Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: The Doom Patrol Archives, Vol. 1

Review Doom Patrol Archives Volume One Arnold Drake Bob Haney Bruno Premiani Elasti-Girl Negative Man Robotman Chief My Greatest Adventure Archive Editions DC Comics Cover hardcover hc comic bookWriters: Arnold Drake and Bob Haney
Artist: Bruno Premiani
Collects: My Greatest Adventure #80-85 and The Doom Patrol #86-89 (1963-64)
Published: DC, 2002; $49.95

The Doom Patrol is a team of superheroes perhaps best known, sadly, for supposedly being ripped off by Stan Lee when he created the X-Men. However, that idea does an incredible disservice to both Marvel and DC, who both deserve more credit. Furthermore, it simply isn’t true. Yes, both teams star a group of super-powered social outcasts led by a man in a wheelchair, and their mortal enemies have similar names: the Doom Patrol fights the Brotherhood of Evil, while the X-Men fight the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But that’s where the similarities end, quite frankly, and with X-Men #1 hitting the stands only three months after the Doom Patrol’s first appearance, there is literally no way that Lee could have known about the Doom Patrol’s existence before writing his new, mutant-based comic book series.

Still, it’s a myth that’s been perpetuated for well over forty years, to the point that it’s almost completely overshadowed the Doom Patrol’s original five-year run (from 1963 to 1968), which was handled from start to finish by writer Arnold Drake and artist Bruno Premiani. (Bob Haney also receives co-writing credit on the first two issues, although his influence was actually pretty minimal.) Even the people who put this particular collection together belabor the “rip-off” argument on the inside of the book’s cover jacket, which I think is kind of petty on DC’s part. Luckily, Drake doesn’t bring it up in his introduction, which details how the book came about creatively and editorially.

Removed from the controversy and taken purely on its own terms, Doom Patrol is an incredibly unique comic book, one that I find much more interesting than other team books DC was publishing around the same time. Unlike Justice League of America, for example, which featured characters who all starred in comics of their own, the characters that make up the Doom Patrol are unique to this book and actually have some room to develop. That potential isn’t utilized to its fullest in this first Archive edition, but the stories do start to mature considerably about halfway through the book, when the title of the series officially switches from My Greatest Adventure to The Doom Patrol.

So who exactly are the Doom Patrol? The first issue introduces us to all four of the book’s main characters: Elasti-Girl, who has the ability to stretch her body and to expand and reduce her size; Negative Man, a heavily bandaged individual (think of the Invisible Man) who can release a being of pure radio-energy from his body, but only for 60 seconds at a time; Robotman, a former stunt daredevil whose brain now resides in the metal body of a robot; and the Chief, the ingenious but mysterious wheelchair-bound man who has brought the team together.

The Chief is by far the most interesting member of the Doom Patrol, with Drake constantly teasing at the nature of the character’s secret past and true identity. In one story, the Chief even propagates multiple versions of his own “origin” (much like the Joker does in The Dark Knight) in order to confuse the other members of the team and to weed out which one of them has been leaking information to the press. And perhaps it’s that I’m projecting something onto the story that simply isn’t there, but I couldn’t help but question the Chief’s motives at various points throughout the book – why did he assemble this team? How does he know so much about the other members, and why won’t he even reveal so much as his own name?

Even when the Chief’s backstory is partially revealed in one of the last issues of this collection, I’m not sure I entirely buy it. I still think there’s something he’s hiding – but again, maybe that’s just me. (For the record, though, it’s my understanding that Grant Morrison felt basically the same way, giving the Chief some more explicitly villainous qualities in his 1980s run on the title.) Either way, it makes me anxious to read the other four Archives in the series, if only to see how the mystery of the character plays out.

