So, here I am buying Captain Action again after stating that I was never a fan and expressing my dislike of the first volume of Action adventures. The Green Hornet/Captain Action encounter and the presence of Eduardo Barreto was the lure this time. I also believed he was going to be illustrating that story, but the draw of the book turns out to be pure prose at the tail end of a comic book anthology. Normally, the kiss of death. The book — Captain Action, mind you — still earns 4 Bullets.
“White Lies” by Beau Smith and Mr. Barreto is filled with action, no pun intended. After being betrayed to the Russians, during the hunt for a MacGuffin, Action finds himself between a duplicitous double-agent, her KGB colleague and, of course, a Yeti.
Smith’s writing is filled to the brim with adrenaline, and the James Bond era where this story takes place seems tailor-made for the Busted Knuckles columnist. However, nothing about the plot is unique to Captain Action. The story could have been adapted for any Bond-period copy or Indiana Jones. That said, Smith plots a riveting escapade where you wonder exactly how Action will escape what looks to be certain doom.
Barreto — who is the Jim Aparo of modern times and just as vastly underrated — choreographs a montage of suave Action in Paris as well as the brutal Action on the slopes. Every panel makes the mouth water. A girl in the foreground that could have arrived from Danger Man sets the mood as Action walks into the lounge. The spy’s smile reveals her double edge. Even if you hadn’t read a single word, you would know that this lady is absolutely no good. To solidify the comparison to Aparo, Barreto depicts violence that reverberates from the book. You wince when Action beats on the Russian wall of muscle, and his use of red produces a startling effect.
Tony Lee, Reno Maniquis and Bob Pedroza renew acquaintances for Lady Action’s “The Spy Who Snowballed Me.” Lee invests in the characterization of Lady Action, and her dialogue and behavior make this story all hers. In addition, the way her mission goes to hell rings true for the character.
As established in the Lady Action Special, a mercenary named Bryon holds a high position in the British division of the ACTION Directorate, and he seems to take a perverse delight in selling out Lady Action. This time it’s no different. A simple mission becomes a death-defying chase on fresh powder.
The title refers to The Spy Who Loved Me, which also involves a memorable ski-bound pursuit, but Maniquis and Pedroza make Nikki’s run unique. First, they depict her in contact with the unctuous Bryon on a cellphone, and close on annoyed looks that could puncture Roger Moore’s unflappable charm. She then becomes sardonic as the bad guys up the ante with helicopter backup, and you just get the impression that Lady Action is working really, really hard just to stay alive. Pedroza’s colors beautify the entire project. You wouldn’t think the winterscape would require such shading, but the judicious use of blues and grays bestow depth to the environment, and in the showstopping moment, Nikki brings out the rainbow with her costume and accoutrements, a necessary signature for the Action motif.
The next tale by Joe Gentile is the least of the bunch. I just don’t get Kid Action. I don’t understand his relationship with the rest of the Action team, and I can’t fathom why a black panther is fighting a grizzly, as if both combatants were in an Animal Planet hypothetical. Nicely drawn by Giovanni Timpano and colored by Eleonara Carlini, though.
Finally we come to the Action/Hornet meeting. the quickly-paced story functions on the unique attributes of both heroes. Despite the brevity of the tale, we get several demonstrations of Action’s disguise mastery and the Hornet’s ruse of being a gangster that takes a piece of the pie, when in actuality destroying the underworld from within like a wasp larva eating its way from the inside of a host insect. In addition, Action never learns that the Hornet is one of the good guys, yet writer Matthew Baugh comes up with a satisfying way of preserving Action’s operative pragmatism and the Hornet’s life.
Most comic book anthologies are merely excuses for lousy artwork and even worse storycraft. Captain Action Winter Special gives you page after page of quality writing and art for your hard-earned coin.