unusual emanations he and the Sentinel of Liberty track the signals to a sinister technologist who oddly presents no real threat and is easily subdued.

With his defeat the fearsome foursome also fold, but as Cap hauls him off to jail the mystery man exhibits an unnerving understanding of the Super Soldier’s sense of being a man cut off from his own time…

Disturbed without knowing why, the Star-Spangled Avenger later visits the stranger in jail and is on hand when a strange team of super-beings try to break the enigmatic prisoner out…

‘Souljacker’ finds the aggressive newcomers demanding custody of the stranger, a thing they call “Korvac”. They also claim it is a cyborg from a thousand years in the future…

The smug captive delights in all the commotion; turning to energy and freeing his villainous quartet to attack the newcomers. A time portal is opened but in the melee only the acrobatic alien named Nikki and tempestuous star-warrior Firelord follow Korvac through it. Before it finally snaps shut though, Captain America also hurtles into the stellar unknown…

On the other side is the year 3003 and a scene of fantastic future warfare where Nikki and Firelord reveal how they and her now-stranded companions Starhawk, Vance Astro and Charlie-27 – AKA The Guardians of the Galaxy – had been hunting Korvac before it could use the “Power Cosmic” it stole from space god Galactus to destroy humanity…

No sooner have the explanations finished than the energy entity attacks them. After valiantly driving the killer off Cap is determined to make things right and enquiring how to stop it learns that the long-gone star deity had a special weapon known as the “Ultimate Nullifier” which could negate Korvac’s purloined power…

As the trio set off for Taa-II, Galactus’ solar-system-sized ship, ‘The Traveler’ takes us back to the year 3001 when the battered fugitive cyborg first encountered the seemingly abandoned starship and tapped into incomprehensible energies which allowed it to became a transcendent new form of life…

Two years later as the determined trio vector in on the incredible vessel, Korvac materialises and ambushes them. With cosmic-powered Firelord taking the brunt of the assault, Cap and Nikki painfully crash into the system-ship and begin a terrifying safari through astounding beasts and terrors in search of the Ultimate Nullifier. They are within sight of their goal when their beaten companion crashes at their feet and the triumphant Korvac comes for them…

With doom inescapable ‘The Star Lord’ brings the cosmic odyssey to a tremendous conclusion as Captain America’s final indomitable battle against the cyborg God from Tomorrow brings the long vanished Galactus into the fray to set all things aright…

This star-spanning, time-busting blockbusting little box of delights includes a cover gallery by Rousseau & Chris Sotomayor, as well as one by Pérez & Terry Austin which precedes one final treat as the fresh adventure is capped off by a re-presentation of the original 1970s saga.

In the 1960s Jim Shooter was a child-prodigy of comics scripting writing the Legion of Superheroes and Superman before he’d even finished High School. After college, when he returned to the industry and gravitated to Marvel Comics it seemed natural to find him working on a comic with just as many characters as that fabled future super-team.

His connection to The World’s Mightiest Superheroes, although episodic, was long-lived and produced some of that series’ best tales, and none more so than the cosmic epic begun here: a sprawling tale of time-travel and universal conquest which originally ran in The Avengers issues #167-168 and 170-177.

In previous issues a difference of opinion between Captain America and Iron Man over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team and those submerged tensions started to show in ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened…

It all kicks off when star-spanning 31st century Guardians of the Galaxy materialise in Earth orbit, hotly pursuing a cyborg despot named Korvac.

Inadvertently setting off planetary incursion alarms, their minor-moon sized ship is swiftly penetrated by an Avengers squad, where, after the customary introductory squabble, the future men – Charlie-27, Yondu, Martinex, Nikki, Vance Astro and enigmatic space God Starhawk – explain the purpose of their mission…

Cap had previously fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor had faced Korvac before so peace soon breaks out, but even with the resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes the time travellers are unable to locate their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth a new and mysterious being named Michael is lurking in the background. At a fashion show staged by Janet Van Dyne he achieves a psychic communion with model Carina Walters and they both vanish, oblivious to a pitched superhero battle that breaks out involving not only the Wasp and her husband Yellowjacket, but also Nighthawk against the perfidious Porcupine

To Be Continued – Elsewhere…

In 2012 the Marvel Adventures line was superseded by specific comicbook titles tied to Disney XD TV shows designated as “Marvel Universe cartoons”, but these collected stories are still an intriguing and perhaps more culturally accessible means of introducing character and concepts to kids born often two generations or more away from those far-distant 1960s originating events.

However even though these stories are extremely enjoyable yarns, parents should note that some of the themes and certainly the violence might not be what everybody considers “All-Ages Super Hero Action” and might perhaps better suit older kids…
© 2010, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March


By Rick Remender, Roland Boschi & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-597-0

Once upon a time Captain America and youthful partner James BuchananBuckyBarnes cut a swashbuckling swathe thorough Nazis, madmen and monsters in every region of the Second World War.

In April 1945, following the tragic mission which killed the boy and hurled the Sentinel of Liberty into a decades long frozen slumber, an experimental Soviet spy sub recovered Bucky’s maimed body from the seas where it fell. Russian spymaster Vasily Karpov dreamed of extracting the fabled Super Soldier serum from the corpse but was doubly frustrated to discover that the indomitable young warrior was never augmented by the formula, nor was he completely dead…

Still, waste not, want not…

From the 1950s until the late 1980s the Soviets reputedly employed an infallible “ghost” assassin all over the world; utilising astoundingly efficient executions and deftly arranged accidents to secure the KGB’s aims. Moreover, whatever surveillance did capture the phantom hitman between 1955 and 1976 indicated that the killer didn’t age…

If you want the full story of how Bucky became an infallible human weapon of Communist oppression, check out Captain America: Winter Soldier Dossier Edition, but for today this scintillating new period yarn – collecting issues #1-5 of Winter Soldier: The Bitter March (April-September 2014) – offers a cool all-new, Cold War super-spy thriller starring that indomitable fallen idol as well as fascinating insights into the character of latest ideological Cap nemesis The Iron Nail

S.H.I.E.L.D. has been fighting the good fight since the end of WWII and this tale begins in 1966 when friendly rivals Nick Fury and Ran Shen are the outfit’s top operatives. Always bickering – good-naturedly, of course – the duo split up and attempt different methods of penetrating the formidable Castle Hydra alpine fortress and abduct two Nazi scientists who have devised a means of synthesising gold.

