Captain America: Forever Allies #s 1 to 4, $3.99 US, published by Marvel Comics
Writer: Roger Stern; Art: Nick Dragotta, Marco Santucci & Patrick Piazzalunga; Covers Lee Weeks
Rating 4 out of 5 stars
The four issue miniseries Captain America: Forever Allies is a follow-up to the Young Allies special by Roger Stern and Paolo Rivera that Marvel published last year as part of their 70th anniversary celebration. Forever Allies sees Stern returning to Captain America’s young wartime partner Bucky Barnes in an adventure split between 1943 and the present day.
Stern has written the character of Captain America before, partnered with John Byrne and Joe Rubinstein for a short but memorable run on Cap’s own series in the early 1980s, as well as a lengthy stint scripting Avengers in the mid-80s. This time around, Stern returns to a different Captain America, though. After Steve Rogers had apparently been assassinated by the Red Skull, the recently-revived Bucky took up the mantle of the Sentinel of Liberty.
The villain of Forever Allies is Lady Lotus, a femme fatale Axis agent with psychic powers who fought the Invaders and Young Allies during World War II. Previously, there had been some speculation among readers that there might be a connection between Lady Lotus and a modern day Avengers foe, Lotus Newmark, a crimelord who also possessed the ability to control people’s minds. In Forever Allies, Stern makes the connection explicit, revealing that the two women are really one and the same person, kept young via supernatural means.
In 1943, Bucky and the rest of the Young Allies face off against Lady Lotus, attempting to stop both her schemes to disrupt the Allied war effort and her efforts to gain even greater psychic powers through a mysterious crystal. In the present, Bucky, now in the guise of Captain America, learns of Lotus’ survival and her quest to regain the mystical gem she briefly possessed during the war.
Stern has a really good handle on the new Cap here. He is headstrong and impulsive, ready to charge into a fight at a moment’s notice. Of course, Steve Rogers did not become a consummate strategist and leader overnight. Neither is Bucky, who has to find his feet in this new, iconic role. Inevitably, Bucky also ends up comparing his actions to how he imagines Steve Rogers would have handled the situation, and more often than not finds himself falling short, at least in his own mind. In a way, Bucky is his own worst enemy, because he is never going to feel like he measures up to the standards set by his mentor.
Although not explicitly stated, Forever Allies appears to be set during the period of time when Steve Rogers was still believed dead and Norman Osborn was in charge of Homeland Security. As a result, Cap does not have access to the resources normally available to the Avengers. So, he turns to an old ally of his mentor: millionaire adventurer Texas Jack Muldoon. One of a number of decidedly unconventional characters created by Jack Kirby at Marvel in the mid-1970s, Texas Jack could be described as across between Howard Hughes and John Wayne. I was quite surprised to see Stern bring back such an unusual character, but it did add a certain flavor to the script. Between Texas Jack and the four members of the Young Allies, the cast was populated by some very distinctive personalities.
One criticism I had was that Stern wrote Lady Lotus as a one-dimensional villain. He completely removed the element of moral ambiguity present in the character when she first appear in The Invaders. Witnessing the imprisonment of her fellow Japanese Americans in Internment Camps by the US Government, the embittered Lotus cast her lot with the Axis powers. One could certainly sympathize with her motivations, if not her terrorist actions. Unfortunately, Stern ignored that aspect of the character’s motivation, turning her into a power-hungry fiend spouting racist slurs against Jews and blacks. I thought it made the character rather less compelling. It would perhaps have been more interesting to write Lotus as someone who had allowed her resentments to turn her into a monster.
Aside from his take on Lady Lotus, I very much enjoyed Stern’s writing on Forever Allies.
The artwork on Forever Allies was divided between Nick Dragotta and Marco Santucci & Patrick Piazzalunga. Dragotta illustrates the segments set in 1943. His art for these scenes has a certain retro sensibilities that hark back to the style of 1940s comic book artwork. At times it also reminded me somewhat of the work Dick Ayers, who drew many issues of Sgt. Fury. And there is a definite element of Milton Caniff’s style in Dragotta’s depictions of Lady Lous. Well, she is a rather Dragon Lady-ish character, after all. Dragotta’s work is exceedingly dynamic, full of energy and excitement.
The present day portions are drawn by Marco Santucci and Patrick Piazzalunga. Their style is somewhat similar to Butch Guice, one of the current artists on the regular Captain America title. It is an interesting contrast to Dragotta’s work, and effectively serves to highlight the changes in period throughout the miniseries. Although I was not nearly as enamored with Santucci and Piazzalunga’s work as I was with Dragotta’s, in is nevertheless quite good.
Topping it all off are some fantastic covers by Lee Weeks. He is such an amazing artist, and I would definitely have to classify him as an underrated talent. Really, Weeks ought to be drawing Avengers or X-Men. He’s that good.
While there are a couple of missteps, Captain America: Forever Allies is a fun, entertaining miniseries. Roger Stern does some good work with Bucky Barnes, exploring both his World War II incarnation and his current status as Captain America.