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The Fanboy Planet Preview Spotlight 11/16/04
brought to you by Brian's Books of Santa Clara

Once again, we take a look at some of the books coming out this week, paying careful attention to one that deserves your attention and your hard-earned shekels...

Captain America #1
writer: Ed Brubaker
artist: Steve Epting

At first glance, this umpteenth relaunch of the Star Spangled Avenger looks like it's Brubaker going by the numbers. Appearance by the Red Skull? Check. Cosmic Cube mentioned? Check. Sharon Carter hovering around? Steve Rogers missing Bucky? Check.

Dismissing it all out of hand, however, is a mistake. Though Brubaker has gathered up all the basics that anybody might know about Captain America (Sharon Carter might even be pushing it), he achieves a strange melancholy that you wouldn't expect from a first issue.

There's action and intrigue, as you'd expect from the cover, but the hero's losses, so often played for melodrama, infuse this book with a believable subtext. Brubaker gets it that Captain America may soldier on, but in his mind, he really isn't that far away from the battlefield. World War II was less than ten years ago for him, and those memories don't so much haunt him as color his attitude. The loss of the Avengers is a recent wound at this point, but really it opens old scars.

Brubaker hints at other old scars with his opener, a vignette set five years previously in the ruins of the Soviet Union, near Kazakhstan. The Red Skull trades weaponry for one of his schemes to kill Captain America, and unlike some of the Green Goblin's "back-up plans in case he fails," you can believe that the Skull has several schemes in motion at any one time. Satisfying his more sadistic urges, he also gets to kill a Red Guardian. True, it's not the same as killing the Captain, but in a pinch it will do.

But this isn't just about arch-enemies. The prologue also establishes a geopolitical struggle, which only makes sense that a symbol of the U.S. would get caught up in, if unwillingly. Brubaker introduces General Lukin, a former Soviet turned arms dealer who wishes to restore Mother Russia to its former glory. What actions he takes are at least out of a sense of nationalism, and Brubaker makes a point that the Red Skull has long since lost his original motivations. It may be a grey area, but one of these men at least believes what he does is noble. The Red Skull has given over to pure evil. It's not a surprising observation, but it's skillfully done.

Let all due credit go to Steve Epting for absolutely pulling this tone off. He has the rare ability to draw night scenes that aren't just big blobs of darkness. Epting's version of the Red Skull would be creepy enough in daylight, but panels of the megalomaniac gloating in the evening just add to the menace.

Though Epting handles the action scenes well, it's really the moments of reflection and the casualness of the violence in the prologue that make him stand out as the perfect artist for this book and Brubaker's take.

Together, they make an auspicious debut for a Captain America that looks and reads far more realistically than usual.


Adventures of Superman #634: While the new Parasites try to feed on Clark Kent's family, Mr. Myzptlk invades the DC editorial offices to get it all undone. This moment of whimsy doesn't undo the grotesqueness of the overall plot, and only a writer like Rucka could pull that off.

Ex Machina #6: Want to spark some heated political debate? Go ahead and give a friend Ex Machina. Brian K. Vaughan keeps on crafting an only tangentially superhero story that's actually about something important. This issue also starts a new arc, thereby serving as that good and crucial jumping on point.

Fantastic Four #520: There are horrific elements to this new plotline, and of course, Galactus should be taken seriously. But having Johnny Storm play herald to Galactus has its moments of comedy that are absolutely natural, balanced by Waid writing some poignant moments as the rest of the FF try to figure out how to get him back. Once again, a great adventure with the Imaginauts.

JLA #108: The cliffhanger does not bode well. But Busiek has done a great job capturing the boredom that has to set in when evil pretty much runs the world. The whole issue focuses on the Crime Syndicate, and for those new to the characters, the book delineates their very "oppositeness" to the JLA well.

She-Hulk #9: Hey, Howard the Duck finally makes his appearance! But what really makes this always solid and fun book worth buying this month is a case involving Hercules, the Prince of Power. Dan Slott remembers to write the Lion of Olympus as a big drunken idiot, albeit one with nobility.

Space Ghost #1: You've got your Alex Ross cover. You've got great painted art from Ariel Olivetti. Joe Kelly tries to keep up, and for the most part succeeds, giving the classic animated hero a backstory that we can only hope will make sense. Don't come looking for the talk show host; that guy isn't here.

Spider-Man India #1: I really had no interest in this book, though I absolutely respect its intent. And I admittedly don't know nearly enough about Indian culture to know if the changes to character names are realistic or annoying. (There seems an odd slavish devotion to creating as many parallels as possible between the two versions' supporting cast.) But the recasting of the origins works, and the artwork is fresh and original. Whether Spider-Man India works as a sales tactic in the U.S. or not, you should check it out.

Wolverine #22: Cripes. People, just buy this. Millar has kept up the pace of the best Wolverine as superhero story in decades. That would be enough. But he's also conducting a tour of the Marvel Universe that just has to be experienced.

All My Beautiful Wickedness...Melting...

The Pulse #6: Sure, it's been so long since we've seen Secret War that we really need to re-read it. But not in the pages of another comic book.

Robin #132: Were you moved by that moment in Identity Crisis when Batman held a sobbing Tim Drake, thinking that finally these two had opened up? Forget about it. In the aftermath of "Wargames," Tim is bitter and moving to Bludhaven, because Nightwing has been cancelled and evidently the city with the most ridiculous name in the DC Universe has to have a hero.

In a Class By Itself:

X-Force #4: Because you demanded it! Wolverine! In bright yellow! Vs. Shatterstar! Both with strangely pointy feet! And the only one who loses is YOU!

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw

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