A writer, historian, and geek through and through. I focus on fantasy, science fiction and whatever comes my way. I am writing and drawing a webcomic called Booger Balls Inc, and I'm working on two graphic novels as well.
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The prelude to the Avengers’ upcoming Standoff is out, and our Seth Frederiksen is here to review the issue.
The prologue issue for Standoff opens with the Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes, sneaking into a heavily guarded S.H.I.E.L.D. instillation. Some internal monologues provide clues on something happening on Earth that has made the Winter Soldier divert attention away from his current duties in space in order to find out what occurred.
Accessing classified information, Barnes watches a holographic recording of a S.H.I.E.L.D. project ending in a violent eruption, killing everyone involved, save for an unknown child. Barnes notes how S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director, Maria Hill, is taking extreme risks recently and these people paid the price. Barnes is soon set upon by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents before the scene goes to black.
The story cuts to Maria Hill addressing the public denying the rumors of “Project Kobik”, which would purportedly allow the agency to manipulate reality to their whim without the public ever knowing it had occurred.
Another quick cut shows the memories of a person recalling events of the Second World War and then to a man suffering from amnesia as he is found by a sheriff in a tranquil wooded area. Later on in the story he takes the name Jim, so for simplicity’s sake we shall use this name for the course of the synopsis.
The sheriff informs Jim that he is in the town of Pleasant Hill, and he is more than welcome to make himself at home in their community after he sees their local doctor.
During Jim’s visit to the doctor, we are given the first clue that things are not what they seem. Specifically, we find Erik Selvig, who I believe is making his first appearance in the regular Marvel canon outside of his usual appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, checking out Jim before letting him out into the idyllic community.
While the doctor and his nurse debate about the condition of their patient, Jim overhears their conversation and decides to make a quick escape, though he is knocked out before he can leave the hallway.
Over the course of the next few days, Jim makes many attempts to escape from the town, being apprehended by agents and other means in every effort. This results in Jim having sessions with the town’s psychiatrist, Dr. Bruce, who is heavily implied through the conversation to be a very particular Bruce in the Marvel universe.
However, at this point Dr. Bruce is helping ensure that his patient will not be making any more attempts to leave the town. It is at this point Jim begins to embrace life in Pleasant Hill and making a place for himself in the town.
A month after his arrival Jim finds a house on fire, with the owner, Patricia, standing outside saying her child is inside the building. Jim rushes into the inferno to rescue the child, hearing another inside calling out to him. Handing the child to the mother, Jim returns to the blaze to find a masked individual inside telling Jim that the town and its inhabitants are a lie.
The mysterious figure leaves Jim with instructions on how to meet without the locals getting wind of their meeting. Jim might have appreciated having this information other than outside of a burning house, but I digress. Confused and not knowing what to do, Jim leaves the house, is given a medal for his bravery, and meets the mayor of the town, none other than Maria Hill herself.
Despite the friendly beginnings of their conversation, Hill’s demeanor turns dark and very threatening. It is her desire to know who Jim was going after a second time in the burning house that drives her to come off as less than personable.
Rendezvousing with the mysterious man in a hidden base, Jim is soon told that the town he is living in is not a town at all. It is a prison. The people all around them are either criminals or guards. A training video shows Maria Hill, in her S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform, explaining the function of the town, and the process by which criminals are transformed into harmless, tepid inhabitants.
Demanding to return to his old self once more, Jim is exposed to a machine created by the mysterious man, and it is revealed that Jim is none other than Baron Zemo, and the man who is responsible for his return is The Fixer. With their minds restored, both men plan to turn Hill’s little paradise into a living nightmare. And thus the events of Standoff are set.
First and foremost, I loved how the twist at the end of this Standoff story. I was originally thinking that Jim was either Steve Rogers or Bucky before the big revelation, given the POV interspersed throughout the story.
Furthermore, having the dreaded leader of the Masters of Evil and former head of the Thunderbolts will be more than a driving force in the Standoff arc to have Steve Rogers throw his hat into the ring for this story.
The town itself has a disturbing quality akin to the movie The Truman Show, in that you can easily see through the façade as you read the setup for the Standoff story arc, but you question whether you could do the same in a real life scenario. Or more importantly, if you would want to ruin the fantasy at having a simple, peaceful life.
I am also intrigued at the inclusion of Bruce Banner in this project. Though it appears that he is fully cooperating with S.H.I.E.L.D. so far, I can’t help wondering whether Hill has tampered with his mind as well. And if this is the case, what will the repercussions be when Banner’s infamous side shows up to play?
Regardless of whether or not Big Green shows up, Director Hill is going to have a public relations nightmare on her hands when this whole operation becomes public knowledge. Let’s face it — secrets don’t really stay secret for long in the comic book world, one way or another. And depending on how much is destroyed, and how many die by battle’s end, this could mean a terrible price be paid on Director Hill’s part.
Which is unfortunate, given that her position as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. during one of its most turbulent times. Fury is gone, inheriting the position of the Watcher after he killed his predecessor, the Mutant Crisis has gone beyond control (again) coupled with the release of the Terrigen Mist, added with the other events taking place in the Marvel Universe, Hill has had her work cut out for her.
And though it may be seen as taking it too far in our minds, she isn’t really given a lot of options for trying to retain some semblance of order and peace in the country. That doesn’t mean I support what she’s doing, but I do understand her reasoning.
Finally, given the scope of the story and the theme of how crime is punished, this seems to be an excellent set up of the upcoming Civil War II storyline, as it appears to handle similar themes with how crime is handled in our society. This does appear to be an interesting story arc in its own right, and one to help shape the events of the Marvel universe this year.
Seth Frederiksen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter @senseiseth.