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Captain America #18 By Matt Martin
'Cap Lives: Part II' - Marvel Comics/Marvel Knights – Dave Gibbons (w); Lee Weeks (p); Tom Palmer (i)
Why, Marvel? Why is it so hard for you to make a good Captain America book?
OK, wait, let me rephrase that:
Why, when Dave Gibbons is kicking so much ass, would you want to let Robert Morales write this book? I mean, c’mon, wasn’t The Truth enough reason to just write Morales off? I sure think so.
Before I summarize a bit, I should preface all this by saying that I’m not so sure that Gibbons arc on the book is so great in and of itself. I think part of my enjoyment of the Cap Lives arc might spring from the fact that the previous sixteen issues of the book have been so undeniably worthless. Seriously, I wouldn’t wipe my ass with the stories the John Ney Rieber and Chuck Austen cranked out for the past year and some change. But at the same time, there’s just something inherently cool about Gibbons’ arc.
The Cap Lives storyline is just a fun little fill-in arc, killing time between one abysmal creative team and what looks to be more of the same, an arc where Captain America went into his impromptu cryogenic slumber (following his drop into freezing waters from the back of a Nazi rocket) at the established time, but awoke to find an entirely different world than the one we know him to. After the Captain’s disappearance, apparently things took a turn for the worse on the European front. Nazi victory after Nazi victory began to pile up and the Third Reich turned the tide of the war, eventually pressing far enough westward to detonate a nuclear bomb on American soil, forcing the surrender of the United States, the last free nation to resist the German war machine. Found floating in his famous block of ice by a Nazi u-boat crew, he is taken to New Berlin (formerly New York City) to be presented to the Fuehrer, the Red Skull (who assumed control of the Reich following the demise of Hitler). Given the tour of Nazi America’s capital city, a silent Captain America eventually delivers a haymaker blow to his German counterpart and dives headlong through the picture window of the Red Skull’s skyscraper headquarters (at the close of the previous issue).
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Now pursued by both Nazi foot soldiers and the robotic enforcers known as the Iron Men (technology courtesy of Stark Industries), Cap happens upon a former O.S.S. agent he knew during the war, Reed Richards, who helps him make good on his initial escape and directs him to Yancy Street, home base of the America resistance. Aided by the heavily armed Ben Grimm, Cap escapes into the subway system and begins a running battle across the back of a speeding train with a trio of Iron Men.
Though the Red Skull is enraged to learn that his nemesis has once again eluded his forces, he is mollified to learn that Nazi scientist Viktor Von Doom is preparing to launch the Reich’s first “chrononaut,” Baron Von Strucker. After witnessing the successful voyage through time of his henchman, the Skull seems poised to declare the victory of the Nazi regime not only over the 20th Century, but over all time, as well.
So why am I enjoying this so much? I dunno. I guess it’s mostly that after watching Cap whine like a little girl for sixteen consecutive issues prior to this arc, it’s nice to see him doing what he’s supposed to do: beat the crap out of the enemies of America. And there’s no more entertaining enemy than Nazis. As I’ve said on countless occasions before, they make the perfect villain, because the reader is simply unable to feel sorry for them. Anyone opposing Nazis is automatically a better good guy than he would be otherwise and this is no exception.
I’ve read other online critics bemoan the dialogue as belonging to the old school of comic book storytelling and I think they’re missing the point. Gibbons’ script, it seems to me, is intentionally aping the style of Silver Age Captain America books, stories where the bad guys were so clearly defined and their diatribes so over the top. Cap doesn’t have to say much of anything in a story like this; he’s letting his fists do all the talking for him and there’s a reason for that. It’s an action story.
This isn’t an examination of America’s responsibility for September 11th, nor is it an indictment of U.S. foreign policy over the last fifty years. Incidentally, it seems to me that Captain America is the guy least likely, of all the Marvel characters, to question the decisions of our government, but maybe that’s just the flag-waving Republican in me talking…In any event, Cap Lives is the type of story that probably should be the rule rather than the exception in any ongoing Captain America book. There’s a reason those Lee/Kirby stories are so beloved (and if you need further proof that Gibbons’ story is intentionally reminiscent of the Silver Age, just look at the art, for God’s sake; if that’s not Lee Weeks riffing on Jack Kirby, I don’t know what is): they were fun. I don’t think anyone picks up a Captain America book wanting to feel bad about the bombing of Dresden or to be told that America has no one but itself to blame for the World Trade Center attacks.
In the end, the sad but true fact of this book is that it’s a “What If?” story told over the course of four issues, all but unheralded by Marvel’s press corps. Meanwhile, 1602 is a half-assed issue of “What If?” charging $.50 more per issue, told over twice as many issues and being touted as a work of creative genius simply because Neil Gaiman wrote it.
Am I going to look back on Cap Lives ten years from now and remember it as part of the good old days? Probably not, because the arc is already riffing on a previous era. But at the rate Marvel’s going, I’d give good odds that we might all refer to it as The Last Good Captain America story some day.