The other team members aren’t quite as interesting, but they’re still strangely compelling. Labeled as “freaks” by society at large, all three are extremely angry – not a quality you tend to see dominating an entire team in superhero comics from this time. “Edgy” is perhaps a cliché word to use when describing angry comic book characters, but it fits here, and at times it’s actually pretty difficult to tell why the team stays together at all. Interestingly, they don’t even begin to wear the costumes pictured on the cover until the last issue of this collection; prior to that, Elasti-Girl fights crime in a skirt and high-heeled boots, and Negative Man wears what appears to be a dark green sweatsuit. (Needless to say, the costumes are a welcome change!) Robotman and Negative Man are by far the angriest members of the team, and they take out their frustrations on one another by hurling insults over the fury of battle.

And what battles they fight! Almost every story involves humorous pseudo-scientific twists (humorous from today’s standpoint, anyway) and clever new uses for the Doom Patrol’s powers. The team faces a number of fantastically weird villains, including a brain in a jar, the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (guess what three things he can turn into?), and a talking, French gorilla. The stories are surprisingly varied too, going beyond the simple superhero vs. supervillain formula – in one of the final stories, for instance, Elasti-Girl goes to Korea to solve the mystery of a missing-in-action American G.I.

All of these things work together to set the Doom Patrol significantly apart from the majority of other super-teams that populated the 1960s. My only complaint with the first Archive edition is that the art reconstruction goes too far in some cases, and there are more than a few panels where it’s clear that there were more lines in the original pencil art. The colors too, especially in the shading of Negative Man’s bandages, are a bit anachronistic in their sophistication. Such is the case with all of the color reprints that Marvel and DC put out, though, and the restoration in this case isn’t any better or worse than what they typically offer.

Overall, The Doom Patrol Archives, Vol. 1 certainly has my recommendation, and with the entire series being done by the same creative team, I’m confident that it will only improve with subsequent volumes. Its cult status today is unsurprising given its more unique aspects, and I would encourage anyone looking for a strong dose of Silver Age weirdness to give it a look.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, June 18, 2010

Review: Superman: Red Son – The Deluxe Edition

Review Superman Red Son The Deluxe Edition Mark Millar Dave Johnson Kilian Plunkett Elseworlds Russian Superman DC Comics Cover hardcover hc comic bookWriter: Mark Millar
Artists: Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett
Collects: Superman: Red Son #1-3 (2003)
Published: DC, 2010; $24.99 (HC), $17.99 (TPB)

What if Superman’s rocket had landed on a farm in the Ukraine rather than one in Smallville, Kansas? What if he had been raised not in the spirit of “truth, justice, and the American way,” but had been molded instead into the poster child of communist Russia under Stalin? These are the questions to which writer Mark Millar seeks answers in Superman: Red Son, and with the help of artists Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett, he pulls it off tremendously.

Millar’s first and most resounding success in this book is that he doesn’t take the story in the course that you would probably expect based on the premise alone. This isn’t some super-patriotic, down-with-communism propaganda piece in the vein of Red Dawn or any of its brainless ilk. Rather, Millar uses Superman’s eventual role as leader of the Soviet Union as a platform from which to explore an even more basic question than the ones that opened this review: what would Superman do if he ruled the world?

Tying into that question, of course, is the issue of whether or not Superman should rule the world – something the character struggles with throughout the book. He’s not a villain, at least not in his own view and not from the story’s perspective. In fact, he initially has the same unselfish, non-political goals that Superman does in the main DC universe. In his mission to achieve world peace, though, he becomes what amounts to a world dictator, even going so far as to have his dissenters essentially lobotomized. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes, and that’s certainly where the world has gone by the end of the book.

The main character’s role as authoritarian leader results in some interesting inversions of classic DC concepts. In the world of Red Son, Lois Lane is married to Lex Luthor (brilliant inventor and, later, president of the United States), Hal Jordan wields his Green Lantern ring as a military weapon, and Batman is a terrorist trying to subvert Superman’s regime. The evolution of Luthor’s character is particularly interesting, and it begs the question: what kind of man could he have been in this reality if not for Superman’s existence?

