Book review: David Morrell's 'Captain America' a knockout

Thursday, July 17, 2008

@SL_body_copy_ragged:David Morrell has done something totally new: The best-selling author of action thrillers has written a comic-book series. It all happened because a Marvel Comics editor suggested that Morrell, who created "Rambo" in his novel, "First Blood," would make a good pairing with another military icon, Captain America.

"Captain America" or "Cap" is a superhero created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in response to the Nazi menace in World War II. Since his debut in 1941, Marvel Comics estimates, some 210 million copies of Captain America books have been sold in 75 countries.

Morrell, who has a Ph.D. in American literature, hasn't had much to do with comic books since his boyhood, but he eagerly rose to the challenge.

The result is "Captain America: The Chosen," a stand-alone comic-book miniseries that tells a poignant, yet uplifting, story with psychological dimensions that transcends the genre.

The opening pages show U.S. Marine Cpl. James Newman in war-torn Afghanistan, determined to do his duty, but exhausted from too many firefights and longing to go home to his wife and newborn son. As he wonders how long he can keep on serving, a voice answers: "As long as we're able to lift a finger. As long as we can draw a breath." To his astonishment, it is Captain America, resplendent in his Stars & Stripes-themed costume and carrying his signature bulletproof shield.

With his help, Newman fights off enemies and pulls his fellow soldiers under fire to safety. Captain America comes to his aid whenever Newman gets demoralized, but oddly, no one else can see him. Cap is actually strapped to a gurney in a secret medical facility outside Washington. How, then, does he manage to appear thousands of miles away in Afghanistan? And what is he trying to do?

To develop the story, the author says, he examined Cap's background as if he were a real person. And it certainly has enough drama and trauma to inspire a novelist of Morrell's caliber.

Born Steve Rogers, he was first orphaned, then his loss was compounded when two father figures died. He participated in a U.S. government experiment to create physically perfect soldiers and was transformed from a frail youth into a muscled specimen, but since he accidentally destroyed the machine that would have made more like him, he ended up fighting bad guys alone. He is not immortal, so he had to overcome the fear of death to remain courageous.

Morrell has imagined what a man with such a background would do after reigning 70 years as a superhero. In his story, Cap comes through as a man of vision at his heroic best.

Artist Mitch Breitweiser's work complements Morrell's story perfectly. Rather than the garish colors of the average comic book, he and colorist Brian Reber use shades of muted brown, giving the realistic feel of the arid and mountainous country.

"Captain America: the Chosen" is bound to occupy a permanent place in public consciousness just as the Rambo has.

-- AP

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