Saturday, May 21, 2016

Free Comic Book Day goes retro

There's nothing like going retro.

With the entertainment industry initiating reboots in everything from movies to TV shows and comic books, it's no surprise Free Comic Book Day is going retro. Each of the issues I grabbed have ties to old series and old ideas.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: Here's a big surprise: Steve Rogers is back as Captain America. Again.

There's a lot new — and old — about Cap: He has a new costume (one which updates his classic duds, yet pays homage to it); the same goes for his triangular shield. The Captain America with the original, round, vibranium shield remains Sam Wilson and that old-new Cap (or is that new-old?) has a partner named Falcon — just like Rogers and Wilson in the 1970s. See what I mean?

Again, like the days of old — and when Ed Brubaker wrote CAPTAIN AMERICA, Sharon Carter is in the picture. She is a field coordinator for SHIELD and the Rogers variation of Captain America is on the hunt for Hydra. What's Team Cap without Carter and Wilson? Let's hope there will be a natural way to include Bucky Barnes (aka Winter Soldier) too!

Cap's former short-time partner, Rick Jones, is doing SHEILD computer work (not unlike Felicity to Team Arrow on TV) as "a sentence for hacking into networks." And of course he's as obnoxious as ever. We can hope we see more great chemistry between Rogers and Carter and watch their relationship develop and much less of Jones.

In the last two pages, the new-old Cap/Rogers (or should he be the old-new Cap?) gives the government the business about "the new Hydra" in one of his unmistakable soliloquies. And better yet, just as the Cap adventures of every era, the Red Skull is planning to meet Rogers "on the battlefield."

With SAM WILSON: CAPTAIN AMERICA writer Nick Spencer also penning these STEVE ROGERS: CAPTAIN AMERICA stories, there will be no drop-off on the storytelling quality. Spencer handles these characters well and knows how to put them into circumstances we're used to seeing, yet allowing them to feel fresh. Like I said, what's old is new again. Or is that the other way around? Grade: A-

Meanwhile in the back-up story, Spider-Man is in San Francisco in what Marvel Comics is promising will be "the Spider-event of the year." To say anything more would ruin who is being resurrected in the "Dead No More" storyline. My Spidey-sense tells me things aren't what they seem and longtime Spider-Man writer Dan Slott is attempting to pull a fast one on us.

Spider-Man/Peter Parker is in good hands with Slott, so even if the premise doesn't sound promising, fans will be in for an enjoyable ride. Grades — Story: C+, Art: A- 

CIVIL WAR II: There's only one "good" reason for this unnecessary sequel — to tie into the awesome "Captain America" film "Civil War." OK, two: To sell comics. There's something to be said for brand recognition, but there's something even greater to be said for coming up with an original idea.

Readers of the greater Marvel Universe will know if this CIVIL WAR concept comes organically from what's been happening. And if they cry "foul!," maybe, just maybe those same fans will stand their ground and let their voice be heard — not just through social media and blogging, but more importantly by not buying this series and its tie-ins.

In a more sickening tie-in to the Marvel movies, Thanos is involved. (He's been teased as being the main baddie in the two-part "Avengers" film, "Infinity War," which stands to reason since he was the focus of the ultra-depressing INFINITY GAUNTLET limited series in 1991 and its variations. My recommendation to curious readers is not to waste your money on the trade paperback: borrow it from the library or a friend.)

Now why Iron Man, the Sam Wilson Cap and Star Lord will face off against Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man and She-Hulk is beyond me. Grade: C

The back-up story, "Buzzed," is about the new Wasp.

Apparently this Nadia chick has some hero-worship going on with Dr. Hank Pym and has no qualms with breaking into house — and his lab! — to take over the Wasp costume once she hears Pym apparently died while fighting Ultron. (The Wasp costume is red and the tunic and head piece has a 1960s retro feel, like the earliest costume worn by Janet Van Dyne. Is she still dead, BTW?! …) Oh and did I mention Nadia has stalked Pym?

I'm not sure where this is going since writer Mark Waid smartly isn't showing us all his cards in this teaser story, but I know you can't get wrong with Waid, penciler Alan Davis and faithful Davis inker, Mark Farmer. If this is the new creative team for the ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS series, I'm all for it! Grade: B 

ROM: And in the most retro decision of the three issues I have, IDW Publishing has created comics based on Hasbro action figures Rom the Space Knight and Action Man.

Rom starred in a Marvel series of the same name that ran for 75 issues from 1979 to '86, which is great reading about the noble warrior who is charged with hunting down his shapeshifting enemies, the Dire Wraiths. Writer Bill Mantlo took what could be a one-trick pony concept and delivered one fresh story after another.

 These days, Rom (now known as "the Wraithslayer") has a sleeker armor that still resembles the classic one from the Bronze Age. The Dire Wraiths again have invaded Earth, but Rom's neutralizer is gone, which is a shame because the sight of Rom banishing his enemies to Limbo, a purgatory of sorts, was often mistaken for Rom using the suspected "weapon" to disintegrate people, which did even more for humanity's fear over his intentions. (Maybe the original neutralizer was too blocky and looked too much like a toy for modern readers.) Also, Rom is now is northern California instead of the fictional Clairton, W.Va.

The art has a distinctive independent comic-book look; which is to say the generic art looks like it came straight out of an independent comic. Like all comics from the last fifteen-plus years, moving the story ahead is completely dependent on the dialogue and art. That means there's virtually no narrative and that can lead readers to make mistakes in jumping to conclusions with what they're reading and seeing. Grade: B-

ACTION MAN: Who is the Action Man? How does he relate to the G.I. Joe action figures? Find out in the smartly written synopsis of the Action Man figures, which is much more intriguing than the comic book story.

I thought Action Man was a nickname that the late David Bowie came up for his troubled astronaut, Major Tom. So when I saw the blink-and-you'll-miss-it homage to the chorus of Bowie's 1980 hit, "Ashes to Ashes" in two panels, this lifelong Bowiehead was tickled. Grades — The "Ashes to Ashes" moment: A, rest: C

Unless the ROM and ACTION MAN writers bring a lot to their characters do more with them than what's in these teasers — and the inherent nostalgia factor, I can't see either series having a very long shelf life.

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