This is one of those books that stabs you in the gut with its raw, unrestricted intensity. I'm not a fan of cheering for the bad guy, but every once in a while there is a compelling story about the bad guy that makes the bad guy that much more compelling of a character. It's as though layers are being built up around the character instead of peeled away from that character. Such is the case here.
While the Red Skull – as we know him visually – is nowhere in this book, there is no question that this is where the Red Skull begins. Johann Schmidt is one among many at the Munich Home for Wayward Boys in 1923, where this story opens. His actions amongst his peers and his propensity to be the whipping boy for the headmaster push him to the front of the story and force him into history, as young Johann witnesses the early days of the Nazi Party.
My oldest happened to be in the room when I finished the book.
"Wow," I said.
"Bad book?" the thirteen-year-old asked.
"No. No. Not really."
"A book you thought was going to be bad?"
"No. It's a book that surprised me by being really good. After all it's about a bad guy. You're just not supposed to like bad guys."
From there I tried to explain how evil – downright evil – the Red Skull is. The best I could come up with was a comparison to Hitler. Crude, but effective, especially in my daughter's mind. From there, she could understand why I found this story hard to "enjoy." I use quotes there as I don't want to take pleasure in the hideous nature of the tale told here, but it is, without question, a compelling tale that has hooked my interest. The Red Skull is a despicable human being, but a masterful villain. Greg Pak is starting to show us why in this first issue.
If the cover by David Aja is not enough to draw you in to look at this book, the art by Mirko Colak might be. (You can check that out in this preview.) Colak's art, enriched by the masterful colors of Matthew Wilson, fills this issue with a tangible story that smells of grime and sweat, gunpowder and blood. Colak doesn't skimp on the details, but doesn't overfill his work with noise either. This is a smartly detailed book that knows when emphasis needs to come from art, coloring, or even lettering. Clayton Cowles' letters glide through the story, adding dimension and shattering normalcy in all the right spots. As far as comics go, this one looks the most complete of anything in my stack from the shop this week.
This story may serve as a prequel of sorts to the adventures of Captain America as he takes on the Red Skull in theaters later this month, or it may simply be filling in the blank spots in the Skull's past. Whichever the case, this issue shows the small steps that this character takes on his road to becoming one of the most infamous villains in the Marvel Universe.
I bought this book mostly out of the fact that I had some spare cash and needed to peg another review. I didn't realize that this was going to be one of those books that make a lasting impression on me for months and years to come. This first issue has me anxiously awaiting more of this harsh, compelling tale of the forging of the Red Skull. I don't feel right typing that, but I can only surmise that that means Greg Pak truly has done his job here.