The fact that there are significant differences from regular DC continuity doesn’t come as a huge surprise, in and of itself. Many of DC’s Elseworlds (alternate universe) stories focus almost solely on how they differentiate themselves from the main universe, relying on the “clever” ways they shuffle around basic concepts to entertain readers. (Sarcastic example: wow, Robin is a woman in such-and-such reality? How original!) Admittedly, there’s a bit of that in Red Son – in one scene depicting a Daily Planet office party, for example, we’re treated to some embarrassingly “hey kids, look at me!” appearances by Oliver Queen and Iris Allen.

Millar keeps those kinds of moments to a minimum for the most part, though, and his focus is less on making a spectacle of the tweaks he’s made to ordinary continuity than it is on giving his universe the room to live and breathe in its own right. Luthor’s determination to destroy Superman, for instance, is developed in an entirely believable way that makes him distinct from the main DC universe’s Luthor. Most importantly, his motivations make sense without relying on the reader’s preconceptions about the character simply being “evil.”

But as good as the main story is in Red Son, the book’s ending is what really blew me out of the water. To compare the book (once more) to the vast majority of Elseworlds titles, this one doesn’t simply pack up and go home once it’s used up all its tricks, leaving us to wonder what happens to the characters after the story ends. Instead, Millar closes with one of the most intelligent and self-reflexive surprises I’ve ever seen at the end of a superhero comic, one that’s sure to bring a wide smile to new and long-time readers of Superman alike.

The art in this book is quite good, and the best way I can think of to describe it is as a mash-up of sorts between Paco Medina and early Leinil Yu. Penciling duties are handed over about halfway through the book from Johnson to Plunkett, neither of whom I was familiar with prior to Red Son. I’m not sure of the specific reasons for the change, although some handwritten comments on one of the bonus sketch pages at the end of the book lead me to believe that it has something to do with Johnson being a fairly slow artist. It isn’t a detriment to the book, though; in fact, the shift is so seamless that if you weren’t paying attention, you might not even notice.

As far as purchasing Red Son (which I heartily recommend doing) goes, the Deluxe Edition is the way to go. The book is of a decent size – it’s three issues long, but each issue is about twice the length of a standard comic book – and, as I mentioned earlier, it has a few pages of sketches and concept designs at the end, including several by Alex Ross. It’s a pretty nice package, overall, which is only befitting of one of the best Superman stories, alternate universe or not, published in the last ten years.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Solicitation Commentary for September 2010

In this first edition of what I hope to make a monthly feature, I’m going to take a look at some of the graphic novels and collected editions that have been solicited for the month of September 2010. Titles are in bold and I’ve broken things up by publisher, making it easier for you to skip around if you feel so inclined. So without further ado, let’s take a look at what’s coming out in September!

Marvel Comics
The Mighty Thor Omnibus Volume One Stan Lee Jack Kirby Marvel Solicitations September 2010 Cover hardcover hc comic bookI’m really excited for a few things coming out from Marvel this month. First and foremost is The Mighty Thor Omnibus, Vol. 1, collecting the character’s initial appearances starting with Journey into Mystery #83 and extending all the way to issue #120 of that title. I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time, and I hope enough people buy it to show Marvel that there’s still a market for Omnibus collections of classic material like this one — not just for the bloated, poorly-written crossovers of the 1980s and ‘90s (see further down this post).

I’m also pretty pumped for The ’Nam, Vol. 2, collecting The ’Nam #11-20. As a huge fan of war literature, especially Vietnam war literature, this series has interested me for almost as long as I’ve been interested in comics. Until recently, though, it was only available in a handful of trade paperbacks which have been out of print for probably about fifteen years. Marvel released a collection of the first ten issues last year, which I actually just ordered a few days ago and expect to have in my hands soon.

