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.

Captain America: Living Legend


By Andy Diggle, Adi Granov, Agustin Allessio & Eddie Robson (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-573-4

The Star-Spangled Avenger was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby at the end of 1940 and confidently launched in his own title (Captain America Comics, #1 cover-dated March 1941) with overwhelming success. He was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely Comics’ (Marvel’s early predecessor) “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner – and one of the first to fall from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

With the Korean War and Communist aggression dominating the Republic’s psyche, in 1953 he was briefly revived – as were Sub-Mariner and the Torch – before sinking once more into obscurity until a resurgent Marvel Comics called him back to duty in Avengers #4. It was March 1964 and the Vietnam conflict was just beginning to pervade the minds of the American public…

Everything changed for a little company called Marvel when the assembled heroes recovered the body of US Army Private Steve Rogers floating in a block of ice and consequently resurrected World War II’s Sentinel of Liberty.

With this act bridging the years from Timely/Atlas Comics (which had in fact begun with Sub-Mariner’s return in Fantastic Four #4 rather than the creation of Johnny Storm as a new kid Torch in #1), Marvel acquired a comforting longevity and potential-packed pre-history: lending an enticing sense of mythic continuance to the fledgling company that instantly gave it the same cachet and enduring grandeur of market leader National/DC.

This time Cap stuck around: taking over the Avengers, winning his own series and eventually a solo title. He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history, always struggling to find an ideological place and stable footing in the modern world. In 2006, whilst another morally suspect war raged in the real world, during the Marvel event known as Civil War he became a rebel and was assassinated on the steps of a Federal Courthouse.

Even more has happened in the last decade or so and, since the movies finally made him a Star-Spangled Star, the patriotic powerhouse has emerged with a solid, unassailably resolute presence no fan of modern Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction would dream of trifling with.

It also helps to have really excellent creators willing to try something a bit different with the venerable character and add contemporary gloss to the mix…

Such is certainly the case with Captain America: Living Legend: a 4-issue miniseries by Andy Diggle, Adi Granov, Agustin Allessio & Eddie Robson, released between December 2013 and February 2014 and now available as a short, sharp and shocking example of contemporary Cold War Terror.

Spanning the hero’s entire career, the adventure opens in the Bavarian Alps in April 1945 where Russian and US commando squads compete to capture German rocket scientists. The “Ivans”, wastefully led by ambitious patriotic fanatic Vladimir Illyich Volkov, are succumbing to stiff Nazi resistance until Captain America intervenes, but even the coolly competent crusader is unable to prevent the impetuous and arrogant Volkov from being shot in his moment of triumph…

Siberia, 1968: whilst the Sentinel of liberty slumbered in deep freeze, Cosmonaut Volkov led a secret mission to land a Soviet on the Moon before the Americans, and again deliver a crushing propaganda blow to the West. Unfortunately the lunar explorer encountered something alien and uncanny on its first Dark Side orbit and the mission was erased from Russian history…

Low Earth Orbit, Today: pacifist energy scientist Lauren Fox initiates her Dark Energy Utilisation System and lets something cruel and black and utterly inimical into our reality. The D.E.U.S. satellite smashes to Earth in Siberia, and within hours Sharon Carter of S.H.I.E.L.D. has despatched Captain America to investigate why the plunge seemed controlled – and stop the Russians getting hold of whatever caused the disaster as well as Fox’s D.E.U.S tech…

In the frozen north Colonel Gridenko is already leading a contingent of troops through a vast rugged barricade. It was built forty years ago to keep something alien and deadly from escaping…

When he finds the perimeter guards all dead at each other’s hands, he fears the latest space-borne visitation is proof that the original horror is still alive…

Captain America parachutes into the arctic hostile territory, tracking D.E.U.S’ trajectory and soon finds Dr. Fox. When he learns what happened on her space station he knows the Russians are not the real problem…

After Volkov’s capsule landed in Siberia in 1968, the cosmonaut was found to have been bizarrely altered by his experience. By 1973 the science city he was taken to had become a vast necropolis. As young Gridenko led the pitifully few survivors out, he witnessed The State sealing the site and start erasing all mention of the monstrous events…

As Captain America and Dr. Fox head towards the abandoned complex they are attacked by appalling alien predators: ghastly amalgamations of human and machine, possessed by a hunger to kill. Fighting onwards they soon link up with the remainder of the grizzled Russian Colonel’s expeditionary force – those that haven’t become man-machine marauders…

Reluctant allies, East and West must unite to brave Gridenko’s lair and destroy the unknown monstrosities it holds, but their foe still has many surprises and perils in store for his old rival and the rest of humanity…

Fast, furious and ferocious, Captain America: Living Legend is a gripping and spooky riff on classic alien infiltration horror movies which offers plenty of classy thrills, spills and chills that will delight superhero and fear fans alike. This slim tome also includes a huge cover-&-variants gallery by Granov, Neal Adams, Ulises Farinas, Daniel Brereton, Michael D. Allred,  Sal Buscema, Francesco Francavilla, Walt Simonson, John Cassaday & Jim Starlin, and boasts a wealth of digital extra content for consumers using the AR icons accessed via a free digital code and the Marvel Comics app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPad Touch® & Android devices at Marvel’s Digital Comics Shop.
™ & © 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.

Essential Avengers volume 7


By Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Don Heck, Dave Cockrum, Rich Buckler, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, George Tuska & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4453-3

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

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

This monumental seventh monochrome tome, collecting the ever-amazing Avengers’ extraordinary exploits from issues #140-163 of their monthly comicbook (spanning November 1975-September 1975), also includes material from Avengers Annual #6 plus a crossover appearance from Super-Villain Team-Up #9.

This era saw revered and multi-award winning scripter Steve Englehart surrender the writing reins to Gerry Conway during a period of painful recurring deadline problems – before neophyte wunderkind Jim Shooter came aboard to stabilise and reshape the cosmology and history of the Marvel Universe through the adventures of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…

Opening this epochal tome is ‘The Phantom Empire!’ (Avengers #141, by Englehart, George Pérez & Vince Colletta), which began another complex, multi-layered epic combining superheroic Sturm und Drang with searing – for 1975, at least – political commentary.

