Writer: Chuck Austen
Artist: Jae Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Captain America suffering from a series of hallucinations that are being caused by the drug he ingested in the previous issue, and these visions have him attacking a group of young adults, who were trying to help him. We then see he is knocked for a loop by a tree that was uprooted by the terrible storm that is battering the region, and he tumbles unconscious into the ocean. However, as luck would have it a member of the water-breathing race from Atlantis happened to be swimming by, and she keeps our disorientated hero from drowning. We then look in on a secret government project where we see a group of familiar looking men are being subjected to memories that belong to Captain America, and we soon learn this is being done in the hopes of creating an army of soldiers who uphold the American ideals as strongly as Captain America. We also learn that these men are in fact Captain America, as they are clones that were created using DNA that was extracted from Captain America himself. We then look back in on the original shield slinger, as he is contacted by Nick Fury, and we see Fury denies having sent Captain America any recent orders, and he then takes Cap to the new S.H.I.E.L.D. flying fortress where the good captain is introduced to his clones.
This issue is a rather odd mishmash of ideas, as we have Captain America suffering through a series of drug induced hallucinations, which in turn results in a rather odd structured retelling of Captain America's final day before he got himself frozen in a block of ice. To tell the truth this issue really feels like a writer trying to cram a series of radically different ideas into a single plot, so we have a Native American deciding to wage war upon America, we have a secret conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D. that has created an army made up of clones, and we have the arrival of a new character named Hana, who just happened to be swimming by when an unconscious Captain America tumbled into the ocean. Now there's some questions that this book doesn't really address like why Hana has pink skin when every other Atlantean has blue (with the notable exception of Namor & Namoria), and the last page tacks on a revelation that struck me as downright goofy, not to mention rather confusing. I mean why in the world would this group even bother to create an army of Buckys, especially when an earlier section of the book made a point of showing us how the Captain America clones were programmed so that their memories included Bucky's heroic death.
While we're on the subject of the clones I do have to ask why Marvel has even let the idea of clones even make an appearance within the pages of one of their comics, as I'm sure I'm not the only fan who was subjected to nightmarish flashbacks of the horror that was the Spider-Man clone saga. I mean could there be a less appealing idea in the entire catalogue of bad ideas that a writer could introduce into a book. Now I'm sure Chuck Austen is convinced that he won't make the same mistakes that were made over in the Spider-Man books, though adding Bucky clones to the mix is certainly a good first step down that slippery slope. However, even with the best of intentions the simple fact of the matter is that Spider-Man clone saga has placed a "do not touch with a ten foot pole" stigma on the entire idea of clones, which was never really all that great of an idea to begin with. I realize that I'm prejudging an idea before I even get a good look on what Chuck Austen plans on doing with it, but frankly I've seen how bad it can get, and I have no desire to suffer though it a second time. I guess the only real conciliation is that it would appear that Nick Fury is going to play a role in this arc, so I can at least enjoy the grizzled, hard-nosed realism that he tends to bring to the table.
Jae Lee arrives on this book a couple issues early, and what's more he has the bad luck to arrive in the middle of a story arc. Now I'm a big fan of Jae Lee's work, and I'm always glad to see his name in the credit box, but it's never a good idea to switch artists in the middle of a story arc, especially when the two artists have such different styles. Still if Trevor Hairsine had to leave the book, then he had to leave the book, and while I was enjoying his work a great deal I'm sure I'll be seeing his work again soon, and Jae Lee actually looks to be a better fit for the more surreal elements of this arc. From the opening sequence where we see the world through Captain America's eyes, contrasted against the reality of the situation, to the equally impressive scene where we see the drug start to wear off, though we are still left uncertain if what we're seeing is real, Jae Lee brings a nice, darker edge to this book. In fact that opening scene left me wishing that this story actually involved the real villains that Captain America was seeing, as any artist who can make Modok look creepy, deserves all the praise one can get. There's also a great double-page spread of Inali controlling his storm, as that shattered school bus perfectly conveys the raw power of his attacks.
This issue suffers from a lack of direction, as there are time when it almost seems like Chuck Austen hasn't gotten bored of a particular aspect of the plot, so he simply drops it, and moves on to an idea that he considers more interesting. This in turn results in some rather awkward scene transitions, as the havoc that the storm generating Inali is causing is suddenly dropped from the book, and replaced by a rather bizarre plot twist that has Captain America heading off with Nick Fury to look in on an army of Captain America & Bucky clones. There's also a rather strange little scene where Captain America suddenly decides to engage in a little romance, following on the heels of what he believed to be a heated battle with a half dozen of his most dangerous enemies. Now I guess one could write off his odd behavior as his mental function being impacted by the drugs, but even this plot point is rapidly dropped from the book, as one moment he's under the influence and then when the plot needs him to be coherent he's suddenly back in full control.
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