Posted by: Graeme McMillan on September 7, 2007
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CHOSEN #1 is proof, if anyone needs any more, that writing for the trade is a bad thing. For almost the entire first issue, this book is almost laughably bad, with no characters or plot beyond an overly patriotic, Fox News-friendly vision of our fighting forces in Iraq keeping America safe from those freedom-hating terrorists, complete with cameo by Osama Bin Laden (saying “Death to America! Death to Satan! Death to Zionists!”, for those who fear subtlety; this is followed by a scene of a woman and child about to be stoned by a crowd, who say “I caught him listening to music!” and “She isn’t wearing a veil!” just in case you’ve somehow missed the idea that “They” aren’t like us and hate our decadent Western ways of life). The narration is leaden, killing its good intentions under triteness like “Al Qaeda. Zealots crazy enough to believe that… hate… is the same thing as believing in God. But what they really believe in… is pain and death,” and its characterization non-existant, replaced by terrorists who actually say things like “I get to be a martyr! I go to paradise! Virgins wait for me!”
Even Captain America, ostensibly the protagonist of the series, falls to this cardboard cut-out line of characterization, appearing midway through the book to fight the bad guys while spouting lines like “To fight the enemies of freedom? To fight hate? You want to know how long we can keep doing this? As long as we’re able to lift a finger. As long as we can draw a breath.”
It’s a set-up that’s so… patriotic isn’t the word, but a very particular view of patriotism that sees the world as Us versus Them, with Us always in the right no matter what and Them always personifying a faceless, inhuman evil “other,” that it’s actually kind of stunning to read. A throwback to Cap’s first appearances, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable, or any better in terms of quality of writing (The art, meanwhile, is impressive throughout, with Mitch Breitweiser and colorist Brian Reber coming up with something not unlike John Cassaday meets Jackson Guice in places). It’s reductive, patronizing and worst of all, dull; devoid of true conflict, drama or humor.
And then there’s a second-last-page swerve. It’s nowhere near enough to lift the quality of what you’ve just read, or save it from being conservative wet-dream material, but it is enough to make you wonder if all of what came before was intentionally that way, as misdirect for a completely different story… perhaps. And that’s the biggest problem with the issue; there’s so little of the swerve that you can’t tell whether it’s a smart trick that will cause you to re-evaluate what you’ve read, or whether it’s a cheap twist to get you to try a next issue that will reinforce everything from the first one. It causes the issue itself, out of whatever final context it will exist in when the collected edition comes out, to be entirely dissatisfying in two different ways – One, in terms of quality of what appears in the issue itself, and two, in terms of it being an entirely, intentionally, incomplete reading experience that purposefully twists away from allowing the reader the ability of reading enough to make up their own mind about even what kind of story to expect in the remaining issues.
It’s possible, based on the second issue, that the series will be all about propaganda and the cost of war on a country’s psyche, and that it’ll be a stunning piece of fiction. It’s possible that it’ll be more of the jingoistic, reductionist faux-patriotism of this issue. I literally have no idea which of the two it’ll be closer to at this point, and that’s ultimately why I closed the book and pretty much thought that I’d just read a stunning piece of Crap.