It all began when new member The Beast was ambushed by mercenaries from corporate behemoth Roxxon Oil.

He was saved by ex-Avenger Captain America who had been investigating the company on a related case and, after comparing notes, realised something very big and very bad was going on…

Linking up with Thor, Iron Man, other trainee Moondragon and the newly returned newlyweds Vision and Scarlet Witch, the pair learned of another crisis building as Hawkeye had gone missing, probably captured by time tyrant Kang the Conqueror

Just as the Assemblage was agreeing to split into teams, former child model Patsy Walker-Baxter (star of a bunch of Marvel’s girl’s market comics such as Patsy Walker and Patsy & Hedy) burst in, threatening to expose Beast’s secret identity…

When he had first further mutated, Hank McCoy had attempted to mask his anthropoid form and Patsy had helped him in return for his promise to make her a superhero. Now she had resurfaced prepared to use blackmail to make him honour his vow. She got dragged along as one squad (Cap, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and Vision) joined Beast’s as he returned to his old lab at Brand/Roxxon… where they were ambushed by alternate Earth heroes the Squadron Supreme

Moondragon and Thor meanwhile co-opted sometime ally Immortus and followed Hawkeye back to 1873 but were also bushwhacked, finding themselves battling Kang beside a coterie of cowboy legends including Kid Colt, Night Rider, Ringo Kid, Rawhide Kid and Two-Gun Kid in ‘Go West, Young Gods!’ even as the present-day team learned that their perilous plight involved a threat to two different dimensions’ situations because Roxxon had joined with the corporations which had taken over the Squadron Supreme’s America – thanks to the malignly mesmeric Serpent Crown of Set

The Wild West showdown culminated in the apparent death of a deity in ‘Right Between the Eons!’ (Avengers #143, inked by Sam Grainger). Elsewhen, the 20th century heroes were beginning their counterattack in the esoteric weaponry factory at Brand, and during all that running wild the heroes found the technologically advanced, ability-enhancing uniform of short-lived adventurer The Cat in a storeroom.

When Patsy put it on the hero-groupie neophyte dubbed herself Hellcat in ‘Claws!’ (Mike Esposito inks)…

Soon after, the Avengers were cornered by the Squadron and as battle recommenced Roxxon president Hugh Jones played his trump card and transported all the combatants to the other Earth…

The dreaded deadline doom hit just at this crucial juncture and issues #145-146 were taken up with a 2-part fill-in by Tony Isabella, Don Heck & John Tartaglione with additional pencils by Keith Pollard for the concluding chapter.

‘The Taking of the Avengers!’ revealed how a criminal combine had taken out a colossal contract on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes but even though ‘The Assassin Never Fails!’ the killer was thwarted and Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Beast, Vision and Scarlet Witch – plus Wasp, Yellowjacket and the Falcon all safely returned to their various cases untroubled by the vagaries of continuity or chronology which makes this rather impressive yarn such a annoyance in this specific instance…

The trans-dimensional traumas finally resumed in Avengers #147 which described the ‘Crisis on Other-Earth!’ (Englehart, Pérez & Colletta). With the corporate takeover of the other America revealed to have been facilitated by use of the mind-bending mystical serpent crown, the Scarlet Witch took possession of the sinister helm and her team-mates tried desperately to keep the overwhelming Squadron Supreme from regaining it.

On our Earth Hawkeye brought Two-Gun Kid to the modern world but decided to go walkabout rather than rejoin his fellow Avengers even as Thor and Moondragon began searching for their missing colleagues…

It was back to business in #148 as ‘20,000 Leagues Under Justice!’ (Grainger) featured the final showdown and the Avengers’ victory over a wiser and repentant Squadron Supreme, and as the heroes returned to their home dimension ‘The Gods and the Gang!’ reunited them with Moondragon and the Thunder God to clean up Brand/Roxxon. The Corporate cabal still had one trick left to play however: a colossal and biologically augmented Atlantean dubbed Orka, the Human Killer Whale

Avengers #150 saw an official changing of the guard as ‘Avengers Assemble’ by Englehart, Pérez, Tartaglione & Duffy Vohland – supplemented part-way through by half of ‘The Old Order Changeth!’ (reprinted from #16 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers) – settled the membership question and made way for new scripter Gerry Conway in #151 whose ‘At Last: The Decision’ (with additional scripting by Jim Shooter & Englehart and art from Pérez & Tartaglione) set the group off on new, less cosmic adventures.

No sooner had the long-delayed announcement been made (this membership drive had begun in Avengers #137 after all) though, than a mysterious crate disgorged the long-dead body of Wonder Man which shockingly shambled to its feet and accused the stunned android Vision of stealing his mind…

Long ago Simon Williams had been turned into a human powerhouse by arch-villain Baron Zemo and used as a Trojan horse to infiltrate the team, but eventually gave his life to redeem himself. After he was buried his brain patterns were used to provide an operating system for The Vision, inadvertently creating a unique human personality for the cold thing of plastic wires and metal…

In #152 ‘Nightmare in New Orleans!’ kicked the simmering saga into high gear as the team began a search for the fallen Wonder Man’s grave robber/re-animator, in a tale by Conway, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott which soon found the team facing voodoo lord Black Talon in New Orleans…

‘Home is the Hero!’ reintroduced 1940 Marvel sensation Bob Frank (AKA super fast superhero The Whizzer). In a tragic tale of desperation the aged speedster sought the heroes’ help before he was seemingly possessed and attacked the team.

