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Waiting for the Trade - Captain America


Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Captain America: Operation Rebirth
By Mark Waid & Ron Garney
Collects Captain America 444-448 and 450-454


Before I start I just want to take a few words to honor the passing of Roger Ebert. Anyone who writes any kind of review about any form of popular entertainment owes Ebert a tremendous debt. I've read Ebert regularly since high school, own several of his books, and have tried to follow his example of looking at art both intellectually and as entertainment when crafting a review. RIP.
 

Why I Bought This: I didn’t it. I saw it at the library and based on some feedback from Doomers who consider it one of the better Cap stories, I figured as a Cap fan I should read it if it is sitting there in front of me for free.


The Plot: Captain America had died at the end of Mark Gruenwald’s long run on the title. Now he finds himself revived by the Red Skull and fighting alongside his long dead girlfriend Sharon Carter.




Chapter 1 – Terrorists take the President hostage and demand Captain America surrender himself in exchange. The Avengers arrive instead and save the day but feel the need to explain to the public why Cap didn’t show and hold a press conference announcing his death. In an undisclosed location we see Cap’s body in a frozen block of ice.

Chapter 2 – Cap is resurrected and runs into his long time dead girlfriend Sharon Carter. She explains how she and some non-characters saved Cap. Cap finds he doesn’t have his Super Soldier strength at the moment but Sharon insists on taking him through a teleport portal to “save the free world” anyway. They fight some guards as Cap’s strength slowly starts to return before running into the Red Skull. Cap goes to attack him when Skull reveals he is the one who saved Cap’s life. With Skull around Cap doubts Sharon is real, when suddenly a flash of light changes the building they’re in front of into a Nazi fortress.

Chapter 3 – Skull reveals that a group of Nazi’s got their hands on a defunct cosmic cube in which he had trapped Hitler’s consciousness (back in the 1970s in Super Villain Team Up). Now they are powering the Cube back up and Hitler is using it from inside to change history so that he won WWII. Skull doesn’t think Hitler will appreciate having been trapped by him all these years and is aiding Cap to save his own hide. Cap takes on the Nazis while Skull makes for the Cube. Cap stops the Skull which gives the Cube time to teleport away. While the trio flies to the next location Sharon reveals how she is alive (it boils down to spy stuff: her death was faked and she was left behind enemy lines). The Cube is inside an American military base. Cap tries to talk their way in but Skull attacks and Cap is forced to follow. He runs into the general commanding the base and is ordered to stand down. Cap decks the general and proceeds where he finds Skull and Sharon battling the Nazis. The Cube activates and changes the world, and then Sharon disappears with the Cube in the confusion.

Chapter 4 – Cap and Skull battle side by side with Cap at one point saving Skull’s life (thus making them “even”) and Cap remarks he is finally up to full power. Cap finds Sharon who is trying to use the Cube to reverse the reality warp but with Hitler inside it cannot be overridden externally. She volunteers to let the Cube absorb her so she can deal with Hitler, but Cap takes it from her. He ponders using it when Skull tries to steal it. Cap stops him and is joined casually by Bucky to celebrate his victory, at which point we cut away and see Skull has the Cube and has put Cap inside it in a dream world.
 

Chapter 5 – In the real world Skull’s Cube still has no power so he and Sharon retreat. In the Cube we get a long 1940s-ish adventure with Cap and Bucky fighting Nazi saboteurs that occasionally has glimpses of the modern era breaking thru. What it comes down to is Skull needs Cap and Hitler to neutralize each other in the Cube so he can use it, but Cap figures it out from the inside, frees himself and takes the Skull down in a near murderous rage. Skull tries for the Cube again and Cap literally disarms him which causes the Cube to explode and presumably kills the Red Skull. Cap and Sharon then leave to get answers to her spy stuff.

