Friday, December 15, 2017

FULL REVIEW: Captain America #696

Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: Feb. 2018 [indicia]
On-Sale: Dec. 6, 2017
Cover Price: $3.99
Format: Standard, 28 pgs
Variants: 1 alt cover

“Capture the Flag!” (20 pgs)
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Chris Samnee
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Editors: Tom Brevoort


A nice little story, well written and well drawn, but far too quick a read to truly be worth the $4 price of admission for the privilege. ***FISCALLY RECOMMENDED***

STORY SNARKOPSIS (spoilers ahoy!):
Captain America, travelling the county on his motorcycle and down to his last $3, stops off in the sleepy little town of Sauga River, Georgia. It is said to be “humid, but nice,” although the cell phone reception is not the greatest. Of course, that could just be because Cap has an older dumb phone, one that cannot download the “Candy Crunch” app.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Sauga River is located in Hazzard County. That’s because, though it exists deep in the heart of Georgia, there is exactly one black person to be seen.

Anyway, as he enters town, Cap tells Sharon Carter he’s tired of being tied to the New York City area in rents subsidized by either S.H.I.E.L.D or Tony Stark. Who knows, he says, maybe this little town will be his new base of operations.

In his civilian garb of Steve Rogers, Caps stops in to an unnamed Diner — the first letters on the sign are “GRI,” (or maybe “GRE”), but that probably doesn’t stand for “GRILL” as we later see a sign that says “DINER.” Since the owner has a kind of Greko-Slavic look to him, I’ve decided that, until told differently, his name is Girgori. Anyway, Grigori’s Diner has a “Help Wanted” sign in the window. Despite being short on staff, the place is packed, with Grigori himself waiting tables. Cap announces he is not interested in the job, but would happily wash a few dishes on Tuesday in exchange for a hamburger today. However, he is instantly recognized by the owner, who insists that, in his diner, Captain America eats for free. As Cap takes a booth, his is peppered with questions and requests for selfies, whereupon Grigori shoos everyone out on the business end of Grandma Walton’s straw broom. As Cap argues that he really wants to earn his meal, Grigori agrees to let Cap wash one dish, provided he can take a picture of the great hero all sudded up.

Meanwhile, as Cap eats, a crowd gathers around the diner, which is soon augmented by at least two reporters from local TV stations, with live coverage seen by The Swordsman in his Atlanta lair. Interestingly (to me anyway), the first station called is a “Channel 4,” but Channel 4 in Atlanta is WUVM, a low power Spanish-language station on the Azteca America network. But that’s on our own Earth-Prime, who knows what Atlanta Chanel 4 is in the 616. But who knows, maybe Grigori’s name is actually Grimoaldo.

Also of note, the Swordsman is in full costume while watching the coverage in his darkened, sword-filled lair, and, although we first see a large, wall-mounted TV, after the Swordsman slices through it, we see it from behind, now being a screen much smaller and lower, as if sitting on a stand of some kind — unless we are somehow looking through the wall, and The Swordsman is 12 feet tall.

Back in Sauga River, Grigori and Cap are up on the roof of the diner having a post-meal smoke — because, as Chris Chambers can attest, there’s nothing like a good smoke after supper — and admiring Sauga River’s sole attraction, a giant dam that looms like the spectre of death over the town. I mean, seriously, who builds a town right at the foot of a giant dam that, by all appearances, makes the Hoover look like it was thrown up by beavers?! Oddly, even though we have all that water nearby, the town of Sauga River still needs a water tower, which we see along the skyline. Even odder, we see what appear to be pine trees. We have pine trees all over Maine. We are “The Pine Tree State,” after all. But I would not expect to find many pine trees in a place as humid as Georgia. Not even North Georgia.

As Cap and Grigori chat, the diner owner gets a call from his wife, “Honey,” who advances the plot with the standard, “You’ve got to see this,” cliché. Luckily, Grigori does have a smart phone, and one capable of streaming live TV, to boot. So, if you’re ever in Sauga River and you need decent data coverage, best to head straight for the roof of Grigori’s Diner.

