Friday, August 07, 2009

CAPTAIN AMERICA versus MASTER MAN
(Marvel)
Where:
Reborn #2 When: October 2009
Why: Ed Brubaker How: Bryan Hitch & Butch Guice

The Story So Far...
With the superhero factions split by an ideology of freedom and rights, it seemed appropriate for Captain America to lead them against his former comrade and newly appointed Director of SHIELD, Tony Stark. With the registration of powered individuals being enforced with extreme prejudice by Stark's SHIELD, it made perfect sense to take the fight to the other side as hard and true as they would any other force who threatened these basic principles. It made sense to enter into a Civil War with former friends, allies, and loved ones -- until the fighting filled the very streets that were tainted by a battle that killed hundreds, and it was time to surrender to a greater good.

By giving himself to Tony Stark -- Captain America seemingly confirmed the fear and suspicion that had seen him branded a rebel and traitor. He had appeased the establishment enough to declare an effective ceasefire to the superhero Civil War, but sacrificed himself in the process. His legend would appear to have one final passifying role to play, however, when, grandstanded infront of an audience of citizens and reporters, Captain America was gunned down and killed...

To the world, sniper fire by Red Skull's right-hand assassin, Crossbones, was responsible for killing the hero. In truth, it was a blow dealt by Sharon Carter -- Cap's former lover, ally, and an Agent of SHIELD. A blow dealt under influence from the Red Skull's brainwashing, with a far more devious plan in tact. For Captain America would not simply be murdered before the world's eyes, but rather, displaced in time and space, allowing the Skull and his co-conspirators opportunity to pluck Steve Rogers into their grasp at any moment.

Thus; the great Captain America is thrown from the turmoil of one war, to the nightmare of those wars he had already fought, his consciousness shunted from one time to another, reliving the horrors, but unable to act. In the theatre of 1944, the Captain awakens beside soldiers he knows will die, in a battle against another of the Red Skull's right-hand men, with the future so far away.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Master Man 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Capt. America 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Draw 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Master Man 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Capt. America 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Capt. America 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Capt. America 2 (Projectiles)


- With a frail body unable to support the willing spirit it contained, Steve Rogers was deemed a fitting candidate for an experimental Super-Soldier Serum devised by defected German scientist, Abrham Erskine. Operation: Rebirth was a success and the once feeble Steve Rogers was transformed into the ultimate man, nimble and strong, brilliant and adept. The Super-Soldier came with a price, however. Dr. Erskine was murdered by a double-agent during the experiment, before his serum could be shared. Thus; Steve Rogers is forced to walk alone as Captain America, the sentinel of liberty, America's finest fighting hero in the Second World War!

Alongside the finest soldiers the Allied Powers could muster, Captain America led many successful missions, a dynamo beyond human imagining. Even though he started alone, the Captain would eventually find equals and employ the aid of a boy sidekick -- the deceptively skilled Bucky Barnes! Together, they joined the likes of Sub-Mariner and Human Torch in forming the allied super-powers known as The Invaders! Their battles against the Red Skull, Baron Blood, and the many powered menaces of Hitler's Nazi Party, would make them the stuff of legends!

Possessing enhanced physical attributes as a result of the Super-Soldier serum, extensive training in hand-to-hand combat, and an invincible vibranium compound shield, the Captain would even continue his fight into the decades that followed the Second World War! After being frozen in suspended animation and floating lifelessly in arctic waters, Captain America was discovered by the Avengers! Thawed out in the modern day, he continues to fight for truth, justice, and the American way, an uncompromising ultimate man who stands with gods!

- A frail American Bundist and Nazi sympathiser; Wilhelm Lohmer threw himself upon the scientific mercy of the Nazi Party in an experiment using an alternate version of the Super-Soldier Serum created by scientist, Dr. Abraham Erskine. The results embued him with powers far surpassing those of his US counterpart, Captain America, granting him super-human strength, speed, endurance, and flight. The powers proved temporary, initially, but were later made a permanent part of his arsenal as he became the Aryan √úbermensch, Master Man.