Avengers Annual #6 answered all the mysteries and wrapped up the storyline with ‘No Final Victory’ (illustrated by Pérez, Esposito, Tartaglione & Vohland), as a conspiracy involving the Serpent-helmed Living Laser, Whizzer’s government-abducted son mutant son Nuklo and rogue US Army General Pollock almost succeeded in conquering California if not America – until the resurgent Avengers laid down the law…

Also included in the annual – and here – was ‘Night Vision’ by Scott Edelman & Herb Trimpe: a stirring solo story of the Android Avenger battling super swift psychopath Whirlwind.

In Avengers #154 ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ Conway, Pérez & Pablo Marcos began a blockbuster battle bonanza which was in part a crossover with Super-Villain Team-Up (this series followed the uneasy coalition of Dr. Doom and Namor the Sub-Mariner). The initial chapter found the Vision captured by subsea barbarian Attuma even as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were ambushed and defeated by the warlord’s augmented Atlantean thrall Tyrak the Treacherous.

The scheme was simple enough: use the enslaved surface champions as cannon fodder in an assault against Namor…

At this time US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had recently signed a non-aggression pact with the Dictator of Latveria with Doom subsequently blackmailing the Sub-Mariner into serving as his unwilling ally. One American vigilante observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties. The Shroud thought he had freed the Atlantean from his vow by “killing” Doom but the villain had survived the assault: rescued and secretly imprisoned by Sub-Mariner’s cousin Namorita and girlfriend Tamara under the misguided apprehension that they could force the Metal-shod Monarch into helping Atlantis and their lost Prince.

SVT-U #9 carried on the epic encounter with the heroes now ‘Pawns of Attuma’ (scripted by Bill Mantlo, drawn by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani) as the Avengers were unleashed upon the Atlanteans, only to discover Doom now in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault.

In Avengers #155 the beaten heroes were helpless, leaving only confused, despondent and battle-crazed Namor ‘To Stand Alone!’ (Conway Perez & Marcos), joined by lone stragglers the Beast, Whizzer and Wonder Man to hunt down the triumphant barbarian sea lord.

The epic conclusion came in ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (Avengers#156, by Shooter, with art from Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and furious heroes joined forces to crush Attuma whilst simultaneously preventing Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

In #157 ‘A Ghost of Stone!’ (Conway, Heck & Marcos) addressed a long-unresolved mystery of the Black Knight – his body had been petrified whilst his soul was trapped in the 12th century – as a strange force reanimated the statue and set it upon the weary heroes, after which ‘When Avengers Clash!!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos) saw the revived and now fully-recovered Wonder Man clash with an impossibly jealous Vision over the Scarlet Witch.

That Wanda loved the android Avenger was seemingly forgotten as his “borrowed” brain patterns fixated on the logical assumption that eventually his flesh-and-blood wife would gravitate to a normal man with his personality rather than stay married to a mere mobile mechanism…

Domestic tantrums were quickly laid aside when the entire team – plus late arrivals Black Panther and Thor) battled research scientist Frank Hall following an accident which gave him complete control over the forces of gravity…

Apparently unstoppable, Graviton almost destroyed New York in #159 as ‘Siege by Stealth and Storm!’ (Shooter, Sal Buscema & Marcos) resulted in a savage clash and the unbeatable villain defeating himself…

Avengers #160 featured Eric Williams, the deranged Grim Reaper. With portentous hints of a hidden backer and his dead brother seemingly returned, he conducted ‘…The Trial!’ (Shooter, Pérez & Marcos) to see whether Wonder Man or the Vision was the “true” Simon Williams… but didn’t like the answer he got…

The next issue extended the sub-plot as ‘Beware the Ant-Man’ found the team attacked by a frenzied Henry Pym, whose mind had regressed to mere days after the Avengers first formed. The crazed hero had allied with the homicidal robot he no longer remembered creating and was unwittingly helping it build ‘The Bride of Ultron!’ (#162), pitifully oblivious that for the almost completed Jocasta to live his own wife Janet had to die…

At the close the Avengers believed they had finally destroyed the murderous mechanoid, but they were wrong…

This classic collection of costumed clashes closes with Shooter, George Tuska & Marcos’ stand-alone tale ‘The Demi-God Must Die!’ wherein mythological maniac Typhon returns to capture the team. Despite forcing Iron Man to attack Hercules (to save his hostage Avenging comrades), and even after lots of spectacular smashing, the scheme naturally fails and the World’s Mightiest are triumphant again…

This type of heroic adventure might not be to every reader’s taste but these – and the truly epic yarns that followed – set the tone for fantastic Fights ‘n’ Tights 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 Costumed Dramas can afford to ignore this superbly bombastic book and fans who think themselves above superhero stories might also be pleasantly surprised…
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z Part 2


By Rick Remender, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Scott Hanna, Thomas Palmer, Dean White & Rachelle Rosenberg (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-534-5

The MarvelNOW! publishing event, which began at the end of 2012, gave the House of Ideas an irresistible opportunity to try a few different things with its vast catalogue of characters: options a tad more imaginative than simply killing somebody off or changing the identity of the hero under the mask…

One of the most visually arresting experiments was Castaway in Dimension Z which explored the Star-Spangled Avenger’s undisclosed early childhood in Depression-eraNew York City whilst simultaneously removing the Sentinel of Liberty from every vestige of his oh-so-familiar milieu and comfort zone.

The stunning, all-action conclusion collecting the fortnightly Captain America volume 7, issues #6-10 (released between April 17th and 28th August 2013) carries on from

What Has Gone Before: Steve Rogers and extremely patient girlfriend Sharon Carter (a lethally competent Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) were investigating a phantom subway carriage when she temporarily derailed his train of thought. After years of waiting, she impulsively asked the WWII veteran to marry her, only to lose him to a cunningly laid trap which chained, drugged and catapulted Captain America into an impossible other universe…

He awoke strapped to a machine beside a baby in a glass tank. Extreme geneticist and Fascist war-criminal Arnim Zola was responsible, determined to extract the Super-Soldier serum which had kept Steve the world’s most perfect man for nine decades…

At a critical juncture of the procedure the still-groggy champion broke free and battled his way to freedom through an army of genetically reconstructed horrors…

Zola screamed to his prior achievement “daughter” Jet Black that the Avenger had killed her brother, unaware that Steve had rescued the baby.