Chapter 6 – Sharon is at Steve’s apartment when armed men in suits burst in. She escapes and we learn they are not after her. They are federal agents here to charge Steve with treason. After they arrest him they learn he’s Cap and take him to President Clinton. Clinton lays out the case against Cap. First, that he attacked a military base alongside the Red Skull and a rogue SHIELD agent. Second, that Machine Smith has shown up with an anti-aircraft laser cannon that allegedly only Cap and Clinton had the blueprints to. They believe Cap sold the blueprints to Skull in exchange for his life. In order to spare the country a public trial, Clinton strips Cap of his costume, shield and citizenship and exiles him to England. Once there he meets up with Sharon and vows to clear his name.

Chapter 7 – Sharon gives Steve a new costume, a replica of his old one sans stars and stripes (so blue with red boots and gloves) and the energy shield that is probably the hallmark of Waid’s run makes its first appearance. They attempt to take a train into Moldavia (the country with the laser cannon) and are attacked by three low level Iron Man types. The heroes win, jump off the train and attack another U.S. military base where Cap steals a fighter jet. He flies right into Moldavia where the laser cannon promptly shoot him down.

Chapter 8 – Cap saves Sharon on a single parachute in a scene reminiscent of Terminal Velocity (a highly underrated action film btw). He has a general idea of where the laser cannon is based on the angle of the blast that shot their plane down and so he and Sharon storm another military base where Cap destroys the cannon. They are then captured by Machine Smith’s agents. We learn Machine Smith has dozens of robot bodies he can jump his consciousness into and when Cap was mostly dead he managed to read his mind and back it up onto CD so that he knows everything Cap knows. Then to demonstrate he uses Cap security codes to shut down the Hellicarrier in mid-air, sending it hurtling towards a mountain. And finally we see he has sent a robot duplicate to meet with Clinton in the form of the Moldavian ambassador.

Chapter 9 – Cap busts free. He leaves it to Sharon to hack into Machine Smith’s system and save the Hellicarrier while he heads off to save the President. He goes to the Latverian border and surrenders himself to Doom. Cap then convinces Doom to make him an ambassador so he can go back to America and Doom gives him a ship and supplies. At Camp David, Machine Smith makes his move and seizes the nuclear football. He intends to Nuke the world (I guess leaving only machines alive ala Terminator). And because he is a super-villain he also reveals to Clinton how he framed Cap right before he presses the button. And then in a fabulously drawn set of panels Cap arrives in the nick of time in his classic costume and emerges through flames to save the day. In the aftermath Clinton reinstates Steve’s citizenship and identity as Cap.

Chapter 10 – Cap and Sharon liberate slaves in a fake Asian country and Cap retrieves the CD with his memories on it.

 
Critical Thoughts: I like the second story a lot more than the first, but overall I think time has been kind to this.

I say time has been kind because that first story arc with Skull and the Cube is the story that caused me to drop Cap’s monthly book back in the day. My main problem with it at the time was it felt so retro compared with what Gruenwald had been doing. It’s like Sharon is back with no reason and then when Skull wants to trap Cap in a dream world it is with Bucky’s memory. Neither of those two are characters I’d ever cared much for to begin with. With Bucky in particular I felt Cap should be over his death by now. In Marvel time Cap’s been awake 10 years when this story is occurring and that’s plenty of time for Cap to have made his peace with Bucky’s death. And other writers had agreed as we hadn’t seen Cap whine about Bucky for more than a decade prior to Waid. Yet here Cap comes out of the Cube in an absolute fury that Skull would use Bucky’s memory; but the Skull has done scores of things much worse than that to Cap in the past. And then it ends with Cap’s Shield ripping the Skull’s arm off, and I was just like I’m done. It’s not that I don’t think Cap wouldn’t do whatever it takes to stop the Skull from creating a Nazi apocalypse with the Cube but it’s gratuitous for no reason and doesn’t jive with what we know of the shield and Cap’s skill with it. I conclude by noting we’ve never seen an errant throw of the shield sever limbs before or since; and with good reason.

