So. A big, weird, newsworthy week for comics last week, no? Let’s dive right in.
(It’s been a week, but still, y’all should consider yourselves SPOILER WARNED).
Marvel’s release of Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #1 last week seemed to catch everyone by surprise with its big surprise swerve that, supposedly, Steve Rogers has been a lifelong Hydra agent, pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes his entire career.
I will say this: Marvel has been very lucky the last few times they’ve pulled one of these stunts, in that it luckily always seems to happen on a slow news day. Combine that with today’s modern digital echo chamber of outrage, and you’d think Marvel collectively killed the Internet’s puppy.
In truth, though, you can’t get too mad about any sort of swerve in comics, because as I’ve said time and time again in these pages, the thing about comics is, it’s cyclical. Everything always comes back. Don’t like what’s happening in comics? Wait a while, eventually you will again. This sort of story will usually last about a year or so, then it all gets wiped away, sometimes artfully, such as how the Human Torch was killed and then returned to life a few years back, and sometimes less so, such as, coincidentally, the way Captain America was killed and then returned to life (with some sort of … time gun, I think it was?).
No, the bigger problem with this particular story is…they just didn’t make me believe it. When you have a character as well defined as Steve Rogers has been for the last six decades or so, with the corresponding six decades’ worth of back issues to refer to (many of which have word balloons which tell us expressly what Cap is thinking), you can’t really pull off the whole “he’s been lying to us all along” bit and have it land properly. Since we know Cap was not in fact always loyal to Hydra, that means that what we’re seeing now is either mind control or rewritten history, and that can all be waved right back with the editorial magic wand. So it’s hard to really get invested.
There are other problems, too. Making the Red Skull a Donald Trump analogue preaching to crowds about the dangers of illegal immigration sounds clever in theory, but in the context of the Marvel Universe, it’s ridiculous.
People know who the Red Skull was in the MU’s historical context, even if they don’t know all of the schemes he’s been involved with in the modern day. They still know he was Hitler’s attack dog during World War II, and now they just listen to him preach about making America great again and applaud? I don’t buy it.
As for the ending’s big shock, killing off barely remembered Cap sidekick Jack Flag, well, Ed Brubaker did it to much better effect in his own Cap run with the death of Nomad. Here? Eh.
The real surprise this week was how much I absolutely enjoyed DC REBIRTH.
Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, Ivan Reis and Phil Jimenez delivered a book that felt more like the DC Comics I love than anything in the last five years. DC’s strength, especially in the post-CRISIS years when they were looking for something to replace their parallel-Earths device, has always been legacy. As the publisher that created the notion of teen sidekicks, DC actually (in the words of Mark Waid) delivered on the promise. Sidekicks grew up to replace their mentors. Wally West replaced the fallen Barry Allen as Flash. Dick Grayson grew up and became Nightwing, to stand as a peer beside Batman (and eventually replace him as well for a time). The Justice Society remained vital, as elder statesmen to the world of mystery men they ushered in. And suddenly, all of that was gone, wiped away with little of value to replace it.
And now, here, we see it all creeping back in, most notably in the form of Wally West himself, desperately trying to find a lifeline to pull him back into the DC Universe from the limbo he’s been relegated to.
Along the way, as we follow Wally in his attempts to connect, we see other forgotten faces returning, whether it’s Ted Kord here beginning a career as the Blue Beetle…
Or Wally’s encounter with a decrepit Johnny Thunder, providing a beacon of hope that the forgotten Justice Society of America will soon be returning.
All of this of course, leading up to the issue’s climax, where I must admit, I was completely suckered, assuming that Wally West would be dying once more, as a final capstone to the old DCU. And instead, Barry pulls him right in.
And yeah, maybe I got a little misty-eyed.
As for the issue’s big reveal, tying in the WATCHMEN universe to the DCU, well, maybe it was because I heard that bit of news before I read the issue, but it didn’t enrage me like I expected it would. I mean, it wasn’t remotely my favorite part of the issue, but I didn’t hate it. Maybe because they’d given me back so much of what I wanted, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Now, this is all well and good, but the real test is going to be the next few weeks, and the months to follow. Can DC’s new REBIRTH books live up to this start? We shall see.