The Comic Book Club: Captain America and Batroc, FF, and Stumptown

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse and Graeme McMillan talk about the Captain America and Batroc one-shot, FF #1 and the first collection of Stumptown.

DOUGLAS: Captain America and Batroc the Leaper #1 was the surprise treat of this week for me–a surprise because a) it’s another one in the endless parade of one-shots Marvel puts together to generate content that ties in with upcoming movies, and b) it stars Batroc, one of the silliest villains in the entire Stan Lee/Jack Kirby catalogue. I mean, this is a menace who’s Paste-Pot Pete levels of menacing at most. He even thinks in a bad French accent.

But what happens here is what happens when certain kinds of writers, in this case Kieron Gillen, are making their bones: they take on a lame character of one kind or another and figure out what’s interesting about them. Batroc inevitably gets his ass kicked by Captain America (or anyone else he fights); Gillen’s primary insight is that maybe Batroc is actually okay with that–that he’s at least trying to be more interested in testing his own capacities than in winning. (That’s actually supported a bit by the ’60s-era Lee/Kirby reprint in the backup. Nice to see relevant old stories being recycled, especially to fill out something with a four-dollar cover price.) His secondary insight is that ze outrrrrrageous accent is a deliberate put-on–that Batroc is very interested in a certain kind of self-presentation, but that it doesn’t necessarily match what’s going on inside his head. And connecting Batroc to Parkour is a clever touch.

(More on TIME.com: Treason! Captain America Movie Ditches America)

Interesting thing about Renato Arlem’s artwork here: it reminds me a lot of Butch/Jackson Guice–one of the regular artists on Captain America proper in the last few years–but it actually looks more like Guice’s ’80s-’90s work than what

EVAN: In pro wrestling, there are people called mid-carders. Guys who aren’t A-list but engage and entertain. They perform with excellence–hi, Shelton Benjamin!–even if their job is simply to make others look better.

That’s the sensibility Gillen injects into Batroc, and it fits. Like pro wrestling’s writers, Gillen blurs the line between what the character knows to be real and fake. And Batroc himself recognizes the showmanship of what he does, finding a deeper level of meaning beneath. Gillen admirably avoids “lovable loser” cliches, too.

Arlem’s art didn’t do much for me here. It seems like everything in the foreground and background was drawn with different goals in mind. The storytelling moves along well enough, but there’s not much in the way of stylistic flourish, which is especially sad, since this story could’ve used some punch.

GRAEME: Arlem’s art really surprised me here, in part because it DOES look so much like Guice’s work – I don’t know why, but I expected it to look very different, although I couldn’t necessarily tell you in what way. It wasn’t particularly ugly, but it wasn’t particularly attractive, either; I felt like there was an aping of Guice’s aping of Kirby, which almost makes sense considering the characters, but… eh. Too many wide mouths for me, I guess.

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: Steel and Ultimate Comics Captain America)

Storywise, this was nice enough–I, too, felt like the parkour connection made sense, but at the same time, feel like I’ve seen parkour referenced a lot in Marvel books over the last few months. It’s as if someone in the Marvel offices has set an unofficial challenge to all the writers or something–but felt incredibly light for a one-shot, and amazingly light for a one-shot that cost $3.99. Does anyone else remember the 1990s annuals where there was a lead strip and about three or four back-up stories? This felt like one of those back-ups. It was fun, but it wasn’t worth its own book. There wasn’t anything new enough in it to make it worth the price.

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