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‘Captain America: The Ghost Army’ OGN (review)

Written by Alan Gratz
Art by Brent Schoonover
Published by Scholastic / Graphix 

 

Some of my favorite Silver Age Marvel Comics stories are the early, half-issue, “flashback” stories of Captain America in mid-60s issues of Tales of Suspense.

Set in World War II, when Cap’s young sidekick Bucky was still alive, these adventures—mostly by Kirby and Lee—were some of the most exciting the so-called “House of Ideas” had to offer at that time.

Ever since then, and especially with The Invaders in the 1970s, I’ve enjoyed these types of retcons.

Until now.

Captain America: The Ghost Army is a new World War Two adventure written by Alan Gratz and drawn by Brent Schoonover.

On the one hand, it attempts to tie-in to some long-established Marvel continuity (which is likely lost on most modern readers) while on the other it gives every indication of being set in some alternate world Marvel Universe. While not expressly labelled anywhere that I see as a Young Adult book, the simple fact that it’s published by Scholastic certainly does just that.

As such, there’s not a lot of actual violence. In fact, the art seems almost overly antiseptic for a book set in the midst of a violent war. Cap and Bucky are wearing their traditional uniforms, albeit with more practical belts and the former sporting boots with a huge number of laces.

The lettering of the book is by the Virtual Calligraphy studio’s Joe Caramagna and it gives the project an unusual feel in that unlike most comics lettering, which is done in all capital letters, here we have a normal mix of small letters with capitals only at the beginnings of sentences. It feels “off” to me for reasons I was unable to put my finger on.

What’s it about, you ask? Well Captain America and Bucky are fighting Nazis in Europe along the Eastern Front when they meet “Dum Dum” Dugan for the first time. Dugan, traditionally the loyal Irish sidekick of Nick Fury, is here fighting with British troops, and no mention is made of the Howling Commandos.

Jim Morita, a minor Asian character from a 1966 Sgt. Fury comic book who has been occasionally revived in both the comics and the Marvel movies, also shows up, not looking particularly Asian. Turns out he has a couple jeeps and a truck, along with some big woofers and tweeters, and commands a “ghost army” by making it sound as though he’s with a fleet of tanks. While this will help the plot, it turns out not to be the actual ghost army of the book’s title.

No, that would be the ghosts of dead Nazis and earlier German soldiers brought back as mostly mindless zombies by, of all things, the magic of Doctor Strange’s later arch-enemy, Baron Mordo. As seen here, the young Mordo is working out of a castle on Wundagore Mountain (the home of The High Evolutionary). He’s working for his evil grandfather but also to aid the Nazis. He’s supposed to be working, however, for his late father, whose ghost is hounding him to murder the grandfather! Got that? None of it matters, really, as we ultimately find out that Mordo’s true goal is to release The Dread Dormammu from his Dark Dimension into ours.

Unfortunately, the story is filled with anachronisms. Bucky, we are told, learned how to fight from Green Berets. The Green Berets actually didn’t debut until 1952.

We learn that Howard Stark invented and perfected the hologram and even called it that several years before holography was even first used in 1948. In this case, it creates a distraction of holographic monsters—The Monster of Frankenstein, It: The Living Colossus, Werewolf by Night, The Zombie, The Man-Thing, and even good ol’ Fin Fang Foom. These cameos will be totally lost on young readers and, since some like Simon Garth’s Zombie and Ted Sallis’s Man-Thing, didn’t even exist at that time, they make absolutely no sense.

Cap makes reference to vibranium at one point and in current continuity, his second, round, shield was made of vibranium when Cap and Sgt. Fury (with Dum Dum Dugan) helped the then-current Wakanda king defeat the Red Skull and Baron Strucker. Since Cap already has the shield here and clearly knows how to use it, (he throws it and bends back a tank’s gun barrel. Even if the vibranium could do that, could Cap throw it with that much strength and still have it boomerang back to him?) while Dum Dum has apparently yet to meet Nick, how does Cap even know about the rare metal?

The biggest anachronism of all comes with the teenage character Sofia Maximoff. She’s a walking anachronism. While I realize the importance of positive role models for young girls, putting a clearly modern girl out of context in the 1940s is not the best way to do that. Rewriting history never works.

When we first meet Sofia, she is majorly offended when Bucky calls them “gypsies” and explains her ire at great length. From what I read online, the offense at the word has always been there in some quarters but that Romani peoples of middle Europe actually embraced it until relatively recently. For a girl living in a small village with her grandfather, the resourceful Sofia clearly knows quite a bit about everything from Shakespeare (she calls Bucky “Romeo”) to nuclear fission! Remember, the atom bomb hadn’t even been invented yet. Oh, and did I mention Sofia’s last name is “Maximoff?” As in Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, who in at least one or two versions of Marvel continuity were said to have been born around Wundagore.

I wanted to like Captain America: The Ghost Army. I really, really did. I’m not the absolute stickler for continuity that I once was, especially in what is likely a one-off young adult graphic novel, but why put all those continuity references and anachronisms in there in the first place?

Sorry, Cap, but don’t worry. You’re still my hero.

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