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Longbox Junk Captain America/ Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers

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Welcome to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic reviews you never asked for!

 
As usual, during the summer things get a little crazy in my corner of the world.  I do these Longbox Junk reviews in my spare time at work, and since that work is managing a hotel, that spare time is kind of sparse during the height of the tourist travel season.  What I'm trying to say is that I apologize for the random delays this blog experiences during summer.
 
ANYWAY. . .
 
Since I was delayed even more than usual during July and only managed to get out one Captain America review, I thought "Why not just spotlight some Cap in August?" and here we are!
 
I've had the first issue of the series at hand for several years (bought for that great cover), but have never been able to completely read the story until recently when I came across the rest of the issues in a box of comics at the flea market.
 
So we've got a story about Captain America meeting Black Panther for the first time during WWII, with Nick Fury and His Howling Commandos in the mix.  Sounds like a good time, right?  Let's find out!

CAPTAIN AMERICA/ BLACK PANTHER:

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS

MARVEL KNIGHTS (2010)

 
ISSUE ONE
 
SCRIPT: Reginald Hudlin
PENCILS: Denys Cowan
INKS: Klaus Jansen
COLORS: Pete Pantazis
COVER: Denys Cowan & Klaus Jansen
 
THE COVER:
 
I like this one a lot!  I'm not normally a fan of Denys Cowan's sketchy art style, but there's a dynamic feel to this cover that can't be denied. It showcases the two main characters in a couple of great hero poses and has an explosive background that really makes the whole cover pop.  This one's a winner!
 
THE STORY:
 
As World War II rages, the elite commando unit known as "The Howlers", led by the tough as nails Sgt. Nick Fury, encounters the Allies' new secret weapon for the first time. . .the brightly clad super-soldier called Captain America!
 
In Berlin.  Adolf Hitler's scientists have discovered what they believe is the solution to creating an intercontinental guided missile capable of hitting the United States from Europe. . .a rare metal known as Vibranium that is only known to come from one place, the mysterious African nation of Wakanda.  Hitler places Baron Von Strucker in command of the important mission to retrieve the Vibranium from Africa.
 
Meanwhile, the Howlers are assigned to back up Captain America on a secret mission to (You guessed it) find out what Von Strucker and his men are searching for in Africa.  Shortly after arriving, Cap discovers the grisly remains of a squad of Germans who have been slaughtered.  He finds himself surrounded by Wakandan warriors and confronting their masked leader. . .the Black Panther. . .and being told to go home.  
 
Captain America demands answers from Black Panther.  He is told the Germans are there to steal the Vibranium from Wakanda for their missiles.  Panther will not allow them OR the Americans to have the metal for their weapons.  Outraged by the Wakandan leader's blunt refusal to share the secret of Vibranium with the allies, Captain America and Black Panther fight while the captive Howlers look on.
 
In the meantime, at Von Strucker's nearby hidden base, he is informed of the death of his advance scouts.  As he considers how to proceed, he is surprised to learn that Hitler has sent another special agent to Africa to ensure the vital mission does not fail. . .The Red Skull!
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Okay, not a bad start.  It's mostly setup to get Sgt. Fury and the Howlers together with Captain America and in Africa, but I DO love a good wartime Captain America story, and having the Howlers as supporting cast (The story is actually told from one of their perspectives. . .Gabe, the Howlers' African American musician) is definitely a great addition!
 
Black Panther doesn't really come into the story until the issue is almost done. . .and then just for a bit of obligatory "Heroes Fight Until They Realize They Need To Work Together".  It's a well-worn comic book team-up path, but it works here.  It's wartime and Wakanda knows they have something that will be used to kill millions, whether in the hands of the Axis OR Allies.  Therefore, the Black Panther seen so far is blunt and ready to fight. . .not the heroic and thoughtful warrior/diplomat he is usually presented as. 
 
On the art side of things, I mentioned in my look at the cover that I don't really enjoy Denys Cowan's sketchy art style.  He's one of those artists with a unique style that has evolved over the years.  In my humble opinion, it hasn't evolved for the better. 
 
He made a name for himself on The Question and I really liked his work there, but over time, his art has become sketchy and more impressionistic.  I don't think he was the best choice of artists for this fairly straightforward war story. His comic-noir style is much more suited for stories as vague and rough around the edges as his art.
 
