Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

17 March 2009

Captain America and the Falcon, v. 1: Two Americas

Collects: Captain America and the Falcon #1-4 (2004)

Released: August 2004 (Marvel)

Format: 144 pages / color / $9.99 / ISBN: 9780785114246

What is this?: Captain America hunts the Falcon, who has busted a prisoner out of Guantanamo.

The culprits: Writer Christopher Priest and artist Bart Sears

I don’t usually talk much about the art in a book. I’m more focused on the writing, the story, and my education didn’t afford me the knowledge necessary to get into deep detail about the craft a penciler employs.

On the other hand, there comes a point when the flaws of an artist are so extensive, if you don’t talk about the art, you’ll look like a fool. Rob Liefeld’s output is like that. So is the art in Captain America & the Falcon, v. 1: Two Americas.

Captain America & the Falcon, v. 1: Two Americas cover Bart Sears supplies the “art.” He’s listed as a “storyteller” and is one of two inkers (I’m not going to name the other because I have nothing against him). Sears’s vision for Captain America and the Falcon is hyperthyroidal men who have been doused in steroids and inflated with bicycle pumps until their skin is about to burst. It is very nearly Liefeldian in its composition. You can argue there’s a place for that in comics art, sure; the Hulk and other ludicrously strong characters could be portrayed that way with no problem.

But this is Captain America, who is human, albeit the best of human physical fitness: strong but agile. Sears interprets this as meaning even his chin has muscles. At times, Captain America doesn’t have a neck so much as his shoulder muscles merge into his skull. Captain America is so muscular even his cheeks are cut. Even worse is the Falcon, who, despite being a fine superhero, has never been overly bulked up; yet he is almost as large as Captain America. The bicycle pumps were used on the women as well; Scarlet Witch has breasts as large as her head (literally). Other women have smaller breasts that are only the size of their faces, although they get waists the same size as one breast, so they’re smaller all over.

Sears compounds the problem by doodling in the margins, drawing large-scale versions of the characters as page borders. So not only does everyone look larger than they should, there are even larger versions of the characters looming in the margins like Godzilla over Kansas. At times I felt like shouting, “Watch out for that giant crotch, Captain!” But there’s no way he can avoid this, surely; between pages, he and his absurd pecs and biceps have to collide with the private parts of some giant monstrosity, whether it’s male or female.

These muscular monsters and top-heavy women leave the art looking as subtle as a bread truck through a plate-glass window. This is bad news for the story, as writer Christopher Priest has written a story that, while perhaps not as convoluted as some of his other works, has some depth and subtlety to it. You are supposed to realize early in the story, for instance, that something is wrong with Captain America; Sears makes this somewhere between impossible and nigh impossible to work out. And even if the subtleties are in there somewhere, the art’s just too distracting — the only way it could be more distracting is if Sears used the “plaid” tool in Photoshop.

I feel sorry for Priest. I don’t think this is his best work, although it’s not bad by any stretch. But still, I can’t be sure. I almost can’t hear his voice with Sears’s art shouting at me, which, given the distinctiveness of Priest’s writing, is quite an accomplishment. There are some good ideas in the plot, I think, but “evil / misguided / conscienceless counterpart of Captain America” doesn’t thrill me as an adversary. Also, by the end, I was so eager to be done with the story I didn’t pay much attention to Priest’s revelation about the McGuffin, a missing virus. Looking through again, I can’t see where its true nature is revealed. I don’t really care, which is a bad sign. Still, it’s impossible for me to say whether I disliked the writing or the art prejudiced me against the story.

It really doesn’t matter. The story would have to have been outstanding before I’d recommend anyone read this thing. But I can’t, in good conscience, suggest anyone subject their eyes to Sears’s art, especially with life being so short and all. Besides, there are some things you can’t unsee, and this definitely qualifies.

I guess what I’m trying to say is the art isn’t very good.

Rating: Half Marvel symbol (0.5 of 5)

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Blogger Marc said...

I really detested this book as well. I'll give it this, though: it at least tells a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The same can't be said of Avengers Disassembled: Captain America (which also collects issues from Captain America & The Falcon), which if my memory serves, collected the first halves of two completely different, extremely boring stories. It really makes you wonder whether anyone at Marvel wanted this series to succeed at all.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Raoul said...

You know, maybe no one did, or at least not enough people did. They gave a good writer (Christopher Priest), who happens to be African-American, a book featuring an African-American character. Which would be a vote of no confidence usually -- but Priest's Black Panther had just received 60 issues plus however many issues The Crew lasted. So they made it sound like an ancillary title to a low-selling book (Captain America), with the details that differentiated from that low-selling book being its Blackness.

And, for good measure, they added Sears, who a few years earlier had written and penciled Blade: Vampire Hunter, a quickly canceled book with an African-American protagonist.

That's how you kill a book.

Still, I always root for Priest to succeed. Captain America and the Falcon could have succeeded, but it had long odds against it.

11:59 PM  

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