Hey Folks! Hope you are enjoying your summer thus far! Or Winter I guess if you happen to one of our fans from the Land Down Under.
If that’s the case, then Merry Christmas! Have a Vegamite Sandwich! The Dingos just ate your baby!
…I’m sure that was extremely offensive to my Aussie brethren…eh…on with the show!
A couple weeks ago, we had an episode completely dedicated to the superhero, Captain America. It was during that episode that it became somewhat abundantly clear that although a lot of comic book fans know about the good ol’ Cap, not a ton have actually read a lot of comic books starring him. That includes yours truly.
I mean, sure, I’ve read a ton of the early Avengers and the Jack Kirby stuff in the 60s from Tales to Astonish and such when they first brought him back. I also have read some of the Mark Waid/Ron Garney stuff from the 90s, as well as more recent Rick Remender Dimension Z stuff, and even now the Nick Spencer “Hydra Cap” run. But there are big chunks of my Captain America knowledge base that I’m missing, especially a lot of the Cap from my youth, namely the Mark Gruenwald stuff.
Therefore I decided to check out a book that I originally bought for my son, Jakob, based on some of what I heard that it was like “Indiana Jones meets Captain America”, and therefore all kinds of fun and simple reading. I’m talking about the 6 part bi-monthly story line which ran from Captain America #357-364 collectively entitled “The Bloodstone Hunt”.
Wow! What a cover! I think you had me at “Giant Ceiling Spike Traps”!
10 year old Andy would have eaten that stuff up with a spoon!
However, Let’s try to be fair and balanced and see if 40 year old Andy is also just as impressed by the actual story.
Baron Zemo has hatched a plan to resurrect his pappy, the Original Zemo, who was killed at the hands of Captain America way back in Avengers #15. He’s hired Batroc and his lovable band of cutthroats Zaran and Machete, to track down the fragments of the Bloodstone, an anicent alien power source which had previously given renowed monster hunter, Ulysses Bloodstone, powers of super strength and immortality. Once reassembled, he hopes that the power of the Stone will revive his dead father and they can go fishing for oppression…or whatever fascist father/son duos do in their spare time.
Anyways, lucky for Captain America, former Serpent Society member turned good girl, Diamondback, discovers Zemo’s plan and warns the star spangled Avenger. Cap decides to get the Bloodstone fragments first for no other reason than the simple fact that dead Nazi evildoers should pretty much stay dead…and I feel we can all agree with that.
Thus starts a whirlwind race around the world, from the jungles of the deepest Amazon, to the depths of the oceans, to the sands of the Egypt and lost tombs within haunted pyramids, all to try to get to the fragments first.
Oh and famous Captain America bad guy, Crossbones, makes his first appearance in this story as well as follow up issues that are also included in the collection where he kidnaps Diamondback and tries to sell her into the sex trafficking trade. So there’s that too…
Things I Liked:
I can’t say enough great things about the Kieron Dwyer art in this book. I’m not sure if we’ve done on the podcast a definite artist for Captain America yet, but what I can say is that if I was forced to name one today, Mr. Dwyer would be close to the top of my list.
It’s like the old adage goes, your first is usually what you remember the most. And for me this is how I remember Captain America from my childhood. Athletic, Virile, as Solid as a barn with the agility of a tiger. Kieron draws Cap in almost ever single frame as the very peak of human perfection, a Greek God chiseled out of marble, capable of handling anything from armies of bloodthirsty Incas, to a school of Great White Sharks, to a 1000 year old Mummy.
I mean look at that action. There’s no wonder the rest of the Avengers take fighting lessons off of him. He’s a Red, White and Blue blur of fists and kicks. Everything perfectly timed. No wasted effort.
And because of how extremely capable Cap is in this series, you really can throw everything and the kitchen sink at him, and just let loose from creative perspective with the outlandish obstacles he has to overcome. And that makes for such a wonderful, light, breezy read that it reminded me so much of just being a kid again.
It’s like movie serials from the 30s and 40s with ever increasing dangers and cliffhanger type rescues that ratchet up the suspense. But none of it seems so over the top that it becomes corny or campy. It just seems like the popcorn chewing Arnold Schwarzenegger type films we all enjoyed as kids, with the race around the world looking for the magic Maguffen in exotic locals story that we’ve heard so many times, but never ceases to get old.
Yup, this was probably a series that was released in the summer that year to snag kids bored on summer vacation with the promise of high adventure with beautiful women, dastardly villains, and non stop action. And here I am many summers since and it still has that same effect. I was hooked from beginning to end, and couldn’t help but get swept up in unfolding melodrama that at times seems like it just stepped out of the “Temple of Doom”.
Things I Didn’t Like:
I will say, as much as this book was a lot of fun, if you were looking for any sort of real substance, character growth or something like that, you are going to be sorely disappointed. It’s like your typical action movie from the 80s. Tons of high impact stunts and fight sequences, short on overall plot.
