Category: captain america

Tent-pole Sitting

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: adapted from the TV series created by Sam Rolfe by Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Jeff Kleeman, and David C. Wilson; directed by Guy Ritchie; starring Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo), Armie Hammer (Illya Kuriakin), Alicia Vikander (Gaby), Hugh Grant (Waverly), and Jared Harris (Sanders) (2015): Enjoyable spy romp set in the early 1960’s would probably have been better served had the producers gone with another title. Not many people remember the TV series from the 1960’s. Heck, the movie itself doesn’t bother explaining the title until the last five minutes.

Nonetheless, Guy Ritchie seems to have a lot of fun with period detail and European settings — it’s more like a James Bond movie from the 1960’s than any Bond film has been since that time. Henry Cavill as American spy/super-thief Napoleon Solo plays suave/smarmy very well, and Armie Hammer is surprisingly good playing stolid, occasionally psychotic KGB strongman Illya Kuriakin. The plot involves a nuclear threat to both the Soviet Union and the United States, so the spies have to team up. Yes, it’s a origin story for a TV series almost no one remembers. The eternal quest for a tent-pole series based on a property a studio already owns continues. I’m pretty sure tepid box office ensures this series won’t continue, but it’s far from being a disaster. Recommended.

Captain America: Civil War: based on characters and situations created by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Mark Millar, Stan Lee, and others; written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (2016): Fast-moving, crowded film pits lots of Marvel super-heroes against lots of other Marvel super-heroes. The movie stays moderately zippy as it leaps from location to location. It also manages to bring Spider-man into the main Marvel Cinematic Universe in fairly rousing fashion. 

Things go on about one super-hero battle too long, in part because the best part of the whole movie occurs during that second-to-last battle as the movie goes all-out comic book. Boy, though, the Vision’s costume is terrible. If nothing else, the film suggests that Marvel’s Damage Control comic, in which super-powered cleaners clean up the aftermaths of super-battles, should be turned into a movie franchise. Stat. Recommended.

But What of Kodos?

The Avengers/Kang: Time and Time Again: written by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, and Roger Stern; illustrated by Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Tom Palmer, and others (1968-1986; collected 2005): Time-travelling super-villain Kang is probably the most fun villain Marvel’s Avengers have ever had. He pops up all over the place. There are several thousand versions of him at one point. And he’s also, probably, maybe, two other super-villains as well at different points in his timeline.

This too-slim volume presents Kang stories from a span of about 20 years, beginning with an encounter with Thor and ending with…well, actually the volume ends with a lengthy prose piece that explains Kang’s twisted timeline from his first appearance in the late 1960’s to the early 2000’s. Along the way, Kang butts heads with the Avengers, and the Hulk and Thor in solo outings.

Among other things, Kang gave Marvel writer Roy Thomas a handy way to indulge his love of obscure characters, Marvel’s 1940’s superheroes, and homages to the characters of other comic-book companies. The Hulk teams up with the Phantom Eagle, a World War One flying ace in the Marvel universe with only one appearance previous to that team-up, to thwart Kang’s plans. The Squadron Sinister, a riff on DC’s Justice League, battles the Avengers. The Invaders, Marvel’s World War Two superhero group, battles the Avengers. And so on, and so forth. Most importantly, Kang battles himself. Really, Kang’s greatest enemy almost always turns out to be another version of Kang, while the Avengers look on in bemused fashion. He’s the Man Who Scolded Himself.

The Roger Stern/John Buscema/Tom Palmer 1986 arc that ends the volume shows Stern at the top of his form as a writer, cleaning up continuity while also forging a fascinating story without over-indulging in nostalgia and minutiae in that Roy Thomas manner. The art throughout the volume ranges from competent in the sections pencilled by workhorse Sal Buscema to top-notch in the Jack Kirby-pencilled Thor outing and that concluding Stern arc, with Buscema and Palmer doing a fine job. Kang multiplies. He divides. I’d like an omnibus that contains all of his appearances. Would that be too much to ask? Recommended.

Big Bunny Boom

we3: written by Grant Morrison; illustrated by Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant (2004, collected 2005): Bandit the dog, Tinker the cat, Pirate the rabbit: 1, 2, and 3 of we3. They were pets. They were stolen. A secret American military project turned them into super-soldiers — heavily armed, heavily armoured, trained to work as a team, and with a boost in intelligence from the machines grafted to them.