Trapped in Zola’s pocket dimension the fugitive hero then spent years rearing the boy – whom he named Ian – whilst Zola’s ever-increasing mutant army hunted him. Eventually the ultimate freedom fighter became champion of the indigenous Phrox: people driven to the edge of extinction by Zola’s armies.

The deranged geneticist was determined to exterminate them and repopulate with his ghastly creations. Jet led the monsters; a revenge-fuelled fighting fury intent on killing her brother’s murderer. In the subterranean caverns of the Phrox Steve and Ian found friendship and time to heal in relative security, but the Castaway Avenger was hiding a ghastly secret: Zola had infected him with a virus that was slowly growing a clone of the Nazi’s consciousness inside the hero: a biological Fifth Column furiously fighting for control of their battered body…

Nearly a decade later, Steve, his Phrox allies and combat veteran Ian are in the final stages of the war with Zola and his ever-improving forces. The invaders are inexorably closing in whilst the thing in Steve gained strength until at last his boy saw and heard the infection for himself…

Knowing the end was near Cap gambled everything on breaching Zola’s fortress and trying to get back to Earth for medical assistance and perhaps Avengers reinforcements.

The plan was thwarted when Jet led the mass-produced legion of monsters in an all-out attack on Phrox.

The devastating assault was a total success. However, as she caught her impossibly alive brother and beat Captain America to near-death, Jet began to experiences doubts. If the man she hated all her life had loved and protected her brother and was a valiant, honourable foe, what else might be untrue?

Her hesitation drove Zola to new depths of atrocity, but Steve managed to survive the biologist’s blistering final assault. As Zola ordered the extermination of the Phrox and Ian was taken away for re-indoctrination, in the ruins Steve took a knife and cut Zola’s appalling agent out of his body and made a plan. After 11 years on the defensive and on the run, Captain America was going to bring the war to his hated enemy…

Brutal, bewildering, bewitching and bombastic, Rick Remender & John Romita Jr.’s boldly unconventional, action-packed saga concludes in truly spectacular fashion here as the Sentinel of Liberty invades Zola’s citadel of science and once more faces Jet even as Ian slowly succumbs to the geneticist’s brainwashing.

The timing, as ever, is incredibly fortuitous. The mad scientist’s decades-long scheme is in its final stages and his entire colossal fortress is converting into a flying Battle Station, ready to re-enter Earth’s dimension and infect millions of human beings with the geneticist’s clonal copy virus. Humanity will soon be extinct and only Arnim Zolas will remain.

Jet’s frantic battle with Captain America completes her own moral transformation, but no sooner does she switch sides that the freshly re-programmed Ian – now calling himself Leopold – ambushes his former foster father beside a ghastly twisted monster clone of Steve.

Jet, meanwhile, has freed the last remnants of the nearly extinct Phrox race only to be challenged by her deeply disappointed dad. Many levels above Steve, having crushed his doppelganger, is near to death, unable to withstand the frenzied attack of Ian/Leopold.

The death blow never comes. Sharon Carter arrives in a blaze of light and hope to shoot Captain America’s boy. She has been trying to re-open the dimensional portal for almost thirty minutes…

Relative time differentials notwithstanding, Earth is still in imminent danger of utter disaster and as the three mismatched champions unite to save it the tension mounts to unbearable heights. After the spectacular final conflict only two will return from Dimension Z…

And in what remains of that now unreachable pocket realm, the Phrox start their slow return from extinction’s abyss, safeguarded by a champion they call Nomad

Epic, cataclysmic and stunningly grandiose, the Homeric ten-year struggle of Captain America under alien skies looks set to impact mightily upon the warm, upbeat and heroically optimistic adventurer but only time will tell…

The breathtaking illustration of John Romita Jr., inkers Klaus Janson, Scott Hanna & Thomas Palmer and colour-renderers Dean White and Rachelle Rosenberg is simply too good to be true, and this visual fest is augmented by a cover-and-variants gallery by Romita Jr., Janson, Paqual Ferry & Alexander Maleev, plus the now as-standard AR icon add-on sections.

This Marvel Augmented Reality App give access to story bonuses once you download the code – for free – from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.

Magnificently reminiscent of the spectacular, innovative 1976-1977 Jack Kirby run on the Star-Spangled Avenger, this bombastic science-fiction epic of freedom fighting fantasy is a delicious, mysterious and mesmerising all-action extravaganza no Fights ‘n’ Tights can afford to ignore.

™ & © 2013 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 First Avenger


By Fred Van Lente, Luke Ross; Neil Edwards, Crimelab Studios & Daniel Green; Javi Fernandez; Andy Smith & Tom Palmer; Richard Elson & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5725-0

With new superhero comics-based Summer Movie Blockbusters now an annual tradition there’s generally a wealth of supplementary reading released to coincide, cash in on and tantalise all us die-hard print addicts. Thus, through the comfortable hindsight of time passed and all hype deflated, here’s a slim tome designed as a combination tie-in and prequel to the 2011 Captain America film…

Scripted by Fred Van Lente, First Vengeance was a 4-issue comicbook miniseries that actually began as 8 webcomic chapter teasers before bounding into paper physicality during April and May 2010. It concentrated on the cinematic iteration of the Star Spangled Avenger, infilling background, adding character and disclosing the secret history of the main players, opening with Chapter 1 (illustrated by Luke Ross and colourist Richard Isanove) as Captain America parachuted into Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1944, idly reminiscing about his tough childhood in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan two decades earlier as he drifted down amongst the shell-bursts and ack-ack fire.