Brash, audacious and cocky, Shen is almost killed by the revolting Madam Worm before being embarrassingly rescued by Fury, but as the now compromised agents try to fly their captives – Peter and Milla Hitzig – out of the citadel, a third force intervenes.

Believed-mythical Soviet spook The Winter Soldier tries to snatch the creators of the Alchemy Formula for the USSR and only Fury’s last ditch counterattack drives him off. Now, with Fury missing – presumed dead – Shen must drag his captives through hostile country and arctic conditions or make a final sanction to keep their secret out of both Russian and Hydra hands…

Three days later they trek into the Warsaw Pact state of Nrosvekistan, where Shen calls for an extraction. The best S.H.I.E.L.D. can do is tool him up and advise him to hop a train to West Berlin. However before he can get to the station the infallible, relentless Winter Soldier reappears and the trio barely escape with their lives…

During the melee Shen hits his foe with a live power-line and the colossal shock temporarily stuns the cyborg, allowing the fugitives to get away. What Ran does not know is that the assassin was most debilitated by a wave of unexpected memories which saw him fighting in a strange costume beside lost hero Captain America…

Barely making the train, the trio catch their breath. Soon Milla is tending the agent’s wounds, much to her husband’s disgust. Neither ex-Nazi wants to go to America or Russia but with everybody gunning for them, the fanatical Peter is biding his time and waiting for an opportunity to take control of the situation…

Unknown to Shen the rogue scientist has already contacted Hydra who insert a recovery team on the train: telepathic assassin The Drain and electrical executioner Shocky Dan

As the Hydra killers covertly confer with Peter, the Drain realises that Herr Hitzig is just a greedy charlatan and hanger-on. His diffident wife is the one who actually created the Alchemy Formula and she is currently warming to the smooth, suave charms of the good-looking S.H.I.E.L.D. agent…

When the killers smash into their compartment they find Shen again battling the unstoppable Winter Soldier and make short work of them both…

With the horrified Milla a captive, the Drain disposes of her useless husband and prepares to move her back to the fortress, but despite being severely wounded, Shen is still in the game. Moreover, the Soldier, again dosed with electricity and instantly deprogrammed by the telepathic Drain, has thrown off decades of brainwashing and switched sides…

Another spectacular battle breaks out on the now runaway and rigged-to-explode train but when the inevitable detonation comes Shen and Milla have already escaped…

The Drain meanwhile has dealt with the shell-shocked Bucky and followed the fleeing duo, using his psychic powers to murder a town full of people who have come to their aid. His mental assaults also have a devastating affect on Shen – who has developed feelings for Milla – and when bloody but unbowed Bucky arrives it takes all his determination to shake the agent out of his funk and track the mental monster and his struggling prize through the constantly falling snows…

When they catch up, Shen deals with the Drain in a most unprofessional and final manner before he, Bucky and Milla hole up in a handy cabin to await better weather. As each reconsiders their past lives and uncertain futures they are blithely unaware that a Soviet hit squad and the infallible Nick Fury are hot on their trail, each side determined that if they can’t have the Alchemy Formula nobody will…

When all the shooting stops, the Russians only have their assassin back, nobody has Milla and Shen has no hope of a happy tomorrow…

Fast-paced, frantic and compellingly cynical, the story of why Ran Shen took the dark path that set him against America only tangentially involves the star draw Winter Soldier, but nevertheless delivers a gripping saga of intrigue, passion and explosive action.

Written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Roland Boschi, this blockbusting tribute to the spy-soaked Swinging Sixties is augmented by a covers-and-variants gallery from Andrew Robinson, In-Hyuk Lee, Chris Eliopoulos, Agustin Alessio, Rags Morales, Adi Granov and even offers a photo-cover from the movie, as well as AR icon add-on sections which allow the Marvel Augmented Reality App to grant access to story bonuses once you download marvel.com’s free code onto your smartphone or Android-enabled tablet.
™ and © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Captain America: The Iron Nail


By Rick Remender, Nic Klein, Pascal Alixe & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-604-5

After spending twelve years in hellish Dimension Z, raising a child and saving the indigenous people from the depredations of insane Hitlerian über-geneticist Arnim Zola, Captain America finally returned to Earth with the experimenter’s turncoat daughter Jet Black to discover mere hours had passed in the “real” world.

The extra-dimensional incarceration had cost Steve Rogers too much. As well as many friends and comrades, his adopted son Ian and on-again-off-again girlfriend Sharon Carter had also perished in the rescue bid which returned him to a world he barely remembered and no longer felt a part of…

Purged of the last vestiges of Zola’s influence (Henry Pym and Bruce Banner having excised a virus which was growing a clone of the Nazi’s consciousness inside Rogers), the Sentinel of Liberty was despatched by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill to the eastern European state of Nrosvekistan where deranged, drug-dependent US super-soldier Frank Simpson, AKA Nuke, was very publicly slaughtering innocent men, women and children in America’s name…

The abused battle veteran was apparently part of an extended Weapon Plus military program: undergoing many top secret procedures to turn him into a Captain America for the Vietnam generation.

