Saturday, March 03, 2007

Captain Confederacy #3

Captain Confederacy #3, 1986, SteelDragon Press
writer: Will Shetterly
artist: Vince Stone

Since the beginning of the superhero genre, the penultimate proof of abnormal strength has been the lifting of a car. Of course, Superman did it on the cover of Action Comics #1, and more critically for today’s context, Captain Confederacy does it on the cover of his third issue – but the Captain’s parallel with the Man of Steel ends there. In fact, his alias evokes an obvious connection with another captain, the one of the winged cowl variety. Now, I’ve read a few Captain America rip-offs over the course of the A Comic A Day challenge – Captain Paragon, the Fighting American, and Sgt. Strike come to mind, and I’m sure I’ll get to the U.S. Agent and a few others before this year is over – but Captain Confederacy is by far the most unique of the patriotic clones, because he doesn’t fight for America. He fights for the Confederacy . . . presumably in a country permanently divided by a Civil War that turned out quite differently than the one we’ve learned about in school. Apparently, benching automobiles is the only historical consistency between Captain Confederacy’s world and ours.

Alas, in this issue, Captain Confederacy, a.k.a. Jeremy Gray, has turned in his cowl, and at the wrong end of a hold-up, the only cause he seems interested in defending is his own. Jeremy’s assailant, Susan Sawyer, takes him for a stroll, eventually trying to persuade him to take up his mantle again against the Confederacy. Since I haven’t read the previous issues of this series, I don’t know what the context of this reality is, but apparently the Civil War is a divergence point for this continuity and that difference has affected societal norms in Captain Confederacy’s world. “You have black friends,” Sawyer tells him. “You’ve seen how things are for them.” Before Cap can make a decision, the C.B.I. arrives to “save” him, then the cops shortly after that – which is when Jeremy lifts the car to prove his identity to the awestruck police, who let him pass without C.B. I. interference. While this issue isn’t very action-packed, the very concept of this series poses some interesting “what if” questions. If a country was divided, then one of those halves was conflicted yet again amongst itself, would anyone want to defend it in the first place? By definition, isn’t that a house built on shifting sands?

Writer Will Shetterly instills his script with a dichotomy of conflict and nobility. While the Confederacy has challenged its Captain’s beliefs, Jeremy is still a respectable character, yearning for a civilian life rather than fight for a cause that may not jive with his convictions. He’s a man without a country . . . but not without admirers. Sawyer claims that the super solider program is really a glorified public relations campaign, yet she’s convinced that his clout could start a revolution. These political overtones, peppered with a decent sense of humor and harmless flirtation, are more thought-provoking than anything I’ve read in a Captain America comic, not to mention any comics inspired by ol’ A-head. This issue’s letters pages are rife with fellow fans that agree.

Vince Stone’s artwork is surprisingly good – I say “surprisingly” because black and white comics from this time period generally aren’t drawn really well, at least in my experience. But Stone’s art reminds me of an amateurish Phil Jiminez, or in cooperation with the storyline, a young Howard Chaykin. Some of the inking betrays the crosshatching trappings of the time, and the production value may not be in his favor, but the painted cover reveals the true potential of Stone’s work. At the end of the experience, my thumb is pointing north for the good Captain’s visuals.

Ironically, comics’ first captain, Captain America, is involved in his own little Civil War right now, a crossover event that has captured the eyes and ears of readers across our country. Many fans may be invested in those characters’ futures, but realistically, the spoils of that war won’t affect the pedestrian lives of its audience. Captain Confederacy is a different story, taking that classic Marvel “what if” concept and applying it to our history, inadvertently making us bit players in his patriotic adventures. Where would you stand? If the namesake hero of this issue, and this hypothetical era, cannot answer that question, it must not be an easy one. This creative team is as noble as their character for tackling it in the first place.

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