Book Review - Captain America: The Ghost Army
Over the past few years, we've had some real standout superhero graphic novels for middle grade and young adult readers. Books like Superman Smashes the Klan and Teen Titans: Raven showed that the medium has fresh and exciting ideas. And with author Alan Gratz (Allies, Ground Zero) penning the story, no doubt expectations were high. The Ghost Army doesn't quite reach the height of those books. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable diversion that will easily consume an hour or two.
Captain America: The Ghost Army follows Captain America and Bucky during World War II in the Tansia and Romania region. It's a fresh setting, not far from Dracula's castle, that is full of surprises. Although there are few moments of vistas or scenic scenes, each page is packed with the denizens of the assorted towns and camps. The result is a rich and populated world that you wish you could spend more time with.
This is all assisted with a vintage style and coloring by Brendan Schoover. From the first pages of classified documents to the sepia saturated townships, the reader will feel transposed to each locale.
The story revolves around the assorted clashing fronts between Germany and the United States, but where the story sets itself apart is when the defeated German troops come back as ghost forms deemed The Ghost Army. What's Captain and Bucky to do?
In many ways, this doesn't feel much like a Captain America text. You get some terse background information explaining Captain and Bucky's origin, but the start of the show is really Bucky. As the more nimble and agile character, we get some really fun and exciting espionage-like scenes. But as mentioned before, it all moves a little too quick. You wish there was another 50 or 100 pages to flesh out some of the most exciting bits.
But the real star of the show is Baron Mordo. Each of his moments is more exciting than the last. His motivation also seems far more complicated than your usual villain of "I want more power." Between the influence of his grandfather and the Third Reich, to avenging his father's death, to his own desire to establish himself as a worthwhile force, Mordo lights up the page in each and every one of his scenes. It's rare, especially in a middle-grade novel, for the villain to demonstrate anything more than unwieldy thirst for power. And yet, Baron Mordo goes there and beyond.
And Mordo's distinct color palette helps keep the book visually interesting. Hues of neon green, blue and pink light up the page. The attention to detail for anything related to Baron Mordo makes this worth the price of admission alone.
The other supporting cast also helps keep your attention. A young student named Sofia and her grandfather give the story some much needed layers and complications, and even a tertiary character "Dum Dum" is a fun diversion.
Ultimately, speed becomes the downfall. Each frame moves a little too quickly. You're rarely in a room or a town for more than a handful of pages before we're whisked off somewhere else. Because of the speed and the scant size of the book itself, the end product is a little more didactic than it needs to be. Will middle-grade students notice? Probably not. But it also might not achieve the resonance of other similar graphic novels. A worthy read, I just don't expect us to be ruminating about Bucky and Captain's adventure the same way we did with Raven, Harley Quinn or Superman
Captain America: The Ghost Army
Release date: January 3rd, 2023
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