After his mother died, sickly Steve Rogers went to an orphanage and was befriended by protective scrapper James Buchanan Barnes

The second instalment (Neil Edwards, Crimelab Studios & Sotocolor) recalls later years as the frail art student struggled to join the military in the face of increasing war-tensions, even inducing boxing champ “Bucky” Barnes to teach him how to fight. Those painful memories are interrupted when the US super-soldier is ambushed by Germany’s equivalent – a stormtrooper in a massive lightning-throwing mechanical exo-skeleton…

Chapter 3 (Ross & Isanove again) continues that spectacular duel whilst flashing back to Berlin in 1934 to detail Adolf Hitler’s first meeting with a man even crazier, more fanatical and far deadlier than he…

Johann Shmidt was a Nazi scientist obsessed with elder gods, arcane lore and creating the Übermensch through interventionist science. After allying himself with the monstrous Heinrich Himmler, Shmidt proceeded to eradicate every obstacle to his unholy dream…

Javi Fernandez & Veronica Gandini produced the fourth episode – which continued the byplay between elucidating flashbacks and Cap’s combat against Nazi terror weapons – detailing how Shmidt co-opted willing German technologist Arnim Zola and coerced hostage Jewish biologist Abraham Erskine to further his schemes, whilst Ross & Isanove handled Chapter 5, exploring how pioneering industrialist and inventor Howard Stark created the Yankee hero’s invulnerable shield…

Chapter 6 (Andy Smith, Tom Palmer & Gandini) reveals how British spy Peggy Carter rescued Erskine from Shmidt, but not before the Nazi became the first recipient of the biologist’s prototype super-soldier serum… The saga then introduced the pan-national filmic version of the Howling Commandos as the comic prologue built to a spectacular end courtesy of Ross & Richard Elson, with the introduction of the ghastly Red Skull, the conclusion of Cap’s clash with Nazi science, an origin for the Howlers, the return of Bucky and the fateful meeting of a patriotic sad sack with the men who would transform him from 4-F failure to America’s ultimate fighting man…

To Be Continued in Captain America: The First Avenger…

This compilation also includes an interview with Van Lente from Captain America: Spotlight and a gallery of covers by Paolo Rivera, John Cassaday, Laura Martin & Tyler Stout.

This short, sweet, action package is a fine, fun comics read which certainly succeeds as an enticing appetiser for movie mavens and print fiends alike, offering the best of both worlds and delivering big bangs for your bucks…
© 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z


By Rick Remender, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Scott Hanna, Thomas Palmer & Dean White (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-534-5

The MarvelNOW! publishing event, which began at the end of 2012, gave the publishing house an irresistible opportunity to try a few different things with its vast catalogue of characters: options a bit more imaginative than simply killing somebody off or changing the identity of the hero under the mask…

Castaway in Dimension Z opens with a flashback to Steve Roger’s early life in Depression Era New York. This book is packed with such recurring, revelatory glimpses of the hero’s rough early childhood: scenes of crushing poverty, bravery, endurance and idealism that shaped the character of America’s indomitable ideal…

The contemporary action commences with Captain America crushing an insane plot by deranged eco-terrorist The Green Skull before meeting long term girlfriend and S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison Sharon Carter. It’s his birthday – the 4th of July, of course – and the immortal Sentinel of Liberty is celebrating by investigating a phantom subway train with his favourite partner.

His mind isn’t in the game however: after years of waiting, Sharon has given up and just asked Steve to marry her…

The train is a trap and before he can react Rogers is chained, drugged and catapulted into an impossible other universe leaving Sharon and a normal life behind, perhaps forever…

The Sentinel of Liberty groggily awakes strapped to a lab machine next to a baby floating in a tank. Monstrous radical geneticist and Fascist war-criminal Arnim Zola is an old foe, but here he seem to be working alone, intent on extracting the Super-Soldier serum which has kept Steve the world’s most perfect man for nine decades…

As the devil doctor plunges a giant needle deep into Steve’s chest, the still-doped champion breaks free and, retrieving his shield, impossibly battles his way to freedom past an army of monsters and genetically reconstructed horrors…

In the rubble of the ruined lab and shattered baby tank, Zola screams to a little girl that the Avenger has killed her brother, his “perfect son”…

As Captain America flies a stolen jet deep into the arid wastes of an unrecognisable place, Zola tasks his mutate army with hunting down the fugitive infanticide, utterly unaware that the rescued baby is safe in the hero’s brawny arms…

‘One Year Later’ Cap and the unnaturally advanced boy he’s named Ian are scavenging in the wastes of a world where all the recognised laws of physics seem optional. The food they hunt hunts them too and Zola’s patrols are everywhere. After a particularly brutal clash with Zolandian warriors and a hidden monster, the humans are unable to fend off a further attack and captured by hideous armoured beasts who seem to be an indigenous race…

The Phrox are on the edge of extinction: their harsh home further twisted by the invader Zola who is determined to exterminate them and repopulate with his ghastly subservient creations. Steve’s problems are more immediate. Zofjor, dictator of the Phrox, wants him dead but the harassed hero and his “son” are adopted by forward-seeing noble Ksul, who sees in them a future weapon against Zola…

A seeming diversion shows us Zola’s sordid past in Switzerland in 1929, before revealing how his Dimension Z daughter Jet has become a revenge-fuelled fighting fury. In the subterranean caverns of the Phrox Steve and Ian find friends and time to heal in relative security. However the Sentinel is keeping secrets: Zola did something to him when he was first captured and a true horror is growing inside him…

The genetic time-bomb doesn’t stop Steve overthrowing Zofjor, but even as the Phrox exult in their new-found freedom, Zola’s hidden gift reveals itself and begins a slow, remorseless conquest of Captain America’s mind and body…

‘Eleven Years Later’ Ian is an experienced soldier, trained by the Sentinel of Liberty to fight for what’s right even as Zola’s forces inexorably close in on the last remnants of the embattled Phrox. However even as they repel another mutate advance, the thing in Steve continually taunts him with Zola’s memories and urges him to return the boy to his creator. The decision is taken from him when he collapses and Ian sees and hears the infection for himself…

Knowing the end is near Steve settles on a drastic step: breaching his enemy’s citadel, fighting his way back to Earth for medical assistance and returning with Avengers reinforcements.

