Many theories have been proposed on what would've happened if Steve Rogers hadn't become Captain America. J. Michael Straczynski, writer of the Amazing Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, gives us his theory with the mini-series Bullet Points.
This is a serious take on a possible reality for the Marvel Universe. Several characters, including Peter Parker, are changed irrevocably in this series. Among the many changes wrought by Straczynski are: Steve Rogers becoming Iron Man, Peter Parker becoming the Hulk, and Reed Richards assuming the role and duties of Nick Fury.
Over the course of five issues, Straczynski has promised to critically examine the heroic archetypes of these classic Marvel characters. Bullet Points is illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards and lettered by John Workman.
Our issue begins with a detailed synopsis of a bullet's destructive capabilities. A bullet's consequences are measured by the timing. Several examples are illuminated upon - including Archduke Francis Ferdinand, Gandhi, JFK, and Martin Luther King's assassinations.
The time is December 8th, 1940. Dr. Emil Erskine is to administer his new Super Solider Serum to a rejected recruit. The pall of World War II has heavily impacted the need for Erskine's experiments. Twenty-five candidates have been chosen to test the efficacy of the serum. Unfortunately, German saboteurs kill Erskine before he is barely off his plane. In the chaos that follows, a young M.P. escort is killed as well. His name is Ben Parker.
Army officials regretfully conclude that the experiment has to be cancelled due to the "incident." Steve Rogers had been waiting outside all night in order to be first in line. The young Rogers is understandably depressed that he can't help in the coming conflict. General Phillips tries to console him. He instructs Rogers to meet him at an undisclosed location the next day.
Due to Erskine's assassination, Project Rebirth has been cancelled. However, a previous project has now been green-lit for Rogers. It is deemed the "Iron Man option." A suit of clunky armor gives its user the ultimate in offensive and defensive weaponry. Only a slender man can use the armor due to its bulk and stress upon the user's heart. This is why the schematics never reached full fruition with the army.
Phillips warns Rogers of several realities concerning the "Iron Man" technology. One, if Rogers is captured in battle then it will automatically self-destruct, keeping the armor out of enemy hands. Also, Rogers must be trained extensively in order to cope with the stress the armor creates. Nonetheless, Rogers determinedly accepts the unique challenge of becoming Iron Man.
The focus then shifts to the funeral of Ben Parker. May Parker is deeply distraught at her husband's death. They had only been married for a few months. May is comforted by Ben's brother, Richard Parker.
The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor goes off without a hitch. President Roosevelt declares war on Japan and Germany. The Americans have entered the war on the Allied side. In the beginning, American troops suffer setbacks. First, they are defeated in the Philippines. A failed offensive against the Japanese leads to the Bataan Death March. Meanwhile, doctors fit Rogers with the mechanisms capable of sustaining the "Iron Man" armor.
Iron Man makes his rousing and successful debut at Guadalcanal. During the battle, Iron Man saves the life of Private James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes. His legs have been heavily damaged but there is hope that Bucky will be able to walk again one day. Nonetheless, Iron Man has turned the tide of battle.
Germany surrenders on May 8th, 1945. The atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This information is given through a classroom film. In the room is the teenaged Peter Parker. Parker has turned into a child delinquent mainly due to his Uncle Ben's death. He feels stifled under Aunt May's supervision. Peter proceeds to hot-wire a car for a joyride with some of his school buddies.
The gang's fun is delayed when the car runs out of gas in a large, open field. Under the coercion of his friends, Peter walks back for gas. He does not know that a gamma bomb test is about to go off in ten seconds.
Straczynski's Bullet Points is an extended "What If" tale at its core. Unfortunately, the execution is perfectly mediocre and even underwhelming. Straczynski starts off horribly. The whole extended sequence explaining how a bullet works upon history is extremely pretentious. Things start to get a little better once we meet Steve Rogers. Roger's devotion for the protection of American ideals is similar to the 616 Captain America. We can really empathize with his disappointment as readers.
However, Straczynski never really explains how the Iron Man armor exists in the 1940s. It's a powerful piece of machinery with no back-story. Omitted details such as these undercuts the serious tone Straczynski is trying to set. Perhaps Straczynski could've spent less time explaining how a bullet worked and more time on how the Iron Man armor was conceivably developed over the years.
I am also taking major offense at Straczynski's gross bungling of the historical narrative. He mentions that World War II "officially begun" after America declared war on Japan. Any middle-school student would know that war had been raging in Europe for several years before U.S. entry (in fact a full two years). Straczynski's comment is lazy at best and jingoistic at worst. This blunder is enough to lower my rating by one-half web.
Straczynski presents an interesting premise that Peter became a raging James Dean (without the bad boy looks) after his Uncle's death. This decision is never really explored to its fullest potential. In fact, I think having Peter be a rebel is just an excuse to get him into the gamma bomb test site without too much context and/or character development. For instance, what is his relationship with May? Why does he care for his deceased uncle so much? What was his developing childhood like? What the heck happened to Richard Parker? These are all interesting questions that Straczynski chooses to ignore or brush by haphazardly. It all feels very rushed. And it's a shame because if Straczynski took his time there are the seeds for a good mini-series here.
On a positive note, the cover for issue #1 is absolutely gorgeous. But why is Steve's hair brown?
It'll be interesting to see how Straczynski handles issue #2. This mini-series could turn out to be an enjoyable "what-if" kind of story or it could continue down its current direction and be a total train-wreck. Time needs to be given for plot and characterization. Dramatic panels and pretentious dialogue do not make for a good comic book. Please take note, Mr. Straczynski.