I’m substantially less thrilled about the Acts of Vengeance Omnibus, a hundred-dollar hardcover collecting issues from more different series than I feel like going to the trouble of naming. For those unaware, Acts of Vengeance was a fairly pointless crossover in the early 1990s that featured Spider-Man and the Avengers...well, fighting people, what else? The only interesting part of it has to do with Spider-Man gaining cosmic powers (which he uses to make mincemeat of the Hulk), but other than that, there’s not much to see here — certainly not enough to warrant a collection of this magnitude, that’s for sure. It blows my mind that we keep seeing Omnibus collections for mediocre stories like this one when there still aren’t ones featuring classic Avengers material or Spider-Man drawn by John Romita (although, as I’ve already mentioned, I do have to give Marvel credit for finally releasing a classic Thor Omnibus).

And it’s a bit off the beaten path, but I’m also looking forward to Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius Ultimate Collection, Book 1 (what a mouthful!), which collects Chris Eliopoulos’s eight one-shots starring the son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman. I read the first one when it came out and thought it was a lot of fun — it’s very similar to Calvin & Hobbes, both in writing and art style — but the collections so far have been too small and too expensive. But at $19.99, the price for this one feels just right to me.

So that makes three books from Marvel I’ll probably be picking up, and one I’ll do my best to avoid. A few others I’ll be considering but haven’t really decided on yet are Avengers: The Coming of the Beast, which collects the early appearances of the X-Men’s Beast as an Avenger, and a new hardcover edition of Captain America: War and Remembrance, collecting the Roger Stern/John Byrne run on that character.

DC Comics
Legion of Superheroes The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Edition Paul Levitz Keith Giffen Darkseid DC Comics Solicitations September 2010 Cover hardcover hc comic bookOne of DC’s most notable collected edition releases for September is its new Deluxe Edition of Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga. This storyline was actually one of the first ever released in a trade paperback format, back when the idea of collecting comics was still pretty new. I’ve only gotten into the Legion recently, by way of the first Legion of Super-Heroes Archives Edition, but I’ll certainly be picking up The Great Darkness Saga at some point, in one form or another.

Another classic release I’m really glad to see is The Green Lantern Chronicles, Vol. 3, collecting Green Lantern #10-14 and The Flash #131. Those being my two favorite comic books published by DC in the Silver Age, this one will be making it onto my bookshelf without any doubt.

Also possibly worth looking into is Jonah Hex: Counting Corpses, which collects Jonah Hex #43 and 50-54. I’ve never read anything featuring the character, personally, but this volume has interior art (as well as cover art) by Darwyn Cooke, one of the most gifted and visionary artists working in comics today. If you’re interested in the character, what with the movie coming out and all, I’d say this looks like a great place to get started.

Showcase Presents Superman Volume One Otto Binder Bill Finger Jerry Coleman Robert Bernstein Alvin Schwartz Jerry Siegel Brainiac DC Comics Solicitations September 2010 Cover trade paperback tpb comic bookOne DC release I find a bit troubling is the new printing of Showcase Presents Superman, Vol. 1, which collects over 500 pages’ worth of Silver Age Superman comics in black and white. Along with the first Showcase Presents Green Lantern collection, this was one of the first Showcase Presents books that DC released, debuting at a cover price of only $9.99. From that point on, the Showcase Presents line was priced at $16.99 (later $17.99) to compete with Marvel’s Essential line.

This new printing, however, is neither $9.99 nor $17.99, but rather a whopping $19.99. This is the same price point that Marvel raised the Essentials to last year, which in my opinion is far too much for a black-and-white collection of comics that were originally printed in color. It’s safe to say that the Showcase Presents books will continue to retail for this higher price from now on, which is a real shame. It goes without saying that if you’ve been in the market for the first Showcase Presents Superman collection, you might want to try and find it now for $9.99 before this new printing comes out.

On the Vertigo side of things, it’s worth noting that DC is publishing new editions of the first three Sandman trades. These feature the restored art and coloring of the series’ four Absolute editions, and are highly recommended if you don’t own those books already.