Zola too has plans. His now-grown daughter Jet Black is capably in command of his mass-manufactured armies and has captured a Phrox long-exiled by Rogers. After securing the location of the hidden hideaway, she leads the mutates and her father’s latest crop of warped horrors – all grown from Steve’s blood – on an all-out attack on the human who slaughtered her baby brother…

The devastating assault is a complete success. However as Jet recaptures her impossibly alive brother and beats Captain America to near-death she experiences doubts. The man she has hated all her life has clearly cared for the boy and is a valiant foe. What else might be untrue?

The hesitation is too much for Zola who uses a monster body to destroy his foe before ordering the extermination of the Phrox Ian considers his extended family.

Steve Rogers is not dead. Recovering in the ruins he takes a knife to his chest and excises Zola’s appalling agent and makes a plan. After 11 years on the defensive and on the run Captain America is ready to fight back and bring the war to his hated enemy…

To Be Continued…

Brutal, bewildering, bewitching and bombastic, this eye-popping otherworld epic re-presents Captain America volume 7, #1-5, originally released between November 2012-March 2013, wherein Rick Remender’s boldly unconventional action-packed saga at last creates a full childhood for America’s greatest champion to temper and inform the unshakable idealism.

Moreover the stunning art by John Romita Jr., inkers Klaus Janson, Scott Hanna & Thomas Palmer and colour-renderer Dean White is simply too good to be true.

This book also includes a vast cover-and-variants gallery by Romita Jr., Janson, Joe Quesada, Jerome Opeña, Charles Paul Wilson III, Ryan Meinerding, Skott Young, Paolo Rivera, Julian Totino, Tedesco, Alexander Maleev, Simone Bianchi & Jung-Geun Yoon and the now as-standard AR icon add-on sections.

This Marvel Augmented Reality App give access to story bonuses once you download the code – for free – from marvel.com onto your smart-phone or Android-enabled tablet.

Magnificently reminiscent of the spectacular, innovative 1976-1977 Jack Kirby run on the Star-Spangled Avenger, this bombastic science-fiction epic of freedom fighting fantasy is a delicious, mysterious and mesmerising all-action extravaganza no Fights ‘n’ Tights can afford to ignore.

™ & © 2013 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: Road to Reborn


By Ed Brubaker, Marcos Martin, Luke Ross, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4175-4

The Star Spangled Avenger was created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at the end of 1940 and launched in his own title (Captain America Comics, #1 cover-dated March 1941) with overwhelming success. He was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely (now Marvel) Comics’ “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. He was also among the very first to fade at the end of the Golden Age.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated the American psyche in the early 1950s he was briefly revived – with the Torch and Sub-Mariner – in 1953 before sinking once more into obscurity until a resurgent Marvel Comics once more brought him back 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 death of his young sidekick (James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky) in the final days of the war, the resurrected Steve Rogers first 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, but always struggled to find an ideological niche and stable footing in the modern world.

Eventually, whilst another morally suspect war raged in the real world, during the Marvel event known as Civil War he became an anti-government rebel and was assassinated on the steps of a Federal Courthouse.

Over the course of three volumes he was replaced by that always assumed-dead sidekick. The truth was far more tragic. Bucky had been captured by the Russians and over decades had been brainwashed into becoming an infallible assassin before being turned loose as the lethal Soviet super-agent, The Winter Soldier.

Once rescued and cured of his unwanted enemy-agent role the artificially youthful and part-cyborg Barnes reluctantly stepped into his mentor’s big crimson boots…

This powerful patriotic thriller, written as ever by Ed Brubaker, examines the nature and value of patriotism and collects Captain America issues #49-50 before returning to the original numbering for the anniversary #600 and follow-up #601.

After years of commercially advantageous restarts, volume 5 (#50 of the regular comicbook) was followed a month later by volume 1, #600, dated August 2008, setting in play characters and plot-threads which led up to the inevitable resurrection of the original Star-Spangled Avenger – details of which where subsequently revealed in Captain America Reborn

The drama initially unfolds in ‘Sentinel of Liberty’ – illustrated by Marcos Martin – which recapitulates in graphic newsreel form the WWII careers of Captain America and Bucky from their origins to the formation of metahuman combat unit The Invaders and the tragic loss of the All-American Allies to the nefarious Baron Zemo. Picking up after Steve Rogers was revived by Sub-Mariner and the Mighty Avengers, the history lesson then follows his second glorious life until it was cut short on the steps of that infamous Courthouse…

‘The Daughter of Time’ finds Sharon Carter in her old Virginia home, recovering from her ordeal as a captive and puppet of the Red Skull, Arnim Zola and Dr. Faustus, and horribly traumatised by the knowledge that their programming forced her to shoot her beloved Steve Rogers. Seeking a less painful reality she visits the institutionalised Peggy Carter – who was Captain America’s lover during WWII – and shares again the stories and memories she first heard as an avid little girl. As she listens, she dreads the moment that Alzheimer’s finally takes her Aunt’s mind and life forever…

Sam Wilson, the high-flying Falcon, is busy searching for William Burnside, a deranged duplicate who briefly played Captain America in the 1950s 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 true name, rediscovered most of the super-soldier serum which had created the Star-Spangled Avenger and even had his identity and features changed to perfectly mimic the Missing-In-Action Steve Rogers.

Volunteering his services to the FBI, then conducting a nationwide war on spies, subversives and suspected commies, Burnside and impressionable youngster Jack Monroe briefly became Captain America and Bucky; crushing every perceived threat to the nation.

Sadly it soon became apparent that their definition of such included not just criminals but also non-whites, independent women and anybody who disagreed with the government…

After a few short months the reactionary patriot had to be forcibly “retired” as the super-soldier serum he and Monroe used turned them into super-strong, raving, racist paranoids.