Master Man regularly battled the allied heroes of The Invaders throughout the Second World War, and returned to terrorize their surviving members in the modern age, having been placed in suspended animation by Baron Strucker in the mid-forties, along with his female counterpart, Warrior Woman.

Additional: Since his retroactive introduction in 1975, Master Man has become a relatively regular fixture of Marvel's fictional Second World War setting. Another Ed Brubaker flashback, in Captain America #5, Captain America and The Invaders were successful in defeating Master Man and the Red Skull. At present, this is the only other battle between the two characters featured on the site.

History: Captain America (1-0-0)
The Math: Captain America Ranking: Captain America (#7)

The Fight...
In 1944, the mind of a Captain America who has lived more than half a century beyond this point awakens. Trapped within his own body he relives an experience he remembers well. On a hill, there is a castle, and in this keep, the Red Skull attempts to enlist the occult influence of demons in the name of his Fuehrer and the Nazi agenda. With hard fighting soldiers at his front and back, the Captain knows they will win this fight. Even if Master Man -- Hitler's favourite ubermensch -- will succeed in dealing death to the side of right.

Even as he remembers, gunfire ricochets off his shield. He dives toward to his men, warning them of an incoming attack. They spill back and the Master Man leaps into the air, defying gravity with designs to destroy Captain America.

The human missile is sorely mistaken if he believes himself an unstoppable force. Like a clash of ideologies, star and swastika collide, Captain America's invincible shield against Master Man's invulnerable chest. The Captain's strategy to cut his opponent off eventuates with spectacular success, a mortal man taking the wind out of a superhuman monster! The blow sends them hurtling toward the castle backdrop, Master Man's body absorbs the impact.

Calling upon fantastic enhanced strength and agility, not to mention months of training and determination, Captain America repells off the face of the broken keep wall, leveraging Master Man's body out of the hole it made, and over his. The gymnastic maneuver positions him above the fall, once more, with speed enough to prevent Master Man any chance of reply

The two figures plummet downward, courtesy of gravity and an impressive move on the Captain's part. As he falls with shield pressed against Master Man's body, he considers the weight of knowing what is going to happen. When he lands atop Master Man, who crushes a bystanding vehicle, he considers the expertise of a Reed Richards or Tony Stark, who might make better sense of his time travelling predicament.

Master Man lies unconscious, for a moment or more, we cannot know for sure. The battle will play out as it always had, without the pondered influence of a Captain America from this time's future, to victory none the less. The world begins to fade from the confused Captain's conscious perception, and once more, he becomes displaced in time...

The Hammer...
This fight may have ended with a potentially inconclusive result, but we certainly saw Master Man in a state resembling defeat, and Captain America himself told us how the fight ends at the beginning, any way. Hey! If you can't trust Captain America, who can you trust? Thus, I give you our winner.

The time travelling theme of Reborn certainly fits the nature of this post, which is being written in November 2010 as part of a backlog series. It has been my feeling that the stories and battles of 2009 were simply too good to ignore. 2009 was also the first year this humble Comic Book Fight Club had the opportunity to reflect the year itself, with featured fights running concurrent to the comics themselves. The freshness of these reviews is obviously long past, but the desire to crown a 2009 champion from 2009 reviews is still relevant.

It would be difficult to talk about a project like Reborn without acknowledging developments that have come since. At the time, it was comparable to Flash: Rebirth, another secondary 'event comic' that bolstered the presence of a once absent hero. Ultimately, the specifics of Reborn were far closer to Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne, which is only now [in 2010] concluding a similar tale of an iconic hero displaced in time. For Batman, it was his Final Crisis trist with Darkseid that created the circumstances for an apparent death, and his shunt into time. By inevitable comparison, the Batman tale proved superior in origin and conclusion, a more satisfyingly conceived tale, simpler in it's details despite an apparently convoluted series of circumstances.

