It is rare for me to tell you that I am reading and enjoying a currently published comic book series. It is even rarer for me to tell you that it is a story I have been waiting over 25 years to see published. Captain America: Patriot fulfills both of those statements quite nicely.
If you have more than a passing familiarity with Marvel Comics, you surely are aware that occasionally the continuity gets...involved. OK, there are times when it can be a snarled and tangled mess. This leads to all sorts of things that only exist to solve perceived problems. The multiple post-WWII Captain Americas are just one example, but they are the subject of this mini-series. Well, one in particular.
I'll give a short explanation, for those of you who neither know nor care about continuity minutiae. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived Captain America in the pages of Avengers #4, they said he had been on ice since 1945. That's reasonably common knowledge. Trouble is, Captain America's comics were published continuously until 1949, and he had also been revived in the early 1950s. How to reconcile this? Well clearly, the Cap stories after a certain point must have REALLY involved different men wearing the guise of Captain America.
This all came up in the 1970s, and it's actually led to some good stories here and there for something that was just a continuity implant. The one story that largely went untold that I personally wanted to see was the career of Jeff Mace as Captain America III. Mace had originally been a hero called the Patriot, but he assumed the mantle of Cap under less than ideal circumstances. Plus, he was the only Captain America who voluntarily retired from the job. It just seemed to me that Cap III was filled with unexplored potential for storytelling, and I sometimes fantasized how I would write the tale if given the chance.
Well, that obviously never materialized, but Marvel has finally decided that now is the time to give us more Jeff Mace in the limited series Captain America: Patriot. I was super-excited when I learned this was happening, especially when I discovered that Karl Kesel was writing. Kesel is an experienced talent who respects what has gone before while also scripting adventures that stand on their own. Plus, he had already done wondrous work in fleshing Cap III out in last year's All Winners book.
This isn't quite the story I had pictured back in the 1980s, but darn it, it might be even better. Kesel deftly builds on elements from All Winners and incorporates pre-established stuff from dozens of prior comics to weave a tapestry that is at once tied to continuity and yet remarkably fresh due to the inherent obscurity of the sources. I mean, I consider myself fairly well-versed in such matters, and I didn't even know about Miss Patriot!
The characterization is sharp and on-the-mark, too. I think people sometimes assume books like this will be simplistic. Not so! Kesel's characters are far from cardboard cut-outs. He's taken What We Knew and extrapolated it into something better defined. That's the kind of comics I like: old school storytelling synthesized with valid and contemporary characterizations.
I have mostly discussed the writing so far, but do not let that leave you with the impression that the art doesn't hold up its end of the bargain. On the contrary, the art is (pardon the pun) MARVELOUS! I raved about Mitch Breitweiser last year when I talked about that Sub-Mariner book, and I'd say it's a dead certainty that his work in Captain America: Patriot is even better!
If you haven't yet seen Breitweiser's work, make your way to his gallery pronto. You will see a number of teaser images from this book which will illustrate my point about the art's quality better than any words I can muster. I am impressed that he doesn't shy away from the fact that this is a period piece, but in fact embraces it. There is plenty of room for dynamic action such as this page, but the devil's in the details. Breitweiser brings the goods, and hopefully, this will only lead to bigger and better things for him!
Oh, and I would totally remiss if I didn't compliment the extraordinary coloring work on display by Bettie Breitweiser, a.k.a. the artist's wife. She finds a nice balance of hues that gives the hero action the proper splashy impact of the era, but counterpointing it with a realistic tone when the situation requires. Coloring doesn't always get the respect it deserves, so let's have some props where they are due!
To sum it up, I really loved the first two issues of Captain America: Patriot. The third issue goes on sale TODAY, so if you are on your game, you can score the 3/4ths of the series in one go. It is worth the price of admission, and I cannot wait to see how it all plays out.