It has been a mighty slow month for comics. Once the dust had started to settle from the DC “New 52” announcement, things got downright dull. While the relaunch/reboot/re-whatever is getting more interesting with every last flash of news, that is what is coming, not what is happening now.
2011 looked, at the start, to be a great comic book movie year. Things look very different now. Dylan Dog and Priest were flops, but to be fair, there was not much hope they would do well. X-Men First Class was a great film that just sort of became the red-headed stepchild as far as the press was concerned. $346 million worldwide in just under 7 weeks and there is no promise that there will be another one. The standard has really changed in the last few years. Time was, that would have had a greenlit sequel already, now it is a coin toss at best. With one month more in theaters, Thor has $445 million WW and already has a release date for number 2. Some of that may have to do with the studios in the picture. Fox is slow to jump and cheaper with spending money on what it probably considers and “old” franchise. Paramount is a little more flush and sees a good franchise just starting up. I would bet that once the total figures are in after these are both out on video, the theatrical runs of the two will be very close to each other in total dollars.
Green Lantern, on the other hand, was weak at best. It opened 2 weeks after X-Men and has less than half that film’s total gross. If it hits $200 million in WW box office, I will be very surprised.
And now we have Captain America: The First Avenger opening this weekend in the US. I’m excited and hope it is great. There is talk of it topping Harry Potter 7a, but I don’t really think that is likely. It MAY take the number one spot for the weekend, but there is very little chance it will break the opening weekend record that HP7a set last week. I hope that is not the benchmark that the studio is expecting, because the film will be a failure out of the gate. I really think a reasonable number for weekend opening numbers would be $70 million, but the film is very capable of hitting the $100 million mark this weekend. It is the most mainstream of the comic book films of the year, and the advance reviews have been positive, so here is hoping.
In advance of the film, I thought a little review of the character might be in order, but if you don’t know anything about the guy, then sod off. Where have you been for the last 70 years? He is Captain freaking America! The name says more than enough. The movie looks faithful to the myth so far. The trailers are giving you the origin pretty much complete. My only fear is this will be more of a prequel to The Avengers than its own film. Iron Man 2 felt very much like a set up for next years Marvel blockbuster, as did Thor, despite the latter being an excellent film in its own right.
If you really want to brush up on the character, there are two books I can recommend. Most current fans will assume I am going to say Ed Brubaker’s run, currently appearing in Marvel books, highlighted by the Death of Captain America storyline, but no. While a great story, there are 2 reasons that I am not recommending it. First, it is not done yet. There is a long way to go before he wraps up his run and I like to plug only complete works when the purpose it to introduce an established character to someone. As a side note, the new series with Brubaker and Steve McNiven looks very promising, if they can keep it on schedule. The second reason is that Brubaker’s book is not really a jumping on point. It is an epic that new or even returning readers will not feel the full impact from.
No, the 2 books I will mention here are War and remembrance and The New Deal.
Starting with the older book, Captain America: War and Remembrance is the classic Cap run by Roger Stern and John Byrne that started in 1980 and ran only 9 issues. But man, were they good issues! The book includes many of the classic villains and some of the best and most fondly remembered Cap stories ever to see print. Among these are the “Cap for President” issue and the 40th anniversary issue (#255) with a fantastic retelling of the origin of America’s greatest hero.
Stern is as good as ever in this classic and Byrne, inked here by Joe Rubnestein, is the perfect compliment to the story. Not quite the style of Byrne’s X-Men and FF runs, the art here is perfect for that golden age hero in a modern world feel. Never looking old-fashioned (gasp!) or too flashy and lacking storytelling skill, like so many modern books.
The other book is one of the more controversial of the book’s long history, Captain America: The New Deal. The title has been taken by some as a sly reference to the fact that Cap would most likely have been a “New Deal” Democrat, something that tends to bug the crap out of conservatives in this country today. If there is any deliberate effort here to imply that, I have not heard. Jon Ney Rieber’s 16 issue run on the character was very divisive among the fans. Some praised the drama and realism of the stories, while others thought the book was too much a part of the real world to be the fun and light book they recalled. Sorry guys, but the 70’s and 80’s had some great comics in them, like the above W&R book, but in the early part of the 2000’s, a very different touch was required. Where a lot of people were scared away was the fact that the very first issue of his run came shortly after, and dealt directly with the aftermath of 9/11 and the effect that day had on America as a whole and New York City in particular. The New Deal covers that and the rest of the first 6 issues of his run on the book. Illustrated by John Cassaday (Planetary, Astonishing X-Men & I Am Legion ) the book has a stark and unsettling feel from the visuals and the story. They deal with great skill and balance, the issue of terrorism, both from an American perspective and that of the people we are quick to label as evil. Cap is a good guy here, only because he is on our side, but even that is tenuous at the best of times as he realizes that the issue is not a black and white one. Everyone feels affected by terrorism even when they have no real contact with it beyond what they see on TV. This book takes the simple view we have generally been encouraged to hold and tries to shed the light of reason and truth on it. Even Cap’s view of it changes when he finds that, as a soldier in war, he has not always been on the “right” side.
Both of these are amazing volumes that are generally still easy to find. There is also the Marvel Essentials series of phone book size B&W reprints of the early 60’s Cap and piles of other really fun books. All of these are on line, or better yet, at your local comic shop!