Vol. 1 was all about establishing writer Nick Spencer’s take on Sam Wilson as the new Captain America. A hero who was more about fighting for the little guy and for social change than simply beating up bad guys. It delivered on that approach, but offered no real surprises. If you were hoping for more of that here, then you’re going to be a little disappointed. Though the title implies there’s a connection to the “Standoff” event that wound its way through the “Avengers” titles earlier this year, that’s not quite the case. You’re getting the spine of this event here as current and former Captain Americas come together to clean up another one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s messes. While the story is fairly predictable as these things go, Spencer’s quirky style helps it to be more fun than I was expecting.
One of the subplots from the previous volume involved S.H.I.E.L.D. collecting fragments of Cosmic Cubes with the hope of using the bits of these reality-altering constructs for the greater good. This plan was exposed by a Snowden-style informant known as the Whisperer and shut down, but not before a wedge was driven between current Cap Sam Wilson and former Cap Steve Rogers regarding what should be done about the leak. Cut to the present day and also former Cap Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes has been on a mini-rampage attacking four classified S.H.I.E.L.D. outposts on the hunt for some information. Meanwhile, the Whisperer has some new info for Sam that’s so hot that he wants to meet his partner in order to deliver it.
Both of these meetings are about the same thing: Thanks to some behind-the-scenes maneuvers by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Maria Hill, the organization’s Cosmic Cube program wasn’t actually shut down. Instead, Maria spearheaded a new initiative to use the Cube’s power to wipe the minds of some of the Marvel Universe’s worst villains and set them up with new civilian identities in the idyllic town of Pleasant Hill. She tells Steve as much when he finds out about it and gives him the grand tour while promising that the system is foolproof and that nothing is going to go wrong in a town full of brainwashed supervillains.
You can probably guess what happens next, as well as how it all turns out in the end. The larger plot of “Standoff” presents no real surprises and stands as the weakest part of the volume. Spencer’s only real twist on how the proceedings play out is with Kobik. It turns out that when S.H.I.E.L.D. fused the Cosmic Cube shards together, they took on the form of a small child. One who has almost godlike power at her disposal. I realize that’s something of a trope in and of itself, but seeing how both sides of the conflict are forced to deal with this development at least adds a bit of nuance to the fisticuff-leaden proceedings.
In fact, one of the high points of this story also serves as a good example of the welcome quirkiness that Spencer brings to the proceedings. After Kobik disappears at one point, Kraven the Hunter volunteers for the job of tracking her down. So how do you track down an immensely powerful being with the appearance and mind of a six-year-old girl? By throwing a birthday party! It’s ingenious and ridiculous in equal measure, and pretty funny to see how fully Kraven commits to the charade.
There are plenty of funny bits like this strewn throughout the volume. Things start off with a bunch of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hijacking the command center of a helicarrier to watch NFL Sunday Ticket. Kobik’s love of bowling helps provides a key lead at one point. There’s also a fun sense of self-awareness to the banter between Sam and Bucky once they team up. Other parts, such as Baron Zemo’s exasperation when things stop going according to plan, and the quasi-competence of D-listers the Fixer and Trapster in this effort recall Spencer’s (honestly, much more entertaining) “Superior Foes of Spider-Man.” None of this is enough to make this story a must-read, but it makes what is effectively a storyline designed to set up future stories go down smoother than you’d expect.
Yeah, that appears to be “Standoff’s” main job in the end. Aside from getting a new Quasar out of this event, the most recent “Thunderbolts” series was set up here, along with parts of “Captain America: Steve Rogers.” While I can’t comment on how those other two developments have paid off, I will admit that it’s interesting to read this storyline after being spoiled to the “Hydra Cap” development in Steve’s new series. Parts of this story have a more sinister edge to them when you’re aware that the de-aged Cap is actually a deep-cover operative for Hydra. Whether or not this is good setup for that series proper will be known to me soon (the first volume of “Captain America: Steve Rogers” is in the mail).
Jesus Saiz, Angel Unzueta, Daniel Acuna, and Paul Renaud all draw parts of the main storyline here. Saiz and Renaud are solid superhero artists and they deliver their issues with welcome detail and clarity. The same goes for Unzueta, even if it looks like he was brought on to help out on the issues Acuna was drawing. That’s disappointing because I’ve always liked Acuna’s work and he turns in the most distinctive work of these artists. His lushly textured work is always eye-catching, whether he’s showing a full-page shot of Steve’s face after it has been badly beaten, or delivering adorable and then frightening renditions of Kobik.
It’s also worth mentioning that issue #7 of this series collected here in this volume also served as a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Cap’s first appearance and featured a few short stories from some A-list creators. “Presentation” is a WWII-set story from Joss Whedon and John Cassaday that deftly explains why Cap wields a shield rather than a gun (even though one was made just for him). Tim Sale gives us a mostly silent tale about Cap breaking into a Hydra stronghold to retrieve a bit of personal memorabilia. It’s slight, but I still liked seeing Sale’s art after his years of involvement with projects I’ve been less than interested in. Greg Rucka and Mike Perkins close things out with the clever “Pas de Deux” that packs a lot of character into a short that has Steve learning to appreciate ballet while working with Natasha Romanov to thwart a Latverian assassination attempt.
In terms of advancing Sam Wilson’s career as Captain America, I guess you could say that “Standoff” does its job. He gets to help sort out a semi-major crisis, but only alongside his fellow superheroes. Advancing the cause of social justice takes a backseat here. This volume will be of more interest to people who are invested in the ongoing narrative of the Marvel Universe given all of the plot threads it sets in motion here. If nothing else, this volume represents a more cost-effective way of following the event than shelling out for the hardcover collection of these issues plus all of the related tie-ins. “Standoff” is pretty middle-of-the-road as far as events go, even if it does have some fun bits to make it just a little memorable in the end.