Sadly the result was a chemically-addled hyper-psychotic obsessed with American casualties who now wanted to win all the wars his proud nation had previously lost or walked away from… such as the recent peace-keeping mission to this Balkan backwater…

Elsewhere, former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and latter day messianic socialist Ran Shen had aroused a sleeping dragon for power to reshape the world to his liking. Now called the Iron Nail he was determined to destroy greedy, exploitative destructive capitalism using tools and techniques taught him by Nick Fury (Senior) and Chinese iconoclast Mao Zedong

Of course Ran Shen had already tried to oust the Chairman during his lifetime and failed, making him persona non grata just about everywhere…

Rogers won the Balkan battle of American ideological wonder warriors – at the cost of starting to doubt the point and purpose of his existence – and immediately resolved to learn what could turn a fellow patriot into such a monster.

Shen, ecstatic that his ambition to drive a spike into the heart of the West was succeeding, then detonated the captive Nuke like his namesake in the centre of The Hub, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most secure citadel.

This was merely preamble to his true goal: activating the long-dormant, extremely classified Weapon Minus test warrior. This was an LSD-dosed, psychedelic psychological super-soldier codenamed Dr. Mindbubble, ready, able and extremely willing to share his terrifying expanded sensibilities with the wider, corrupt Establishment world…

Collecting issues #16-20 of Captain America volume 7 (March – August 2014), the ongoing saga begins with a thematic break. In ‘The Iron Nail Prologue: A Choice’ (illustrated by Pascal Alixe), as her new guardian fights for survival in Nrosvekistan, Jet takes a slow disdainful reconnaissance of her new city only to be confronted by a coterie of her father’s erstwhile allies. Sadly for them, she is immune to the vile rantings of the Red Skull and declines the overtures of his insidious S-Men

The main event resumes in the first chapter of ‘The Iron Nail’ as deranged Dr. Mindbubble takes Nick Fury Jr. captive (long story short: he’s the African-American son of the original – see Battle Scars for further details) in the ruins of the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility.

In New York, Steve is showing Jet the sights. The super-girl bred and trained for war saved his life in Dimension Z at great personal cost and he is determined to give her a decent life in New York, but when they interrupt an assassination attempt by agents of Ran Shen, he is shamed by the intolerant behaviour of the hedge fund rat-bastard they saved…

Thankfully Director Hill calls in just then urging him to get to the Hub as soon as possible.

As they assess the carnage left by Simpson’s death and detonation, Hill informs Cap of the missing Weapon Minus even as Jet’s super senses locate one of the few survivors, Cap’s partner The Falcon

Already disgusted with the procession of appalling creations his country has devised in the name of security, Cap’s peace of mind takes another hit when Hill reveals that Dr. Mindbubble was conceived as a potential countermeasure for rogue super soldiers – but the cure was then deemed worse than the affliction…

The so-very-mad doctor meanwhile has used his ability to seize minds through hallucination to force Fury to activate S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ultimate doomsday weapon. As Cap and Falcon reach the top-secret Sahara base, the Armageddon machine dubbed Gungnir is already active and they have no choice but to board the flying monolith as Mindbubble and Ran Shen aim it towards its destiny with mind-warped Maria Hill at the controls…

Even the full mobilised might of S.H.I.E.L.D. is unable to down the mechanized monster and Cap’s interior resistance is slowed by the horde of enslaved agents aboard. Iron Nail triumphantly shoots down all opposition and aims the colossal death machine towards Nrosvekistan.

His plan is to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. and American influence by having the commercial and political superpower act as a murdering bully before the eyes of the world…

Determined and alone, Captain America fights his greatest battle to save the hostages and a nation he embodies but no longer trusts, but although Mindbubble is (relatively) easy meat the dragon-based mystical powers of the Nail take a horrific toll on Liberty’s Greatest Champion.

What the Falcon rescues from the rubble of his greatest victory is no longer Captain America. In truth he is ‘Super-Soldier No More’

To Be Continued…

Written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Nic Klein and Pascal Alixe, this staggering clash of ideologies and Fights ‘n’ Tights Realpolitik is augmented by a covers-and-variants gallery from Alixe, Klein, Glenn Fabry, Lee Bermejo, Chris Eliopoulos, Frank Kozik, Rags Morales and Mike Perkins.

Frantic, fast-paced and furiously action-packed, this examination of the heart of patriotic fervour delivers a killer punch and closing twist which will challenge and delight fans of both the comicbook and cinematic Star Spangled Avenger alike.
™ & © 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Essential Avengers volume 8


By Jim Shooter, George Pérez, David Michelinie, Tom DeFalco, Jim Starlin, John Byrne, Sal Buscema, Jim Mooney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6322-0

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even if the team’s Big Three – Iron Man, Captain America and Thor – are absent, it simply allows the lesser lights and continuity players to shine more brightly.

Although the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, constantly churning, open door policy, human-scale narrative drivers featured the regulars without titles of their own whose eventful lives played out only within these stories and no others.

This electric eighth black and white compilation collects Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ extraordinary exploits from issues #164-184 of the monthly comicbook (spanning October 1977-June 1979), the contents of Avengers Annuals #7 and 8 plus the concluding half of an acclaimed crossover epic from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2.

During this period Jim Shooter, having galvanised and steadied the company’s notional flagship, moved on, leaving David Michelinie to impress his own ideas and personality upon the team, even as Cosmic Doomsmith Jim Starlin recruited the team to inscribe an epic ending to his seminal interpretation of tragic antihero Adam Warlock

Opening this titanic tome is a stunning 3-part saga by Shooter, John Byrne & Pablo Marcos which reinvented one of the team’s oldest adversaries.

