Marvel’s newest publishing initiative is hitting an important milestone this week with the publisher debuting a new era of Steve Rogers in Captain America #1! Marvel has a strong creative team assembled on the book with Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and Avengers artist Leinil Yu primed to take on the hero. This is an extremely busy week for the publisher as it just so happens to be the week Star Wars #50 is landing on store shelves–are you ready for The Marvel Rundown?
Captain America #1
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Illustrated by Leinil Yu
Inked by Gerry Alanguilan
Colored by Sunny Gho
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Joe Grunenwald: AJ, it’s the Fourth of July, so there’s no better time for a new Captain America series to launch. After a brief run by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Leonardo Romero, the title is now in the hands of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Yu. How do you think their first issue fared?
AJ Frost: Happy Fourth to ya, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than with good ol’ non-Hydra and messed up Captain America. Well, I’ve never been shy about my admiration for Ta-Nehisi Coates. I think he’s done a fantastic job on Black Panther, and I hoped he would bring that political mind to Captain America. And for the most part, he did, though with some hiccups along the way. Overall, the concept is really intriguing, but some of the execution leaves us wanting more.
Grunenwald: I’m excited to see Cap finally tackle the fallout of Secret Empire, even though I’m sure Marvel would rather everyone move on from that much-maligned storyline. The question of how the Hydra takeover happened and how the characters move forward from it is, unfortunately, painfully relevant to the climate in the U.S. today, and I thought this issue did a solid job bringing readers who didn’t read Secret Empire up to speed and establishing just what Cap and others are going through.
Frost: Anything with any semblance of hope is sorely needed right now. And it is nice to see a Captain America with all the classic traits of loyalty, true patriotism, and compassion.
Grunenwald: Captain America has, in my experience, never been a terribly subtle book when it comes to themes of patriotism, which is reasonable considering the main character runs around with a big ‘A’ on his head and American Flag on his chest. Cap’s an earnest character, and that’s not a bad thing. I also really appreciated that Coates carried on something that Ed Brubaker established in his run on the series: the idea that Bucky is there to do the dirty work that Cap himself can’t or won’t do. In general, I found all of the character beats for Cap to be really strong.
Frost: Well, that’s where the great juxtaposition comes from. Just as unsubtle as Captain America is for being a beacon for all that is supposedly right in the US, Coates is a harsh critic, especially when it comes to racial issues. It’s not enough to say that America is good and right when all the evidence points to the contrary. That’s why assigning Coates the book is such a juicy get because he can strip away the jingoism and go for the jugular. I’m not sure he achieved that in this issue, but it may be coming soon. A lot of the set-up is here to explore: domestic terrorism, shadowy government operatives, and something major going on in Russia. We’ll have to see where this path takes us.
Grunenwald: This issue is certainly a lot of setup for what’s coming, but I can’t bring myself to be upset about it when Coates nails Steve so perfectly. Coates using Nuke right off the bat feels very much like a statement of intent as well. And the whole thing is drawn beautifully by Leinil Yu.
Frost: I’m a tad more bearish on the art. There were a few moments where the art matched the potential of the story, but other times I thought the characters looked downright hideous. It’s a weird balance. Maybe it’s just on par for a mainstream comic, but I think that bar is too low sometimes.
Grunenwald: Yu has a really sketchy, occasionally exaggerated style that’s definitely not for everyone, and a big shift coming off of previous artists like Chris Samnee and Leonardo Romero. I really like his work, though I will say that I think he does big moments better than he does smaller, quieter ones. There’s a lot of talking in this comic and he does fine with those scenes, but the action is where he really shines. I looked at the splash page featuring Cap’s first appearance in the issue for a long time before I continued reading.
Frost: The scratchiness of the line just doesn’t do it for me in this context. Although props to Sunny Gho for some great color work. This issue really pops!
Grunenwald: It absolutely does. Any other final thoughts on the issue?
Frost: This is really a wait and see kinda deal. Obviously, Coates has the chops, but I want to see him stretch his wings and do something crazy. For right now, this is an intro and so some rote character beats had to be hit. But, on the whole, it’s a good starting point.
Grunenwald: Agreed. From the teases in this issue, Coates is cooking up some interesting threats for Cap to face. What’s your verdict?
