Saturday, December 24, 2022

Captain America: The Ghost Army

Gratz, Alan and Schoonover, Brent (illus.)
Captain America: The Ghost Army
January 3, 2023 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's World War II, and our heroes are fighting the Nazis in Lateria. Steve Rogers was a 98 pound weakling having sand kicked in his face before he participated in an Army program that treated him with Vita-Rays and Super Soldier Serum and became Captain America. Bucky Barnes, his sidekick, was a ward of the state and raised by soldiers at an army camp after the death of his parents. During a particularly heated battle, while Capt. America soldiered on in his tights, and Bucky faced the enemy armed with just a knife, they are saved by Jim Morita, who arrives with his unit, which is dedicated to keeping the enemy at bay by creating false troops to scare them away. However, there is an even graver threat than living Germans-- dead Nazis who come back as ghosts! Baron Mordo and his grandfather Viscount Krowler are based at Wundagore Castle, where they have a Ghost Machine that is bringing back the ghosts of people who died violently and is turning them into mindless killing machines. As one does. Mordo is angry with his grandfather for killing his father, but has an evil plan to tear a hole in reality and free Dormammu from imprisonment in the Dark Dimension. Dormammu will then make Mordo the "prince of what survives". Add to the mix Dugan, a soldier from Boston who is fighting with the British, and Sir Anthony Baskerville, who has lost a hand and makes a deal with Mordo to get it back if he helps out. When Capt. America and Bucky go to a local village to try to figure out how to thwart Mordo, they meet Mosha, a Romany man, and his granddaughter, Sofia. Sofia is an intrepid fighter with a keen knowledge of science, and she and Bucky become fond of each other while uncovering secrets about the murderous ghost Nazis. When Mosha is killed in fighting, this only firms Sofia's resolve to bring down Mordo. Will Captain America's powers, Bucky's knife wielding, Batman's Robin-type presence, and Jim Morita's theatrics be enough to turn the tide and save the world from evil?
N.B. I had to edit out a TON of snark out of this review. Sorry about what remains. Gratz's story, which is absolutely true to the comics of the 1940s and 50s, is great, but about the whole evil villain and ghost Nazi premise made me roll my eyes. I am not a comic book reader, but I can appreciate that Gratz, who also wrote The League of Seven based on what he wanted to read as a child, wanted to memorialize this style of comic book. 

Strengths: I have a very soft spot in my heart for the late Paul Janeczko's Secret Soldiers: How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis, and I love that Gratz headed up his own fictional special troops with a Japanese American soldier. For those unfamiliar with Capt. America and Bucky, we get enough background to understand their roles in the war. There's plenty of fighting to interest those who like battlefield tales, albeit against ghost soldiers. Baron Mordo is definitely an archetypal evil villain; there's not way releasing Dormammu will end well for him. There are some clever bits, like the various ways people avoid the ghosts by using running water, and I adored Sofia, whose skills were much better than Bucky's! It's evident that Gratz put a lot of thought into his story, and Schoonover's illustrations are a great tribute to the style of the original comics. Young readers who are actually familiar with Captain America will be thrilled to see this. 
Weaknesses: I'm not entirely sure how young readers will react to the depiction of the Nazis-- it is much kinder that the actual 1940s depiction, and there is even some discussion on how not everyone who isn't fighting the Nazi is not necessarily a Nazi sympathizer, but for those too young to have seen Hogan's Heroes or Arte Johnson's Wolfgang on Laugh-In, the depiction may seem odd. Also, I wasn't quite sure who Dugan was and why he was around. (Okay. Officer of S.H.I.E.L.D.; I knew I was missing some Marvel backstory!)
What I really think: I'll definitely have to purchase this, since Gratz has legions of fans in my library, and the ones who love graphic novels might be coerced to pick up The League of Seven after reading this. Interesting combination of Marvel and Scholastic, which we've also seen in Miles Morales: Shock Waves

Ms. Yingling

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