Monday, May 9, 2016

'Fallen Son' respectfully handles Captain America's death (retro-review)

OK, Marvel fans, you can breathe a bit easier. Marvel Studios didn't go here by killing off Captain America in the "Civil War" film. (Here's an op-ed I wrote the day the movie came out that combines my pre-release speculation about the film and a review of the comic book original.)

Many of us, knowing what is the shocking climax of the 2006 CIVIL WAR limited series, feared the worst when it came to taking a story with the same name to the big screen. For the record, at the end of my "How close ...?" op-ed/review, I said I doubted Marvel Studios would go there -- and I'm grateful they didn't.

So now that we've gotten that minor spoiler out of the way, let's take a look at this CCC retro-review of the classy way writer extraorinaire Jeph Loeb handles the five stages of grief. In his powerful limited series, FALLEN SON: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA, Loeb has nearly the entire Marvel Universe try to wrap its head around Cap's shocking death, with special focus on The Avengers, Tony Stark, Spider-Man, Wolverine and Hawkeye.

FALLEN SON is available in trade paperback, but I've also seen a few issues here and there at comic book conventions. It's worth the read and the purchase (not something I say often).

And now, my review, which originally was published in print form in my now-defunct column for the NORWALK REFLECTOR newspaper. ...

Nov. 29, 2007 -- It’s rare to read a comic book I know is truly an instant classic. Even more rare is a related series that is just as enjoyable and poignant.

Thanks to some birthday fun money from my dad, I’ve been squeezing some “catch-up comic book reading” into my spare time. It’s been about seven months since the release of CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol. 2) No. 25, but Ed Brubaker’s words and Steve Epting’s art remain powerful.

A wonderful example is Rick Jones reflecting on Cap’s legendary status before his former partner is shot in front of a federal courthouse.

“He was like that sainted can-do-no-wrong big brother, the guy you can’t help but look up to because you just know you can never be that good,” Jones says, “or that strong in the face of horror.”

Just as insightful is the five-part series FALLEN SON: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA by writer Jeph Loeb. Each issue ingeniously focuses on one of the stages of grief as various Marvel Universe heroes react to Steve Rogers’ death.

Wolverine perfectly embodies denial. No other character is better suited to break into a heavily-guarded military base on a giant helicopter — using Doctor Strange’s magic to be invisible — just to see Cap’s corpse for himself.

Loeb makes equally intriguing choices in respectively symbolizing bargaining and acceptance: Hawkeye and Iron Man.

Hawkeye turns down Iron Man's request for him
to take up the mantle of Captain America.
Iron Man (Tony Stark) attempts to have Hawkeye consider being the next Captain America. The archer once told Cap he could run The Avengers better while “wearing the flag with that waiter’s tray on my arm.”

Hawkeye (Clint Barton) decides the Captain America mantle isn’t for him after two new heroes admit to “trying to do the job” modeled on Hawkeye and Cap. 

Barton hands Cap’s shield to Iron Man, pointing out Stark wanted the Cap legacy to continue only because he’s not handling the grief and pain of losing his best friend.

The inclusion of flashbacks to previous Marvel Comics stories grounds the mourning, making the stories feel more realistic.

Nowhere is that put to better use than in the last issue. At Cap’s massive funeral, Sam Wilson (The Falcon) gives an eloquent eulogy and stresses his former partner’s profound influence, dating back to World War II.

Loeb ends the series nicely in the acceptance issue with a sequence used as a bookend to Cap first joining The Avengers. Iron Man brings two original Avengers, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, to an arctic region for a solemn ceremony.

Years ago in the same place, the team and Sub-Mariner discovered Cap frozen in a massive block of ice. He had been in suspended animation after being presumed dead from a World War II bomb explosion.

Stark reads a prepared statement, calling Cap his “rudder, steering me when others couldn’t.” He ends by saying: “I miss your battle cry,” a reference to Cap coordinating the team by shouting “Avengers Assemble!”

Sub-Mariner shows up at Stark’s request to make sure the casket — containing Rogers’ body — reaches its final resting place at the bottom of the cold sea. The prince of Atlantis promises “as Iong as I rule these oceans, Steve Rogers’ rest will go undisturbed.”

The final three panels show the casket — with Cap’s shield exposed through a clear top — descending to the depths. The star in the middle of the patriotic shield is the only thing visible in the otherwise blacked-out panel.

The original was an icon among icons. Rest in peace, Steve Rogers. Your loyalty, patriotism and never-give-up attitude will be missed.

Grades -- Story: A, Art: B+

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