The colors are also a bit of a problem, as far as the art goes.  The whole comic is presented in a very washed-out and muted way, with bright splashes of color here and there to set things off a bit.  It all comes off as somewhat dull and is pretty muddy in places. . .especially scenes where Captain America isn't there to lend a little burst of red and blue.  It's not really a great choice for a Captain America comic, in my humble opinion.
 

Overall, the story here is good.  It's a simple and straightforward setup to get all the characters in Africa for a wartime adventure featuring Captain America, Black Panther, Nick Fury (and His Howling Commandos), Baron Strucker, and Red Skull.  There's plenty of action and adventure to be found, as well as an ending introducing Red Skull to the scenario that makes me want to jump right into the next issue.  In other words, a solid comic book team-up story so far.
 
Unfortunately, the art is distracting and sketchy, made worse by an extremely muted coloring style, so the story as a whole suffers a bit. . .but not enough for me to call it bad.  Another artist could have bumped this up a notch or two from where it sits right now at "pretty good".
 
NEXT!
 
ISSUE TWO
 
SCRIPT: Reginald Hudlin
PENCILS: Denys Cowan
INKS: Klaus Jansen
COLORS: Pete Pantazis
COVER: Denys Cowan & Klaus Jansen
 
THE COVER:
 
I like the dirty white background on this one a lot, and it's pretty dynamic, but it lacks the force and power of the first issue's cover.  Cap's face is also a little strange.  It's not a BAD cover, it's just not a GREAT cover.  
 
THE STORY:
 
After Black Panther and Captain America finish fighting, the Americans are invited into Wakanda, where Cap and Panther talk terms for a cooperative effort against the invading Germans.  Nick Fury isn't so sure that Panther can be trusted, so he puts one of his men (Gabe) onto the mission of trying to learn more.  Fury assures Gabe that he's got the job because he's the best man for it.  Gabe knows that it's really because he's the only black man in the Howlers.
 
In the meantime, Baron Strucker plans an attack on the Wakandan capital using all the forces at his disposal. . .five full regiments.  But the Red Skull demands that no more than one regiment be used, causing Strucker to doubt the sanity of his new commander.
 
Later, as the Germans attack, the Howlers are kept prisoner for their own safety as Captain America and Black Panther rush to the defense of the city.  The German tanks are disabled by strange Wakandan devices called "Panther's Teeth", forcing the Germans into a brutal hand to hand battle at the city gates, where they are easily driven back by Captain America, Black Panther, and the Dora Milaje (Wakanda's all-female royal bodyguards).
 
After the German retreat, we learn that the underpowered attack force was merely a test of Wakanda's defenses, and that the Red Skull has not arrived alone.  With him are some of Germany's own superpowered "heroes". . .Master Man, Warrior Woman, and Armless Tiger Man.  Now armed with the knowledge he wanted about Wakanda's high-tech defense systems, Red Skull plots a devastating attack with the German superhumans in the lead. 
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Most of this issue was action, focusing on the battle between the Wakandans and Germans at the city gate, but there were a few interesting moments in between.
 
Nick Fury tapping Gabe to try and spy on the Wakandans because he's black, as well as conversation between Black Panther and Captain America about how America fights for the rights of people overseas while oppressing their own citizens at home, lends a bit of depth to what is otherwise a pretty straightforward military action story sprinkled with a bit of superhero seasoning.
 
Another interesting little bit to the story in this issue informed me about something I'd been wondering about in the first issue, which was how Black Panther met up with Captain America in WWII in the first place.  I chalked it up to this being a "Marvel Knights" series, most of which had a sort of strange relationship with established Marvel continuity. . .not quite "What If?" stories, but not quite standard "Marvel Universe" either.  
 
It's revealed (by showing his sons with their mother during the German attack) that the Black Panther in THIS story is actually T'Challa's (the "current" Black Panther) grandfather.  Which explains why this version of Black Panther is more direct and brutal than the one I'm used to reading.
 
Unfortunately, Denys Cowan's art remains the weak point of this otherwise solid wartime superhero story.  His sketchy style and the muted color palette just aren't a great fit for this series at all.  
 

Overall, this issue is pretty solid when it comes to the story.  Lots of action backed up by some interesting commentary on race that doesn't come off as preachy or forced.  I just wish they had tapped another artist for this project.  Cowan's art is perfectly fine in the right setting, but this isn't that setting.
 
NEXT!
 