Anyway, The Swordsman — who wasted no time getting to Sauga River, apparently, having arrived from Atlanta in the time it takes Captain America to eat a steak — announces from atop the dam, and for the benefit of Channel 4 news cameras, that unless Cap meets him there in 20 minutes, he will open the flood gates to the dam. And he means business, we can tell, because Channel 4 was apparently allowed inside the dam’s power station to see that ol’ Swordy has already sharpened his blade on the spleens of at least two dam attendants.

Grigori says opening the flood gates will “wash away the whole town,” but, again, that’s kinda the town’s fault, isn’t it. I mean, dams are designed to have flood gates. And they’re expressly made to be opened from time to time. If it’s true, as The Swordsman says, that it’s been a rainy summer and the dam can hardly hold back all the water as it is, those floodgates should be open already! And if they’re not open because opening them would wash away the town, what we have here is a pretty crappy place to put a town. Frankly, I’m surprised the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission agreed to license this dam if it’s really that much of a danger to the nearby inhabitants. Some money must’ve passed hands in Washington to make that deal happen. Maybe go investigate that, Cap.

But Cap has more pressing problems, and leaps off the diner roof to the street below in a panel that calls to mind at least three immediate questions, to wit:

1) This building appears to be at least seven or eight stories tall. So, can Sauga River really be as small as it’s portrayed?
2) Cap is apparently able to get his pants off in mid-jump. Does he possess super-speed? Or is he quadruple jointed? Maybe both? And,
3) How big must Cap’s feet appear when he’s walking around as Steve Rogers if he wears shoes large enough to fit over his fighting boots?

Down below, Cap grabs his bike (and shield, apparently) from Grigori’s garage and now we’ve got more questions. While up on the roof, Grigori mentions that he had Honey store Cap’s bike in the garage so no one would mess with it. And, so far as can be judged, that included the shield. But where was it, really? Cap didn’t have it in the opening panels. And the bike has no storage. Was it concealed under his jacket? Maybe, but then he doesn’t have it when he strips down and we don’t see it until he gets back to the bike. Are we to suppose it was with the bike when Honey put it away, that Cap didn’t give a second thought to leaving it there, and that not one person in the crowd up to that point even considered walking away with it as a souvenir? Strange. I can only guess that Cap’s latest shield is made of a special form of vibranium that allows him to render it invisible at will. Or else the vibranium is treated with Pym particles, allowing Cap to keep it in his pocket until needed. Speaking of pockets, I wonder if anyone swiped Cap’s wallet when he doffed his jeans and allowed them to flutter to the sidewalk below as he ran off? It’d be funny to have him get to the next town next issue, go to pay for gas, and be all, “WTH?!”

Anyway, once Cap gets his bike and shield, we are treated to a full-page splash panel of him riding toward the dam. Here, Waid clearly takes a book out of Stan Lee’s tome, Plotting Comics the Marvel Way. After all, as you will recall, Stan had two basic rules for writing comics — the big one was that somebody has to punch somebody else by Page 3. And the second, only slightly less important rule, was that, whenever possible, an entire page should be wasted on a single wordless panel that adds nothing to the story and isn’t even that exciting to look at. Perfect.

Back at the dam, Swordy presses a button (we’ll learn why later) and holds his blade to the neck of a dam worker. We never learn this dam worker’s name, but I’ll call him Dave. He looks like a Dave, and “Dave” is fun to say. Cap bursts in and says he thought The Swordsman was dead. But Swordy says he’s the inheritor to the mantle, which Cap already knows. (Does he? Really?) And he’s pissed Cap has showed up before he could “even reclaim the name.” That’s interesting, because “reclaim” intimates he had claim to the name once before. Otherwise he’d just say, “before I could claim the name.” So, if he’s here to reclaim the mantle, he’s clearly not the original Swordsman, villainous Avenger Jacques Duquesne. And among the inheritors, he can’t be Duquesne’s daughter, Marjorie, due to a rather obvious lack of breasts. Unless her breasts are also made of invisible vibranium, I guess. He could be Philip Javert, The Swordsman from an alternate Earth, although that version was not know to have a villainous streak. Or, he could be Andreas Von Strucker, who was dead, but then got better.

