Captain America: The Horror that was Volume 4

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Captain America Volume 4 is an abomination that makes even The Abomination say, “Wow… what were you guys thinking?”  

captain-america-volume-4-number-2Marvel was trying to do something innovative and in keeping with the new times we lived in after the events of September 11, 2001… and they failed miserably. I guess it was worth a try, but at least it wasn’t a bunch of opportunistic BS… well, maybe the cover of issue 2 that read, “Fight Terror!” was a little opportunistic.

Let me try to put into perspective how bad Captain America Volume 4 really is. There are 32 issues (the volume ran for over two years) and only one of the plot elements are mentioned on the Captain America Wikipedia page. Here it is:

Rogers reveals his identity to the world, and establishes a residence in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

That’s it. Sure, I know Wikipedia isn’t the end all, be all perennial home for all knowledge on earth, and yes, it does gloss over volume 2 (only 13 issues) and 3, but Wikipedia is still pretty good. And if that’s not clear enough, let me say this – it drove me away from comic books for over five years. It’s that bad.

Why’s it so bad?

How much time do you have?

The first story arc (titled ‘The New Deal’ – that’ll seem like a pun by the end of this paragraph) has Cap fighting terrorists. This might sound like a good idea, but in a fictional world, it just doesn’t work. I guess it didn’t occur to anyone at Marvel to ask why previous Captain America writers never sent him to Vietnam, Grenada, Panama or Kuwait. Even if someone at Marvel had said they didn’t think this could work, John Ney Rieber and John Cassaday could have argued that this was a totally different situation which required a different response – America needed Captain America to fight for them again, a symbol to rally behind like in World War II. I still think someone should have handed them a calendar and tried to explain the difference between people and culture in the 1940s and in the early twenty-first century, but what’s done is done. Also, back in World War II, Cap fought the Nazis, not a make believe terrorist group called Al-Tariq. There’s a subtle difference between a fictional symbol fighting against a fictional version of a real thing and a fictional symbol fighting against another fictional symbol – especially when you call a city in Middle America ‘Centerville.’

The second story arc (The Extremists) features a new creative team: Rieber is still there, and he’s joined by Trevor Hairsine and Danny Miki, but it doesn’t help – the art quality goes down a little after the beauty oNew Deal (hey, I found something nice to say about the first arc!) and the somewhat well rounded Cap we got in the first arc is replaced by a fairly one dimensional Cap who doesn’t make very good arguments or speeches… you know, the way Captain America always does.

Next up is Ice, a story arc so bad that I had to check out of comics, traumatized as my favorite character was manhandled by yet another change in creative team: enter Chuck Austen and Jae Lee . Foreshadowed in The Extremists, they start mucking around with Captain America’s origin in a way that would make Captain America: The First Avenger pass a kidney stone. It’s like they read the first few issues of Cap’s Heroes Reborn run and liked the premise but thought the execution was all wrong – so their solution was to make it worse. Like in Heroes Reborn, the government decides it can’t control Cap, so rather than the weird Heroes Reborn mental reconditioning or the classic origin we all know from The Avengers (Vol 1, issue 4 – Avengers find him in ice after he falls in the water at the end of WWII), we instead get this bizarre tale about the government putting Cap into the ice themselves so he’d be out of the way. Let’s not debate the illogical nature of this; instead, I’ll just say that if you have these issues, treat them like the Arc of the Covenant is treated at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc. Needless to say, the plot is a mess, the dialogue is horrendous and the characters are one dimensional.

You ever read, “What If…?” I guess Dave Gibbons did and he told Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer about it (yep; fourth arc, fourth creative team), because this arc (Cap Lives) answers the question, “What if Captain America’s origin was exactly the same as it always was except the Nazis won the war for some explicable reason even though they were on the brink of defeat when he disappeared?” I guess it’s supposed to be old fashioned and swashbuckling, but for the most part, it just sucks. Maybe if you read it out of context from the rest of Volume 4 it’s not so bad, but it sticks out like a sore thumb in a volume that is littered with sore thumbs!

You guessed it; a new paragraph, a new story arc… yep, it’s time to meet our fifth creative team! Robert Morales, Chris Bachalo, and Tim Townsend proudly present Homeland! Yep, now we’re back to being topical! Why? Your guess is as good as mine. There aren’t many reviews of this story arc, but this one is my favorite:

This was written by Robert Morales, writer of Truth, who was supposed to have a long run on the book in which he was going to have Captain America become president. It’s an interesting idea, but Marvel was like, nah, let’s cancel this book and have Christopher Priest write an incomprehensible Captain America & The Falcon book instead. So all you end up having is a good story revolving around Gitmo and innocent A-rab men being dragged through Havana, then three forgettable issues to close out the run. Oh right, and art by the amazing Chris Bachalo.

‘Good’ being a relative term for ‘crap,’ but when compared to the last three issues of the arc… I also disagree with the reviewer giving this mess a 65% rating – I assure you, that is far too high. Oh, and just for giggles, the creative team changes up a little for the last two issues. Ugh, issue 28, the last issue of the arc is so bad that you might want to pick it up just so you can show your friends that you have one of the most disorganized ends of an arc ever published. You can take turns mocking it.

Finally, we meet our sixth and final creative team of Robert Kirkman, Scot Eaton and Drew Geracifor for Avengers Disassembled’s run through Captain America, which has as much to do with Avengers Disassembled as my high school graduation did. I assume they just plastered it on top of these issues of Captain America so that if you were reading the actual Avengers Disassembled, you’d buy these books, too. Issues 29, 30, 31 and 32 feel like a trip back to volume 3, but largely, its the same disorganized mess that has nothing to do with the previous arc except that Cap still lives in Red Hook. If you get the trade paperback, you also get Captain America and the Falcon issues 5-7, and that might help a little, but I can’t stress enough that although all of these issues say ‘Avengers Disassembled’ on the cover, this has nothing to do with Avengers Disassembled whatsoever, except that Cap mentions there are some troubles with the Avengers. Maybe twice. The stories are silly and the plot points will make you want to find Kirkman’s Intro to Creative Writing professor from whatever junior college he went to and administer a good, strong slap to the face. Don’t actually obey this impulse, but the sensation is totally normal.

Blah. Nothing makes me feel dirty quite like recounting Captain America Volume 4. It’s clear that Marvel never really knew what they were doing with this volume from the start, and they never figured it out. No matter how many different creative teams they brought in, nobody could get it right, despite everything they tried: stories ripped from the days headlines, mucking with Cap’s origin, alternate universe musings, back to ripping from the day’s headlines and then mixing alternate universes and then finally cheap tie ins with an event it had nothing to do with. There is no silver lining here, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, no greener grass in the next story arc. Captain America Volume 4 is a disorganized, inconsistent collection of nonsense and I wish I never knew it existed.

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