I originally thought that Theater of War was a mini-series until I took a closer look at them and realized that they are actually a collection of one-shots under a single title, with the only things tying them together being Captain America and a similar cover frame. They cover a variety of times and concepts. . .everything from straight up WWII action to Captain America as the embodiement of the American Spirit. Let's get into it!
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THEATER OF WAR
-I'm not entirely sure of how these are supposed to be ordered, but snce they are pretty much unrelated with no overarcing story, I'm just going in alphabetical order. . .
Howard Chaykin chooses an unusual setting for this Captain America one-shot. . .the post WWII Cold War era of the 1950's. The Captain America in this tale isn't Steve Rogers (although the world THINKS it is), but the super-patriotic to the extreme William Burnside. It also features a younger, postwar Nick Fury working for the CIA before S.H.I.E.L.D. was formed.
The story itself involves a Nazi super-science Maguffin for sale to the highest bidder and Soviet sleeper agents coming out of the woodwork to acquire it. . .including one from the highest level of the U.S. government.
This is a densely-written political thriller set in a strange time for Captain America. I have to say I really enjoyed it, even though Chaykin isn't my favorite artist, he DOES know how to write a good story. As for the art. . .it's Chaykin. It's unique. He's one of those love him or hate him artists. Not my cup of tea, but it gets the job done.
There are also two backup stories featuring the 1950's Cap. One from "Young Men #24" with the return of Captain America. It's utterly ridiculous and on the verge of unreadable, but hey. . .history, right? It does have decent Romita Sr. art, though.
The second backup (from Captain America Comics #77) is a bit more readable, but probably more so because of the "WTF Racism LOL!" factor than anything else. It is a nice little historic look back at what exactly America thought of those stinking Commie Chinese in the 1950's. Once again, decent Romita Sr. art.
All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It is a love (?) letter to the Cold War era, with all its propaganda, nationalism, and racism intact and on full, uncomfortable display. . .both in the modern story by Chaykin and the backups.
I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
First. . .LOOK at that awesome Steve Epting cover! It's worthy of going in a frame. That's MY Captain America. No Hail Hydras from that Captain America.
This Captain America one-shot contains 2 stories, both dealing with present day unfinished business of WWII, so both are told with a combination of flashbacks and the present day resolution of things.
The first story is about Cap guiding a young man who shouldn't even be in the service through the war because he sees what HE would have been without the super-soldier serum. . .bullied, mocked, not taken seriously. After going through most of the war as a bullied coward, the soldier finally finds his courage and makes the ultimate sacrifice, his life for Captain America. The modern portion of the story has Captain America discovering the young man's body and giving him a proper burial in the United States.
I found the story to be overly sentimental. It had a few good moments, but for the most part the emotion of it just felt forced. The art was utterly average, so that didn't help much.
In between the stories was the second best part of this book (the first being the cover). A Sgt Rock/Captain America company crossover pin-up by Andy Kubert! Holy crap!
The second story involves a man who Captain America and Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos rescued from certain death during the Battle of The Bulge. The story of his rescue has inspired the following generations of his family to help others, and as he lies on his deathbed, his grandson (now an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.) disobeys orders and does whatever he can to get Captain America there.
As with the first story, this one just felt like a forced attempt to jerk a tear or two. The art wasn't good on this one either. The WWII flashbacks with Cap, Bucky, and the Howling Commandos were nice, but the modern part of the story was overly-sentimental.
All in all, I didn't like this book very much. The only things that saved it from a 2 star review were the fantastic Epting cover and the unexpected Kubert Captain America/Sgt. Rock pinup.
BROTHER IN ARMS
This one shot is set during WWII, where Captain America and the 23rd Ranger Battalion are deep behind enemy lines in Germany on a mission to take control of a vital dam/bridge and hold it until reinforcements arrive days later. During the battle, a German prisoner tends to their wounded and the men of the 23rd learn that when it comes to soldiers, even your enemy is your Brother in Arms sometimes.
I have to say that I REALLY liked this book. From the fantastic, classic Cap cover, to the sharp, detailed art inside.