ISSUE THREE
 
SCRIPT: Reginald Hudlin
PENCILS: Denys Cowan
INKS: Tom Palmer
COLORS: Pete Pantazis
COVER: Denys Cowan & Sandu Florea
 
THE COVER:
 
This one's a bit of a mess.  It's cluttered and the coloring is pretty muddy. It's okay, I guess, but this isn't really the kind of cover that makes me want to buy a comic book. Let's get inside. . .
 
THE STORY:
 
In the aftermath of the failed German attack (last issue), we find Nick Fury changing Gabe's secret mission from just spying on the Wakandans to discovering the location of Wakanda's Vibranium, with the intention of denying it to the Germans and delivering it to the Allies.  Gabe is conflicted, but assures Fury that he'll do his job.
 
Meanwhile, in the German camp, we learn that in addition to the three German superhumans, Red Skull has also allied himself with the brutal leader of a tribe that has long been rivals of  neighboring Wakanda, The White Gorilla.  His team now complete, Red Skull plots the destruction of Wakanda.
 
Back in Wakanda, Gabe manages to bluff his way into the Vibranium mine, but as he gathers information for Fury, Wakanda comes under surprise attack by Master Man and Warrior Woman, attacking from the air and easily breaking through Wakanda's defenses!
 
At the Royal Palace, Captain America confronts Warrior Woman and White Gorilla while Gabe faces the powerful Master Man at the Vibranium mine.  Black Panther crashes an airplane into Master Man as the German superhuman tears through the mine's defenders.
 
Elsewhere, Nick Fury and the rest of the Howlers are searching for the hidden German base.  They discover it, but are confronted by Red Skull piloting a gigantic combat robot!
 
Meanwhile, back at the Palace, Captain America battles White Gorilla while Black Panther's sons try to escape, only for one of them to be captured by Armless Tiger Man, who demands Captain America surrender or he will kill the young Prince.
 
To be concluded. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Another pretty solid issue that leans more into action than story, but with a few small diversions here and there.  I like the side story of Gabe being conflicted over following Fury's orders as he learns more about Wakanda and sees a thriving kingdom of free blacks and knowing he's been given the mission just because he's a black man.  
 
It's an interesting commentary on race that is presented naturally as part of the story and doesn't feel forced. . .of COURSE Fury is going to give his only black guy the mission to infiltrate Wakanda.  He doesn't even think twice.  Gabe knows he's being used just because he's black, but he's loyal to the commander who gave him a chance to prove himself that not many other black men in the 1940's were given.  It doesn't take up much page space, but I like this story sort of simmering in the background.
 
The rest of the issue is okay.  I can see it sort of sliding down into comic book cliche action territory, especially when Red Skull jumps into action driving a giant Ratzi robot.  Giant Robot Punching is probably my LEAST favorite comic book trope, and I'm a bit disappointed to see it telegraphed that there's going to be plenty of Giant Robot Punching in what's sure to be a slam-bang finale.  
 
I know I keep going on about the art on this series, but it's really the worst part of the whole thing.  The sketchy art style of Denys Cowan just isn't a good fit, and that's especially clear in this issue.  The closer we get to the end, the more sketchy the art gets.  It looks like maybe Cowan was being rushed a bit.  The muted and washed out color scheme just adds to the sort of messy look of this comic.
 
 

Overall, even though the story is obviously starting to slide down into what surely will be a pretty standard comic book superhero punch-fest finale (including a dose of good old-fashioned Giant Robot Punching), there are some surprisingly interesting character moments hidden in the background story of a soldier conflicted by being used for his race.
 
The artwork remains consistently disappointing, and maybe even a little worse as the story heads into the final issue.  A different artist could have definitely taken this tale up a few notches.
 
AND FINALLY. . .
 
ISSUE FOUR
 
SCRIPT: Reginald Hudlin
PENCILS: Denys Cowan
INKS: Tom Palmer & Sandu Florea
COLORS: Pete Pantazis
COVER: Denys Cowan &Sandu Florea
 
THE COVER:
 
We come full circle back to a great cover to finish things off after two "okay" covers in the middle of the set.  It's dynamic, it showcases the two title heroes very nicely, and the explosive background highlights everything in a great way.  It's just a well done superhero comic cover all around.
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing from last issue, as Gabe tries to survive the attack on the Vibranium mine, he manages to steal a piece of the rare metal.  In the meantime, Nick Fury and the Howlers fight for their lives against Red Skull and his giant robot.
 
