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Is It Wednesday Yet?

22 June 2010 Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always, the reviews are free of spoilers, so read on without fear of having your experience ruined!

Our grading scale is simple:

Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.

Captain America #606
Publisher: Marvel
Released: 09 June 2010
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Butch Guice
Colorist: Dean White
Letterer: VC's Joe Caramagna and Joe Sabino
Cover: Marko Djurdjevic
Cover price: $3.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
There may not be a single character more directly affected by the outcome of Siege than Bucky Barnes, formerly known as The Winter Soldier and today donning the legendary guise of Captain America. When Steve Rogers made his unsurprising return from a dirt nap last winter, I had some concerns over where Bucky would fit in the pecking order. Now, with Steve firmly entrenched in his role as the head of US security, his shield (and the focus of this series) has been passed officially to Barnes.

In a lot of ways, that feels like the impetus for a fresh start. Even though Bucky's been at the center of this series since Steve's "death" three years ago, there's always been a prevailing sense that he merely had the spotlight on lease until the original Cap strode back into the picture. Now, with the identity of the star-spangled Avenger decided, longtime writer Ed Brubaker has turned his focus on the stark differences between Steve's take on Cap and Bucky's. It's a very liberating time for the series, which is beginning to move past the half-century of continuity that had been burdening it at the start of Brubaker's run. Where the audience knew just about everything worth knowing about Steve Rogers, the current mantle-bearer carries a slate that's much less decorated.

The first step in Bru's process of etching that stone is introducing a new major foil for the series, which ultimately takes the shape of Baron Zemo. The Baron isn't exactly unfamiliar with Captain America, nor with Bucky himself, but it's been quite a while since he's been directly involved with either. Now, with the Red Skull momentarily out of the picture, the stage is set for something different, and as first challenges go, Zemo's a great place for Bucky to start. In Brubaker's hands, he has the potential to become a major player once again, and the issue ends with the message that the ride is just getting started.

Butch Guice's artwork is the latest in a series of great matches for the series. Like Daredevil when Brian Michael Bendis and later Brubaker were at the helm, Captain America has enjoyed a remarkably consistent art style despite a routinely shifting creative team. Both have employed a shadowy, gritty look and feel that isn't particularly detailed, but also isn't excessively streamlined and simplistic. Guice shakes things up a bit with a series of clever, unusually organized pages that take their hints from Jim Steranko's brief work with the character. In many instances that makes for a direct homage to the famed artist, although it also occasionally results in some difficulties navigating the action. In addition, there's a real disconnect this month between the panels set in near-darkness and those in direct sunlight. In the dark, Guice's style is sleek, restrained, and captivating. In bright light, his work feels more dated, clunky, and awkward. Fortunately, the bulk of this issue takes place after midnight.

Captain America hasn't felt this wide open in my lifetime. With his mentor occupied elsewhere and the looming threat of the original marquee player reclaiming this series finally off his back, Bucky's chance to run with the ball has officially arrived. There's enough potential for change to appeal to new readers, but enough reverence for previous tales and the long, storied history of these characters to keep old-school fanboys happy as well. As long as Ed Brubaker sticks around, this series is in a great place. Buy it.

Nemesis #2
Publisher: Icon / Marvel
Released: 09 June 2010
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Steve McNiven
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Steve McNiven
Cover price: $2.99

Review: Sean Lemberg
You'd have to look far and wide to find a more polarizing figure in this industry than Mark Millar. He's a hot-or-cold prospect, an author the greater fandom can't seem to make up its collective mind about. Many view his writing as distastefully as they did the prospector-flooded era of the early 1990s, a scourge upon the industry with no respect for what came before. Others see his work as a breath of fresh air in a typically stagnant mainstream. It's generally pretty lonely here in the in-between. I've read and adored my share of Millar, but I've also been turned off by his habitual pursuit of excess, sometimes at the cost of a better story.

No matter which side of the camp you might find yourself in, Millar's new series is not going to change your mind. Nemesis may not share a threaded, overarching storyline with Wanted, Kick-Ass, Old Man Logan, or any of the writer's other preceding works, but you can bet your ass it's every bit their spiritual successor. If anything, it's one of his most honest concepts; in no way is he even remotely trying to convince his audience this guy is in the right morally, legally, or otherwise. He makes no apologies, cuts no corners, and delivers a lead that's rotten to the core. Thing is, he's also an utterly fascinating character, glistening with charisma, and completely impossible to take your eyes off of. In the promotional materials, Millar asked, "What if Batman was The Joker?" And that's exactly what he's delivered. Nemesis is a great creation, albeit one borrowed from a number of sources, who carries the series on his back with every panel.

On the occasions that the issue does force our eyes from the white-garbed embodiment of criminal mischief, Nemesis becomes one of Millar's more stereotypical yarns. With the exception of Blake Morrow, the target of our antihero's loathing, the agents behind the government response are completely interchangeable and crass to a fault. Something tells me that's kind of the point, though. If there's one thing this author could never be accused of, it's a sense of restraint and subtlety.

Joining Millar is his Civil War and Old Man Logan counterpart, artist Steve McNiven. Though his contributions on Nemesis are a bit different from what we've seen from him in the past, the shift in style is completely appropriate. I can't say this work is more subdued, because let's be honest, there's nothing subdued about a man pulling a flip off a speeding motorcycle while firing a rocket launcher at a pursuing helicopter. The book has punches in bunches and McNiven is responsible for more than his share of their power, but he's taken a more tactical approach to delivering those moments. His compositions are more carefully orchestrated, offering an excellent blend of neutral space and rich texture. His renderings are more detailed, more grounded in reality than ever before, but they're no less explosive or extravagant. McNiven makes this book appallingly fun to read, managing to realize all of Mark Millar's craziest ideas while still finding a way to evolve as an artist.

One thing Millar's work never seems to lack is an intriguing introduction. And while several of his stories have started strong and fizzled out near the end, an equal number have somehow managed to one up themselves with a fantastic conclusion. Nemesis is a proud continuation of the first half of that trend. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess, but no matter the outcome I don't think we could have asked for a more entertaining introduction. There's really nothing quite like this on the shelves today, and no creator more in touch with what they're trying to do. Millar is writing for himself, critics be damned, and if you just so happen to have a remotely similar taste in entertainment, you'll be hanging on his every word. He's got me hooked like a prized catch. Buy it.


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