Captain America Vol. 4
written by Ed Brubaker & Cullen Bunn
illustrated by Scot & Steve Epting
Reviewed by Kemper
4 out of 5 stars
Ed Brubaker wraps up his 8 year run of writing Captain America, and once again he does a nice job of making Cap a lot more than just a guy running around in a flag suit while punching out villains and shouting, “ ‘MERICA!”
Madame Hydra and Bravo are launching repeated attacks against civilians using a new pack of super baddies called the Discordians, but what’s even worse is that TV news host Reed Braxton is working the public into a frenzy by claiming that Cap is obsolete and incapable of protecting America. Braxton starts blaming Cap for all of America’s woes and soon angry mobs begin rioting all over the country. Even worse, Cap is starting to doubt himself.
The stuff with Cap and his pals versus Hydra is pretty standard superhero fare. The plot featuring Braxton tearing down Cap is where Brubaker makes an effective point about how cable news is a perpetual outrage machine used to manipulate American society. There’s a particularly nice bit while Braxton reassures viewers that he’ll stay on the air during an attack to make sure that they get the truth and accountability they deserve, and all of this self-aggrandizement is juxtaposed against the images of Cap on the ground risking his life while fighting bad guys and saving people who berate him for it.
The Brubaker era has encompassed the death, replacement and return of Captain America, and he’s always been interested in exploring the concept of what it means to be a symbolic figure. Whether it was Steve Roger as the old war hero who was increasingly feeling the burden of wearing the red, white and blue as regrets piled up or Bucky Barnes struggling to fill Steve’s shoes and atone for his sins, Cap remained the guy people looked to for inspiration and leadership in the Marvel universe even if the man behind the mask doubted whether he was worthy of that trust.
The best part of this collection is Brubaker’s swan song in which Steve recounts his long history in conversation that also includes a nice nod to the first Captain America comic book and its creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. The point is underlined here that Steve never wanted to be a hero. He was supposed to be the first of many super-soldiers, but circumstances forced him into becoming something more than a guy who did his part. It also is a nice summary of how what started as a propaganda character to punch Nazis eventually became a way for various comic book writers and artist to explore the ideology of America at it’s best and worst.
Monday, September 2, 2013
Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars
This is the third of Jamie Harrison's novels set in the small town of Blue Deer, Montana, and featuring archeologist-turned county sheriff, Jules Clement. In the first two books, The Edge Of The Crazies and Going Local, a prominent theme was the interaction between the long-time residents of Absaroka County and the usually wealthy newcomers who were moving into the county, attracted by its beauty and recreational opportunities.
In this case, however, Harrison sets that conflict aside to examine the relationships that exist and the way that crime can affect those relationships, in a tiny community where everyone knows virtually everyone else and in which they are often related to each other by blood or marriage.
By now, Harrison has firmly established the basic cast of characters that inhabit Blue Deer and orbit around Jules, the principal character. The relationships among them are tested when a fisherman discovers a portion of a skeleton on an island in a nearby river. Much of the upper torso, including the head, is missing. But some hair has been preserved as has the man's ornate belt buckle. In addition, there's the two bullets that Jules discovers on the ground under the man's abdomen.
It seems clear that the body was buried on the island years earlier and only exposed now as the river gradually eroded away a portion of the island. Jules, who was an archeologist before returning to Blue Deer, is thrilled at the prospect of using his scientific skills to investigate the man's death.
Jules ultimately determines that the man was somewhere in his twenties at the time of his death and that he was killed sometime in the late 1930s, and he sets the elderly ladies of the town's historical society on the task of identifying someone who went missing about that time and who was never heard from again. In doing so, though, he inadvertently opens a can of worms that a lot of people, including members of his own family might wish had been left unexamined.
In the meantime, of course, Jules has to deal with the usual run of crimes that occur in a small town like his, including drunken driving, domestic abuse and juvenile delinquency. There's also a rapist attacking women who live alone and who seems to be increasing the frequency of his attacks.
A lot of eccentric characters populate this book and it's as much fun watching Jules navigate the complexities of the relationships among them as it is to watch him at work attempting to solve all these crimes. But the reader should not expect this to be a nice cozy mystery. It isn't, and Jules is no Miss Marple. Underneath the humor, there's a hard edge to these books.
The cast of characters is large, and sometimes it feels like you might need a flow chart to keep straight them and the relationships involved. A reader needs to pay attention, but the attention is well-rewarded by a solid, entertaining read. This is a book that would appeal to a large number of readers, but as is often the case, someone new to the series might well want to start with the first book rather than the third.