Battleworld is run by a god-king Dr. Doom, so as you can imagine there aren’t too many names on the guy’s enemy list…
… There’s still one big one on there though: the Red Skull.
Red Skull should be dead but his legend grows, so a team of villains that includes Winter Soldier, Magneto and Lady Deathstrike are sent on a dangerous odyssey to the Deadlands to prove it…but no one ever comes back alive from the Deadlands!”
Is it good?
Red Skull #1 (Marvel Comics)
I’m an ‘80s kid. Might explain why I’m such a sucker for a good action-squad premise — a love cultivated by movies like Rambo, Delta Force, Predator or anything else where Ah-nuld rained death on hundreds of enemies at a time while bicep curling a machine gun the entire time. Writer Joshua Williamson tugs at that machismo-laden sentimentality from the very first page of Red Skull #1 and doesn’t let up.
The story begins in a seedy Killville bar. Electro regales some local barflies with a story about how he took the piss out of a group of Thors (who serve as Doom’s omnipresent police force on Battleworld). The thing that really gets ‘em, according to Electro? When he says this:
From there we’re introduced to the rest of the crew. Williamson throws together an interesting group of miscreants with contrasting demeanors who all share the common thread of their defiance towards Dr. Doom. Magneto is the heaviest hitter of the bunch (and it’ll be interesting to see how he interacts with the perpetually bigoted Johann Schmidt) but the whole crew is nerfed overall due to power inhibiting collars. That makes Winter Soldier (who volunteered for the group’s mission) the only one at full strength and consequently the biggest wildcard. The inclusion of Crossbones in a bad-ass drill-instructor role is also gratifying as hell and adds to the “forced to serve Doom against their will” element, especially when he b---h-smacks Electro for running his mouth and trying to escape.
The only problem is we’re not given much time to see how the ragtag squad interacts and it’s unclear who will be the most enduring given the assuredly deliberate Walking Dead, “who’s next to die?” approach. As soon as the team sets foot in the zombie-infested Deadlands, they’re besieged by undead and a couple team members become zombie chow with the quickness. Admittedly though, the scene is well done; Williamson does a fine job of establishing the Deadlands as dangerous ground and makes room for a crucial reveal come issue’s end.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Red Skull is the aura of mystique Williamson builds for the titular character; Red Skull isn’t my favorite villain but the rebel, “legendary” vibe that he perpetuates throughout the issue (through others’ word of mouth primarily) is impossible to ignore. (Fascists are okay if they’re opposing a monarchial Dr. Doom, right kids?)
This is where artist Luca Pizzari’s work shines best as well — his pencils are deliberately scratchy and thickly-inked and the characters grimy-looking, but they fit the ill-fated tone of the book. His splash page with the Red Skull as a revolutionary figure among a wave of rebel followers with their fists in the air is beautifully rendered — a memorable image that conjures a “Sons of Batman” feel a la Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.
Is It Good?
A well-paced introductory issue with a fun premise that should appease the action-movie lover in us all. Fans of Red Skull might be disappointed at his lack of involvement in the self-titled introductory issue, but Williamson’s build-up is on point and to quote a good ol’ Oklahoman gentleman: “Business is about to pick up here.”