Dark Horse Comics
While Marvel and DC are apparently struggling to put out black-and-white collections of their color comics at a reasonable price, Dark Horse has been doing an amazing job with their Little Lulu collections – the series recently transitioned to color, and each book contains over 200 pages in color for only $14.99. I absolutely adore these books, and I’m happy to see them continuing with Little Lulu, Vol. 25: The Burglar-Proof Clubhouse and Other Stories. If you’re at all a fan of classic comics for kids, it’s hard to do much better than this series.

I’m also glad to see Dark Horse continuing at such a steady clip with its Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years and Turok, Son of Stone series, both of which will reach a seventh volume in September. I recently read the first Tarzan collection and was fairly impressed with it — you can expect a full review at some point.

I haven’t seen the solicitations for any other publishers yet (I don’t think any others have been released yet), so I may update this post if something really interesting is announced by IDW, Boom, or Image. Barring something completely unforeseen, though, that should about do it for me for the month of September. Check out the solicitations for yourself at Comic Book Resources — here are the links for Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Dark Horse Comics — and feel free, as always, to leave your thoughts in the comment section. What will you be picking up in September?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Review: Deadpool Classic, Vol. 1

Review Deadpool Classic Volume One Fabian Nicieza Rob Liefeld Mark Waid Joe Kelly Joe Madureira Ian Churchill Lee Weeks Ken Lashley Ed McGuinness Circle Chase New Mutants Marvel Cover trade paperback tpb comic bookWriters: Fabian Nicieza, Rob Liefeld, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly
Artists: Rob Liefeld, Joe Madureira, Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks, Ken Lashley, Ed McGuinness
Collects: New Mutants #98, Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1-4, Deadpool (1994) #1-4, Deadpool (1997) #1
Published: Marvel, 2008; $29.99
For whatever reason, Deadpool has come pretty much out of nowhere over the last few years to become one of Marvel’s biggest-selling characters. He’s always had a devoted following, to be sure, but the current Deadpool craze is fairly unprecedented, with the character currently appearing in almost as many comics per month as the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine. I’m not sure yet where I weigh in on the matter – I find the character interesting, although perhaps not enough to read him in half a dozen comics every month – but either way, in light of Deadpool’s current popularity it seems only fitting to take a look back at where it all began, which is what Marvel’s Deadpool Classic trade series has set out to do.

Deadpool Classic, Vol. 1 begins, fittingly enough, with the character’s first appearance in New Mutants #98 (first published February 1991). As with most things written and/or drawn by Rob Liefeld, to call this issue “subpar” would be a tremendous compliment. Deadpool, in this first incarnation, is vintage Liefeld – a completely unremarkable character with big guns and a whole mess of bulky, impractical “gear” who briefly shows up to attack Cable and his mutant protégés. His role isn’t significant to the series’ ongoing plot at all, but rather a means of biding time while Liefeld and scripter Fabian Nicieza develop a boring subplot featuring Gideon (another Liefeld creation which, along with most of what happened at Marvel in the early 1990s, is best forgotten).

The book jumps a few years ahead from this point to Deadpool: The Circle Chase, a four-issue miniseries from 1993 which revolves around a number of criminals all on a hunt for the will of Mr. Tolliver (an illegal weapons merchant, actually Cable’s son in disguise, who was for some reason or another assumed dead at this point). At times it reads sort of like a “who’s who” of the characters in Marvel’s early-‘90s D-list, which isn’t a plus considering I wasn’t particularly fond of the direction in which even the A-listers were headed at the time. This isn’t helped by the presence of Juggernaut and Black Tom, a duo that quite frankly bores me to tears and who I don’t think I’ve ever been able to take completely seriously.