It began in #164 wherein, after months of speculation and experimentation, the resurrected Wonder Man was finally discovered to have evolved into a creature of pure ionic energy. Elsewhere, aging Maggia Don Count Nefaria had recruited Whirlwind, Power Man (the original mercenary who had undergone the same transformative experiment as Wonder Man) and Living Laser to amass plunder for him, but the tactic was mere subterfuge.

After the thieves trashed a squad of Avengers, Nefaria used his flunkies’ bodies as template and power source to turn himself into a literal Superman and attack the already battered heroes in ‘To Fall by Treachery!’

The tension built in #165 as ‘Hammer of Vengeance’ saw the lethally out-powered team fall, only to be saved by elderly speedster The Whizzer who pointed out that, for all his incredible strength, Nefaria too was an old man with death inevitably dogging his heels.

Panicked and galvanised, the Overman went berserk, carving a swathe of destruction through the city whilst seeking a confrontation with Thunder God Thor and the secret of his immortality.

Before too long he had reason to regret his demands…

The surprise arrival of the Thunderer in ‘Day of the Godslayer!’ ended the madman’s dreams but also highlighted growing tensions within the victorious team…

This superb thriller is followed by‘The Final Threat’ (Jim Starlin & Joe Rubinstein) from Avengers Annual #7, which saw Captain Marvel and Moondragon return to Earth with vague anticipations of an impending cosmic catastrophe.

Their premonitions were confirmed when galactic wanderer Adam Warlock arrived with news that death-obsessed Thanos had amassed an alien armada and built a soul-gem powered weapon to snuff out the stars like candles…

Broaching interstellar space to stop the scheme, the united heroes forestalled the stellar invasion and prevented the Dark Titan from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life…

Then ‘Death Watch!’ (Starlin & Rubinstein from Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2) saw Peter Parker plagued by prophetic nightmares, which disclosed how Thanos had snatched victory from defeat and now held the Avengers captive whilst he again prepared to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, the anguished, disbelieving Spider-Man headed for the Baxter Building, hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that The Thing also had a history with the terrifying Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the mismatched champions of Life subsequently upset Thanos’ plans enough so that the Avengers and the Universe’s true agent of retribution were able to end the Titan’s threat forever… or at least until next time…

Back in the monthly an epic of equal import was about to unfold. Shooter’s connection to the series, although episodic, was long-lived and produced some of that period’s greatest tales, none more so than the stellar – if deadline-plagued – saga which unravelled over the succeeding months: a sprawling tale of time-travel and universal conquest which began in Avengers #167-168 and, after a brief pause, resumed for #170 through 177.

In previous issues a difference of opinion between Captain America and Iron Man over leadership styles had begun to polarise the team and tensions started to show in #167 with ‘Tomorrow Dies Today!’ by Shooter, George Pérez & Marcos.

In the Gods-&-Monsters filled Marvel Universe there are entrenched and jealous Hierarchies of Power, so when a new player mysteriously materialises in the 20th Century the very Fabric of Reality is threatened…

It all kicked off when star-spanning 31st century superheroes Guardians of the Galaxy materialised in Earth orbit, hotly pursuing a cyborg despot named Korvac.

Inadvertently setting off planetary incursion alarms, their minor-moon sized ship was swiftly penetrated by an Avengers squad, where, after the customary introductory squabble, the future men – Charlie-27, Yondu, Martinex, Nikki, Vance Astro and enigmatic space God Starhawk – explained the purpose of their mission…

Captain America had fought beside them to liberate their home era from Badoon rule and Thor had faced the fugitive Korvac before so peace soon broke out, but even with the resources of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes the time travellers were unable to find their quarry…

Meanwhile on Earth a new and mysterious being named Michael is lurking in the background. At a fashion show staged by the Wasp he achieves a psychic communion with model Carina Walters and they both vanish…

Avengers #168 reveals ‘First Blood’ and stirs up more trouble as Federal liaison and hidebound martinet Henry Peter Gyrich begins making like bureaucratically hot for the maverick team. In Colorado meanwhile Hawkeye gets a shock as his travelling partner Two-Gun Kid vanishes before his eyes whilst in suburban Forest Hills Starhawk – in his female iteration of Aleta – approaches a quiet residence…

Michael/Korvac’s plan consists of subtly altering events as he gathers strength in secret preparation for a sneak attack on those aforementioned Cosmic Hierarchies. His entire plan revolves around not being noticed. When Starhawk confronts him the villain kills the intruder and instantly resurrects him without the ability to perceive Michael or any of his works…

The drama screeches to a halt in #169, which declared ‘If We Should Fail… The World Dies Tonight!’ The out of context potboiler – by Marv Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Dave Hunt – saw Cap, Iron Man and Black Panther travel the planet in search of doomsday bombs wired to the failing heart of a dying man before the major mayhem resumed in #170 with ‘…Though Hell Should Bar the Way!’ by Shooter, Pérez & Marcos.

As Sentinel of Liberty and Golden Avenger finally settle their differences, in Inhuman city Attilan ex-Avenger Quicksilver suddenly disappears even as dormant mechanoid Jocasta (designed by maniac AI Ultron to be his bride) goes on a rampage and escapes into New York City.

In stealthy pursuit and hoping her trail will lead to Ultron himself, the team stride into a trap ‘…Where Angels Fear to Tread’ but nevertheless triumph thanks to the hex powers of the Scarlet Witch, the assistance of pushy, no-nonsense new hero Ms. Marvel and Jocasta’s own rebellion against the metal monster who made her.