More likely though, he’s Occam’s Swordsman and is, as he appears, just some nameless rando who figured he could assume a character identity that was laying around, mostly to make sure Marvel doesn’t lose the copyright.

Whoever he is, Cap says he had no idea The New Swordsman was even a thing, but Swordy ain’t buying that. Apparently, Swordy’s plan was to coerce protection money from the small towns around Atlanta as a sort of Hero for Hire or Else. But now he figures he’ll kill Cap and that will entice town’s like Sauga River to hire his services. So, whatever else we know about this new Swordsman’s real identity, we know for sure he didn’t spawn on the deep end of the gene pool. I mean, if I’m chair of the board of selectmen in some small Georgian town, and I want to keep my town safe from bad things, I have to imagine my first thought would not be, “Hey, I know, let’s hire that guy who murdered Captain America!”

Cap thinks it’s a stupid idea too, but elects to let his fists do the debating as he rushes in. The Swordsman’s blade then connects with Cap’s shield, and the latter goes flying, embedding itself high overhead in a nearby water main. That, Swordy says, is because his sword is made of a vibranium alloy that absorbs shocks.

Now, on the first read, I simply enjoyed this scene for what it was and moved on. But the second time around, in preparing this review, I was, like, okay, let’s think this though. And what I think is, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, Cap’s shield is made of Wakandan vibranium, too. Perhaps (No Prize explainer alert) because of its unique alloy, and/or its round, convex design, the shield repels object directed at it, from bullets to energy beams, essentially redirecting an object’s kinetic energy back into it with equal and opposite Newtonian force. That’s why, when the unstoppable force of the shield meets an immovable object, such as a wall, it bounces about 20 times before Cap catches it again. But this sword absorbs energy directed at it, much like Black Panther’s vibraniam boots. When T’Challa jumps off a building, he doesn’t rebound up 40 feet, he lands gracefully, with no injury from the force of the impact.

This may be way the sword does not go flying from the Swordsman’s hands as equally, oppositely, and terrifically, as Cap’s shield. But, by rights, if the sword absorbed all the energy of the impact, the shield should’ve just stopped. There should not have been enough energy left over to send it flying with enough force to embed itself in a pipe, instead of bouncing off, as it might have if Cap, with his super-strength, had thrown in.

The other thing to consider is that just before the shield went flying, it was strapped to Cap’s forearm. Again, by all rights, we readers should have been treated to a panel of Cap dangling from the shield, wondering, “WTF?” — not down on the ground looking up at it.

Well, whatever, Cap decided he needs his shield, even if proven useless against The Swordsman. So, he leaps off a guardrail to get it. The shot of him going across the open space of the dam’s hydroelectric works, with the Swordsman leaping after and a giant American flag in the background, would have made the better full-page splash, IMHO, than the here’s-Cap-on-a-motorcycle scene.

Oddly, there are five figures below — all standing upright, so not hacked by the swordsman — who don’t seem to notice the fight going on right over their heads, and who never factor into the story in any other way. In fact Dave (remember him) is the only non-dead person we ever see inside the dam, other than Cap and Swordy.

Despite the convex curve of the shield, Cap is able to muckle on to it and hang there, even with Swordy dangling off his leg and wriggling about. Yeah, Cap should totally go on “American Ninja Warrior!”

Swordy doesn’t hang long though as Cap kicks him away and dislodges the shield. He then takes it topside and we get a two-page montage of Cap and Swordy duking it out atop the dam. I expected one or the other to pitch over the side like Black Jacque Shellacque, but sadly, even though we see at least two direct hits, the sword doesn’t pull a repeat of its earlier repelling power to send shield and/or Cap flying. It appears this is a property that comes into play only when needed for a plot moment, but is otherwise non-operative.
Finally, Swordy does a backflip over Cap’s head and slices the dam concrete under Cap’s feet clean away. Clearly, the other metallic component of the sword’s metal alloy is adamantium.

