Saturday, February 18, 2012

Captain America: Patriot (comics)

Writer: Karl Kesel
Artist: Mitch Breitweiser
Collects: Captain America: Patriot #1-4, All Winners Comics 70th Anniversary Special, What If #4

One of my favorite things about Captain America relates to the retcon* they did; when he came back in Avengers #4, we learned he had been encased in ice since the end of World War II. Instead of scrapping the numerous Captain America comics in the intervening years from continuity, they had a better idea. As the retcon goes, after Caps final mission - when he and Bucky were assumed dead - the government decided the spirit and symbol of Captain America needed to be kept alive. So other men wore the uniform in the years prior to Steve Rogers return.

The end result is a stretch of time where numerous men tried to live up to the legend of Steve Rogers; a concept with a lot of potential to it.

This miniseries is about the second man to wear the uniform after Rogers went missing, Jeffery Mace. Inspired by Captain America during the war, he took up his own heroic identity of The Patriot. After the war came to a close, his peers began to drift. But eventually he discovered the truth; the original Captain America had died at the end of the war and another took his place. Realizing Cap was a symbol the world needed, Jeffery Mace took on the identity of the man he patterned himself after to carry on in his name.

It's a moving, effective story; we see Mace struggle to come to grips with the uniform he wears and what it means. Unlike Steve Rogers, Mace had no Super Soldier Serum to power him up; he was a regular man trying to carry on the mission of the ultimate man. What he has is heart and a mind of his own; like Rogers would prove to be time and again, Mace is not just some government stooge. This is the story of a man who stepped into the boots of a legend and not only lived up to the legacy, but kept to the same ideals even when it might have cost him.

Generally, the stories of the replacement Captain Americas end badly. One died while the 50's Cap went insane thanks to a flawed Super Soldier Serum and would become a bit of a recurring nuisance. Jeff's the only one who got to walk away from the costume intact and it's an ending that feels earned. This is the definitive story of the third Captain America, using continuity properly as a structure for the life story of Jeffery Mace to be wrapped around.

I can't say enough about what an enjoyable read it is. It's a great story coupled with art that has that perfect balance of looking kind of old fashioned while feeling distinctly modern. On top of the four issue miniseries, the All Winners special Karl Kesel wrote - featuring an adventure with the All Winners Squad we didn't see in the mini proper - is included, as is the original What If** issue that first gave us the events that led to Mace's tenure, which we saw snippets of in the main miniseries.

Overall, a nice package.

The Score: 8.5 out of 10

I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed this. The story of a man who fought to live up to the name of Captain America is a winner. Well worth adding to your bookshelf.

* A lot of folks decry retcons, but some are for the better. This is one of them. I think it ended up adding a lot to the Cap mythos and that's a win any way you look at it.

**As you probably know, Marvel's "What If" series essentially asked the question of what might have happened had a key event in a story gone another way and then let us see how that change might have played out. Several of the ones I've read were cute but disposable - some of them tended to end up in the same place the regular story did, only going along a different sequence of events - and just about every one of them are out of continuity tales, hence the "What If". This is one of the only - and may be the only, I'm not a hundred percent sure - "What If's" to actually be rendered in continuity, since it filled in a few gaps in Caps history.Link


  1. I think it would be fun to see more miniseries covering the careers of other Captain Americas -- as time goes on (and as the time gap between WWII and the present increases) I have the feeling Marvel is going to need to invent a few more. I'd be particularly interested to see more about the Vietnam-era Cap. I have a vague memory of seeing one featured in a comic before, but I can't remember how much he was fleshed out as a character.

    Also, have you read the "Legacy of Captain America" trade? It's a neat look at various people who have worn the costume. One of the issues featured is the What If issue you talk about, which I quite enjoyed.

  2. I'd certainly be down with more miniseries inventing a few new Caps. A 'Nam Cap is something I'd really be interested in. Get the right team and it would be very effective; Marvel seems to have a good track record with creative teams for these though, so I'd trust them on it.

    One I want to read at some point is "Truth: Red White and Black".

    Oh, and as for there being a comic with Cap in 'Nam, I think there was in that Ultimate Captain America miniseries they did a year or two ago. I haven't read it, but I recall hearing offhand about Cap in 'Nam there. But I'm not a fan of the Ultimate version, uber-dick Cap, so it doesn't necessarily hold as much appeal to me.

    Haven't checked out the Legacy of Captain America trade yet. I may keep an eye out for it.

  3. Ultimate Cap has always seemed pretty mean-spirited to me, which was perhaps a valid character trait in the first Ultimates series since it was, in large part, a send-up of early Bush-era America, but it makes little cultural sense now. It's kind of weird to think that a line so initially focused on being contemporary and culturally relevant seems now to be fairly stuck in the early 2000s.

    I think, but I'm not sure, that the Vietnam Cap I saw appeared in a flashback in the early issues of Matt Fraction's Punisher: War Journal series. I'd have to dig out those issues to check, which I actually can't remember if I even have any more.

    "Truth" is a really great book, and it was nice to see it come back into print a year or two ago. I do think bringing it fully into the 616 may have cheapened it a bit, but it's still entirely worth checking out.

  4. I can sort of see it as a send-up of the Bush era, but I've always sort of struggled with that portrayal being toted as an accessible take on the character. Originally, that was what the Ultimate line was supposed to be about. But there's little resemblance, really; everyone in the Ultimates are just shy of unrepentant douchebags who are kind of unlikable. Not a great foot to put forward.

    I've yet to read Fractions War Journal. Always meant to, but I'm kind of behind on 616 Punisher reading.

    I'll give Truth a look when I can then.