But after a final test run, they’re to be ‘put down.’ The next phase of the program will involve larger animals specially bred and trained to replace soldiers on the battlefield. Weapon 4 already waits in its pen, too dreadful to be deployed anywhere near non-hostile civilians. there are kinks to work out.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely riff in unusual ways on things like the Jason Bourne books, ‘lost-animal’ novels that include The Incredible Journey, Japanese manga, and funny-animal comics with their talking animals. We cut between the humans and the animals for much of the narrative. The animals have developed a rudimentary language derived from English. They’ve also maintained their survival instincts: once they hear they’re about to be killed, they escape in search of a nebulous and mostly forgotten ‘Home.’ They don’t remember their names, but one sympathetic scientist does.

Funny, affecting, and not completely improbable, we3 also pointedly comments on both our mistreatment of animals and our dehumanization of soldiers in a quest for the perfect killing machine. The animals, already gifted by nature with reflexes and senses superior to human beings, make human super-soldiers like Captain America or Jason Bourne look like amateurs. With a dog as a tank, a cat as a fast-striking assassin, and a rabbit as a mine- and poison-gas-laying version of the Cadbury Easter Rabbit, we3 stages a battle that escalates until the powers that be deploy the terrible fourth weapon.

It’s a thrilling ride, beautifully illustrated by Quitely and movingly written by Morrison. Moments of humour erupt throughout the carnage, as do moments of sadness. The dog still wants to be a good dog in relation to people. The cat just wants to get the Hell out of there. And the rabbit, the rabbit keeps saying, ‘Uh oh’ and blowing stuff up. Highly recommended.

Super Powers!

Simon and Kirby: Superheroes: written and illustrated by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby with additional illustration by Mort Meskin, Gil Kane, and others; Introduction by Neil Gaiman; text pieces by Jim Simon (Original comic-book material 1940-1966; this edition 2010): Before and after there were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, there were Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Unlike Lee, Simon could draw, and the two writer-artists also ran a studio for some time in the 1950’s. Britain’s Titan Books have been doing a fine job of reprinting the work that Simon and Kirby still hold the copyright on, which is to say most of their work for comic-book companies other than Timely/Atlas/Marvel and NPP/DC.

This over-sized, lengthy collection brings together Simon and Kirby’s superhero output from the 1940’s and 1950’s, along with some pages from a brief revival of Fighting American in the mid-1960’s. It’s both historically compelling and terrifically entertaining.

After a brief stop with a character (the Black Owl) Simon and Kirby didn’t create, the volume takes us on a tour of the superhero genre during the time of its great decline. Without the debilitating censorship of the Comics Code Authority in the mid-1950’s, it’s entirely possible that American superhero comics would have been reduced to a tiny niche of a much larger marketplace with a much broader and more adult-focused comic book audience. Superheroes were already dying off before World War Two ended, and the post-war years only accelerated that decline.

With 1940’s and 1950’s characters that include Stunt-man and Fighting American, one can see Simon and Kirby striving to move the superhero genre into a different mode of comedy and satire. As Simon notes in his introduction, Fighting American didn’t last long, but it did last longer than the proto-Marvel-company’s attempt to revive Captain America in the 1950’s (the Captain being one of Simon and Kirby’s most popular creations).

Both Stunt-man and Fighting American play for the most part as comic takes on superheroes. Fighting American did begin as a serious comic in which the eponymous star-spangled hero fought assorted Communist menaces, but that approach rapidly went from straigghtforward to seriously loopy to intentionally ridiculous. By the time Fighting American and his sidekick Speedboy (!) battle a Communist villain whose superpowers derive from his body odour, we’ve pretty much left conventional superheroes behind for something a lot more like Mad magazine.

Simon and Kirby’s art throughout is a lot of fun. Single- and double-page spreads abound, and there’s a pleasing looseness and dynamism to the composition, which generally involved Kirby pencilling and Simon inking. Some of the later Fighting American material is clearly drawn by artists other than Simon and Kirby, but for the most part this is the Real Right Thing.

With the Silver Age underway at DC in the late 1950’s, competing companies turned to more straightforward superhero comics again. The Shield and The Fly, both short-lived efforts for the Archie Comics superhero wing, remain satire-free while nonetheless continuing with an out-sized loopiness that’s pure Silver Age.

The Shield, yet another star-spangled hero, has powers more like Superman’s than Captain America’s. The Fly’s origin is completely nuts. Benevolent aliens who look like flies (and indeed sometimes are flies) invest the title character with the power of the Fly in order to fight evil. None of this involves eating crap, much less possessing a penis several times longer than his own body. Well, there was a Comics Code.

Other stories include the use of 3-D glasses (in Captain 3-D, natch) and an experiment with an anomalous three-person crime-fighting team. Uncompleted stories, unused covers, and some solid historical essays from Jim Simon round out the volume. It’s an outstanding piece of entertainment and scholarship, with remastered art that often looks much better than what the big boys at Marvel and DC have managed with their reprints. Highly recommended.