However at their moment of triumph the Avengers are stunned to see Cap and Jocasta wink out of existence…

The problems pile up in #172 as Watchdog-come-Gadfly Gyrich is roughly manhandled and captured by out-of-the-loop returnee Hawkeye and responds by rescinding the team’s Federal clearances.

Thus handicapped the heroes are unable to warn other inactive members of the increasing disappearances as a squad of heavy hitters rushes off to tackle marauding Atlantean maverick Tyrak the Treacherous who is bloodily enacting a ‘Holocaust in New York Harbor!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson)…

Answers to the growing mystery are finally forthcoming in ‘Threshold of Oblivion!’, plotted by Shooter, with David Michelinie scripting for Sal Buscema & D(iverse) Hands to illustrate.

As the vanishings escalate the remaining Avengers (Thor, Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man), with the assistance of Vance Astro, finally track down their hidden foe and beam into a cloaked starship to liberate the ‘Captives of the Collector!’ (Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Dave Wenzel & Marcos)…

After a staggering struggle the heroes triumph and their old foe reveals the shocking truth: he is in fact an Elder of the Universe who foresaw cosmic doom millennia ago and sought to preserve special artefacts and creatures – such as the Avengers – from the slowly approaching apocalypse.

As he reveals that predicted end-time is here and that he has sent his own daughter Carina to infiltrate the Enemy’s stronghold, the cosmic Noah is obliterated in a devastating blast of energy. The damage however is done and the entrenched hierarchies of creation may well be alerted…

Issue #175 began the final countdown as ‘The End… and Beginning!’ (Shooter, Michelinie, Wenzel & Marcos) saw the amassed and liberated ranks of Avengers and Guardians follow the clues to Michael as the new god shared the incredible secret of his apotheosis with Carina, before ‘The Destiny Hunt!’ and ‘The Hope… and the Slaughter!’ (Shooter, Wenzel, Marcos & Ricardo Villamonte) saw the entire army of champions destroyed and resurrected as Michael easily overpowered all opposition but faltered for lack of one fundamental failing…

Spread through a series of lesser adventures the overarching epic ponderously and ominously unfolds before finally exploding into a devastating and tragic Battle Royale that is the epitome of superhero comics. This is pure escapist fantasy at its finest.

Despite being somewhat let down by the artwork when the magnificent George Perez gave way to less enthusiastic hands such as Sal Buscema, David Wenzel and Tom Morgan, and cursed by the inability to keep a regular inker (Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson Ricardo Villamonte and Tom Morgan all pitched in), the sheer scope of the epic plot nevertheless carries this story through to its cataclysmic and fulfilling conclusion.

Even Shooter’s reluctant replacement by scripters Dave Michelinie and Bill Mantlo (as his editorial career advanced) couldn’t derail this juggernaut of adventure.

If you want to see what makes Superhero fiction work, and can keep track of nearly two dozen flamboyant characters, this is a fine example of how to make such an unwieldy proposition easily accessible to the new and returning reader.

After the death and triumphant resurrection of the heroes Avengers Annual #8 gets back to business with a spectacular Fights ‘n’ Tights clash in ‘Spectrums of Deceit!’ by Roger Slifer, Pérez, Marcos & Villamonte, wherein the sentient power-prism of arch villain Doctor Spectrum begins possessing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, leading the team into another blockbusting battle against the Squadron Sinister and ethically ambivalent Femazon Thundra

A complete change of pace came in Avengers #178. ‘The Martyr Perplex!’ by Steve Gerber, Carmine Infantino &Rudy Nebres saw Beast targeted by master brainwasher The Manipulator in a tense psycho-thriller teeming with shady crooks and government spooks, after which Tom DeFalco, Jim Mooney, Al Gordon & Mike Esposito concocted a 2-part yarn introducing tragic mutant Bloodhawk and an ambitious hitman in ‘Slowly Slays the Stinger!’

Whilst the Stinger cautiously executed his plan another squad of heroes return with Bloodhawk to his desolate island home of Maura for a ‘Berserkers’ Holiday’, just in time to battle an animated and agitated stone idol.

When they returned victorious Stinger was waiting and the assemblage lost its newest ally forever…

Avengers #181 introduced new regular team Michelinie & Byrne – augmented by inker Gene Day – as ‘On the Matter of Heroes!’ had Agent Gyrich lay down the law and winnow the army of heroes down to a federally acceptable seven.

As the Guardians of the Galaxy headed back to the future, Iron Man, Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast and Wasp had to placate Hawkeye after he was rejected in favour of new member The Falcon – parachuted in to conform to government quotas on affirmative action…

Almost immediately Gyrich’s plans were in ruins as a strange gipsy sorcerer attacked, claiming Wanda and Pietro were his long lost children. He stole their souls, trapping them in little wooden dolls, and the resultant clash in #182’s ‘Honor Thy Father’ (inked by Klaus Janson) only created more questions, as overwhelming evidence seemed to confirm Django Maximoff’s story; compelling the Witch and Quicksilver to leave with him on a quest for answers…

This breathtaking collection concludes with a 2-part confrontation by Michelinie, Byrne, Janson & D. Hands from Avengers #183-184.

‘The Redoubtable Return of Crusher Creel!’ began as Ms. Marvel was cleared by Gyrich to replace Wanda whilst elsewhere in the Big Apple the formidable Absorbing Man decided to quit being thrashed by heroes and leave the country. Unfortunately his departure plans included kidnapping a young woman “for company” and led to a cataclysmic showdown with the heroes and Hawkeye (who was determined to win back his place on the team) leading to carnage, chaos and a ‘Death on the Hudson!’

