Friday Double Feature Comics Show: Superspy Edition

Welcome to the first of a new feature here at The Long And Shortbox Of It- The Friday Double Feature! As a tribute to one of the greatest methods of consuming the grittiest, grimiest, pulpiest fiction ever conceived, we're going to bring to you- every Friday!- two reviews of comics that we, for whatever reason, see as heirs to that legacy. As a result, you're more likely to see Criminal here than Avengers, but anything that smells of pulp has a shot of making it into the column. These reviews won't always be exclusive to stuff that came out the previous new comic book day (although I'm certainly going to try to write about as many new comics as possible), but this week we had a killer first issue two-fer: Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #1 and Casanova #1.

It's fitting that we're starting out with Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, since the two of them are responsible for what I think is the greatest superhero pulp in recent memory- the much missed (around these parts, anyway) Immortal Iron Fist. These comics, though they share the same sort of narrative aesthetic, belong to a much different genre than that kung-fu masterpiece*. Indeed, Casanova and Super-Soldier both feature characters equally as concerned with focus and tradition, but in a much different sort of way. What we have here are two spy comics- and they're both brilliant.

Let's start with the superhero formerly known as Captain America: ever since his return in the pages of Reborn, what Steve Rogers' precise role was to be in the Marvel universe has been a little unclear. We knew he was the country's top cop. Or maybe Secretary of Superheroes- whatever his official title is, it's clear he's running the show these days. What hasn't been clear is what role he's going to play in the places where he does appear- what kind of figure is Steve going to cut out in the field? Although I'm sure that Brian Bendis would love to write a comic called Steve Rogers: Secretary of State, Ed Brubaker had a much more interesting idea: turn the original Super Soldier into 007. This new role has come through with varying degrees of success in his Secret Avengers title (and, for the record, I think Brubaker may have gone too big too fast on that one, but we'll see what happens), but is clear as day in Super Soldier.

In fact, it's the structure of the book that makes this work, because Brubaker isn't trying to be too fancy with anything inside. While it's true that the issue's narrative is a pretty traditional one, I think that's the key to understanding exactly how Steve sees himself these days- and how we're supposed to see him. Way back when, we never would have caught this man out of uniform (that's part of what makes Captain America so powerful) but here he looks right at home shmoozing around a cocktail party in a tuxedo, to the point where it's not so hard to see Daniel Craig playing this version of Steve in a movie, ordering a drink that's shaken, not stirred.

Dale Eaglesham's art here has exactly the right feel, too: while there are some moments when it feels a little too stiff, most of the action sequences are incredibly fluid and he makes the spy scenes feel just right. It's hard to explain, but Eaglesham's Steve Rogers is dashing, suave and, most importantly, subtle. It was a hard trick to pull off, I'm sure, but the penciller does a killer job here.

Speaking of killer jobs, let's talk about the coloring on Casanova #1. Some of us were more fond of the idea than others when the news broke that Matt Fraction's inter-temporal super spy Casanova Quinn (originally published by Image in a two color, sixteen page format) was going to reappear in full color and, for the record, I like the original slim two-colored versions too (to the point where I'm on something of a mad quest to track down issue #4 so I can complete my collection and read the damn thing all the way through). With that said, though, this new coloring job is killer. I wish I had a scanner so I could show you why, but when you hit the page of Cass falling through the space time continuum, believe me you'll know exactly what I mean.

I'm not sure what I can add about the comic itself that hasn't already been said (it is basically a reprint, after all), but I can tell you that the new material in the back (drawn by Fabio Moon) is brilliant as well as being enlightening and confusing- it sheds some light on stuff we already knew, while making everything just a little bit more confusing too. Whatever it is that's going on (and this is true for both comics- Super Soldier had some really killer twists too) I can't wait for more and that, more than anything else, is the mark of a good, pulpy piece of serial fiction.


*Incidentally, this demonstrates precisely what I mean when I say "pulp"- sure it's true that all comics are descended from the pulps, but the Avengers or the X-Men are, on their own, too shiny to be considered true inheritors of the pulp tradition. At the same time, I'm not going to shut out comics simply because they feature superheroes, or because they don't belong to a more specific kind of genre. This week we're talking about spies. Next week, maybe crime comics. Or westerns. Or war comics. We'll just have to see what I find.

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