lördag 10 december 2011

Jason Aaron & Ron Garney: Ultimate Comics Captain America

The Ultimate Comics Captain America isn't quite like the Steve Rogers we've come to know and love in the standard Marvel Universe. He's cruder, doesn't mind shooting people, and is more chauvinistic. When the raid he leads against a North Korean installation goes to heck, he blames the "incompetent Brits", and he echoes the anti-French prejudice heard from so many on the American Right after France wouldn't support the Bush admin's Iraq invasion. So this counts against him as a hero in my book. You could explore such issues to make him a more fully-rounded character, of course, but that's usually not what mainstream superhero comics do.

Turns out that's not what Aaron and Garney do in Ultimate Comics Captain America, either.

The story is as follows: Cap is kept prisoner, in shackles. He attempts to escape, is caught, beaten, and a gun is put to his head. He starts praying. Disgusted, his captor leaves, saying he'll be back in five minutes and shoot Cap, and then he'll see how useless praying was.

Flashback starts.

Cap leads a raid on a North Korean compound, where attempts are made to replicate the super soldier serum. They're working from the blood of somebody who apparently has the serum flowing in his veins, somebody who double-crosses the North Koreans and makes off with the serum – after having beaten Cap to a pulp. Cap wakes up, blames the British soldiers who were with him on the mission for its failure (real class, right?) and is dismayed that he's in a hospital in France. He learns that the man who vanquished him – and who invited Cap to seek him out so's he can educate him on all the bad things the U.S. has done, and why serving it is a sham – is Frank Simpson, the Captain America of the Vietnam era.

Sickened by what the U.S. made him do, Simpson became a renegade – "a $#@%& traitor", to quote Cap – and now he's got the super soldier serum to sell to the highest bidder. So Cap goes off the plantation (as planned by his superiors) and goes to Cambodia where he, while complaining about how badly the food smells, attract the attention of some killers, which somehow leads him to Simpson's hideout. There, it turns out Simpson has turned a whole village into super-soldiers, and Cap is captured. Simpson proceeds to torture him and lecture him on all the bad things the U.S. has done over the years.

Which ends the long flashback. When Cap has finished praying, a snake appears, and Cap uses it to defeat Simpson when he returns to kill him. Cap also delivers a little speech about how he already knew about all the bad things America has done, but "Peace and security don't come easy, Simpson. And wars are never pretty, no matter the era.
But we do what we can for the greater good.
Has America done its share of mistakes? Obviously.
You were one of its worst."

Now, if the Iraq war and other things like the Vietnam war and supporting military dictatorships all over the world were smaller mistakes according to Cap, and to Jason Aaron, I have to question their judgement.

Seriously. That sort of facile glossing-over is just pathetic.

Next, Cap, echoing George W. Bush, looks at the villagers pointing weapons at him, and says, "Anyone still pointing a gun at me, I will consider an enemy and deal with accordingly". Amazingly, this cowes an entire village of super-soldiers into letting him leave unhindered.

So that's two strikes of Aaron repeating Bush-era dogma as basic tenets of Captain America. The third strike comes at the end, when Cap comes to read the Bible to Simpson at his hospital bed.

Now, while an agnostic, I'm not anti-Christian or anti-religion in general, but just as I don't particularly like other in-your-face ideology in my comic books or movies, this gets to be a bit much. Adding the chauvinism, it turns out that this version of Captain America is definitely not my cup of tea. George W. Bush was pretty much a disaster for the world and the U.S. as American president, and seeing the basic tenets of his presidency repeated in comic book form is just tiresome (and a teeny weeny bit sickening).

Garney's art is OK, but I preferred the way it looked in his Mark Waid collaborations. I can't quite put my finger on why – it could be that the design was cleaner, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, this book's about a hero with a simplistic, chauvinistic world-view. OK. That could have been the starting point for an interesting clash of world-views between him and the Vietnam era Cap. Aaron chose to forego that option, and went for a simplistic slugfest-tough-talk-and-gritted-teeth story leavened with some chauvinism and Bible-thumping. That rates it a clear "Not recommended" in my book. Read the Roger Stern, J. M. DeMatties or Mark Waid Captain America instead.

tisdag 6 december 2011

What have I done?, 2011a edition

OK, so I did do a year's worth of Knasen. I'm putting up all the year's covers here.

And of course, the covers are created by the Norwegian bullpen who do an excellent job of it; I just sort of Swedify them.

A reader wrote in to complain that the above cover didn't look as good as the one we'd teased that issue with in the preceding issue – it had a lot of snowflakes that made for a more Christmas-y spirit to the cover. Of course, he was right. So below is the revised, more Christmas-y version:

Back from the comics store, December edition

Well, I turned in what is hopefully my last piece of work for my art history class today, so hopefully I'll have some time before Christmas to read some of these lovelies and review them here. A lot of good stuff in there. For example, if you don't have a Carl Barks collection already, now is definitely the time to start one. And the Superman story of the Kents is a really good story about not Superman, but Bleeding Kansas. If you haven't read it, I recommend getting these cheap and good DC Comics Presents editions.

I also bought the big-ass collection of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim, which are IMO overrated but still classics, but it was just too damn huge to cram into a pic with the others.