As Cap dangles by the very tips o three fingers (again, ANJ, Cap — sign up!) the floodgates open and water comes surging out below him. That button Swordy had pressed earlier was him pre-programming the floodgates to open at the end of his 20 minute deadline. So, the fight that we saw took about 20 minutes. And, assuming that’s how long it took Cap to eat a steak and have a rooftop establishing chat with Grigori, 20 minutes is also how long it took Swordy to drive from Atlanta to Sauga River, kill two dam workers, alert the media to his carnage, give a speech to the media challenging Cap, and set a timer on the floodgates. Personally, I think it’s Quicksilver under that mask.

Dude’s about as speedy as Quicksilver in the brains department, too, as he thinks destroying an entire town will entice others to pay him off as their protector. Oh, wait, never mind. I guess maybe that would work.

Or it would have except for Cap, who climbs like Spider-Man back up to the top of the dam — or at least to a window as it appears Swordy has come down a few floors to meet him. Cap then hurls his shield faster than Samnee can draw it, as it and Cap’s hand end up looking like every action shot I’ve ever tried to take with my iPhone, ever.

Now, I think what was supposed to happen was that Swordy bats away the shield and, while he’s distracted doing that, Cap rushes in and knocks the villain out. However, the next panel makes it look as if Cap gets a sudden burst of speed and actually outraces his shield to Swordy’s jaw. Weird.

As for Swordy, he may have a virbrainium sword, but he’d got a glass jaw.

With the villain good and coldcocked, Cap yells to Dave (you remember Dave, right?) to shut down the floodgates. At least I think it’s Dave. For the rest of the story we only see Dave in shadow, or else depicted from the nose down. Dave says he can’t comply with Cap’s order. He’s already on it, but Swordy’s single button push appears to have locked anyone else out of the system. Cap asks if there’s a manual override, and Dave says there is, but Cap’ll never be able to override it manually, given the force of the water pressure surging through the system. You’d think that pipe Cap broke would have created enough of hole to relieve some of the pressure, but we can only assume it was a non-essential pipe on a separate closed circuit.

But Cap, being Cap, drops down into the guts of the dam’s inner workings — because this totally inaccessible place is exactly where one would put an emergency manual override that has no hope of working in an actual emergency — and gives it the ol’ college try anyway. Unfortunately, Cap only went to Close-Cover-Before-Striking Community College, and it’s a no go. Dave then pops his head through the access panel over Cap’s head to say I told you so, and Cap, two-year associates degree notwithstanding, delivers unto Dave a lecture on Archimedean physics. Tasked with finding Cap something to use as a lever, Dave tosses down the Swordsman’s gay blade.

Luckily, Dave thought to press the “OFF” switch on the sword’s special properties. Thus, it does not absorb the energy of Cap’s efforts to apply it as a lever, nor does it send him flying when he gives one final, mighty yank, a la Amazing Spider-Man #33. More importantly, the blade doesn’t just slice through the shut off valve, which is totally what should have happened, leaving the water flowing and all the people in the ill-placed town below drowned deader than that cow in Oh, Brother, Where For Art Thou.

But instead the sword works just as Archimedes said it would, and Dave helps Cap, spent from his great exertion, out of scene, stage left.

Back at the diner, we finally see Honey, albeit from the back. Honey, it’s worth noting, is from Maine. I know this because she is the answer to that timeless joke, “How are Maine women like Maine lobsters?” Answer: All the meat is in the tail.

Grigori tells Cap that a few basements were flooded and a playground lost, but otherwise, Cape saved the town. He then gives Cap a To-Go container of Honey’s world-famous chili, and Cap rides off for the next small town.

But as he goes, we see a strange spear-holding silhouette watching after him from atop the overhang above the pumps of a gas station on the edge of town. We know it’s Kraven because he’s on the cover of the next issue, as we see in the lettercol preview. And we know he’s at the edge of town because the sign Cap passes say “City Limits.”