But unlike in his initial appearance, Deadpool finally starts to show some personality in The Circle Chase, and for that alone I don’t think the series is a total wash. Although he acts like a jerk for most of the time, we’re treated at the end, in his interactions with ex-girlfriend Copycat, to a rare glimpse at the character’s compassionate side. Add to that a fairly competent job on the artwork (for the ‘90s, at least) by Joe Madureira, and I’d rate The Circle Chase as being slightly above average overall, although just barely.

It’s followed in this collection by another Deadpool miniseries from 1994 (called just Deadpool this time, although it was retroactively subtitled Sins of the Past when it was collected in 1997), written by Mark Waid and drawn mostly by Ian Churchill. Juggernaut and Black Tom rear their ugly heads again, unfortunately, but for whatever reason I didn’t mind them as much in this story. Perhaps it’s because Waid is a much better writer than Fabian Nicieza, who wrote both New Mutants #98 and The Circle Chase, but I think it’s also because the second series’ main emphasis is on the ongoing relationship between Deadpool and Siryn (member of X-Force, daughter of Banshee, and niece of Black Tom). Deadpool is infatuated with her from the moment they meet, and Waid creates legitimate tension between them as she first resists his advances and later begins to warm up to him.

Churchill’s art is characterized by his penchant for drawing far more lines than could ever be considered practical, but surprisingly enough, I enjoyed it in this series. Linework aside, his figures are well-proportioned (other than Juggernaut, obviously, who looks just as massively over-the-top as he should) and he does some interesting things in terms of panel composition. Lee Weeks does a nice-looking flashback sequence in the second issue, and Ken Lashley takes over for Churchill for a few pages in issues three and four. In the latter, curiously, Lashley draws five pages right in the middle of an action sequence – these are some of the only pages in the series to show Deadpool unmasked, and my guess is that someone in editorial felt Churchill’s version of Deadpool’s face (seen briefly in the first issue) was a bit too grotesque to be revisited. I’m curious as to whether Churchill ever drew these pages before it was decided that Lashley would do the final versions; if so, I think they would be really interesting to see.

Deadpool made a number of appearances in the pages of X-Force before and after his two miniseries, none of which are collected here. I’m not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing – I’ve never read them, and I suspect they weren’t very good – but a page or two explaining the events that take place in those issues would have been appreciated. As it is, I’m left slightly confused by the collection’s final story, the premiere issue of Deadpool’s first ongoing series from 1997. Published three years after the Mark Waid miniseries, it makes vague references to developments in the Deadpool/Siryn relationship that took place during the time between – something I would have preferred to read about rather than the issue’s actual story, which involves Deadpool fighting Sasquatch in the wastes of Antarctica. It’s not bad, I guess, but it’s obvious that Marvel only included it in this collection to entice readers to buy the second volume of Deadpool Classic, which continues with the second issue of Deadpool’s ongoing series.

Although there are some good stories in this book, the disparity of quality throughout, as well as the exclusion of a number of stories that probably should have been included (or at least explained), makes it difficult for me to recommend it wholeheartedly at the price Marvel is asking. Ideally, the first volume in a series called “Deadpool Classic” would bring readers totally up to speed on the character’s early history, but instead it leaves bothersome gaps that readers will have to fill by other means (either by tracking down the issues or waiting to see if they’ll be collected separately) to get the full picture. If you’re a fan of Deadpool and you really want to see how he got his start, then give this a shot, I suppose – just don’t expect the same level of polish the character’s numerous titles receive today.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Review: Captain America: To Serve and Protect

Review Captain America To Serve and Protect Mark Waid Ron Garney Dale Eaglesham Andy Kubert Marvel Cover trade paperback tpb comic bookWriter: Mark Waid
Artists: Ron Garney, Dale Eaglesham, and Andy Kubert
Collects: Captain America (vol. 3) #1-7 (1998)
Published: Marvel, 2002; $24.99 (HC), $17.95 (TPB)

To say things were bad for Marvel in the 1990s would be an understatement. The entire comic book market had been all but destroyed by rampant speculation at the beginning of the decade, and things were so bad by the mid-‘90s that Marvel was totally bankrupt – both creatively and financially. The company’s solution? Write half of their characters completely out of the Marvel Universe, and then sell them outright to the highest bidder.

