You had to know this was coming.

Originally, this week was reserved for an article that detailed a prescription that would keep Marvel Comics potent and vital throughout 2003, only to be followed the next week by schematics that would enable DC to launch an unannounced takeover, just to keep you people guessing. However, if one can use DC’s recent retailer conference as any indication, and I will, my planned contribution would read as enthusiastic regurgitation and little else, as they’ve responded to several of the strong “suggestions” contained in my notes. Redundancy was approaching in earnest and only a scheduling change could prevent it.

Luckily, upon visiting my retailer for my weekly fix, he offered me a glimpse of the future.

Regular readers will probably recall my passionate diatribe supporting Marvel Comics’ inclination to tell The Truth, a proposed mini-series that sheds additional light on the super-soldier program that birthed Captain America, using some historical sleight of hand to reconcile things along a racial perspective (click here for article). You may also remember an interview with series editor Axel Alonso that discussed what the project was and what it wasn’t (click here for article). Well, the finished product finally hits stores on Wednesday and with First Look copy in hand, I’ve come to tell you whether or not it deserves a listen.

Truth: Red, White, and Black #1 (Robert Morales/Kyle Baker)

Isaiah and his wife Faith are in Queens enjoying ‘Negro Week’ at the world’s fair. Maurice Canfield gets into a brawl. Luke Evans has been demoted to the rank of sergeant. None of the men are aware of the others’ existence, which is understandable considering they’re residing in different parts of the U.S., but it’s evident that one of these men will become the first Captain America. We just don’t know which one.

Bridging the vignettes is an undercurrent of racism and prejudice that effects each man in an unique way, highlighting the scribe’s first major victory in the series. Race is always a difficult subject to tackle in modern media, primarily because the effort often channels the simplistic stance of an afterschool special, burying the true issue in a syrupy reality play that ultimately makes no point. Racism isn’t all burning crosses and bad words. Discrimination is often more subtle, a sensation of superiority that translates into a lack of personal respect.

Even though Morales’ story takes place in the forties, an era which unfortunately supports a more evident form of prejudice, he suppresses a need for shock value and flash antics. By threading racism throughout his characters’ personal and professional lives, Morales has made it easier to swallow and subsequently harder to ignore. Maurice Canfield lives in a mansion with a butler and personal cook, yet still struggles for a respect not found on either side of the racial divide. We could write these things off as the work of fanatics if everything was a secret meeting of white sheets, but try to reconcile ruining a man’s professional career because of an ethnic grudge and things become more pervasive. Morales puts it in your face but doesn’t drive it down your throat, which is going to make ignoring this series a tough order, especially considering that his dialogue is sharp, tweaking itself across the three leads and allowing for a heightened degree of characterization. These aren’t simply three identical men living in different U.S. cities, driven toward a foregone conclusion.

The work of Kyle Baker is new to me, though probably not for long, and tells the story with flair and style. The art is a delicate blend of watercolor, period piece, and jazz painting, balanced by a mixture of bright hues and muted tones. Baker shifts from outdoor fair, to upper-class estate to darkened pool hall with equal skill, offering three visually distinctive protagonists. Those who doubt the skill will be forced to examine the two page splash of the Pearl Harbor attack and promise to remain quiet. Baker offers artwork appropriate for this time period and for this story, more Harlem Renaissance than Golden Age, bringing a different flavor to the table without losing the desired effect.

Overall, an impressive debut with three-dimensional characters and nice artwork. Check it out, spider-sense says that controversy and curiosity will make this an instant sell-out.

Maybe we’ll do this again next month, and here are a couple of books to tide you over until the Truth hits.


The New Hotness:

Fables #7 (Bill Willingham/Mark Buckingham/Steve Leialoha)

I finally figured out what it is. For seven months I’ve been reading Fables on the regular, completely fascinated, yet strangely confused as to exactly why. It took an installment filled to capacity with talking animals debating social construction and revolution before I understood. What makes this series of exiled fairy-tale characters residing in modern-day New York so compelling is the solid characterization and dialogue by Bill Willingham. Yeah, yeah, sometimes even the writers can miss the easy ones, but the realization that a conversation between three bears, a blonde, and a fox had occurred without a raised eyebrow from my ever-functioning logic barrier, suggested that the scribe was in control of the game. And besides, any book that comments on a sexual relationship between Goldilocks and one of the three bears shall be considered for New Hotness without question. These people are doing very strange things to figures of modern legend…and you should be watching.

Black Panther #51 (Christopher Priest/Jorge Lucas)blackpanther1

Shoulda known better. Issue 50 triggered that familiar sinking feeling caused by the last couple seasons of the X-Files when things suddenly felt wrong, and less magical. I’m here to announce that the sparkle has returned, and Priest deserves an apology. The way the light catches this title is certainly different since the revamp, like comparing a sports car to an SUV, nice rides in their own respects, but handling the curves differently.

Priest is brandishing an urban drama dashed with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory and conflicting moralities, retaining elements of the old while rolling with something decidedly new. Kevin Cole, our new protagonist, is drowning in corruption and crooked cops, and not even a bulletproof Panther suit can cause his life to make sense.

His problems are real, his choices difficult, and his path is thus far unknown. And before doubting the presence if King T’Challa in this brave new revamp, heed the ominous words of the White Wolf, “It’s why he chose you.” The plot thickens and once again I’m left with the wish there will be a Marvel dotComic of this.


Next week we discuss a few things that Marvel can implement to counter the increasing threat of their Distinguished Competition. I swear these people are determined to bankrupt me, announcing hit project after hit project with no regard for my poor wallet. I’ve gotta snag some comp boxes soon or I’ll be ruined…

One more thing. Fellow SBCer J Hues chronicled a frightening incident involving a loved one in Friday’s RWTP (click here for article). Best wishes to his friends and family. Stay strong.

Peace

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