It seems odd to say “city limits” given that Sauga River is so small that Cap immediately discards it as a place to live, as there are too few people from him to ever melt into the crowd and not draw attention when he buys TP at the corner store and what not. But that may just be my perspective. I often hear the talking heads on cable news shows refer to some place with 80,000 people as a “small town,” while the largest city in my entire state only has 64,000. Also, these kinds of signs usually match, and the one Cap passed on the other end of town said “Welcome to Sauga Falls” and had a picture of the dam. But then, these signs are meant to be metatextual, really. The first one actually says, “Once upon a time,” while the second one reads, “The end,” leaving Kraven’s shadow to scream, “Not quite.”

Captain America. Supporting Players: unnamed owner of an unnamed Sauga River diner; Honey, the diner-owner’s wife (hider of motorcycles and maker of faboo chili); unnamed employee of the Sauga River Dam. Villains: The Swordsman (Fifth iteration, 1st app., real name not given); Kraven the Hunter (last panel cameo in silhouette). Others: Unnamed residents of Sauga River, Georgia; a couple of unnamed reporters from “Channel 4” news; Sharon Carter (mentioned as person on the other end of Cap’s phone conversation); Tony Stark (mention only); The Hulk (mention only). Groups: S.H.I.E.L.D (mention only).

Sauga River, Georgia (a small town “a little north of Atlanta. 1st app.) [A fictional town, although there is a Conasauga River that is, in fact, a little north of Atlanta. According to Google it has only one road access and no dams], the Sauga River Dam (which looms over the town, said to be its sole noteworthy attraction). Atlanta (location of The Swordsman’s lair).

Cap’s shield, The Swordsman’s sword (made of virbranium alloy, 1st app this version).

COVER (6.0/10)
It’s a’right. I don’t love it. I mean, it’s kind of boring, actually. Just a straight-on shot of Cap holding a sword, and his pose looks a little unsteady, as if he’s holding an edged weapon for the very first time and is about to get barrel-rolled by whomever he’s facing. There are also “lens flares” on both the sword and Cap’s tunic and it’s not clear of these are bullets deflecting off them, or glints of sunlight. I think it’s supposed to be the latter, but I was not aware Cap’s blue chainmail was reflective.

To a certain degree, the pose, along with Cap’s uncertain scowl, works, because of the copy, “Capture the Flag!” which intimates that he is indeed in a defensive posture. Still, I think I would have preferred an image a little closer in on Cap, of him sort of lunging for the viewer, with a look of grim determination, even if that meant sacrificing our ability to see the full length of the sword. After all, the average person passing this cover on the stands is liable to think, “Huh. That’s Captain America holding a sword. He doesn’t usually do that. Must be why he looks so uncomfortable.” But the reaction we want is, “HOLY CRAP! Why is Cap using with a sword?! He doesn’t use a sword! I have GOT to look inside RIGHT NOW and see what this is all about!!”

Seriously, if your comic book cover doesn’t all but force the retailer to scream, “Hey, kid! This ain’t no library!!” your comic book cover isn’t comic book covering right.

There is also an alternate “Phoenix variant” cover by Ron Lim (with Cap in a weird never-before-seen costume that features long bicep-length white gloves, white leggings under blue bike shorts, and his old WWII belt-of-many-pouches) that features Cap hurling a shield enveloped in the fiery Phoenix force as it flies out at the reader.

This cover has more visual interest than Samnee’s main cover and is common enough that it still has the same resale value. Even so, my local comics shop doesn’t move enough issues of Cap to justify placing the minimum order needed to get any of this version.

PLOT (7.00/10)
Sure, it’s a basic little tale, told simply and straight-forwardly. But that’s not a bad thing. Personally, I’m getting tired of tales that time-skip back and forth for no particular reason.

My main issue, however, is that we get nothing — zip, zero, nada — on who this new Swordsman is, what his motivations are, how he became an expert at his craft, how he came to possess a virbranium sword given the rarity of that metal, how he thinks his nascent protection scheme could ever possibly work, and just why he is so paranoid about Cap’s presence in a nearby town.

In many ways, this issue feels like storyboards for the next Captain America movie. I mean, The Swordsman comes off here as the prototypical Marvel movie villain. As proof, allow me to present this snippet of actual conversation from the writers room of every Marvel movie, ever.