Gabe manages to escape the mine by a secret passage leading to the Wakandan Royal Palace, where he saves Prince T'Chaka by shooting Armless Tiger Man in the head.  Captain America arrives on the scene just a little too late.  He and Gabe decide to team up to find out where the Red Skull is.  In the Vibranium mine, Black Panther easily defeats both Master Man AND Warrior Woman, using some sort of poison on his gauntlets.  
 
Back in the jungle, The Howlers realize their weapons are useless against Red Skull, and they retreat into the German camp, accidentally running into Baron Strucker's tent.  A tense standoff between Fury and Strucker is interrupted by Red Skull bursting back onto the scene.
 
As Gabe, Captain America, and Black Panther fly a plane toward the German camp to assist the Howlers, Gabe is shocked when Black Panther offers him Wakandan citizenship in gratitude for saving his son and conducting himself with honor while a guest of Wakanda.  Gabe tells him he needs to think on it.
 
Arriving at the German base, Cap and Panther find the Howlers in desperate need of aid.  They jump into battle and GIANT ROBOT PUNCHIN' COMMENCES!!  
 
 
 
After defeating Red Skull, Strucker surrenders.  Black Panther lets him and his defeated men go, but with a warning that if another German is even seen near Wakanda, they will join the Allies and Black Panther will personally go to Berlin and kill his way to the top of the command chain.
 
At the end of it all, Gabe declines Panther's offer of citizenship. . .telling him that there's still fighting left to be done in Europe.  On the other hand, he also lies to Nick Fury. . .telling him that he wasn't able to find any information on the Vibranium.  
 
In a short epilogue, we see Nick Fury at a mission debriefing being asked his opinion of Captain America.  Nick was impressed by Cap's fighting ability, but not so much by his unwillingness to help find Wakanda's vibranium.  He suggests that the army train a partner for Cap who is willing to get his hands dirty if the mission calls for it.
 
The End.
 
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Yep. . .Giant Robot Punching.  Easily one of the most abused tropes in comic books.  One of the main reasons I don't read many mainstream superhero titles.  There's ALWAYS going to be a robot (giant or otherwise) being punched in at least one issue of ANY mainstream superhero comic.  Don't try to prove me wrong.  You can't.
 
Giant Robot Punching aside, this was a slam-bang all action (well, until the end) finale to this story.  I liked that even through all the fight scenes, the writer still managed to slip in bits of the underlying story of Gabe's personal conflict. . .ending with him deciding to just let things stay the way they are.  A cop-out?  It can be seen that way. But I prefer to think of it being a simple man keeping things simple.  If that means maintaining a crappy status quo, then that's what it means.  
 
I have to give credit to the writer for being able to provide a thought-provoking commentary on race inside a story about superheroes punching Ratzis in Africa.  It was unexpected and nicely done.
 
The art actually seemed to improve a bit in this issue.  I chalk it up to the addition of a new inker.  Whatever was the cause, it's unfortunate that it came in the final issue.  A definite case of "Too little, too late" in my humble opinion.  But at least they managed to tame Cowan's sketchy and vague pencils enough to be a noticeable improvement over previous issues.  The muted color palette remains a real weak point, though.  Not much an inker can do about that.
 

Overall, a solid piece of almost non-stop superhero action that takes a little bit of time to reflect on a conflicted soldier caught up in it all.  It's a good finish to the story.  Too bad the art remains disappointing, despite showing a bit of improvement.
 

CONCLUSION

 
There you have it.  Captain America and Black Panther meeting for the first time in the middle of WWII.  For Captain America fans, you get a Cap that's still a little "green", proving himself in battle.  For Black Panther fans, you get a look at a brutal wartime Panther in T'Challa's grandfather.  And then you've got Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos doing what they do best.  Mix them together in an unusual WWII African setting and you have a pretty darn good little superhero war story.
 
The artist wasn't the best choice, and there's a trip down the extremely well-worn comic path of giant robot punching, but that's not enough to keep this story down.  It's enough to knock it down a notch or two, but all in all, I can recommend Flags of Our Fathers to any fan of Captain America, Black Panther, or WWII comics in general.  Give it a try.  It's a pretty good read.  
 
Up Next. . .
 
It's still EXTREMELY busy at work, so I think I'll hit a few one-shots until things settle down a bit. I've picked up some fantastic Flea Market bargains this past month, so maybe some tasty Retro-Reviews.
 
Be there or be square!
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