These truly epic yarns set the tone for the compulsive, calamitous Costumed Dramas for decades to come and can still boggle the mind and take the breath away, even here in the so slick and cool 21st century…

No lovers of superhero sagas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book, and fans who think themselves above Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2012 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America: Loose Nuke


By Rick Remender, Carlos Pacheco, Nic Klein, Klaus Janson, Mariano Taibo & various (Marvel/Panini UK)

ISBN: 978-1-84653-578-9

After spending twelve years in the hellish Dimension Z, raising a child and saving the indigenous people from the depredations of insane Hitlerian über-geneticist Arnim Zola, the Star Spangled Avenger finally returned Earth with the experimenter’s turncoat daughter Jet Black to discover mere hours had passed in the “real” world.

The extra-dimensional life sentence had cost Steve Rogers too much. As well as his boy Ian, on-again-off-again girlfriend Sharon Carter had also perished in the rescue bid which returned him to a world he barely remembered and no longer felt a part of…

Collecting issues #11-15 of Captain America volume 7 (November 2013-March 2014), the breakthrough saga begins with ‘A Fire in the Rain’: opening in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility where doctors work to remove the last vestiges of Zola’s pernicious poisons from Cap’s battered body.

As the hero dwells on his dying mother’s words, uttered in their Depression-era New York City hovel decades ago, the medical expertise of Henry Pym and Bruce Banner excise the final remnants of a virus which was slowly growing a clone of the Nazi’s consciousness inside Captain America: a biological Fifth Column furiously fighting for control of the weary body.

In recovery the doctors and S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill acknowledge that, despite a dozen relative years having passed, Rogers still looks like a young man. The Super Soldier serum that originally created him might well have made the Avenger immortal…

Jet meanwhile is being brutally debriefed by the new movie-compliant Nick Fury Jr. (long story short: he’s the African-American son of the original – see Battle Scars for further details) but is compelled to let her go when Cap arrives and has her remanded to his own custody.

The super-girl bred and trained for war saved his life in Dimension Z at great personal cost and he is determined to give her a decent life in the strange new world they both feel lost in…

Meanwhile in the eastern European state of Nrosvekistan normal daily commerce is grotesquely interrupted when a bare-chested madman with the Stars and Stripes on his face begins wantonly killing men, women and children. Frank Simpson, AKA Nuke, underwent many top secret procedures at the Weapon Plus program to turn him into a Captain America for the Vietnam generation.

Sadly the result was a drug-addled super-psychotic obsessed with American casualties who now wants to win all the wars his proud nation lost or walked away from… just like the recent peace-keeping mission to this Balkan backwater…

In Brooklyn, Rogers moves Jet into his memento-stuffed apartment but, still unable to reconnect with his distant life, subsequently torches every scrap of his past before turning his face to the uncertain future…

The extended ‘Loose Nuke’ saga then opens with a chilling flashback as determined devoted socialist Ran Shen literally wakes a sleeping dragon to gain the power necessary to reshape the unforgiving, disappointing world.

In the now, the Falcon calls on Captain America to learn the shocking details of his extra-dimensional odyssey and realises his closest friend is on the edge of a nervous breakdown…

In Nrosvekistan the army has been deployed but cannot match the manic ferocity of Nuke and his as yet undisclosed backers. The conflict is about to become a major political embarrassment for the USA, however, as Daily Bugle freelancer Samantha Chan – on the trail of a clique of missing billionaires – films the bloodbath and attempts to post it online…

And in China Ran Shen – now called the Iron Nail – plans amidst the satisfying horrors of his punishment camp: a hidden mine where greedy exploitative capitalists are made to toil and die in the conditions they have forced on billions of others across the globe…

‘Live Weapons!’ fills in some backstory as in 1969 the original Nick Fury confronts a S.H.I.E.L.D. sleeper agent who appears to have changed sides and joined Mao Zedong’s inner circle. Moreover Ran Shen then tried to oust the Chairman and failed, making him persona non grata everywhere…

When Shan used the dragon’s power to escape S.H.I.E.L.D. custody not even the cunningly infiltrated soviet Winter Soldier was able to stop him…

Once more in the present, Falcon takes a call to get Captain America ready for action somehow. Images of a madman slaughtering civilians and planting American flags over their bodies are about to go public, and Maria Hill needs a true icon of the nation to be seen ending his rampage if her internet blocking strategy fails…

She also needs someone to stop a freelance reporter from dropping America into another potentially lethal media firestorm by any means necessary…

The resulting battle of ideological wonder warriors further decimates the battered little country and serves to give Cap even more reason to doubt the point of his existence, especially since, after subduing the psychologically impaired and pitiable Nuke, Rogers resolves to find out what made a patriot into a monster…

From his hidden realm, former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Shen is pleased that his ambition to drive an Iron Nail into the heart of the West is proceeding. Thus he causes his unwitting deluded pawn to detonate like his namesake in the very heart of his hated foe’s citadel, whilst simultaneously activating the long-dormant and extremely classified Weapon Minus test warrior: an LSD-dosed, psychedelic psychological super soldier codenamed Dr. Mindbubble ready, willing and extremely able to share his terrifying sensibilities with the wider capitalist world…

To Be Continued…

Written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Carlos Pacheco, Nic Klein, Klaus Janson & Mariano Taibo, this blockbusting battle of ideologies is augmented by a covers-and-variants gallery from Pacheco & Dean White, Jim Cheung & Laura Martin, Leonel Castellani and Francesco Mattina, plus AR icon add-on sections which allow the Marvel Augmented Reality App to grant access to story bonuses once you download the code – for free – from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.

Fast, furious and ferociously controversial, this long-overdue examination of a patriotic icon with a conscience representing a nation which has increasingly sidelined its people is a welcome twist that should challenge and delight fans old and new alike.

