Sunday, December 7, 2014

New 'Captain America,' 'Avengers' series reviews

In case you haven't heard, Sam Wilson (better known as The Falcon) is the new Captain America.

While he admittedly isn't entirely used to throwing Steve Rogers' shield and says he isn't nearly as good at it, he "has (his) moments." And those moments are on display in the ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA and CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE MIGHTY AVENGERS series.

A two-page spread from ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA No. 1
One man who hadn't heard there's a new Cap is a man in a park seen in news footage on the first page of THE MIGHTY AVENGERS No. 1. I love his second line: "Wait, did they ask the wing fellow or the gun fellow? I wasn't so fond of the gun fellow."

The first issue of each series throws you into the middle of what's going on. In CAPTAIN AMERICA, it's more of being thrown into the middle of the action of Wilson's first mission.

On the other hand, with THE MIGHTY AVENGERS, it's more of being thrown into the middle of events that started off-page and are about the new identity — much less the roster — of what will be this new incarnation of The Avengers. In the preview/recap page, Luke Cage says in a letter to the community that residents need to "bear with use as engage with this change of management and begin this new and exciting approach to our 'Mighty' endeavor."

The new ID of The Avengers is a in process in the first two issues.

What's clear is Wilson and Tony Stark aren't happy with, in Stark's words, "any idiot" being an Avenger. (something I've pointed out before. How can Marvel's premiere superhero team live up their nickname of Earth's Mightiest Heroes if they don't have a sense of standards for membership?)

Like me, Stark and Wilson clearly want a higher-quality roster, but what's vague is what their underlying agenda is — which seems kinda underhanded in the first issue. The pair seem ready to partially disassemble the Avengers (or at least Cage's Mighty Avengers — see below) in order to better resemble Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

Cage, on the other hand, has a similar agenda — at least as far as tearing apart the team into the vision he has. Now what that is exactly isn't clear.

For some reason, Cage is driven by money; he isn't interested in being altruistic, but wants his Avengers "to get paid for everything." Now sporting a business suit, he announces to the C-list roster he's sold the Mighty Avengers concept to the very seedy Cortex Incorporated.

(How C-list is it, you ask? She-Hulk is the highest profile Avenger and the rest of the team are C-listers with C- to D-list powers and names. … Oh and Cage refuses to allow Spider-Man to re-enlist — much less trust him — even though he explains it was Doctor Octopus who had done a mind-swap with him and did a number of vile things as the so-called "Superior Spider-Man.

Come to find out, Cage can't sell the Mighty Avengers concept out from under the feet of the team as he'd hoped. She-Hulk reminds him she had him sign many legal papers during a hectic time with The Avengers — which he didn't take time to read — and one of those documents gives "any member of the field team" equal share. Also, Cage doesn't have exclusive rights to the "Heroes for Hire" concept he had with Danny Rand/Iron Fist. Justifiably so, Cage's wife, Jessica Jones is enraged that Cage invokes the idea of doing it all for their daughter — and throws him out on his ass.

Cage's risky "big takeover," as we learn in the final panels of issue 2, obviously puts his marriage on the rocks, but may have put him right where Iron Man wants him. CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE MIGHTY AVENGERS No. 2 ends with Shellhead (presumably Stark wearing the white armor) welcoming Cage to "the real Avengers" (Iron Man's emphasis, not mine!) — Captain America, Iron Man, the Scarlet Witch, Thor, Wasp and some shapely, flying redhead I don't recognize.

Is this part of Wilson and Stark's seemingly devious plan for The Avengers? Does this mean there will be two teams of Avengers (again!) — the people's, community-oriented C-list Avengers and the more recognizable, corporate Avengers, made of high-profile team members who have been on the roster for years? Time — and more issues — will tell. Time and the pacing of this storyline also will tell how long I'll stick with THE MIGHTY AVENGERS. Grade: B-

Unlike the way the aforementioned man in the park sees it, I think Bucky Barnes was a breath of fresh air as the Star-Spangled Avenger in Ed Brubaker's, er, captivating CAPTAIN AMERICA series. In the ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA, so is Wilson's. And that's not just because he's black; Wilson is the first black man to be Captain America.

The irony for this Caphead is Wilson is much more confident than Barnes ever was. Despite being Steve Rogers' first partner and being in World War II and taking up the Captain America ID on his own after Rogers' assassination, Barnes second-guessed himself the entire time.

Wilson's confidence comes from his conviction of what to do and being assertive about it. Some New York cops, as seen in the opening sequence of THE MIGHTY AVENGERS, aren't sure if it's a good thing the new Cap is on their side, kicking butt without taking names.

Like the new Cap-centered AVENGERS titile, CAPTAIN AMERICA No. 1 moves forward while paying attention and homage to its history.

Wilson's Cap has a new sidekick (Ian Zola, the son of Arnin Zola), who has a famous name, Nomad. Cap and Nomad are fighting Hydra agents of course — while the now Steve Rogers is left on a fishing trip with his true love, Sharon Carter. (Her line to Rogers, who is frustrated about losing radio contacts with Wilson, is classic: "Sam's dealt with Hydra before. He'll be fine. … Just try to enjoy the day and let Sam be Captain America.")

Writer Rick Remender and penciler Stuart Immonen hit the right notes and tone — down to Cap facing many old faces on the very last page— Baron Zemo, The Red Skull, Crossbones and Lady Hydra, to name a few. It's a joy to see the winged Cap sling his shield while still flying as a star-spangled Falcon,a brilliant mix of both classic characters. I hope Remender and Immonen can keep it up. Grade: B+

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