Captain America: Blood On The Moors
by Roger Stern & John Byrne
(Art by John Byrne and Josef Rubenstein)
A Marvel Pocket Book collecting issues of Captain America from the early 80s. Celebrating 40 years of Steve Rogers' adventures, this book sees the shield-wielding Avenger face foes such as Dragon Man, Mr. Hyde and Batroc the Leaper as well as encounter enemies from his past like Baron Strucker and the vampire Baron Blood. Also included is a 40th anniversary retelling of the Captain's origin story.
Most of this book is standard 80s comic book fayre, with Cap foiling plots involving robot duplicates and exlosive gas tankers, whilst simultaneously trying to juggle life with a secret identity. The latter element provides one of the book's most surprising and amusing elements wherein it turns out that super-athletic, super-hunk superhero Steve Rogers is also working as a freelance artist on the side. Wish fulfillment on the part of the comic book creators perhaps?
Representing the run-up to Captain America's 40th anniversary, this book also has a very retrospective feel about it, with themes like Cap exploring his recently rediscovered memories of his true childhood. As mentioned above, there's also returns for old Cap foes added into the mix, two of which stand out. Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised by the moral complexity of the otherwise ridiculous villain Batroc the Leaper and, secondly, I was fascinated to see Cap go toe to toe with a Nazi vampire. The story involving the latter, Baron Blood (I know the name's ridiculous, but the book also references far dafter villains like Master Man or Asbestos Lady), also sees the return of Cap's WWII British ally Union Jack.
Overall, this isn't a remarkable book, but it has enough interesting elements to keep you turning the pages.
3 out of 5
Captain America: The Bloodstone Hunt
by Mark Gruenwald & Kieron Dwyer
(Art by Kieron Dwyer and Danny Bulanadi)
Cap and his antagonist-turned-ally Diamondback travel the globe in search of the semi-mythical Bloodstone, matching wits and fist along the way with Baron Zemo and his henchmen Machete, Zaran and Batroc the Leaper.
This book is clearly intended to be in the style of classic adventure stories of the kind that inspired Indiana Jones and is, perhaps, inspired by Indy's adventure too. There's the globetrotting element, the hunt for a mystical MacGuffin and even both German and French villains. Unfortunately, despite having all of the significant pieces in place, they never come together into a satisfying whole. Rather than a loving homage to those old adventure stories in the way Indy is, it instead comes across as a bad pastiche of those type of stories and an earlier age of comic book writing. There is dialogue on offer here that would make even Stan Lee cringe and that's without mentioning the horrible phonetic spelling of the foreign accents on offer.
Another element that doesn't work as well as clearly intended is Diamondback as Cap's sidekick. The writers never seem to quite decide if she's a doe-eyed incompetent or a criminal femme fatale, with her yo-yoing back and forth across the book. One minute she'll be gushing about Cap before getting easily captured and then the next she'll be picking locks with a crossbow bolt and acrobatically kicking henchmen into vats of molten plastic. There's no consistency, except perhaps in the fact that she has progressively less and less to wear as the book goes on. Perhaps 'progressively' was a poor choice of words there too.
The only thing this book gets right is the introduction of a new antagonist for Cap; Crossbones. He's every bit the fighter Cap is but also has a grim sense of humour and malicious tendencies. It's just a shame that his involvement in the story is only in the last act and the rest of the book we're given far inferior villains (although I did like the nod to Batroc not being without honour when he risks himself to save Cap from sharks, a nice bit of subtlety absent from the rest of the book).
2 out of 5
Civil War: The Road To Civil War
(Art by Alex Maleev, Mike McKone, Andy Lanning, Kev Walker, Cam Smith, Kris Justice, Ron Garney, Tyler Kirkham, Bill Reinhold, Jay Leisten and Sal Regla)
The prelude to Marvel Comics' big event storyline 'Civil War' by Mark Millar. The book begins with Iron Man attempting to create a secret superhero organisation consisting of himself Doctor Strange, Professor X, Mr Fantastic, Black Bolt, Prince Namor and Black Panther. However, Namor and Black Panther refuse on moral grounds. Years later Iron Man regathers the group to discuss the immanent Superhero Registration Act.
The first cracks of the civil war begin as Doctor Strange, Namor and Black Bolt fiercely refuse to endorse the act, whilst Iron Man and Mr Fantastic believe surrendering their civil liberties to the government is the only way to survive. The story then splits to show Mr Fantastic rejoining the Fantastic Four to fight Doctor Doom, his recent decision weighing heavily on him. Meanwhile, Iron Man AKA Tony Stark recruits Spider-Man as his aide, giving Peter Parker a hi-tech suit of spider-armour as a gift. Together they travel to Washington in a futile effort to head off the Registration Act before it comes into force.
The action in this book is incidental, be it the FF versus Doom or Spidey versus the Titanium Man, and does little to help the story. The important battle here is security versus civil liberty. Overall this book isn't great in and of itself, but it does nicely establish the background and the principles of the Civil War mega-event. The board is set, the pieces are moving...
3 out of 5
Constantine Volume 1: The Spark And The Flame
by Ray Fawkes & Jeff Lemire
(Art by Renato Guedes and Fabiano Neves)
John Constantine sets out to stop magical artifacts of tremendous power from falling into the hands of the sorcerers of the Cult of the Cold Flame. However, to foil the cult's plans he'll not only have to compromise his morals but also confront powerful magical entities like the Spectre and Shazam.
This is DC's attempt to bring Constantine from the immensely popular Hellblazer series into the mainstream and, honestly, it doesn't entirely work. The writers try to walk a tightrope between the dark history of the character, along with his intended adult audience, whilst also telling a sanitised version suitable for people who usually only read Superman or Batman. It comes off as a half-hearted interpretation of Constantine that, really, no-one needed.
There is stuff to enjoy here, however. I liked the way that Constantine, always outnumbered and often outmatched, has to use his wits to overcome the obstacles in his quest to gather the weirdly-named Croydon Compass (between this and the mention of Trevor being 'the toast of Croydon' in Iron Man 3, is Croydon the only place in England Americans have heard of? Why? I digress.) It's also nice to see how Constantine views 'the costumes' who flashily go around saving the world whilst he quietly conducts a one-man war against the forces of darkness. We also, briefly, get to see him in Captain Marvel mode too (alright, Shazam, if you insist).
Overall this just feels like an undercooked incarnation of the cynical mage and, with no actual conclusion to the story arc in this book, you'll probably come away a little underwhelmed.
2 out of 5