™ & © 2013 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.

Captain America: Winter Soldier Dossier Edition


By Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, John Paul Leon, Michael Lark & Tom Palmer (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-579-6

The Star Spangled Avenger was created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at the end of 1940 and confidently launched in his own title Captain America Comics #1, cover-dated March 1941. He was an overwhelming overnight success.

The Sentinel of Liberty was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely – now Marvel – Comics’ “Big Three” (the other two being the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner), and amongst the very first to fade as the Golden Age ended.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression gripped the American psyche in the 1950s Steve Rogers was briefly revived – along with Torch and Sub-Mariner – in 1953 before sinking once more into obscurity… until a resurgent Marvel Comics called him up again in Avengers #4. It was March 1964 and the Vietnam conflict was just beginning to pervade the minds of the American public…

This time he stuck around. Whilst perpetually agonising over the tragic heroic death of his young sidekick (James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky) during the final days of the war, the resurrected Steve Rogers stole the show in the Avengers, then promptly graduated to his own series and title as well.

He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history, constantly struggling to find an ideological niche and stable footing in the modern world.

After decades of vacillating and being subject to increasing frantic attempts to keep the character relevant, in the last years of the 20th century a succession of stellar writers finally established his naturally niche: America’s physical, military and ethical guardian…

This powerfully subversive saga, written by Ed Brubaker and mostly illustrated by Steve Epting, collects Captain America volume 5 issues #1-9 and #11-14 – spanning January 2005 to April 2006 (#10 being part of the altered reality event House of M and sensibly omitted here) – and features the opening sallies in a truly vast and expansive examination of the character: one which would result in the Sentinel of Liberty becoming a rebel, a traitor, an outlaw, a corpse and, eventually, a messiah…

It would also rewrite one of the founding precepts of Marvel history whilst making the notoriously reactionary fans love it.

And yes, Captain America: Winter Soldier Dossier Edition has been released to tie in with the upcoming movie release. Deal with it. That’s the only way publishers make money selling comicbooks these days…

The 6-chapter ‘Out of Time’ opens in the wake of a catastrophic but ultimately inconclusive clash with the Red Skull (part of the crossover Avengers Disassembled) but actually begins with a flashback to five years earlier, when the Nazi nemesis bargained with ex-KGB General Aleksander Lukin: an ideological hardliner turned arms-dealing Oligarch selling off mothballed experimental technologies and secret Soviet weapons to finance his plans in the world after Communism.

The Skull is particularly interested in a vintage suspended animation capsule, but is unwilling to trade information or access to the reality-warping Cosmic Cube for it…

In the present, the Skull broods on his next scheme to torture and destroy Captain America.

He has spent much of the intervening half-decade meticulously gathering shards and fragments and now possesses the barest shell of a Cube. It still needs fuel and time to fully reconstitute itself…

Rogers is not doing well. He feels responsible for the Avengers recent dissolution and the death of so many of his comrades and has begun morbidly dwelling on the past. Episodes from World War II where he and Bucky battled together blend into cases from after he was thawed out of a block of ice to find himself in a future far more dangerous than he ever believed possible…

The grim, world-weary and rather shell-shocked Star Spangled Soldier is beginning to worry his nearest and dearest with his uncharacteristically excessive actions and ill-judged behaviour. Especially concerned is former girlfriend and senior S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Agent 13. Sharon Carter questions him about the brutality of his recent actions in stopping a terrorist plot to destroy Coney Island but doesn’t really accept his answers…

As he settles into his new civilian apartment, the brooding, inconsolable old soldier is completely unaware that the Skull is watching his every move. That surveillance comes to a shocking end when a sniper’s bullet ends the monster’s life and a mystery intruder steals the skeletal framework of the Cosmic Cube …

When Cap is alerted to his arch foe’s death he refuses to believe the news and his own narrow escape, even after the extensive autopsy and corroborating evidence. Moreover, he’s increasingly afflicted with memories of his WWII service, but now the memories are paralysingly traumatic and sometimes include events that never happened…

Investigations reveal the Skull had also been planning cataclysmic conflagrations in New York, Paris and London with the resultant loss of life used to power the wish-fulfilling Cube, and when an anonymous call alerts Nick Fury at S.H.I.E.L.D. the peacekeeping agency explodes into action.

As Captain America and Sharon tackle a super-bomb beneath Manhattan they encounter opposition from Skull loyalist Crossbones and a dissident wing of AIM (the original creators of the Cube) but triumph regardless.

Cap heads for Paris to spectacularly stop the next device and crush another division of Advanced Ideas in Destruction, but in London Union Jack and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team only find the Fascist Fury’s forces slaughtered and the final terror weapon missing…

And in Pittsburgh, Cap’s former partner Jack Monroe AKA Nomad is abducted and murdered…

On Wall Street, Lukin’s far reaching plans are slowly coming to fruition, but devoted comrade Leon is worried. Even as the Oligarch successfully takes control of American energy conglomerate Roxxon his aide harps on that the General’s use of the diminished and curtailed Cosmic Cube is somehow affecting him…

With dreams and hallucinations still plaguing him, Steve is then informed of another atrocity and rushes to Arlington National Cemetery where the graves of the other two heroes to serve as Captain America have been desecrated. He is unaware that Fury and Sharon are keeping an even nastier surprise from him…

When he leaves, Cap is seized by a violent memory flash of himself and Bucky being tortured by Baron Zemo in 1945, just as the vengeance-crazed Crossbones attacks. The brutal thug had been tipped off to Cap’s whereabouts by an anonymous Russian…

Elsewhere the gun which killed the Skull has been found. It’s covered in the fingerprints of sometime S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Jack Monroe. When Sharon tracks him down she walks into a trap…

By the time Fury and Steve reconvene, the grizzled spymaster has compiled a skimpy file on Lukin which prompts another memory flashback: recalling a particularly horrific event in Russia in 1942. The Star Spangled ex-Avenger begins to connect the dots between himself, the Skull and the Russian…

The first story arc concludes as Steve investigates the British fort where Bucky died and which features so strongly in his “wrong” memories. He still doesn’t realise Fury is keeping something from him but gets the message when he returns to the USA and rescues Sharon from her mysterious metal-armed assailant.