But what I really liked about this straightforward tale of discovering brotherhood in war was that it reminded me of something that could have easily been in Our Army at War, or Sgt. Rock, or any of those great old war comics of the past. All in all, I found this book to be a very nicely done tribute to a genre all but forgotten today.
GHOSTS OF MY COUNTRY
This Theater of War issue steps away from telling a specific tale of Captain America and pulls out to look at the bigger picture of America itself and the events that shaped it. and Captain America as the embodiment of the Spirit of America.
The "story" is told in a series of vignettes. . .some several pages long (the writing of the national anthem, for example) and some are only a single panel (the first moon landing). The vignettes go from the beginning of the U.S.A. at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to modern times with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They are all framed with phrases of a patriotic poem written by John Adams during the Revolutionary War and Captain America appears in each vignette as an incorporeal spirit.
As a veteran, a patriotic American, and a fan of Captain America, I liked this issue. If you are none of the things I listed, you will probably find it overly-nationalistic and a simple piece of flag-waving sentimentality created to tug at the patriotic heart strings, because basically, that's exactly what it is. With me, it found its audience. Not everyone will agree.
All in all, if you're looking for some outright patriotism, it's in here. If you're looking for a Captain America adventure, it's not.
OPERATION ZERO POINT
This Theater of War issue focuses on WWII Captain America on a top secret mission to destroy. . .Nazi flying saucers. Okay, the story is better than the description.
I really liked this issue. It was a modern throwback to the simpler days of Captain America. Pretty much a "point our secret weapon at the Nazi target and win!" kind of story.
Other than the simple lines of the story itself, two other things that really sold me on this issue being one of the best of the Theater of War one shots was the fantastic artwork. . .dark, gritty, dirty. . .it reminded me a lot of Tommy Lee Edwards, and that's not a bad thing.
The other thing that I really liked here was the characterization of Cap himself. It's a gritty version that still paints him as a hero, but really brings out his Brooklyn roots and shows him as someone willing to break a few eggs to make an omelet. He carries a gun in a few scenes and isn't afraid to use it.
All in all, this was a great throwback adventure story with a lot of action and fantastic artwork. I couldn't ask for anything more.
TO SOLDIER ON
This Theater of War one shot takes place in modern times during the occupation of Iraq. It asks the question of whether or not Captain America has a place in modern war. The answer, surprisingly enough is no. . .not really.
I'm not sure if that's what the answer was SUPPOSED to be, but the whole time I read this, I couldn't help but feel a little awkward as I read a story that tried to cram superheroes and forced emotion into a conflict that was in full swing when the book was published.
I guess this is why they didn't write "The 'Nam" until the 80's. I'm not saying it's BAD. . .the art is pretty good, and the story about a triple amputee veteran getting past how he feels that Captain America is responsible for his condition because of his outdated tactics is okay. . .even though it's a bit of an intentional tug on the "Wounded Warrior" patriotic heartstrings.
I just found it slightly uncomfortable in the same way I found all the superhero 9/11 tributes. I realize that writers want to touch on current events, but sometimes they also need to realize that superheroes aren't always the best tools for commentary.
This story just wasn't a good fit for Captain America.On it's own as a standalone war story, it would have been fine.
And there you have it. Captain America: Theater of War.
Overall, I'd say I enjoyed this "series" of one shots. Some I liked a bit more than others. My favorite was probably Operation Zero Point for it just being a damn good Captain America WWII story with fantastic artwork. My least favorite would be To Soldier On. It's just sort of awkward and forced to try and have Captain America in a story about Iraq. In my humble opinion, If you're going to have a Captain America war story, just keep him busting Nazis. The most interesting one was America First, as a densely-written look back at the extreme nationalism and politics of the 1950's Cold War era.
But they ALL had their good points. There wasn't a truly BAD one in the bunch. I'll go ahead and suggest them all. Some of them might not be agreeable to others, depending on their level of tolerance for unashamed America flag waving, but all in all a pretty good collection of stories.
Up next. . .
He's insanely jealous about his hot girlfriend. He has no powers. He's just a guy with a stolen jetpack and a lack of common sense. One of my favorite heroes. . .The Rocketeer!
IDW's 4 issue Rocketeer Adventures 2. Be there or be square!
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Issue # 10