Writer: John Ney Rieber
Artist: John Cassaday
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Captain America fighting against a group of children who we discover are all missing limbs thanks to encounters with land mines & unexploded ordinance that were put into place by American forces. As he narrowly avoids being consumed in an explosion set off by one of these children, we see his efforts to rescue another of his attackers acts to open the child's eyes that he is not the enemy. We then follow Cap as he races to reach the leader of this terrorist group before the counting clock on the bombs reaches zero. However, thanks to a warning from the child he saved, Cap is made aware of a back-up scenario that would come into play if he had confronted this leader before the bombs went off. After taking out this hidden element & making it safe to face down the party responsible for organizing this siege of a small town in mid-America, we see a well thrown shield & a good right hook allow Cap to knock this man unconscious before he could set off the bombs. We then see in a rather bold move, Cap addresses the media & takes responsibility for the attack that set off this group of terrorists.
I've gone over it a couple times now, and I must admit that I'm not sure that I fully understand the big climax of this issue. I mean perhaps I've misread the material, but I had understood that the bombs were already armed, and were counting down toward their detonation, but this issue has Captain America lay out the lead villain with a mean right hook, and the bombs are seemingly disarmed. The art doesn't show anyone actively disarming the bombs, and the device that the head terrorist wears around his neck would seem to support the idea that the bombs were primed & counting down. What I want to know is how does knocking this guy out stop the countdown? I understand it kept him from pressing the button that would set the bombs off right away, but unless he has some button that he has to press to keep the bombs from disarming themselves automatically, I don't follow how one unconscious terrorist leader equals the disarmed bombs. Plus, if he has such a timing device set up wouldn't it have made more sense to have it set up the other way, so the bombs would go off automatically if he was taken down?
However, this issue does have some fairly emotional powerful moments within its pages as the idea that violence only generates violence is nicely conveyed. The revelation that the children battling Captain America in the opening struggle, have all lost limbs to land-mine & unexploded ordinance was a fairly nice look at the aftermath of war, and its uncanny ability to target innocent civilians. We also get a couple speeches from the villains, as they justify their actions to the world, and later to Captain America, that nicely displays the anger that makes America a target. There's also a fairly nice moment in this story where we learn why this small town was targeted by this group, and this results in a equally strong moment where we see a couple discussing whether they deserve to be targeted. Now it doesn't help their cause much when their next sentence is how they'll stain the soil with blood, but I'm glad to see that time was taken to establish reasons for why this group felt its actions were justified, and even better that Captain America was actually shown to be impacted by the accusations being made.
When I learned John Cassaday was only sticking around for this opening arc, I must confess I was quite disappointed, as he's proven to be such an ideal artist for this book that I don't want it to end. From the determination in Captain America's eyes as whips his shield at the lead villain, to the "geez that looks painful" shot that follows, John Cassaday is proving himself as the perfect artist for this title. There's also the fact that the town looks like a devastated wasteland, with it's smoking ruins & piles of wreckage, which makes for a decidedly hellish like setting for Cap to make his way through. The art also does a nice job on the more disturbing parts of the issue, like the child turning himself into a human bomb in an effort to kill Cap, or the page where we slowly discover why it's so important that Cap takes out the man on the roof. There's also some great work from a story telling sense, as the action flows quite nicely, as do the quieter moments, like the scene the opens on the teddy bear lying amid the wires that would trigger the bombs. Also, while it's a small detail I like that Cap actually looks like a man who's fought his through hell when this issue ends.
The material does a fairly nice job taking an evenhanded approach to the idea of terrorism. Now, it's clear that the bad guys are evil, with their use of children as operatives, and the fact that they decided to kill an entire town of people to make their point. However, the book also doesn't shy away from showing us that America's hands are not entirely clean, as we're shown children who have lost limbs due to the uncontrolled placement of American artillery, and Captain America does stop to consider the idea that the villains may have reasons for their actions, even if these reasons don't justify their actions. The book also does a pretty solid job developing a sense of tension, as counting clock is always a reliable method of creating a sense of urgency, as is a struggle where the villain has the trigger device for the bombs held in his hand. The final page also was a bit surprising, as one is left to wonder if Cap is drawing the fire toward himself, or if he's actually telling the truth.
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