Years later when the fascistic facsimiles escaped their suspended animation in Federal prison they attacked the real Sentinel of Liberty only to be defeated by Cap, the Falcon and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter. Although Monroe was eventually cured, Burnside’s psychosis was too deeply rooted and he returned many times to tangle with the man he felt had betrayed the real America, most recently as an integral part of the Skull, Zola and Faustus’ plot to plant a Nazi stooge in the Oval Office.

When the scheme was foiled, the doppelganger Cap had escaped and disappeared into the nation’s heartland…

Back in Virginia a chance meeting with an old friend of Steve’s leads to one more horrific discovery and more of Sharon’s occluded memories return. At last she recalls that during her domination by Dr. Faustus, she was knifed and lost the baby she was carrying: Steve Rogers’ unborn child and last legacy…

At the Larkmore Clinic Peggy is reliving old times and secrets with her lover. In her bewildered state of mind it’s still the 1940s and the sweet man beside her is Steve, not William Burnside…

Back at the Carter residence Sharon awakens from another nightmare of recovered memories, but in these a mysteriously obscured figure is trying to make himself clear. Could the real Captain America still be alive?

‘Days Gone By’ (Ross & Magyar) focuses on Jim Barnes on his birthday, as the technically octogenarian replacement Cap recalls his early life and relives his glory days with Steve and the Invaders. Unbidden though, he also remembers the horrors of his life as a communist living weapon before his newfound Avenger comrades threw him the party of a lifetime…

Captain America #600 opens with the two-page ‘Origin’ – a reprinted retelling from Alex Ross, Paul Dini & Todd Klein first seen in 2002’s Captain America: Red, White and Blue, after which Butch Guice, Howard Chaykin, Rafael Albuquerque, David Aja, Mitch Breitweiser, Frank D’Armata, Edgar Delgado & Matt Hollingsworth all collaborate on Brubaker’s ‘One Year Later’ in which a vigil on the Courthouse steps draws a number of seemingly unconnected characters into dramatic conflict.

In ‘Sharon Carter’s Lament’, impelled by her unveiled memories, the still-reeling ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent savagely tracks down the other participants in Cap’s shooting and uncovers the weapon she used on her lover. She is elated to discover it is not a normal gun…

A cunning fugitive travelling through the economically ravaged Middle America, Burnside -‘The Other Steve Rogers’ – reviews again his own origins. When an unwise thief tries to rob him, the “Bad Cap” gets an inkling of how to turn his life around…

Before the Super-Soldier serum was used on Rogers it was shamefully pre-tested on Negro volunteers, leading to the very first Captain America being briefly a black soldier named Isaiah Bradley.

His life and sacrifice covered up for decades, Bradley was a forgotten hero but his grandson Elijah, afflicted with the same unflinching sense of right and wrong, has recently become a star-spangled vigilante codenamed the Patriot and worked as a Young Avenger. In ‘The Youth of Today’ he has a life changing encounter with Rikki Barnes, the dimensionally-displaced sidekick of an alternate universe Sentinel of Liberty…

‘Crossbones and Sin’ were lovers as well as being the Red Skull’s enforcer and daughter respectively. As back-up shooter for the Captain America hit, Crossbones had been a model prisoner at the H.A.M.M.E.R. Federal Holding Facility. Then some fool guard taunted him that Sin had also been captured and was badly wounded in the infirmary…

‘The Avengers Dilemma’ is simple: Norman Osborn, Director of H.A.M.M.E.R. and de facto Federal overlord of American metahuman affairs, has declared the proposed candlelit vigil an illegal gathering. Barnes, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Luke Cage and the others are not going to let that stop them…

After an ironic interlude observing ‘The Red Skull’s Delerium’ whilst the malign disembodied intelligence is trapped in a mechanical corpse designed by Zola, ‘The Vigilant’ dramatically divulges the surprising confrontation between Cap’s many friends and mourners and Osborn’s deadly Dark Avengers with a despondent and defiant American public looking nervously on…

Also included in that memorable comicbook milestone were a number of shorts from past contributors to the ever-lasting legend beginning with ‘In Memoriam’ by Roger Stern, Kalman Andrasofszky & Marte Gracia, wherein old friend Josh Cooper and Steve’s one-time girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal get together to remember the man and the legend in their own way, whilst ‘The Persistence of Memorabilia’ by Mark Waid, Dale Eaglesham & Paul Mounts describes the hero’s legacy as Cap’s greatest fan liquidates his entire collection of keepsakes and mementoes to further the fallen hero’s work in his own inadequate way…

Topping off the celebrations are a comedic tribute ‘Passing the Torch’ by Fred Hembeck and the prose reminiscence ‘My Bulletin Board’ from Cap’s co-creator Joe Simon…

A different kind of commemoration filled issues #601 (September 2009) as legendary artist and oft-time Cap illustrator Gene Colan (assisted by colour artist Dean White rendering moody hues over the master’s inimitable “painting-with-pencil style) delivers one last impressive WWII yarn to close the comics part of this classic chronicle.

Scripted by Brubaker, the eerie epic reveals Captain America and Bucky’s determined and relentless pursuit of a sinister leech haunting the bloody Allied frontlines of Bastogne in 1945, mercilessly turning gallant G.I.’s into vile and vicious vampires in ‘Red, White and Blue-Blood’

The book is rounded out with a stirring tribute to Colan and gallery of cover reproductions from Marko Djurdjevic, Alex Ross, Colan and Steve Epting.

Despite being thoroughly mired in the minutia of the Star-Spangled Hero’s history, this thoroughly readable and exceedingly pretty collection is a fascinating examination of political idealism and personal loss and generally avoids the usual trap of depending too much upon a working knowledge of Marvel continuity.