I’ll also add it really irked me at the time that Waid flat out refused to address any of Gruenwald’s lingering plot threads like the fate of Jack Flagg and Free Spirit, who were his current partners at the time of his death. He doesn’t want to write about those characters fine, but at least dedicate a panel to Cap thanking them for handling his hotline calls (the fate of which was also never addressed) during his death and then send them on their way. By contrast when Gruenwald took over the title he clearly didn’t care for his predecessor’s supporting characters like partner Nomad and fiancĂ©e Bernie Rosenthal; but Gru didn’t have Cap just wake up one day and forget they existed: rather by his third issue he had Nomad solve a solo case and decide he was ready to strike out on his own and six months later Bernie went to law school and left the title as a character so that a little while later Cap and her could break up citing long distance relationship stuff. A writer has to follow their own story inspiration but in a serialized title like this the switch between writers should still be a smooth transition for both readers and the integrity of the central character.

However, those criticisms are grounded to the moment. Looking at this story in a vacuum as a trade, I think the first arc is an average Cap vs. the Skull story. I still feel the tone of the Bucky chapter is flawed but certainly the idea of a Cosmic Cube with Hitler inside of it is very high stakes and gist for a classical Cap story. Sharon’s return also doesn’t feel as flagrantly retro reading this now as it did then since now everyone comes back from the dead (and in the long term her return has worked out pretty well for future writers). Skull’s motivations certainly make sense as well in this story, i.e. self preservation with a hidden plan to the seize power for himself.

The second arc is actually something I was reading here for the first time. Again there are parts that are ludicrous. Cap gets stripped of his citizenship way too easily, but I can let that slide realizing this was issue 450 and the writers of Cap tend to explore big ideas that are fundamental to the character in Cap’s anniversary issues, and so in that sense this is a challenge that would affect Cap on deeply personal level and that usually translates into a good story idea for any character. So how we get to that point isn’t so important, although the idea of the laser cannon being the MacGuffin that triggers this story is deeply nonsensical. First of all given the state of technology in the Marvel Universe, this isn’t much of a state secret in the grand scheme of things to trigger the reaction it does from the President. But even on its own terms the plot device fails logic 101, in that neither Clinton nor Cap could build or design that laser cannon thus the idea that only those two men have seen the plans for it is fundamentally flawed.

However, I did like that story as it has some really nice Cap moments in it. On the quiet moment front his romantic tension with Sharon feels a lot more natural in this arc than the first one; as is his range of reactions to being exiled. I also liked the interplay between Cap and Doom; two major Marvel characters that I think really should interact more often than they do. On the big moment front, I love that Cap triangulates the location of the laser cannon by deliberately getting his plane shot down—it’s a totally ballsy move that feels absolutely right for the character’s confidence that he can do that and survive. Plus the moment where Cap saves the day in the climax is so well drawn, it practically makes you want to get up and cheer “f*ck yea!”


Grade C+. I still don’t particularly love Waid’s take on Cap, but I can absolutely understand why that second story arc is held in such high esteem by so many.
 
 

Comments

  1. Do you have any Daredevil Trades? I just ordered a couple of Waid's DD trades.

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  2. I have the first two. The first one is absolutely excellent. The second is bogged down with ancillary characters and a crossover.

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  3. I just got into it with #23 which was perfect jumping on point and they've really got me hooked. I see a lot of people praise the art but frankly I'm not wild about it thus far.

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  4. Not anything coming up for review anytime soon. DD isn't really high on my list of favorite characters. There's the one I reviewed a couple weeks ago, and from way back I own Born Again and the Frank Miller Visionaries volumes, and that's probably about it for DD other than when we he guest stars in Spidey trades I pick up.

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  5. Gruenwald is Cap's Chris Claremont. Gruenwald killed it for most of his time there but towards the end... Wow.

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