"Chapter 3: Bargaining"
Writer: Jeph Loeb (based on an idea by J. Michael Straczynski)
Artists: John Romita Jr. (p), Klaus Janson (i), Morry Hollowell (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
In all honesty, the title of this issue is a bit of a misnomer, as the third chapter in Loeb's miniseries about the five stages of grief that have accompanied the death of Captain America revolves far more closely around Hawkeye and Iron Man than it does around Steve Rogers himself. However, the iconic spectre of Cap still hangs over the entire issue, which sees Tony Stark attempt to recruit the recently-resurrected Clint Barton to step into his old teammate's shoes and become the new Captain America.
This is probably the most successful issue of the series so far, as it weaves a well-conceived and compelling story around its theme (in this case, "Bargaining") in such a way that the premise doesn't seem like a forced gimmick but an organic extension of the characters involved. Tony Stark is portrayed even-handedly by Loeb: his attempt to overcome his own guilty feelings about Captain America's death by finding a suitable replacement could be viewed as selfish and cynical, but his actions could equally be seen as the result of a humble and genuine desire to make things right, with his dialogue continually hinting at a wish to make up for the loss that has been sustained by the American public. Hawkeye's reaction to Stark's behaviour also seems in-character, and his eventual recognition of the weaknesses of Iron Man's pro-registration stance shows a logical progression in the pair's relationship which makes Clint's decision to reject Tony's offer powerful, despite its predictability.
A guest appearance by two of the Young Avengers maintains the all-star approach that the book has taken so far, giving a comprehensive overview of the reaction of the Marvel Universe to Cap's death - although the final panel of a morose Iron Man looking shamed and rejected is becoming such a familiar sight in post-Civil War stories that I'd be happy to see him out of the limelight for a while if writers can't come up with a fresh or different take on the character in his current form. Still, Loeb shows that he isn't taking things too seriously, with a couple of fun throwaway lines: Stark's incredulous reaction to the idea of a clone and his response to Clint's line about throwing Cap's shield feeling like sleeping with your best friend's wife both elicited a chuckle.
Art-wise, the book is a real success, with the always-dependable team of John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson providing linework which tells Loeb's story with the utmost clarity. Whilst his chunky, square Iron Man might not be to everyone's tastes, Romita gets a chance to show off his talents for facial expressions here, with most of the drama arising out of the interplay between the often-maskless Stark and Clint Barton. The issue's action sequences feel a little brief, but they're short and sweet under Romita's dynamic pencils and Civil War colourist Morry Hollowell's atmospheric colours.
The book isn't without its flaws: the overall story still seems rather piecemeal, and there's a lack of the kind of gravitas that one might expect from a book that deals with the death of one of the Marvel Universe's most iconic heroes. It's also still a little confusing as to where this story fits into the timeline, especially with regard to current issues of New Avengers; does Hawkeye's appearance in this book predate that one? If so, why did the New Avengers go back to the raft to find Cap's body in the current arc of their own book, after Wolverine confirmed his death in the first issue of this one? Either way, there are some gaps to fill in, but it doesn't detract from the story too much. I only hope that Loeb is building to something more poignant with the miniseries' final couple of issues, as this is a storyline which warrants something a little bit special, and it would be a shame to see Marvel miss the opportunity to pay tribute to one of their most important superheroes.
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