"The Eagle and the Bear"
Writers: Danny Bilson, Paul DeMeo, Adam Brody
Artists: Jerry Ordway (p), Al Vey (i), Johnny Rench (colors)
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm
This book definitely has my nod for "Breakout DC Title of the Year." Mafiosos, Joseph McCarthy, Burt Lancaster, kick butt Soviet superheroes, and one of the most human protagonists to be written since James Robinson created Jack Knight in Starman. What's not to love?
Red Menace #2 picks up where the first issue left off: Patriotic hero Steve Tremaine, "The Eagle," is unable to continue his work following his self-outing in front of Senator McCarthy's (R-Wi) trial. Following a beatdown from former Nazis turned FBI agents, he's in the dumps, abandoned by all but his daughter. Eagle fanboy, "The Grey Falcon," barely escapes his first attempt at crimefighting, and the Soviets need to learn how to make sturdier trains.
Bilson, DeMeo, and Brody really hit a stroke of genius when they decided to write this series. A hero reveals his secret identity in the hopes of saving his fellow heroes from McCarthy's inquires. Now, this is not a totally new idea. Roy Thomas had the Justice Society disband rather then out themselves to the House of Un-American Activities. Marvel Comics' Civil War event is based on the idea of heroes duking it out over whether or not to unmask. Yet, out of all these series, Red Menace gets it right. It's not about heroes deciding whether to unmask, it's about a hero who must deal with the consequences of unmasking.
Steve Tremaine is an approachable, sympathetic, and tragic hero. He's friendly, idealistic, a loving father, and drawn to helping others. This issue explores how hard it is for a man of action to simply sit back while crimes continue. He quickly decides to take action, and while he's successful, it's a Pyrric victory. In my favorite scene this issue, Tremaine shares a drink with 50s movie icon Burt Lancaster, who had been cast in an Eagle movie that fell through after Tremaine unmasked. When a very likable Burt tries to defend Tremaine, the bar patrons react in disgust that Lancaster would even talk with "that pinko."
The subplots in this book are numerous, engaging, and yet do not overpower the main story. The Grey Falcon storyline is getting a bit annoying, and I'm not quite sure how it fits in overall, but hopefully our intrepid sidekick will meet Tremaine in the next issue. Meanwhile, there is a recently-out-of-the-joint mob boss willing to go to war to reclaim the streets of Los Angeles, and we get a pretty good look at how willing he actually is. The best subplot? Soviet superhero "The Bear." This hulk of a Russian is portrayed as likable, wise, and a man who laments his place in the Cold War. In less than two pages, the writers make him instantly likable, a great friend to Tremaine. What happens to the Bear must be one of the more important parts of the minseries, and I cannot wait to see what happens next with it.
If the writing was not good enough, living legend Jerry Ordway handles the art. Ordway captures the America of the fifties perfectly. His rendition of Lancaster is dead on, and everything from the fashion, architecture, and haircuts are authentic. His balance between nostalgic Leave it to Beaver type scenes and brutal fights to the death are wonderful. I could not think of an artist better suited for this book. A winning combination.
For anyone looking for a refreshing take on the same ideas presented in Civil War, a fun take on fifties, or a subtle, character-driven political thriller should get this book. Who would have thought two producers and an actor could write one of the best titles of the year from any company? Not I. My only complaint with this book? It's a miniseries.
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