Writer: John Ney Rieber
Artists: John Cassaday
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Captain America using his shield to protect himself from the mountain of debris that has come crashing down around him, and when it's all over, he's managed to secure himself in a small pocket under the collapsed building. As he uses his shield to bash his way toward the surface, he discovers that there is someone wait for him to emerge from the wreckage, as when his efforts are rewarded by a peek of daylight, Cap finds he has to shield himself from a grenade that was tossed down the hole at him. Surviving this explosion we see Captain America erupts to the surface, where he finds the lead villain of this entire arc is waiting for him, and we see this villain is a horribly scarred man, who possesses an undying hatred of America. During the ensuing battle we learn that this man's hatred stems from the idea that both his parents were murdered with weapons that were given to a guerrilla army by America, and that his scarred appearance is the result of his being inside his house when it was burned to the ground during the same attack that killed his parents. However, we see Captain America belittles this man's desire for revenge, by making a case that America has learned from the mistakes it made in the past, and as such they can't be held accountable for them.
At the risk of becoming involved in social commentary instead of simply reviewing the merits of the story I feel that I have to point out that the big conflict in this issue is resolved with Captain America going off on a rant that America is no longer deserving of this man's wrath because it has revised its methods of dealing with foreign powers so that civilians that aren't involved in the conflict won't be harmed. Now as hopeful as this sounds any time there is a conflict there always exists the risk of civilian causalities, and as such the only way Captain America could really be certain that America's actions weren't creating another villain like this one is if America wasn't involved in any conflict whatsoever which clearly isn't the case. I also have to wonder about the logic behind Captain America's argument, as he acknowledges the man has a grievance against America, but that he no longer has any right to act upon it as America has mended her ways. There's also his claim that America never knew that its weapons that it was supplying the guerrillas with would be used to harm civilians, which sounds a bit like a parent making the claim that they never knew their child would burn down the house simply because they gave them a box of matches to play with.
Now even if I choose to ignore the big questions that Captain America's responses leave me with, the simple fact of the matter is that from a purely storytelling sense, John Ney Rieber is simply too caught up in his ideological battle that he seems to have forgotten the simple rule when it comes to the delivery of exciting combat, which is the hero has to be in danger. I mean it's all well & good to have the villain send his men away so he can fight Captain America by himself, but to follow this up with a battle where Captain America uses this villain as a punching bag doesn't exactly inspire much excitement. In fact I'm starting to get a bit concerned that in his bid to have Captain America symbolize the best America can offer, John Ney Rieber has come to believe that there should never be any doubt that Cap will be the winner no matter what the odds against him may be. However, even with this preordained victory format in place to make every battle annoyingly predictable, there's also the simple fact that John Ney Rieber has decided that his villains don't really need to be a physical match for the good Captain, when all they really need is a cause that they can rant & rave over, before Captain America responses with his fists & his strong belief in the American way.
This issue looks to be John Cassaday's final issue for the foreseeable future, and while the artists lined up to take over have me quite excited, the simple fact of the matter is that John Cassaday is the best artist Captain America has ever had going for it. From the opening sequence where we see Captain America getting buried under a mountain of debris, to the absolutely cringe-worthy page where Captain America buries the lead villain's head into the side of a concrete wall, the art on this issue is absolutely amazing. There's also the simple idea that this issue is by in large twenty-two pages of hand-to-hand combat, and while the battle is tilted so that Captain America is the one landing the truly painful looking blows, John Cassaday does a pretty solid job of keeping this action visually exciting, and the art also nicely plays up the hellish environment that this battle takes place, as we have the twisted wreckage & the flames raging in the background. There's also the little details like the idea that Captain America's shield & costume look progressively more tattered as the battle progressed, as it actually looks like his shield took the brunt of a grenade explosion. The scarred appearance of the main villain also nicely lent some credibility to the villain's cries for vengeance.
A wonderful looking issue that is let down by some fairly weak writing, as John Ney Rieber offers up a villain who has a fairly convincing motivation for his attacks, and the response that he has Captain America offering up is almost painful in how it fails to address the whole point that is made by the villain. I mean it's one thing to bring up the idea that America has supplied weapons to some rather questionable groups, but one has to wonder what's the point of doing so if John Ney Rieber is going to counter this idea with a response that completely whitewashes the issue. It also doesn't help that Captain America's big final speech has him discussing the idea of causing undue pain to others while he's busy smashing the man's head through a concrete wall. I'm not say I'm more sympathetic with the villain's point of view, but I am annoyed that John Ney Rieber dropped the ball after he developed such a strong debate for these characters to become embroiled in. Having the villain basically act as a punching bag also didn't help the excitement level of this battle.
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