Monday, January 21, 2008

Nazis! I HATE those guys. Psychiatrists? I REALLY hate those guys!

Captain America #26-31
Written by Ed Brubaker
Drawn by Steve Epting

Man, the Red Skull is an asshole.
Seriously, if Fascism boiled down to giving out free ice cream and playing fetch with puppies, he’d still be a monomaniacal jerk who only hangs out with other jerks. In the issues I read, the Red Skull:
-berates his chief scientist Arnim Zola for saying a new time-travel device will soon be usable for their purposes instead of his (the Skull’s) purposes. Touchy! There’s no “I” in “world domina…” I mean, there’s no “me” in “kill Captain Ameri…” Crap. You know what I mean.
-Tells a soldier that his broadcast “had better be secure” right after the guy tells him that it is. Jeez, Dad, I told you I did it! You wanna re-secure the line to make sure I did it right, go ahead!
-Speaking of “Dad,” he lets his own daughter get the crap kicked out of her by the Winter Soldier (the sidekick formerly known as Bucky) because “I needed to see if he’d be willing to kill you… or if he’s going to be completely useless.” Someone get this man a World’s Greatest Dad coffee mug!
-Oh yeah, and he sets Captain America up to get killed. But! Not only does he have his own guy, Crossbones, shoot Cap with a rifle from across the street. No, he has this creepy bearded guy, Dr. Faustus, mess with Sharon Carter’s head so that she shoots Cap three more times, in the gut no less, after Crossbones nails him in the shoulder. (Sharon Carter= Cap’s Agent-of-SHIELD lady-friend.)

But yeah, in the aftermath of Cap’s assassination, it’s harder to just hate the Skull because he’s a former Nazi—former, because, as he says, “I’m bigger than Fascism now.” I hate him because he’s a cold, calculating jerk and a selfish poophead. And now Microsoft Word is informing me that “poophead” isn’t a real word. Whatever. It’s what he is. That, and a creepy ghost in a Russian guy’s head. No, really! Because of some crazy hoodoo having to do with the Cosmic Cube (another one of those “bend reality however you want, until a superhero kicks you in the bollocks and takes it away” devices that villains love so much), the Skull is dead, but he’s possessing the body of former Soviet general Aleksander Lukin, who’s now an obscenely rich oil magnate. And between Lukin’s private army and the Skull’s dedicated (re: ape$#!t-crazy) followers, they’ve got enough manpower (and with scientist Zola and creepy brainwasher Faustus) enough brainpower to overthrow America as an encore for killing the Captain.
And while I’m ranting about villains… while Faustus is worth a bit of scorn—he’s so creepy, not only for brainwashing countless SHIELD agents and eventually Bucky, but for having that huge, luxuriant red beard that goes down to his waist—even with a suit and a monocle on, he looks like he should be carrying around a bottle of Jack and an eightball of coke with an entourage of groupie skanks. He should be touring with Skynyrd, not the Skull! Anyway, there’s Arnim Zola, who’s ten times creepier than Faustus—for God’s sake, he’s a brain in a robot body, to start with—but then, because he’s so damn practical, he didn’t put the actual physical brain in the head region of the humanoid robot body. He put it in the torso, the better to protect it from injury. Fair enough. But then he has a TV screen on his torso that shows an image of his face that moves its mouth and makes expressions as he talks. Why would anyone bother to do that. And even that little aesthetic choice isn’t the real problem. Okay, we’ve got a guy who put his brain into a robot and then didn’t give the robot a proper head. Okay. Instead his talking-TV death-mask is mounted on his tummy. Okay. The robot is wearing a jacket.
Okay, sorry, there are other things about the comic besides Steve Epting’s lack of logic vis a vis proper attire for cyborgs. There are still heroes, even though the titular character is dead. There’s the Falcon, who kicks much ass despite having the most unfortunate costume ever for espionage purposes. I can’t avoid it so I’m going to get it out of the way: Falcon is the Nightwing to Cap’s Batman. Intensely loyal. The best friend Cap could have. But he’s got his own thing. He’s not going to put on the stars and stripes (even though I’ve often thought he should, and just incorporate his wings into the outfit. I dunno. Just a thought). He signed up with Stark’s Initiative, told them “give me Harlem and leave me the hell alone,” and went back out there to find the Skull and make him pay.
Speaking of making people pay, there’s the Winter Soldier. He still absolutely blows my mind. For years—decades—since the return of Jean Grey after the Dark Phoenix saga, it’s been the rule: “Only Bucky stays dead.” And now he’s alive, and somehow Ed Brubaker got us all to swallow that fact without wanting to put his head on a pike! I’m still in awe, a bit. Condensed down to one sentence: Bucky’s body got found in the Arctic Ocean by Soviets who took him in and brainwashed him and trained him and put him in stasis and used him as an assassin and he only aged ten years through the whole Cold War and then he got out when Lukin tried to buy him and Cap used the Cosmic Cube to make him remember he was Bucky! Whew.
Since Cap’s death, the Soldier has been waiting for the right moment to kill two men: the Skull, and Tony Stark, both of whom he feels are responsible for what happened to his old mentor. He managed to take the True Shield (sorry, Steven Colbert—yours is plastic) from Black Widow, and tracked down Lukin, whom he thought would lead him to the Skull. He was a little too right, and when Sin (the Skull’s hot daughter) and Crossbones couldn’t kill him, the Skull turns him “off” with an old hypnotic suggestion code from Bucky’s Soviet days. But back to Sin—the Skull’s smoking hot daughter. She’s why I really, really hate the Skull. Not only is he just on the world’s biggest revenge kick—he only wants to crush America because Cap stopped him so many times back in the old days, and now it’s the only idea he’s got—but he turned his (totally smoking hot) daughter into a crappy villain. Okay, she’s a remorseless killing machine. And? Look, there are a lot of lonely comic book readers out there. And on their behalf, I’d like to say that, we get enough of this in the real world. Not all the hot girls in comics have to be good! We love evil hot chicks! But can’t they be interesting evil hot chicks, not just more screwed-in-the-head Daddy’s girls? Can’t we have her be a seductive Nazi interrogator? Or, I don’t know, a mistress of disguise? No. She’s got an Uzi and some knives and a corset. And as sexy as two of those things—uh, I mean, one of those things! Shut up! You can’t judge me!—might be, she’s as two-dimensional as Arnim Zola’s face. It’s depressing. But if we’re talking about depressing, Cap getting shot still wins out over evil redheads. Close, though. So close.
After issues 30 and 31, I’m definitely interested in what happens next in this series. Is someone else going to wind up dead? Will Sharon beat Faustus’s mind control? For that matter, will Bucky? Will Lukin try to resist the Skull? It’s a dark time for fans of Cap, but if you’ve been online at all, you’ve probably seen the Alex Ross drawings of the “New Cap” coming next year. We all know it’s going to be Bucky. But will he really be the Captain? Or will he be another pawn in the Skull’s poopheaded “nyah nyah look at me I’m bigger than Fascism, thhpppt” plan? I’m interested in finding out. Seriously, when I wasn’t being creeped out by the villains, I enjoyed this book. Killing Cap was a ballsy move on Brubaker’s and Marvel’s part. Will “only Cap stays dead” be the rule of the future? I kind of hope so, for integrity’s sake… but for the world’s sake, I kind of hope not, sometimes. The world’s a grimmer, grittier place without Cap to rally us ‘round the flag.

Rating: Three Vodka Collins.

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