Bullet Points #1
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist/Colors/Cover artist: Tommy Lee Edwards
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Price: $2.99 US/$3.75 CAN
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Elseworlds. What If?. “Imaginary” stories. Alternate-continuity plots have been a staple of shared-universe super-hero comics for decades, even before the Silver Age. These stories tend to be a payoff for diehard fans of the characters themselves, people who want to see a different spin on familiar figures. I know I enjoy such stories, as long as they’re executed well. Sometimes, the emphasis is on action and fun, and at others, the writer’s aim is to bring a darker, more mature tone to the characters, or perhaps a tragic one. Bullet Points definitely falls into the latter category, but the question readers will want answer is whether or not it’s executed well. Straczynski’s script is intriguing but hasn’t hooked me yet. Fortunately, Tommy Lee Edwards’s artwork always hits the mark.
In the days before the United States entered the Second World War, a brilliant scientist developed a serum that could turn a regular man into a super-soldier. But before it could be finally concocted and tested, the biochemist is assassinated, denying the world the legend of Captain America. But young, frail Steve Rogers is determined to serve his country, and his unwavering dedication and willingness to sacrifice brings him to the attention of the military minds in charge of Project: Iron Man.
Edwards’s art strikes exactly the right chord for this story. The writer is bringing a much more grave, tragic tone to the classic origins of Marvel’s best known icons, and Edwards’s loose and gritty linework is very much in keeping with that atmosphere. Furthermore, his sharp eye for anatomy and background, as well as his textured colors, add a realistic tone that enhances the notion that there are real and dangerous consequences to everything that unfolds. Those who sampled Edwards’s work on DC’s Question mini-series a couple of years back and found it a bit confusing, given the surreal tone of the book, needn’t worry about the visuals on this title. The art, though just as detailed and satisfying this time around, is much more grounded and accessible.
The only disappointing aspect of the artwork for this debut issue is, unfortunately, the cover. Sure, the image sums up the plot within pretty well, but it’s just not that striking a visual. Steve Rogers doesn’t look like Steve Rogers (he’s lacking the bright blond hair), and he looks more like a figure rendered by Whilce Portacio. The clunky Iron Man image in the background is rather flat and dull. It works fine in the military-minded plotline later in the comic, but as a cover image, it just doesn’t pop or exhibit any kind of power or presence (as I suspect it’s intended). Fortunately, the big reveal of the armored figure in battle in the interior art does pack that punch.
Minor Quibble Department: Straczynski’s title for this limited series is just too cute given the slightly downtrodden tone of the story. Furthermore, I would imagine that “bullet points” from which the book derives its title are limited to those earlier in this issue. As such, the title will likely lose its relevance when it comes to future issues.
The most intriguing element in the book is Straczynski’s characterization of Steve Rogers. The turn in the plot that serves as the catalyst for this larger story allows him to examine Rogers not as an icon of physical perfection but as a young American dedicated more to his country than living his own life. The tone of the dialogue leads me to believe that Straczynski wants us to see the character as a hero even without the muscles and flag-themed costume. Instead, I see Rogers as a psychologically unfortunate, desperate little man who fails to find any satisfaction in his own life. The spindly, awkward young man feels worthless, and he’s willing to do absolutely anything to change how he feels. I find that suggested instability to be far more interesting that a notion of selfless heroism.
Another strong aspect is the narration in the opening scene, in which Straczynski drives home the power of a bullet with a script that’s matter-of-fact in tone, even cold. I was fascinated by his descriptions of the physics of a bullet. Immersed in pop culture in which gun violence is presented as something routine, it’s easy for those of us who live comfortable, even sheltered lives to forget the horror to which a single pull of a trigger can give birth.
Where this book falters is in the fact that there’s no real conflict that presents itself in this first issue. Sure, we see some action, but Straczynski focuses only on the setup and the presentation of lives that have been altered by a single event. This isn’t a straightforward What If? type story, as the writer mucks about with more than a single turn of events in the history of the Marvel Universe. Iron Man is no longer associated with Tony Stark, and Peter Parker no longer seems to be a child of the 1960s (his scenes feel more like the 1950s). Ultimately, I was left wondering what the point of the story was, but I have to admit that I’m intrigued enough to check out a second issue with the hope of discovering what that point might be. 6/10