What was especially disappointing to a degree was that it really didn’t do anything to change my mindset over the character of Captain America himself. For all the insanely incredible physical prowess he displayed throughout, he was as cardboard as they come when it came to any real emotion or depth.
In fact, nearly all of his dialogue in this entire book is just him just explaining how he is going to escape from the latest dangerous threat or providing exposition on where the plot is going next.
It’s as 1 dimensional as it comes, and it’s no wonder some of my co hosts like Chad grew up thinking of Cap as “just an icon” or “that father figure of the Marvel Universe”. If this is Cap you were given growing up in the late 80s, early 90s, sure he’s exciting to watch, but he does talk like someone’s boring Dad:
“We’re going to jump over this pit of poisonous cobras, kids, then we gotta pick up Michelle from Dance practice, and then Mom wants us to stop and get some Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream for dessert as the Mitchell family is coming over for a cookout on Saturday and then…”
Yes, we get it, Cap. The stuff you are doing is awesome, but sometimes the action can just speak for itself.
Besides, he’s also got this hot babe in Diamondback, pretty much throwing her ass in his face and begging him to eat it like a sandwich. Yet, none of what she says even gets a slightest reaction from him at any point.
Yeah, that’s not how you write sexual tension.
There has to be a playful back and forth to the banter, not just one person throwing out massive game and hitting a brick wall. That just makes Diamondback look desperate, and Cap look downright robotic. Neither is very serving for these characters, and makes their exchanges just feel awkward and cringe-worthy, like watching a weird teenage girl trying to hit on her high school biology teacher. Not a good look by a mile.
In fact, the best dialogue and writing is actually this goofy subplot where Batroc the Leaper shows off his “man crush” on Captain America, and the rest of the baddies give him grief about it. That stuff I found to be hilarious!
I’ll say that every time I read a Mark Gruenwald book, I’m reminded about how much of an absolute continuity wonk he really was.
It’s not really surprising given the man wrote the entire “Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe” series, an encyclopedic collection of every major and in many cases minor characters that appeared in a Marvel comic including full backstories and many minuet details about the character such as height, weight, and marital status.
I actually was a huge fan of these books growing up and would often times reread them more often than some of the actual comics. It was the Wikipedia of its day in which if there was a character or item that popped up in a story that I was unfamiliar with, I knew I could just grab my handy dandy guide and read up on it until I felt like I was an expert.
As a result, I can’t really fault Mark for wanting to flex those muscles a bit by throwing in obscure and relatively “deep cut” type characters into his stories, as why even bother cataloging the entire universe if you weren’t going to eventually use the information to tell better stories.
I mean, the whole Macguffen in this story is based on the character of immortal monster hunter, Ulysses Bloodstone, who only appeared in a handful of stories most notably the mid 70s anthology series Marvel Presents. In fact, probably the thing he’s most known for is his daughter, Elsa Bloodstone, who become somewhat of a hipster type “D” lister after her appearance in Warren Ellis’ Nextwave series.
Personally though, my favorite deep cut/easter egg from this series is the appearance of N’Kantu aka The Living Mummy.
One of the Marvel “Monsters” like Werewolf by Night or Man Thing, N’Kantu was pretty good friends with Ulysses Bloodstone, so it would make sense he would have one of his gem fragments. However, it’s just super neat that Gruenwald would throw again this relatively unknown character out at a bunch of kids who probably never even heard of the “Supernatural Thrillers” series from the 70s were Living Mummy primarily had most of his appearances.
Again, that’s why the handbook was so…ummm…handy. It was almost like Gruenwald was cross marketing his handbook in the actual series by these characters inclusions.
There’s a lot of phrases I could use you describe “The Bloodstone Hunt”. All Style and Little Substance. Tasty Comic book Cotton Candy aka A Fun Fluff Piece. But I think all of those descriptions are somewhat negative and not really representational of my real feelings on this story.
In the end, I really did enjoy it quite a lot. It was perfect summer beach reading like some dime store romance novel, which doesn’t require massive amounts of intellectual effort to plow through. You can pick it up, read about Cap escaping an ancient tribal sacrifice wheel of death, put it down, jump in the pool for a bit, have a hot dog and a brew, and then sit back down for the issue where he punches a shark!
Yep, I mean doesn’t that sentence just rule?!? Cap punching a shark! Again, Sign me up! Check, Please!
And after some of the books I’ve had to read this year for the show like Tom King’s “Mister Miracle”, Dave Mazzucchelli’s “Asterios Polyp”, and Grant Morrison’s “Doom Patrol”, all of which demanded a lot out of me as a reader, it was nice to have a book that did the exact opposite. It was exciting! It was episodic! It ended fairly quickly!
Most of all, it made me feel like a kid again, and helped me relive some of the reasons I got into comics in the first place. And that’s always going to be worth at least a big toothy grin from yours truly for sure!