It’s another trap. As Agent 13 warns him that the elusive killer looks like a grown up Bucky and the killer waiting in ambush opts not to shoot, the Skull’s missing super-bomb detonates, eradicating a large part of Philadelphia, charging up Lukin’s Cosmic Cube…

The ongoing saga then takes a moment’s pause as Captain America #7 explores the ghastly final months of a hero who had lost his way in ‘The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe’, illustrated by John Paul Leon & Tom Palmer.

Once upon a time in the 1950s the eponymous sidekick had been taken under the wing of William Burnside, a deranged fan who turned himself into a duplicate of Steve Rogers and briefly played Captain America whilst the original languished in icy hibernation in the arctic.

As a student Burnside was obsessed with the Sentinel of Liberty and had diligently divined the hero’s identity, reconstructed most of the super-soldier serum which had created the Patriotic Paragon and even had his own features changed to perfectly mimic the Missing-In-Action legend.

Using the serum on both of them, Burnside volunteered their services to the FBI – who were then embroiled in a nationwide war on spies, subversives and suspected commies – and he and impressionable young Jack seamlessly became Captain America and Bucky returned; crushing every perceived threat to the nation.

It soon became apparent however that their definitions of such included not just criminals but also non-whites, intransigent, uppity women and anybody who disagreed with the government…

After some months the reactionary patriot had to be forcibly “retired” because the super-soldier serum had turned him and Monroe into super-strong raving, racist paranoids.

Years later when the fascistic facsimiles escaped their suspended animation in Federal prison they attacked the real, reawakened hero only to be defeated by Cap, the Falcon and Sharon.

Although Monroe was eventually cured and even worked as an assistant to the original (as well as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and solo vigilante), Burnside’s psychosis was too deeply rooted, and he returned many times to tangle with the man he felt had betrayed the real America.

Now Monroe faces his greatest trial: medical tests have revealed that the ersatz Super Soldier serum has degraded in his system, destroying Jack’s immune system, causing blackouts, hallucinations, blind rages and worse.

The dying wannabe has little time left and only wants to make his last weeks count by taking out an insidious drug ring, but he can’t tell what real and what isn’t and doesn’t even remember where he is half the time…

With the poignant, tragic interlude concluded the overarching epic resumes with ‘The Winter Soldier’ (issues #8-10 and 11-14, illustrated by Epting with Michael Lark handling the flashback scenes in #9)…

Now realising that a great part of Lukin’s plan is simply to make him suffer, Captain America resumes the chase, determined to bring the devious Russian to justice, but before that a deep secret is revealed as, in April 1945, an experimental Soviet spy sub commanded by Vasily Karpov picks up the maimed body of Bucky Barnes from the seas where it fell.

The ambitious Russian spymaster has dreams of extracting the fabled Super Soldier serum from the corpse but is doubly frustrated to discover that the indomitable young warrior was never treated to the formula, and is also not quite dead…

In New York in the now, Captain America has seen the dossier Fury has been hiding. Using modern facial recognition techniques and by collating a half a century of security and surveillance photos, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s boffins have managed to prove one of the spy trade’s most fantastic spook stories…

From the 1950s until the late 1980s the Soviets reputedly employed an infallible “ghost” assassin all over the world; infallibly using murder and arranged accidents to secure the KGB’s aims. Moreover anybody can now see that between 1955 and 1976 the identified killer aged less than five years…

The face is Bucky’s and the last photo is from airport cameras near where the gun which killed the Red Skull was found.

Billionaire mogul Aleksander Lukin was Karpov’s fanatically loyal KGB protégé, heir to all the brainwashing secrets and obscene scientific treatments that must have turned a valiant American boy hero into a ruthless cunning killer…

Forced to accept the horrible truth, Steve and Fury organise an illegal raid on Lukin’s recently purchased private country, only to find they have been outfoxed again. The new owner of US conglomerate Roxxon has already bought his way into the highest echelons of the White House and is far beyond the reach of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the living embodiment of American courage and integrity…

Unfortunately for the triumphant Oligarch his stolen tool is cursed. The malignant, restored Cosmic Cube not only affects his mind but actively moves against him, placing the KGB’s full files on Winter Soldier into Captain America’s hands.

Lukin determines to get rid of the treacherous and far too dangerous Cube, ordering his increasingly rebellious living weapon to bury it in the deepest, most secure hole on the planet, whilst Steve, armed with knowledge and bolstered by real memories of what his former partner was, enlists comrades-in-arms the Falcon, Iron Man and Sharon to help him intercept his former friend…

Sharon is happy to help: after all, even though Cap is aiming to save and restore his lost friend, she knows there’s only one sure cure for a multiple mass murderer like the Winter Soldier…

With a covers-&-variants gallery by Epting & Joe Jusko, Winter Soldier Dossier Edition is a huge and hugely entertaining, stellar Stars and Stripes Fights ‘n’ Tights saga: a bombastic blockbusting, blisteringly good yarn for lovers of suspenseful action drama and recent converts familiar with the filmic iterations of the flag-wearing franchise.
™ & © 2005, 2006 and 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. Italy. A British Edition by Panini UK Ltd.