WRITER1: Who’s this guy?
WRITER2: He’s the villain.
WRITER1: Okay. Why’s he here?
WRITER2: Because he is.
WRITER1: Makes sense. What does he want?
WRITER2: He wants to destroy the world. Then rule over its charred and broken remains.
WRITER1: Oh. Why’s that?
WRITER2: Because he’s the villain.

So, really, I would have asked Waid to cut the bike ride splash and fill that page instead with some background on this new Swordsman. Give me some reason to sympathize with him, or to really root against him. Just make me feel something, anything, about him, such that Cap’s winning punch has the impact it should. I mean, sure, I get that this story isn’t really about The Swordsman. It’s about Cap. But at least a few of the chapters in this cross-country trek should be about Cap in the same way some Spirit stories were less about The Sprit than Gerhard Shnobble, or Ebony White, or that poor schmuck kid who had 10 minutes to live. In that sense, I also would not have refused a little more of “Dave,” maybe explaining how he was still around to hand Cap a lever at all. Was he able to elude the Swordsman during the initial attack on the dam? Did the villain keep him alive on purpose as a prop? Who knows?

SCRIPT (8.75/10)
No real complaints here. There are no bwa-ha-ha punchlines, of which Waid is more than capable, although the meal/picture negotiation is super cute. But that restraint is admirable in that Cap is not a jokester. Of even much of a talker, really. Still, even though Cap is not typically one for intra-battle banter, we could have used a bit more chattiness during the fight, from the Swordsman, at least. Maybe he gets increasingly frustrated with Cap’s down-to-business style and ends up dishing out some of his backstory and paranoia rational that way.

At any rate, we needed something more. Yes, it’s true enough that the measure of a comic’s entertainment value should not be the number of words it contains. But even so, I read this comic in less than seven minutes. And that’s kind of unforgivable for a comic that costs four bucks. By comparison, the equivalent two-hour movie would cost $71.10 — and that’s before the popcorn!

Still, everyone in the story says what they should say and sounds like they should sound. Especially Grigori. Although he was obviously intended to be a one-off character, I would not mind seeing him again. I wonder if he serves shawarmer?

Read Time:
Words: 964
Words/Page: 48.20

• “Because I don’t play Candy Crunch. Whatever. This one serves me just fine.” ~Cap, to Sharon Carter, explaining his continued use of a dumb phone.

• “If Captain American is supposed to represent everybody, I should know more ‘everybodys.’” ~ Cap, explaining the reason for his cross-country trek to Sharon Carter.

• “Honey, it’s Steve Rogers!” ~ Diner owner, appearing to call Steve, ‘Honey,” given that he’s looking right at him and we don’t yet know about his wife.

• “Wait. There’s not trouble here is there? Should we be worried?” ~The most prescient child in the Sauga River Diner.

• Cap: “Okay, I accept your hospitality. As long as you let me wash some dishes.”
Diner owner: “So, sir!”
Cap: “A few dishes.”
Diner owner: “Nope.”
Cap: “One dish.”
Diner owner: “Can I take a picture of that?
Cap: “Sure.”
Diner owner: “One dish.”

• “Here’s the dam. We have now begun and concluded your tour of the city’s noteworthy sites.” ~ Diner owner, on the many charms of Sauga River, Georgia.

• “I’m surprised even you care about this little burg enough to die for it.” ~ The Swordsman, unclear on the concept of Captain America.

• “I said you could find me here. I never said you could stop me.” ~ The Swordsman

SWIKK — The Swordsman, slicing a TV in two.

BAbapapapa BApapa — Diner owner’s ringtone.

tak — The Swordsman, pressing a button.

ZASSH — The Swordsman’s unstoppable sword meeting Cap’s immoveable shiled.

FWONG — Cap’s immovable shiled, ricocheting into a nearby water main.

TKLANK — Cap, jumping onto a metal railing.

thwap — Cap, clutching at his shield.

RRNK — Cap, dislodging his shield from a water main.

SLICE — Appropriately enough, the Swordsman slicing a bit of concrete off the Sauga River Dam.

FWSHHHH — Water rushing from the floodgates of the Sauga River Dam.

