Commander Steve Rogers is back from the dead and on his own in this collection, which brings Rogers, the Uncanny X-Men, and Namor to fight together in the Negative Zone. This star-spangled resurrection of America’s greatest hero could have restarted the franchise, bringing Cap to a new generation. Instead, the iconic shield remains (sort of) in the hands of Bucky Barnes, formerly the Winter Soldier, who doesn’t not make an appearance in this book. In fact, until the crossover issues, no other heroes appear at all. This truly is Rogers standing on his own and he’s a bit wobbly.
I want to keep the Super-Soldier story separate from the Annuals for this review, although several issues I have overlap between the two. I actually will even gloss over the Life Model Decoy of his first girlfriend who was also a Nazi spy with a heart of gold AND the cliffhanger that ended the series. And the terrible villain names, because that’s pretty much just comic books. So, starting with the newly monochromatic Commander Steve, let’s jump into the Good, the Bad, and the ‘Murican.
It’s Cap! He came back! And he’s meeting with Wisdom in a diner to learn of the death of a scientist connected to Jacob Erskine, grandson of the original Professor Erskine from the original super serum experiment. Through a number of baffling twists in the case, Rogers hunts down Erskine the Younger’s new super serum and those who would sell it on the black market for fun and profit.
The best pages in this arc are those in the third issue after our just revealed villain, Machinesmith, has essentially turned the super serum in Steve’s veins completely off, returning him to the scrawny body we last saw sometime in 1940. As Rogers helpfully explains in expository boxes throughout the next few pages, he is still the best-trained soldier on the planet, regardless of size, and the goons he fights are simply no match for his mad soldier skills. It’s a great sequence that could have been from Black Widow’s playbook, using the size and momentum of one’s opponents against them. This, of course, does not last long. More on that later.
Well, more on that now, in fact. Let’s ignore the fact that the super serum is what kept Rogers alive for so long and that he’s magically back from the dead. I assume that removing the effects of the serum would do some real damage to that skinny body, but we’ll move on. I enjoyed seeing actual Super-Soldier Steve here, because the rest of the book is mostly mad, punchy Steve. Here, we get real moves and tactics that don’t start and end with a fist to the face or a straight-out threat to the well-being of a foreign bad guy half Rogers’ size.
This comic is all over the place, visually. In the first few pages, we see skinny Steve and new-old acquaintance Tyler Paxton in a flashback where they both look like victims of the plague. Paxton calls Rogers a beanpole, but that conjures images of someone tall and slender, not the malnourished skeletons drawn here. And then, after getting zapped by the serum and some vita rays, Rogers holds the original Erskine in his enormous, disproportioned arms. He looks like a cross between the Hulk and former wrestler Scott Steiner with a pea-sized head. Things calm down on the arms front once Steve puts on sleeves, but this is really over-the-top and pulled me out of the story immediately.
So, Steve doesn’t get to have Cap’s shield because Winterfresh Bucky is currently wearing the vibranium. It honestly took me quite a while to figure out that the transparent shield shown in several battle scenes wasn’t some figment of Rogers’ fevered resurrection dreams, but actually a photonic shield he can bring out at will. From his wrist. It reflects bullets and bad guys. ‘Murica.
Hey, you know how James Bond always gives his real name, even when M sets up an airtight alter-ego for him and that somehow makes him the best spy in the world? When Steve freaking Rogers walks through a party in a corrupt foreign country in the largest tuxedo this side of Kingpin, how does he think no one will notice him? He is a huge, blonde American with trees for arms who has been famous since the Second World War. Everyone knows him. But he waltzes through the party, uninvited, like a boss. ‘Murica.
And Now For Something Completely Different!
Just when you thought it was safe to turn the page and continue an obvious cliffhanger (rats, I did mention it), we follow Steve Rogers (I swear I have deleted the word “Cap” at least two dozen times so far), eventually, into an odd little team up with Cyclops, Dr. Nemesis and Hope Summers of the X-Men — along with Namor thrown in for good measure. Let’s jump in with The Good, The Bad and The ‘Lantian.
The final issue of the trilogy is Namor’s Annual, penciled by Max Fiumara and it is pretty. The stylized look plays well with the Prince of Atlantis. Between Namor and Not-Cap beating each other across the Negative Dimension while the winged Speedo enthusiast battles heroin-level water withdrawal and the beautiful splash where Cyclops unleashes his concussive vision completely just to get a reaction out of the Atlantean, this is a pretty, pretty issue.
The Negative Zone having a black-site SHIELD prison aside, randomly tossing these heroes into an unfamiliar dimension draws out some fun battles with whatever fever-dream inspired monsters Nick Bradshaw, Ibraim Roberson, and Fiumara could sketch. Namor’s fight with the TK-K-K (no name given, but it makes this sound) is full of tentacles and teeth and grade-A nightmare fuel.
I’m just going to list a few things, because I’m running out of words. Emma Frost’s endless midriff. The X-Men stealing Atlantean tech to power their whatever machine, only to have it malfunction, send just four heroes away, and break. Blastaar. That’s his name. Emma Frost’s clothes choice again. I swear that her pants are open in several scenes. How do they stay up? Is that one of her 83 mutant powers?
The biggest Bad for me isn’t the bearded ruler of this sector of the Negative Zone, it’s the discontinuity between the artists. It is extremely jarring going from artist to artist, especially when you end with Fiumara. His work is great, but it is so drastically different from the previous two issues that it detracts.
Namor going all Breaking Bad after being a fish out of water is crazy. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad, but those crazy eyes are great. ‘Lantis
Emma Frost and her gravity-defying pants dragging Scott Summers – still in his hospital gown, mind you – off for some…ahem…discipline lessons in front of the whole team, including his adoptive granddaughter. ‘Lantis