Monday, March 6, 2017

Pleasure Before Business

It's hard to argue that the cover to Captain America #395 is a little off-putting in terms of story interest--but that term shouldn't be confused with "offbeat," since it's a solid Cap tale that moves things along "between stories," as it were, while the cover itself is taken a bit out of context.

Written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn quite well by artists Rik Levins and Danny Bulanadi, the story continues Gruenwald's well-received run on the title and typifies his style for handling a Cap issue: packed to the brim with good moments of characterization, while being somewhat nonchalant in the presentation of its action sequences. That cautious assessment made, you'll find it overall to be good reading, while doing a nice job of holding your attention. What you'll find here is basically a great deal of minutiae--jumping back and forth between Cap's day-to-day administrative functions as leader of the Avengers and the machinations of his foes, each scene replete with the intriguing details that Gruenwald has a talent for making interesting enough to write a story around (a style which his artists are usually excellent at interpreting). There are times when he can go a bit overboard in that respect--after all, a story can be weighed down if its dialog or details are too mundane--but the breaks between scenes do a fair job of keeping all of the plates spinning.

It's been about 3½ years since Gruenwald mandated that Captain Marvel be jettisoned from her role as leader of the Avengers and Captain America returned to the position, and this issue clearly demonstrates that Gruenwald enjoys having him there. Cap runs Avengers' operations like a taut ship, yet comfortably so--using his time efficiently, working well with his staff, having a good relationship with the team's NSC liaison, and checking in with individual Avengers when circumstances warrant. It's hard to imagine Cap having a desk job, but I doubt anyone could choose one that's more stimulating for him, given how smoothly and effortlessly he keeps tabs on what he needs to--and with his feet propped up, no less.

A nice touch that Levins adds with Steve's sketchbook. (The lady is Rachel Leighton, the former criminal known as Diamondback, whom Cap has been seeing personally. His other sketch needs no elaboration, of course.) By the way, don't you love it when the boss in some fictional scene is notified of a call on Line 2, and the boss tells the person who took the call to "put it through"? Steve, catch up! It's 1991 and switchboards are long gone; if there's a "Line 2," the call is already put through--it's just waiting for you to pick it up on your end!

And while we're on the subject of the Skull, Levins segues nicely to a scene that demonstrates that evil-doers can also be adept at handling administrative tasks. It's just that some know how to enjoy the perks of their job, even when they're still on the clock.

(You know, I don't really want to know how these two worked around that mask's hideous teeth during their... meeting.)

Meanwhile, Eric Masterson, in his new role as Thor, is having a slightly more professional meeting with Cap, who's reviewing one of Eric's recent battles. Since becoming the new Thor, Eric is learning on the job and naturally has far less experience in battle than his predecessor--and, by extension, none of the experience of being an Avenger, tending to go with his gut and at times not necessarily making the right call. Because of his abilities and appearance, Eric has become, in essence, a de facto Avenger--but the difference between Thor and Eric has become clear to Cap, who handles the situation quite well under the circumstances.

Elsewhere, Mother Night (whom you may remember as Suprema but went on to become a close aide to the Red Skull) is auditioning candidates to become the Skull's new chief operative. Unfortunately for the three prospects, Mother Night's criteria boil down to a single rule: kill or be killed.

Fortunately, Cutthroat has survived--*ahem* making the cut, so to speak, and winning the position simply because he woke up. From here he goes on to train with the Taskmaster, who has his own harsh methods for assessing an operative's qualifications.

Finally, we return to Cap, who's investigating the Red Skull possibly being at large by returning to "Skullhouse," with Eric along for training in the field. Yet instead of the Skull, they find a rather sticky surprise--an attack set on them by a deadly scientist often retained by the Skull due to his deadly, unorthodox brilliance.  As you might guess, the Skull is well informed of intruders at his former residence, though it's clear he has a different interpretation altogether of the phrase "business before pleasure."

We've seen from a prior appearance that the creature known as "Doughboy" is a formidable weapon in Zola's command. Whatever the fate of Cap and Thor, Gruenwald gives it the same "to be continued" treatment as he does the other dangling plots in this issue, including the return of Crossbones. If you can bear the suspense, we'll touch base with each of these loose ends next. (But what do you say we leave the Skull and the Viper to their own devices?)

Captain America #395

Script: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Rik Levins
Inks: Danny Bulanadi
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Anonymous said...

Uh, is the Red Skull wearing a mask at this point, or is that his real head? Seems like he got his face melted off at one point.
I've never been too clear on that. I think Lee and Kirby had a policy of never showing us his real face, like Doctor Doom.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., you're on the right track. The Skull got a new lease on life at one point, moving his consciousness into a cloned body of Steve Rogers; unfortunately, in an encounter with "the Captain" and John Walker, the man who had replaced Cap in the role, he got a dose of his own "dust of death." He survived--but his face of course suffered the consequences.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a Captain America story featuring the Red Skull's origin ? I'm sure I read it in one of Marvel UK's comics but I can't recall a thing about the origin (assuming I didn't just imagine it).

Comicsfan said...

Colin, if I'm not mistaken, that took place in an issue of Tales of Suspense, where Cap was a "captive audience" (i.e., under interrogation by the Skull) and forced to listen as the Skull went over his rise to power in the Third Reich. It's certainly fodder for a post one of these days.