Frost: Going to go with a STRONG BROWSE. Something is happening, but I don’t what it is. Do you, Mr. Coates?
Grunenwald: This one is a BUY for me. I’m excited to see where Coates and Yu take this series.
Frost: Agree to disagree!
Grunenwald: That’s the American way.
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Salvador Larroca
Inked by Gerry Alanguilan
Colored by Guru-eFX
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
AJ Frost: Hi Joe! Good to be back for another week of your friendly neighborhood Marvel Rundown. So here we are at Star Wars #50, an impressive (wait… most impressive) achievement. We’re hanging out with a lot of our old friends, including Han, Chewie, Vader, Luke, and of course, Leia, along with some newer arrivals in the canon. What were your first impressions of this over-sized fiftieth installment of Star Wars?
Joe Grunenwald: Pleased to be with you this week, AJ. I think “hanging out with old friends” is the perfect way to describe the ongoing Star Wars series – it’s hard to say there are stakes for the main characters since we already know what ultimately happens to them, but it’s really just nice to see them again. I haven’t followed the title regularly but I’ve generally enjoyed it when I do check in on it, and this issue was no different. It was perfectly enjoyable. What did you think?
Frost: Yeah, it’s enjoyable. It certainly isn’t doing anything to actively harm the IP, which I suppose is a bonus. It’s amusing that you say there are no stakes because the issue does try to position itself to say that the events of the comic will have galaxy-shattering consequences, but we all know where the story ends up. I guess that’s just imbued in the dramatic irony of the whole enterprise.
Grunenwald: (‘Enterprise’ is from that other space-based series, AJ.)
Frost: (I do not know what you are referring to. There is only one space-based series that matters here, Joe!) The actions of the issue, however, have a solid footing in the lore. Kieron Gillen has always done a good job of balancing original trilogy elements with newer parts of the franchise. It does produce this weird toy box effect where one thinks that something shouldn’t work, but the story beats usually tie in together.
Grunenwald: I agree, and I liked that the new elements – or at least the elements new to me since last I read this book – felt like they fit in the overall Star Wars universe. I like the character of Queen Trios, even if I thought her twist was pretty telegraphed just from her brief scene with Leia early in the issue, and I’m always excited for more Mon Mothma content. I couldn’t tell you why but I have a soft spot for that character.
Frost: If there is a downside to the current Star Wars line, is that it doesn’t go far enough to push the boundaries of the galaxy. It’s usually always about setting up some super epic battle, only to be reined back into the status quo. I’m also sure that’s pretty inevitable too, coming from this huge pop culture legacy brands. But Joe, let’s get down to brass tacks. What worked for you in this issue and what did not?
Grunenwald: I thought Gillen did a really nice job of creating tension throughout the issue, even before the action begins. Leia’s discomfort translated well, and the speech she gave to Trios about the Alliance was genuinely affecting. And then, when the other shoe finally dropped, I thought the execution was flawless. It reminded me of the “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones the way it took the characters from the height of revelry to sheer terror. Overall the main story was really well-written.
Frost: I hadn’t considered the Red Wedding aspect of the book, but that makes a lot of sense. Then again, with the title of the arc being “Hope Dies,” they ain’t exactly being subtle either. I’m definitely with you though that there is a nice amount of internal tension, even if we readers know that the rebellion isn’t getting snuffed out anytime soon.
Grunenwald: Yeah, the main difference between this issue and the Red Wedding is that there were actual consequences from the Red Wedding.
Frost: What did you think of the art throughout the book? Did Salvador Larroca hit the sweet spot, or was there a lot left to be desired?
Grunenwald: I’m honestly really torn about Larocca’s art. He’s come a long way from his X-Treme X-Men days, but his work still really doesn’t do anything for me. He does a solid job capturing character likenesses, though at the same time it’s painfully obvious which panels he’s using photo reference for because they are straight out of the movies. His work is technically proficient but also can be really static. I guess I…don’t hate it?
Frost: When it comes to big action-packed splash pages or the intricate exterior of a Star Destroyer, Larroca is tops. But my God, the face tracing is so distracting that it takes me out of the page. Maybe it’s a scheduling thing, but the art of a Star Wars comic deserves to be more than serviceable. It’s such a jarring effect and one that is getting old. I really do not like that part of the artwork at all.