Despite his acclaim, I have found myself very critical of Ed Brubaker's work in the past. Unfortunately, that criticism remains a throughline on this site, where Reborn ultimately felt underwritten in it's execution, and ill considered in it's specifics. Where Grant Morrison has taken superhero comics into a new era by revelling in the absurdity of their aged and justified design, Brubaker appears much less confident, creating an understated tone that's appropriate to portions of the tale, (the WWII sequence featured), but clashes awkwardly with vital mechanics and characters that should have more energy around them. Bryan Hitch's pencils and the inks and colours they're oft associated with contribute to some of the uncertainty of this direction. For a story of this nature, a greater sense of adventure and embellishment might have been appreciated.

By running concurrent to Brubaker's similarly plodding revamp of the WWII-era Marvel Universe [The Marvels Project], scenes that retell Cap's famed beginning seem like even more unnecessary interruptions. A fight with Master Man is a fun action sequence for five opening pages, but with yet nine more dedicated to the origin, and several pages to an unremarkable fight scene between the Dark Avengers and Cap's allies, the issue feels bloated with air.
With Chris Evans set to star in Captain America: The Fist Avenger mid-2011, it's hard not to be a little suspicious of Reborn's preoccupation with restating Captain America's origins. Some similiarities between the design Evans will wear, and the part-Golden Age, part-Ultimate outfit worn in Reborn, are noteable. Might this have been part of Marvel's efforts to return the honus of redefining characters for the screen to the comics? I guess we might never know. The only alternative seems to be aspirations of a definitive work -- a functional honor I can't see Reborn claiming beyond it's monthly readers, and not just for negative reasons.

While I would've preferred an indulgence more in keeping with Brian Bendis' work on New Avengers; Brubaker's Captain America finally crawls out of an isolated corner, to rejoin the Marvel Universe. As a means to an end, Reborn succeeds in inititating the necessary stages to bring us to Marvel's Heroic Age, which might even justify the visual tone of Reborn as a juxtaposition, if not it's slow script.
I'm personally uncomfortable with some of the details, like whose body was where, and why Red Skull and Arnim Zola would go to such absurd lengths to displace and reclaim bodies, fake deaths, and other devices handled bettern in the Batman version, but at the end of the day, as a book that restores Marvel's iconic conscience, it is something new, and something necessary.

It wasn't bold and indulgent, but the invitation of Dark Reign into this book, and the appreciable build-up to Siege, is also a nice thing to see. Captain America's death was a small and personal affair, chiefly contained within that isolated run of Captain America. It seems like balance to have everyone involved in his return. Of course, it's connection to Dark Reign and Siege inherently defines it as a piece of the puzzle, and a less apt example of Marvel's fictional Second World War than the Brubaker's sister series, The Marvels Project. Earlier, more direct accounts of Captain America's origin exist, but if film-going audiences need Bryan Hitch to be tricked into absorbing the comics shared universe, then maybe I shouldn't be so critical. Let's wait and see how successful it is, though.

At the end of the day, I think modern audiences have come to accept certain things that may or may not make a good comic book. Reborn #2 contains maybe threads connecting it to other characters and realms of Marvel Comics, but doesn't contain too many contexts or plotlines. I find it hard not to be cynical about this cult of personality and acceptance of quantity over quality, but I don't want that to overwhelm the fact that there are enjoyable facets to this comic.

I chose to feature the fight between Cap and MM over the bigger battle between Dark Avengers and Avengers because, at the end of the day, it's one of the most enjoyable sequences in the comic. Master Man might actually be a creation of the modern age, but he is a reflection of our on-going relationship with history in this medium. The rest of the book might not feel savvy, but in that opening fight, I feel Brubaker and Hitch embue the smart things about comics. It's a simpler version of the colourful indulgence with which I believe [Grant] Morrison paints, and it is good. Just as it's been good to see both series embracing their legacy components, Bucky Barnes (Captain America) and Dick Grayson (Batman).

At the end of the day, Reborn is a series that amounts to 'Captain America is back', and that's really all you need to know. I would recommend investigating further before making a purchase, but would also suggest that it might slot neatly into holiday shopping if arranged with other stories.

Civil War, Death of Captain America, Siege, and their many spin-offs and tie-ins come together to form a saga that has shaped the Marvel Universe. Reborn interacts with each in a different way, and may be worth consideration in that context.

The Fight: 4.5 The Issue: 4

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