Thursday, September 24, 2015

'Captain America: White' No. 1 review

It's hard to believe that seven years later, CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHITE finally has been released.

I'm not sure why the five-issue limited series didn't come out as intended in 2008 (as I pointed out in my review of the hard-to-find issue 0 several years ago).  

Maybe Marvel Comics only envisioned writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale's "color" series as a trilogy. I can't imagine that Marvel would think WHITE wouldn't sell well. Were there creative differences? Contracts to be signed or negotiated? Did Loeb and Sale have other individual obligations that conflicted with completing the project?

Or — gasp! — was there not enough interest?

It's hard to say. And I'm sure Loeb or Sale — much less the Powers That Be at Marvel — never will say.

But I say it's about time.
And not surprisingly, WHITE — as with many stories featuring Captain America/Steve Rogers — is about time. This, uh, time, Rogers is getting used to being a man out of time and this time, brings home mourning the loss of his World War II partner and friend, Bucky Barnes. 

Here is Sale's artwork of a conversation
between Nick Fury and Steve Rogers
without any of the word balloons or captions.
Being a man out of time and mourning the loss of Barnes in battle have been the premises of so many Cap stories that they've become cliched subjects.

But have no fear, true believers. Loeb is skilled enough to pull at your heart strings, but here he's doing it without going too far. Rogers' mourning of Barnes rarely has been as poignant.

That's to say, Rogers' emotions feel right and resonate. It's natural for a friend like Nick Fury to tell the solder he's not to blame for Barnes dying, but Rogers can't help but feel it's all on his shoulders.

(Modern readers know Barnes survived — barely — and tragically, the Soviets turned him into an assassin known as the Winter Soldier, but WHITE is written on the assumption that Barnes died trying to stop the detonation of the bomb he and Captain America were pursuing.) 

Rogers' thoughts — as seen in "thought captions" — ring true. He deals with Barnes being more than a sidekick; the pair were close friends and have something akin to a father/older brother-son/younger brother dynamic.

The most telling dialogue in issue 1 is Rogers "telling" Barnes "if there's a chance you made it out too … or somehow … up there … you can hear me, I just want to talk" is true to real life; who hasn't wished they could talk to a deceased or missing loved one at some point? I know there have been many times I would love to talk to my mom and dad.

Interestingly, I have to wonder if Loeb added the inference of Barnes' possible survival in light of the runaway success of writer Ed Brubaker's WINTER SOLDIER storyline or even the Cap film with the same subtitle. 

WHITE isn't just about Rogers sitting around stewing in his loss.

Loeb adds a nice twist to the Rogers-Fury relationship — by saying the two didn't always get along and Fury didn't always appreciate what Rogers brought to the battlefield as Captain America. In fact, Fury resents Cap, especially since he and Bucky save his hide — not to mention the Howling Commandos' bacon — from some Nazis.

And Rogers starts a bar room brawl once he has an alpha male stand-off with Dum Dum Dugan. All this happens before they all get shipped out for another mission, so needless to that adds more tension between the superheroes and Fury's Howling Commandos. …

As you might tell, just like Loeb and Sale's other "color" series, WHITE is about relationships — just not a love relationship.

As I had speculated in my review of issue 0 (basically a preview for the WHITE limited series — and I wrote the review several years ago, I might add!), I figured the story would focus on Rogers' romance with Peggy Carter, how their romance might complicate his working relationship with Barnes and how Rogers misses Carter and Barnes once he's in modern times. But it looks like I was dead-wrong on that speculation.

SPIDER-MAN: BLUE started the first of the "color"
limited series by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, which
focus on major Marvel Comics superheroes and
their relationships.
It was a natural guess. Romance — or at least the theme of loss and/or unfulfilled longing — are prevalent in SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, DAREDEVIL: YELLOW and HULK: GREY. (All three series, now all available in much more affordable trade paperbacks, are must-reads, even must-buys, if you're fans of Loeb and Sale! Respective grades — BLUE: A; YELLOW: A- and GREY: C+)

WHITE, in contrast, is about the way Cap/Rogers' relationship develops with a teenager for whom he feels responsible (Barnes) and two men with whom he has to work (Fury and Dugan).

Another thing I wonder is how much of Sale's art in issue 1 is new. (Check the front cover and you'll see he's plainly signed it "TS '08.")

I have no doubt Marvel will use the same covers I saw in the gallery in No. 0, but the interior art remains a mystery. Given that Sale and Loeb started — and possibly completed most of — WHITE eight-plus years ago, it's possible there's not much new art. Of course, Loeb could have requested Sale tweak some things if his original direction for his story changed over the years.

It's equally possible Sale has added to, supplemented and/or tweaked what he drew years ago. Comparing his art to #0, there's no discernible difference.

Cap sometimes has an odd smile and Sale draws awkward locking hands on Nazi soldiers, but otherwise he nails the art. The ink and coloring complement the moody and minimalist noir style he has. I especially enjoyed seeing Sales draw the original Avengers; I'd like him to draw many more Avengers stories — vintage or current.

The first three pages are the artistic highlight — a splash page of Rogers recovering on the exam table in The Avengers' ship (as seen earlier in this review) followed immediately by a dynamic, two-page spread of the unmasked Captain America leaping off that same table.

I'm quite interested to see where Loeb and Sale — one of comicdom's Dynamic Duos — will take us in WHITE. And what exactly is the importance of that subtitle and color? Grade: B+

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