Every Wednesday we take turns to delve into our trusty longboxes, pluck out a dusty back issue, and give you our thoughts. We’ll also try and place it in the context of the time it was originally published.
In the late 90s, the quality black hole that had affected almost every comic released in the past decade was starting to lose its grip, not least due to the efforts of writers like Kurt Busiek, who was producing some top quality superheroics on both Avengers and Thunderbolts. In 1998, all of the Marvel Annuals took a “team-up” approach, and Busiek’s contribution (along with co-writers Karl and Barbera Kesel) was the “Captain America/Citizen V” team-up, which, with series regular Mark Bagley on art, was a Thunderbolts annual in all but name.
Bagley’s artwork was as strong then as it is now, delivering consistent, expressive superhero work that places him alongside the likes of John Romita Jr. In this issue, removed from the traditional urban superhero setting, Bagley gets the chance to render jungles and castles in a story that’s positively swashbuckling, as Citizen V and Captain America team up to fight Baron Zemo and Techno.
There are a few continuity-based oddities in the issue. At this point in history, for example, Captain America was using his bizarre photon-shield, The Fixer is in his “Techno” incarnation, and the current incarnation of Citizen V was pretending to be a man, which is a fairly major plot-point that gets addressed in this annual. Ten years later, it seems odd to see such things being treated as the status quo, but it’s also a constant reminder that any change, no matter how permanent it might seem, is usually just a story with an ending somewhere.
Indeed, even the traditional superheroic actions of Captain America seem far removed from the recent political intrigue of the character, both before and after his death. Busiek’s handle on him is actually remarkably effective, though, as he organises Zemo’s slaves against him and helps Citizen V assume her mantle, inspiring others through his actions. This issue (and ’98′s “Captain America / Iron Man” annual, also by Busiek) both suggest that Busiek’s Captain America might just be one of those great runs that never happened – understandably, given how much control Busiek already had over the Avengers franchise at the time, writing both Avengers, Iron Man and Thunderbolts (which had close ties to the property) but none of that makes it any less disappointing that a Busiek run on Cap never happened.
Taken in isolation, it’s a nice little story that treads some unfamiliar ground with some largely under-used characters who’ve fallen out of favour in recent years, though the issue really shines if taken as the chapter of Thunderbolts, slotting somewhere between #17 and #21. With Busiek’s writing and Bagley’s art, it was never going to be a mediocre turn, though, and it’s certainly worth picking up if you see it cheap.