SHNK — Cap, plunging a sword between the spokes of a water main shutoff valve.

RRRRNKK — Cap using a sword to lever shut the valve.

THOOM — The floodgates of the dam slamming shut.

LAYOUT (7.75/10)
Generally strong. On the whole, Samnee is a lot like Steve Ditko — he does a masterful job of filling the space in such a way that each panel propels the story. Every panel has a purpose and is not just a cool drawing, with crazy angles just for the sake of having crazy angles and panel shapes that look kewl.

So, as I say, I’m generally very happy with Samnee’s work and most often find his storytelling to be head and shoulders above the average comic book artist of the day.

However, while I can look the other way on Cap jumping off a building that’s taller than anything we would suspect in this hick town, and chalk it up to artistic license, I do have to knock off significant points in other areas. Primarily, the knockout punch. That should have been the money shot of the issue, but it fails, just out of pure confusion as to what, exactly, is going on. Cap throws his shield then appears to beat it to the Swordsman’s jaw. It’s a drawing that instantly takes me out of the story and makes me ask, what the heck am I looking at? Did that really just happen? Is there something here I’m not getting??

Then there’s the full-page bike ride. Yeah, I get that Samnee probably didn’t have a lot of choice there. The script probably called for a full-page splash. And it is good to break up the pacing with a large panel right after two pages with eight and six panels, respectively. But the drawing is just odd, to my eye. The perspective doesn’t look right. If we’re going to use up an entire page of a 20-page story, that single panel needs to look spectacular, and what we get here is pretty benign.

Also, sadly, the tv slicing panel just did not work for me.

Panels: 102
Panels/Page: 5.10

ARTWORK (8.50/10)
As always, nice stuff. Like Alex Toth, or Paul Smith, Samnee has a deceptively simple style. It looks basic, like anyone could do it. But it’s really quite thoughtful and purposefully executed. Plus, as a Bronze Age Baby, I appreciate that Samnee doesn’t clutter his images with a lot of extraneous, unnecessary lines — stuff that is supposed to look kewl but usually is really just meant to help disguise the fact that the artist does not understand perspective and anatomy. Not so with Samnee. Plus, I like that his characters have a slight cartoony feel to them, but not so caricatured as to look out of place in the realistic background or super-hero universe. It’s all very Eisneresque   

EDITING (5.25/10)
So, yeah . . . meh. We’ve got, like, four editors here. In addition to Brevoort, there’s an assistant editor, Alanna Smith, an editor-in-chief, Axel Alonso, and King Quesada, with the totally made up title of “chief creative officer.” So, whatever the hell he does. And yet, I don’t see much evidence that anyone actually looked critically at this story and made any real input other that to shuttle pages back and forth among the various creative personnel. I mean, sure Waid is an accomplished writer and a student of the comics medium, still, someone should have said, “Gee, Mark, are we really giving our readers value for dollar in a story that reads in less than seven minutes?” Someone should have said, “One full page of Cap sitting on a motorcycle? Is that really the best use of that space?”

• The super-hero on a cross-country trek to rediscover himself, his nation, and his connection to the common man is a familiar enough trope in comics. Of course, such a journey is not uncommon in all of fiction. But insomuch as comics go, the standout examples are the “Hard-Traveling Heroes” issues of GREEN LANTERN (Nos. 76-85) by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, and the “Superman: Grounded,” story arc by J. Michael Straczynski (later Chris Roberson) and Eddy Barrows, from SUPERMAN, Nos. 701-714.

• Nothing of note, unless this Swordsman turns out to be someone we know.

• Nothing of note.

• LETTERS COLUMN: “Cap’s Corner” — With not letter’s yet on the start o the Waid/Samnee run in the previous issue, the space is filled by letterer Joe Caramagna answering the question, “What does Captain American mean to you?” (1pg).

