Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lesser Known Joe Casey Comics: Captain America annual '99

[Continuing my look at some of the lesser known Joe Casey-penned comics. I bet you didn't even know he did a Captain America annual. As always, I will examine these lesser known works in relation to Casey's more prominent projects and ask if it should remain forgotten. New posts Monday, Wednesday and Friday.]

The plot of this issue is pretty simple: some corrupt businessman named Calvin Halderman is using Flag-Smasher to kill people and help the business. Some Daily Bugle reporters get involved and help Captain America. Simple enough.

This issue isn't that remarkable, but does have a few interesting elements...

The first is Casey's use of pushing dialogue to the gutters in some scenes involving the reporters. We will get panels of art by Pablo Raimondi with the actual dialogue below. Normally, this technique is reserved for TV shots where words and pictures don't mix, but it works well here, because newspaper reporters work exclusively in words with pictures juxtaposed. By separating the words and pictures, Casey highlights the importance of text for these characters. However, it's not the most effective technique as it is often cramped and not always used with the reporters, only when it seems to strike Casey's fancy to do it. If it were used more, it would work much, MUCH better.

It fails partially because of the use of third-person captions twice in the issue that are supposed to give us insight into Captain America. Since that technique is only used twice, seemingly as filler, it undermines the narrative flow of the entire issue.

The second element of note is Casey's commentary on corporations, which ties into his later work on Wildcats. There's nothing of particular originality here beyond the fact that despite Halderman's criminal activities, the corporation he's involved with is able to continue with little or no penalties. Juxtaposing this sort of story with Captain America is very smart as it suggests a different level of corruption for Cap to contend with that I don't think was ever really examined. Where do his ideals fit in a world where corporations have the same rights as citizens, but far, FAR more means?

In this way, the inclusion of Flag-Smasher is particularly smart. He is an anti-nationalist character that sees countries as divisive--he's also a braindead vegtable that is animated with drugs, basically. Halderman uses his anti-nation views against him and talks up corporations as a viable alternative to countries: "ONLY CORPORATIONS PROVIDE THAT SOUGHT-AFTER UNITY IN THIS MODERN WORLD."

These are some very intriguing ideas that, as I said, work very well with Captain America, but are very compressed here--to the point where Casey barely skims over them. This issue provides a glimpse at a larger, more complex, more epic story that Casey could have potentially told. However, elements did show up in other works like the end of his Uncanny X-Men run and his work on Wildcats.

Should this comic remain forgotten? For the purposes of entertainment, yes. It's not a very good comic to read. The story is pretty convoluted and mashed up. The art is serviceable, but not spectacular. And the character work is weak. But, if you're like me and are reading Casey's work to see how ideas connect and what techniques he's experimenting with, this is a worthwhile book in those regards. So, yeah, probably best left forgotten except by weird geeks like me.

On Friday, I'll look at Batman: Tenses #1.