Writer: Jeph Loeb (based on an idea by J. Michael Straczynski)
Artists: John Cassaday (p & i), Laura Martin (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
In this final issue of Marvel's Fallen Son limited series, Steve Rogers' body is finally laid to rest - and Tony Stark attempts to come to terms with the death of Captain America.
The drama and emotion that's inherent in the funeral of Marvel's iconic hero just about carries this issue, but Loeb's script struggles to capitalise on such an obvious opportunity to make us feel the passing of Captain America on any really deep level. The staging of the ceremony at the Arlington cemetery is as cliché and obvious as you can imagine - perhaps intentionally - and the speech made by the Falcon is schmaltzy and sentimental, safe and predictable, when it might have been more powerful if Loeb had been a little more economical with his text, and less concerned with ticking off a checklist of Cap's achievements. A good storyteller can manipulate a reader's emotions without making it obvious that he or she is doing so, but the writing here is so transparent that it has the opposite effect, and I found myself consciously resisting Loeb's blatant string-pulling.
Elsewhere, the script is similarly overwritten to the point where it actually detracts from Cassaday's art. When Loeb writes "And, as a reminder of the disturbing times we live in, the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier hovers protectively over the crowd," it's completely superfluous: we know that information already, as it's conveyed perfectly adequately by the art. Either a direction to Cassaday from Loeb's script has been reproduced in the comic by mistake, or the writer must not have much confidence in his artist to make the point visually. In fact, the entire opening few pages would have been far more powerful if left to Cassaday's imagery alone to carry the moment, as Loeb's voice-over only feels like unnecessary, redundant exposition which distracts from what should be a moment of pure emotion. I understand that Loeb might be making a point about the media obsession with world events, but his incessant newscaster commentary clashes with his attempts at class and poignancy, leaving Cassaday to rescue the issue.
Yes, yet again it's the quality of the artwork which makes this book worth reading rather than the story itself, and Cassaday brings the same cinematic sensibilities that we've seen in books like Astonishing X-Men and Planetary to the pages of this issue. He copes with the detailed crowd scenes at Arlington happily, with a distinctive, solid take on each individual character which keeps things realistic without ever losing the fantastical sense of the Marvel Universe. However, it's with the frequent flashback splash-pages that he really makes his mark. A standout double-page spread of Cap rescuing Concentration Camp prisoners during World War II is a real showstopper, and subsequent images give us iconic glimpses of his glory days with Bucky and with the Avengers. Cassaday's slick style is perfectly suited to this kind of tribute, and fans of Captain America will treasure this issue if only for the great visuals.
Loeb does redeem the story slightly with the final few pages, which show a more low-key burial-at-sea of the body of the real Captain America in the spot where his body was first recovered from the ice. The presence of original Avengers Hank and Janet Pym shows some reverence for the origins of Cap's rebirth in the Marvel Universe, and Namor's reappearance (in conjunction with an earlier cameo from the outlaw New Avengers) reinforces the idea that this is a tragedy which has affected the entire Marvel Universe, no matter what their political affiliation in the post-Civil War climate. Indeed, the issue is far more of an ensemble piece than it is a story about Iron Man - Stark is featured about as much here as he was in the third issue of the limited series - but this isn't a criticism: the book may have been more successful if it had been allowed more freedom to break away from the rigid structure of centering each issue around a particular character and a particular stage of grief, rather than letting the story develop more organically. As it is, we're left with an "event" comic which has been more reliant on gimmickry (even down to the 4th-of-July release of this final issue) and the presence of big-name artists than it has been on a solid story and good writing.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!