Tried-and-True Fights ‘n’ Tights thrills, spills and chills that should serve to make a casual reader a die-hard devotee.
© 2009 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Captain America: Two Americas


By Ed Brubaker, Luke Ross, Butch Guice, Rick Magyar, Dean White & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4511-0

The Star Spangled Avenger was created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at the end of 1940 and launched in his own title (Captain America Comics, #1 cover-dated March 1941) with overwhelming success. He was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely (now Marvel) Comics’ “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. He was also among the very first to fade at the end of the Golden Age.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated the American psyche in the early 1950s he was briefly revived – with the Torch and Sub-Mariner – in 1953 before sinking once more into obscurity until a resurgent Marvel Comics once more brought him back 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 death of his young sidekick (James Buchanan Barnes AKA Bucky) in the final days of the war, the resurrected Steve Rogers first 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, but always struggled to find an ideological niche and stable footing in the modern world.

Eventually, whilst another morally suspect war raged in the real world, during the Marvel event known as Civil War he became an anti-government rebel and was assassinated on the steps of a Federal Courthouse.

Over the course of three volumes he was replaced by that always assumed-dead sidekick. In fact Bucky had been captured by the Soviets and turned into their own super-agent, The Winter Soldier.

Once rescued from his unwanted spy-role the artificially youthful and part-cyborg Barnes reluctantly stepped into his mentor’s big crimson boots…

This politically-charged thriller written by Ed Brubaker collects the one-shot Captain America: Who Will Wield the Shield? and issues #602-605 of the monthly comicbook, set squarely in the immediate aftermath of the original Star-Spangled Avenger’s return from the dead (details of which can be found in Captain America Reborn)…

The rabble-rousing tale of ideology and patriotism begins with that one-shot (illustrated by Luke Ross and Butch Guice), as the former Winter Soldier ponders his future in the wake of the “real” Captain America’s resurrection and considers returning the role and unique Star-emblazoned disc to its rightful owner.

Meanwhile Steve Rogers, fresh from a timeless suspension where he perpetually relived his life over and again, combats the haunting memories by taking to the snow-bound streets where he encounters his replacement and super-spy Black Widow battling the ferociously brutal Mr. Hyde.

Content to merely observe his old partner at first, he is soon invited to join the fray and, after the dust settles, the comrades-in-arms come to an understanding. Bucky Barnes will stay as the one and only Sentinel of Liberty: the President of the USA has a far more strategic role in mind for his mentor Steven Rogers…

One that will have to wait for another tale as this tome jumps directly to the eponymous ‘Two Americas’ (with art by Ross, Guice & Rick Magyar) and picks up the trail of the deranged duplicate who briefly played Captain America in the 1950s whilst the original languished in icy hibernation in the arctic.

William Burnside was a student from Boise, Idaho, obsessed with Captain America. The lad had ferreted out the hero’s true name, rediscovered most of the super-soldier serum which had created the Star-Spangled Avenger and even had his name and features changed to perfectly mimic the Missing-In-Action Steve Rogers.

Volunteering his services to the FBI, then conducting a nationwide war on spies, subversives and suspected commies, Burnside and impressionable youngster Jack Monroe briefly became Captain America and Bucky; crushing every perceived threat to the nation.

Sadly it soon became apparent that their definition of such included not just criminals but also non-whites, independent women and anybody who disagreed with the government…

After a few short months the reactionary patriot had to be forcibly “retired” as the super-soldier serum he and Monroe used turned them into super-strong, raving, racist paranoids.

Years later when the fascistic facsimiles escaped their suspended animation in Federal prison they attacked the real Sentinel of Liberty only to be defeated by Cap, his partner Sam Wilson (AKA the Falcon) and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter. Although Monroe was eventually cured, Burnside’s psychosis was too deeply rooted and he returned many times to tangle with the man he felt had betrayed the real America…

Used most recently as a pawn of the Red Skull, malign psychologist Dr. Faustus and genetic trickster Arnim Zola in a plot to plant a Nazi stooge in the Oval Office, the dark Captain America had escaped and fled to the nation’s heartland.

When police in Idaho raided a den of reactionary separatist fanatics the Watchdogs, they were slaughtered by the delusional Sentinel of Liberty who had aligned himself with them in a crazed bid to take back the nation for right-thinking ordinary people like himself.

Alerted by rogue agent Nick Fury, Barnes and the Falcon head for the economically depressed Midwest where the crumbling economy and lack of prospects has driven hard-pressed hardworking folk into the open arms of the seditionists.

Intending to infiltrate the movement now led by the faux Captain America, things go badly wrong when Burnside recognises Barnes from his college researches…

Intent on starting a second American Revolution, the crazed patriot ambushes the newest Cap and the Falcon and, whilst planning to set off the biggest bomb in history against the Hoover Dam, demands that Barnes returns to his first and proper heroic identity to become the Bucky to Burnside’s one-and-only Captain America…

Determined to convince the equally time-lost Winter Soldier that modern America must be destroyed and the Good Old Days restored, Burnside is still savvy enough to use the hostage Falcon to achieve his ends, but far too prejudiced to accept that a mere black man – a flunky sidekick – could be competent enough to foil his plans…

Imprisoned on a train packed with explosives, Sam busts free and trashes his Watchdog jailers and with the aid of a simple working Joe (yes, a proper “ordinary American”) diverts the runaway bomb, whilst Burnside and his fanatics invade Hoover Dam with an even more devastating device, ready to send a message that will spell the end of the country and signal the return of the madman’s cherished if illusory idealised America.

However when Bucky overhears that the Falcon is safe he immediately lashes out, tackling the old world warrior head-on and stopping the insane incursion with ruthless efficiency…

This thoroughly readable and exceedingly pretty collection also includes a cover and variant gallery from Gerald Parel, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and Javier Rodriguez for art lovers.

A fascinating examination of political idealism and the mutability of patriotism, this sharp and scary saga avoids the usual trap of depending too much upon a working knowledge of Marvel continuity and provides in situ what little back-story new readers might need, fairly thundering along to its climactic conclusion, providing thrills, spills and chills in full measure for all fans of Fights ‘n’ Tights action.
© 2009, 2010 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.