• CREDITS PAGE — Credits, with a graph each recapping Cap’s origin and statue quo, and the story thus far. (1pg)

PRODUCTION (8.75/10)
High marks for colorist Matthew Wilson. I like that he is reserved with the shading tricks, avoiding all of the photoshop stuff I find so of-putting. He uses a palette and crisp contrast line that truly compliments Samnee’s style, making this book look almost like a Steve Canyon Sunday page. Good stuff. I also appreciate his subtle change of the palette when Cap is deep in the guts of the dam, and, even more notably, with the last page, which really makes it feel like we are at the end of the day, just as the last rays of the sun are disappearing over the horizon, all without the script having to say so, or Samnee having to draw a sunset.

Interestingly, the pages themselves turn from white to black at the mid-point of the book, just as Cap and The Swordsman start fighting for real, coming back to white only for the page where Cap struggles with the water shut-off valve, and the top-half of the last page, where Cap bids adieu to good ol’ Grigori. This change does lend an aura of danger and suspense to the fight sequence, I think, while going back to white for Cap’s big save highlights his heroic struggle.

The lettering is mostly “invisible,” which is as it should be. The printing, packaging, and product design are all Marvel’s usual high quality. Although I dock points for the unnecessary glossy paper — one of the early Image “enhancements” that still persists across the industry.

Notably, there are only two apparent paid ads in this issue, and one is from a sister company, so it’s really just shuffling dollars among corporate pockets rather than bringing in any genuine revenue. As a kid, I never would have believed a comic book could have fewer than 32 pages, but here we are.

Advertising: (9pgs) 28.13%
Paid Ads: (2pgs) 6.25%

ABC-TV AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. “Karius is his name.” (1pg)
• Joe Kubert School of comic book art (OBC)

• OLD MAN HAWKEYE #1 (1/2pg)
• MARVEL HQ YouTube channel (1pg)
• Digital copy offer (1/2 pg)

DOLLAR VALUE (4.00/10)
Well, I’ve kind of pounded this drum already, but when a comic book costs $4 and is only in my hands for eight minutes (which counts reading the lettercol and intro page) that is NOT a good entertainment value. Not at all. Again, we don’t want more words just for the sake of more words, but if a story is going to read this quick, it needs to be all kinds of Krigstein’s “Master Race” and really knock my socks off.

 Page Value.
(Cover Price/Pages)
Story: 19.95¢/pg.
Total: 17.35¢/pg.

 Entertainment Value.
(Cover Price/Reading Time)
Story: 59.11¢/min.
Total: 49.88¢/min.

I don’t know that I see this issue taking off to any great degree in the back issue market. This run will likely get collected in trade paperback form, which will depress demand for the original issues. On the other hand, this is not a book that’s likely to get weeded out of my collection anytime soon, and I expect the same of those who bought it, so supply is liable to run thin n the back issue market.

What might change things is if this new Swordsman becomes any kind of thing in the Marvel universe. If he starts popping up in other places and becomes a hot commodity, this first appearance could spike in value. For what it’s worth, if it were me, with this issue having come and gone as it has, I’d resist the temptation to give this villain an origin beyond hints and clues, and avoid revealing who he is under the mask. It might be fun to have him bounding around from title to title as a low-grade baddie, with his one notable feature being that nobody can figure out who the hell he is, which him forever screaming, “Don’t be cute. Of course you know who I am!”

Unknown at this time as December numbers aren’t out yet. In fact, it’s hard to judge at all given that still has not released its November estimates, so, we don’t yet know how the first issue of this new arc tracked. Still, I’ll guess the final tally will land somewhere in the 35,000 to 40,000 range.

Very Good:
Very Fine:
Near Mint: $4.00

Not nearly as high as a score as it should have been. The quiet moments in the diner were fun, but the fight with the Swordsman not nearly as dramatic as it should have been, given that he came off as just a cardboard cutout. Plus, I had such a problem with this town being right under the dam, and in danger of being washed away if the floodgates were ever opened, that it really drew me out of the narrative for the most part, ‘causing me to be on hyper-lookout for the next silly thing, rather than just sinking in and enjoying the adventure, as I should have.

So, under Marvel’s new “Legacy” numbering system, this is supposed to be the 696th issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA. It’s not. It’s actually either #679 or #720, depending on how we count. I’ll give you the math on that in another post.

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