Grunenwald: When you put this issue’s art next to someone like Stuart Immonen’s Star Wars work, there’s just no comparison. But I agree, his ships and scenery are really great.
Frost: Agreed. It’s a shame that the interior artwork can’t reflect the forward-thinking aspect of the franchise.
Grunenwald: I’ll tell you what I really liked both the story and the art on; the backup story.
Frost: Any story that is Vader focused is going to be exciting and fun. This Vader is brutal and cunning, which is the only way he should be. It’s fun to see him stretch his legs out, as it were, and be a bit of a dark diplomat for the Empire.
Grunenwald: Gillen can write Vader all day long. The brief flashes of him in the main feature are some of the best moments in that story, so it was a pleasant surprise to get a full Vader story afterward. I also enjoyed that the backup story fleshed out Queen Trios. It’s refreshing to me that she’s not another Lando, manipulated into doing something she doesn’t want to do in order to save herself. She seems to be a true believer, which makes her far more dangerous.
Frost: Joe, my friend, what is your final verdict here?
Grunenwald: I’m going to give this one a STRONG BROWSE. The issue is an entertaining read with decent (if occasionally a little stiff) art and a great second story to boot.
Frost: I’m with you. I was waffling for a bit, but STRONG BROWSE seems the most appropriate for this book. There is much to admire, but also much to critique strongly. If only the art was more up to snuff rather than simply adequate, this would be a stellar book.
Final Verdict: AJ and Joe say STRONG BROWSE!
Written by Donny Cates
Illustrated by Dylan Burnett
Inked by Gerry Alanguilan
Colored by Antonio Fabela
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by Alexander Jones
Seeing something new at a Big Two publisher is pretty rare these days. While Ghost Rider is a relatively familiar and seasoned property at The House of Ideas, writer Donny Cates crafted an alternate version of the property in his take on the latest Thanos ongoing series. Cates was able to develop a sense of pathos and tragedy for the Cosmic Ghost Rider making him feel worthy of his own story. The revelation of the new Ghost Rider’s identity and his background felt like one of the most invigorating ideas in the run. With not everyone making it out of the initial run alive, Cates has written himself into a corner which this issue explores in an innovative manner. Cosmic Ghost Rider #1 even has a couple of interesting things to say about the nature of comic book death as a whole. Even with a dour subject matter, that classic sense of humor which made the Thanos run so solid in the first place is still present in this issue.
While I miss the expressive, badass and dynamic pencils from Geoff Shaw in the first story, artist Dylan Burnett does a great job capturing all the potent emotion in this story. The action sequences in the story have a raw, indie comics sensibility to them and great choreography. The issue also features some great colors from Antonio Fabela which expertly craft the interesting setting of the story. The proportions of the different characters are exaggerated in a manner that makes them interesting to look at on the page. Burnett does a wonderful job with his page compositions as well, always making sure to give the majority of the page to the most interesting part of the scene. The last couple pages, in particular, bear an incredible sense of energy and expressive linework which has encouraged me to keep my eye on the series and more artwork from Burnett.
The structure of the script is really well assembled from Cates with the comic having a clear beginning, middle and ending. The absurd humor from Ghost Rider is really well undercut with the more bleak members of some of the supporting cast. The script also has a pretty solid plot that develops a villain and a fascinating element of tragedy. Ghost Rider is in a really dark place here and is having a hard time accepting the world around him. The sense of depression kind of spirals into a couple more poor decisions which feature a great story beat. With the wild tone and pace of the story, I have no idea where Cates is going next but this installment is a great way to keep readers interested in the plot.
Cates does an excellent job telling the next chapter of his Thanos story with a fan-favorite protagonist. The writer has captured the same kind of magic again with the new story. Dylan Burnett is an excellent successor to Shaw. Burnett’s more exaggerated style and dynamic storytelling make for a visually stunning issue of comics you might not expect to see from the Big Two.
Final Verdict: BUY! Cates and Burnett’s Cosmic Ghost Rider #1 gives the fan-favorite hero his time in the spotlight!
Next week ushers in a brand new era for Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man!
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.