It’s Thursday, so it must be time for our weekly column, the Thursday Threeway! Every week, I’ll take three things – things that are least tangentially related – and review all three in one blog post. It could be three movies, or three books, or even three sandwiches. Today we’ll be looking at the three short comics celebrating Captain America’s 75th Anniversary, included after the extra-long main story in the super-sized Captain America: Sam Wilson #7.
Presentation by Joss Whedon & John Cassady
First up is a story that foregrounds the iconography of Captain America in a metafictional question that’s surely been bothering Whedon for decades: why the shield? Whedon dramatizes this question by providing a two-pronged narrative: the majority of the panels are devoted to a scene of Cap fighting nazi troops in Coignières during World War II, while the remaining panels feature Cap speaking with some sort of marketing team regarding his iconography.
Whedon leaves the panels devoted to WWII completely devoid of dialogue (although caption boxes do appear), while the panels concerning the marketing team feature plenty of lines – especially for the two suit-clad scumbags. This pair of silver-tongued avarice-driven assholes are right out of the Big Book of Whedon Villains, but that characterization works fine, given that the two ad executives here only need to provide Cap with the question, “Why the shield?”
Naturally, the marketers want to replace Cap’s iconic shield with the AmeriGun, which Cap staunchly refuses. “We’re not conquerors. We didn’t come here to take something. We came to protect something.” Cap’s statement here is especially powerful as it appears over scenes of the battle in Coignières, a city in Nazi-occupied France. Cap’s presence there isn’t an act of aggression, it’s an act of defense: the Allies were never meant to conquer Europe, but only to liberate it. Whedon deftly links this core component of Captain America’s character – archetypial defender of the Allies during WWII – to the iconic shield that is inextricably from Captain America’s image today.
While the idea of a story examining Cap’s iconography might seem dull, this is anything but. It’s a brief, engaging story that leaves the reader to think about the core tenants of Captain America’s character well after the book has been closed.
Catch Me If You Can by Tim Sale
There’s a strong emphasis on visual storytelling in this tale, which makes sense given that Tim Sale was responsible for both the words and the art. It’s hard to complain about how light on dialogue a comic is when the visuals are this appealing. Opening with an arresting two-page splash of Cap navigating an Escher-esque Hydra base, Sale’s art is conscious about exploring the space allotted by the confines of a comic book page. Note the way the panels on the next two pages of the story reflect one another – on the first, three Hydra agents are shown knocked unconscious at the top of the page; on the opposite side at the top of the next page, this is echoed by three panels showing Cap breaking into a safe. There’s a movement and a rhythm to these pages that not only recognizes the distinct parameters set by the comic book medium, but fully embraces those parameters in order to transcend them.
Dialogue is scarce, but some does appear during a flashback to Steve’s childhood, when his mother reminisces about baseball and gives him a gift from his father. Back to the present and we learn Cap had broken into the Hydra base on a personal mission – to retrieve the signed Babe Ruth ball his father had left him.
Cap’s father has never been an integral part of the character’s backstory, and I can’t say whether this story is representative of Steve’s relationship with his father or not. Plus, after breaking into the Hydra vault, I’m not sure why Captain American wouldn’t at least give some of the other stolen treasures a second glance – not for personal gain, of course, but to return them to their proper owners. Nevertheless, Cap’s retrieval of his father’s baseball makes for a nice, personal story – and with visuals like this, why get too hung up on the narrative details?
Pas de Deux by Greg Rucka & Mike Perkins
“Pas de Deux” means “Dance for Two,” a name which is apt for this third Cap tale. In essence, this is a story about two friends, and the casual intimacy they share even when performing death defying acts of heroism. However, the story is elevated by the inclusion of ballet, and the way it allows two old friends like Natasha and Steve to better understand one another.
The art in this issue must be mentioned, given that it embodies a distinctly Marvel convention: the inclusion of actual places and events within their superhero stories. While many popular stories are set in New York City, few make a conscious effort to ensure their geography and architecture is accurate. Not so for Marvel, whose artists have been sketching actual locations in their fantastic stories for over five decades.
In this story, that means we are treated to a plethora of beautiful artwork featuring the architecture of the Lincoln Center – and as if that wasn’t enough, the first act of Jewels, George Balanchine’s ballet in three parts, is faithfully reproduced, right down to accurate depictions of the ballerina’s costumes.
All of these elements come together for another breathtaking two-page splash. In the background, filling larger panels, are scenes of Steve taking out the would-be assassin. In the smaller panels, we see the ballet occurring below on the stage. The two narratives, carefully arranged against each other, provide a neat visual parallel between Steve’s fighting in the balcony and Natasha’s dancing on the stage – and all this is carefully arranged around an image of Koch Theater that gives shape to the panels which surround it. It’s a climax that takes into account both the art and words of the story and delivers in a big way on both.
Next Week, I’ll be reviewing three more of something else! What will it be? Tomorrow, be on the lookout for continued coverage of Avengers Standoff with the main story included in the super-sized Captain America: Sam Wilson #7!