The plan never went through, thankfully, although the basic outline stayed in place: at the end of the company-wide Onslaught crossover, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were shunted off to an alternate universe where their stories began completely from scratch. Their new series were written and drawn mostly by creators from Image, including the infamous Rob Liefeld – folks known less for their ability to make good comics than for their ability to sell them. About a year later, Marvel realized what a horrible idea this was and brought the characters back to the main universe, re-launching them with new series and new creative teams. If you’ve ever wondered when the Marvel Universe as we know it today got its start, it was here, in 1998, with the simultaneous series reboots of Captain America, Iron Man, and the Avengers, among others.

Captain America: To Serve and Protect collects the opening issues of the new Captain America series, and to me it’s one of the books most representative of the sea change that took place at Marvel in the late ‘90s. It would have been easy for writer Mark Waid to simply brush everything post-Onslaught under the rug, but instead he makes the best of his situation and uses the character’s year-long disappearance from the main universe to the story’s advantage. Upon his return, Captain America must contend with an enemy he’s never faced before: his adoring public.

Idolized by the masses, Cap initially resists and later tries to come to terms with the “Capmania” that’s seemingly overtaken not just the United States, but the entire world. How successful he is at doing that is debatable, to say the least. There’s room for disagreement with Cap’s attitude toward celebrity in this book, an ambiguity that’s given voice at several points by Hawkeye and Thor, and I think that’s what makes this story so interesting: there really isn’t a right or wrong answer as to how he should address the problem, or even (for part of the book, anyway) if there’s really a problem at all.

While most of the book concerns Cap’s ongoing battles with the criminal organization HYDRA, it ends with a Skrull subplot that puts the recent Secret Invasion miniseries to shame. Whereas Marvel took eight issues to tell that story back in 2008 (not counting the nearly one hundred tie-in issues), Waid tells a better one in just two. He resolves it much more definitively, too – by the end, Waid has completely redefined Cap’s purpose and the character’s long-term thematic direction. It’s a shame the series hasn’t been collected past this point, because I’d really like to see Waid continue with this take on the character.

Ron Garney’s artwork is another major contribution to the book’s success. While he’s improved a great deal in the years since, in large part due to the fact that he now inks his own pencils, his style here is a welcome change from the over-rendered linework that had become Marvel’s house style in the 1990s. There’s a poignant scene at the end of the second issue in which Cap loses his one-of-a-kind shield, and Garney does an expert job of conveying the character’s sense of remorse – almost entirely without words, to boot. Even at this point in his career, there’s something about his work I can hardly describe that keeps the story moving forward at a brisk and well-oiled pace.

The last two issues of this collection are drawn by Dale Eaglesham, who some might be familiar with as the current artist on Fantastic Four. His Captain America is more heavily muscled than Garney’s – a little too much for my taste, in fact – but luckily it never reaches anywhere close to Liefeldian proportions. The final issue actually transitions partway through from Eaglesham to Andy Kubert, one of my favorite pencilers (he’s joined by Jesse Delperdang on inks, who would later work with him on Grant Morrison’s Batman). Kubert’s work is strong, but unfortunately there are only a few pages of it. Again, it’s too bad there aren’t any more collections for this series, because I would have loved to see more of his work on the title.

Although it seems to be out of print at the moment, To Serve and Protect is a book I recommend seeking out for anyone interested in Captain America or in exploring the creative seeds of what the Marvel Universe would become in the new millennium. It’s not perfect – the coloring is a little bland at times, and at one point the collection breaks up a two-page spread to fairly disastrous effect. But it’s definitely worth reading, which is more than can be said for a good deal of Marvel’s output over the decade that preceded it, or even in the decade since.

Rating: 4 out of 5