By Nick Spencer, Jesus Saiz
There should have been an AA-style group this last month for comic readers who enjoyed the ‘Hail Hydra’ moment, or at least readers not silly enough to be burning comics just because there was a brief moment of fiction they didn’t enjoy.
Issue #2 presses the story’s forward button, choosing instead to cycle backwards through previously unseen events explaining quite how it is that our beloved Steve Rogers has been Hydra all along. Avoiding all spoilers: The explanation works. It’s fun, inventive, a neat little twist; so now hopefully those bemoaning ruined childhoods can leave poor Nick Spencer alone. And maybe, just maybe, this means there’s a chance the internet loonies will give Lady Ghostbusters a chance before they let their anger get the better of them. Probably not. But maybe.
This issue presents itself as a break from the story to get us up to speed with how and why Cap would dare utter the worst combination of words other than poetry written by 14 year olds. The minor nitpick with the format of this issue, Red Skull narrating the truth of Cap’s origin for an entire issue, is that it is a break from the status quo of what the book would normally be. This is always a fun curveball in a series, a way to inject a little life into an ongoing run. But this is only issue #2. It seems odd to break format from a series that will presumably mainly be about Cap punching stuff to give us something a little different when we haven’t yet had enough issues to really know what an ongoing Cap series from this creative team looks & feels like. If you break the mold before you have a mold you’re often left with a mess. Luckily Spencer’s writing pull us through and the issue remains cohesive. Though one imagines years of writing Morning Glories has probably prepped him in how to break the rules with aplomb. It just feels that maybe instead of giving us an overwhelming “info-dump” of an issue up top, it may have been more fun to play with the seemingly Hydra Cap for longer, or to tease out the eventual reveal. Then again, given the venomous reaction from the more unpleasant corners of the dreaded nightmare we call the internet, it may have been best to just bitch-slap us with exposition and then move on. For those jumping into Cap for the first time off the back of last month’s #1, this U-Turn is presentation will probably seem a little sharp, but for Marvel regulars, Spencer just about pulls it off.
With the story being SO concept heavy it is easy for the characters to get a little lost under the ideas. For example: Selvig and Maria Hill share a conversation that literally could be anyone talking, but one wonders if maybe that’s an irrelevant critique. If you look at this issue as less a piece of the story and more an instruction manuel of information before we move forward, it works well. And it’s a very minor criticism anyway, as the main man himself does not get lost at all: And that man is Red Skull. Another risky move, only 2 issues in, to sideline the title character to put Red Skull front and centre. But Spencer writes him with aplomb, revelling in the character. Skull can often fall into the trap of being nothing more than archetypal arch-nemesis, and boring for it. But here he drips with personality and looks set to be one of the best things about this run. There are really inspired choices going on here. Red Skull has always had an interesting relationship with the cube, almost over protective, and a marvellous twist in how the Tesseract is “presented” and “the form it takes” in this story takes the nature of Skull’s relationship with it to its natural conclusion. A truly inspired gem of an idea.
The art is deep in extraordinary detail. It feels a little too safe & perhaps a little too ‘Marvel’ though, and it would be nice to see more books from the Big Two strike out and do their own thing visually. It’s a little too ‘House Marvel’ to capture readers more into the indie market, you won’t get new fans with this series, but for Marvel regulars this book looks at home. It’s visually comforting. Every page lets you know: This. Is. Marvel. Probably a safe bet considering the very un-marvel directions the story is taking. And it’s great stuff. The panel structure is neat. A strange note perhaps, but there seems to be a growing trend of experimental page layouts that make look exciting but are hard for the eye to track. Saiz keeps everything streamlined & neat: A nice fit for the straight laced Cap. And the facial work in particular is exciting- Saiz seems to have a wonderful grasp of who the character IS beyond their physicality and is great at bringing that to how the character’s express and hold themselves. Red Skull cracks a comment about the quality of a soup he is served and the comment is beautiful elevated by Skull’s brief camp demeanor. It’s a shame this issue is so much about story instead of character though, as it’s in the latter where Saiz really shines. Much how the best thing to come out this issue writing wise was the handling of Skull, the same goes for the art. For the first time in a long time Skull looks like he’s got more going on than villainy. The opening splash in which he grips the cube tight is beautiful structured, and cleverly angled to make Skull as imposing as possible, but the real stand out factor of that image is how you can see the infatuation in his eyes. Saiz makes Skulls relationship with his infamous weapon go deeper than a mere “this is what I use to screw up the universe”. He conveys the twisted love. Saiz’s Red Skull is a complex creature whose every emotion and thought you can see written across his face. In some ways it’s a shame how much he speaks, despite how brilliantly on-point Red Skull’s dialogue is, as Saiz does so much with how he draws Skull that you just want to relish in that.
Overall this issue is not perfect, maybe a 3-star comic, but we’re bunging on an extra star because it absolutely drips in potential for where this series is going. No comic this week has quite captured a sense of “just wait until you read the next one” quite like Captain America: Steve Rogers #2. It would be nice to see Spencer scale down the dialogue and let Saiz shine more, but that’s a tiny issue; especially considering that the nature of this issue makes it a special case and that level of words & art may be different in the “business as usual” issues. All round this is a strong sidestep before we launch into this incredibly exciting “Cap in Hydra story” that’s peppered with genius gems from Spencer and lovely little details from Saiz. On that note, keep an eye out for a certain little girl’s choice of teddy! Deliciously twisted comedy.