"Letters Home"
by: Protoclown

Last December Marvel made a special holiday comic for the soldiers in our military called "New Avengers: Letters Home". It was only available on military bases and not for sale to the general public, so I'd like to thank Lt. Alex Cabe not just for informing me of its existence, but actually sending me a copy as well. As I'm about to make fun of this silly comic, I would like to first say two things: 1) Though the comic is rather cheesy, I do think it's cool that Marvel published it just for the military, and 2) I've had several friends in the armed forces and I have utmost respect for what those guys do for us, so I don't want my poking fun at this comic to come across as belittling them and what they do in any way.

Good lord, do you see how big that flag is? That's the size they fly over used car lots!

Now, as for the comic itself, it's not really as bad as many of Marvel's other special one-shot issues created specifically for one group or another (see the Office Max issue). It does have some absurd moments however, which we'll be getting to later. For a holiday issue, there isn't really any Christmas imagery or anything; no Christmas trees, or Santas, or colored lights, but it's unmistakably a Christmas issue due to its time of release and subject matter. I think the fact that most of the issue takes place in either outer space or what is certainly Iraq (identified only as "Elsewhere" in the comic) explains the distinct lack of Christmas decorations and general holiday cheer. However, for those of you shallow enough to think that Christmas is only about decorations, I have prepared this graphic to satisfy you:

A giant candy cane doesn't look like much of a threatening weapon...
and that's exactly why you can get close enough to kill a man with it.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get on with the story, which opens with Captain America (obviously this is before he died) talking via satellite with Nick Fury, former head of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. Nick Fury tells Cap that the international terrorist group HYDRA has taken over a military satellite transmitter station in Flagstaff, Arizona. They're threatening to use the satellite, which has a particle beam that could burn a mile-wide hole into any city on earth. With some gravity, Nick then informs Cap that the satellite has a secondary function: it's a communications satellite that the army uses for overseas email—meaning that they won't be able to message their loved ones back home for Christmas.

"Yeah, yeah, burn giant holes in the planet, whatever... waitaminute-did you say email?"

Suddenly, Captain America seems totally interested in helping out. The whole "burning a hole into the planet" aspect of the satellite is never mentioned again, apparently having been brushed off as rather unimportant in the face of these potentially blocked holiday emails. Now, I haven't conducted interviews or taken a poll or anything, but I'll bet you'd be hard pressed to find a single US soldier who would place greater importance on their emails than mile-wide swaths of fiery destruction being burned through major US cities. It's a moot point, really, as getting the satellite back under control means that both of these issues are dealt with, but the fact that the email situation is what gets mentioned over and over again as the reason they need to get this satellite back comes off as hilariously forced.

Cap realizes that without email he wouldn't be able to get his "Rachael Ray Recipe of the Day"
mailing list, and decides to take matters into his own hands.

Nick Fury then informs Cap that he'd deal with the problem himself, but he's "kind of outta action at the moment." Regular Marvel readers know that Nick has been forced into hiding from the fallout of the most recent Secret War, but casual readers of the comic will probably interpret that as "I'm lazy and can't be bothered-you do it". Cap tells Nick that all the Avengers are unavailable as they're taking time off with their families for the holidays (and you know, apparently don't have any way to contact them in case of an emergency), so Nick suggests that he assemble a strike team of people who don't have families. So Cap calls the Silver Surfer, who is apparently the only person he can think of to call.

"Thank god you came, Surfer. You're the only loser big enough that I knew you wouldn't have plans."

Cap tells the Surfer he'll need him to take out the HYDRA robots that are guarding the satellite in space, and he mentions that he wishes he had someone to send overseas to grab a backup of the soldiers' emails, just in case. The Surfer says he just might know of someone who can help out with that... so let me get this straight: Captain America, who is one of Marvel's most prominent heroes and head of the Avengers, Marvel's largest superhero team, for many years, doesn't have a single contact who can help, but the Silver Surfer, who isn't even from this planet just immediately comes up with someone off the top of his head?

We then cut to a scene in Iraq, where some US soldiers are pinned down by HYDRA soldiers' gunfire, and we suddenly see the hero the Surfer had in mind:

Notice the heart shape formed by the chain in the top left? Yeah, this is recycled
artwork from the "Ghost Rider: Skidmarks of Love" Valentine's Day special.

Yes, I'm sure it was obvious to all of you too. Who else do you send on a military operation overseas but the Ghost Rider? He makes short work of the HYDRA goons, all the while providing voiceover narration in the form of a letter to his girlfriend, Roxanne, about how gee golly it sucks to have made a deal with the devil and have your head on fire all the time. Ghost Rider then approaches the American soldiers and merely says "The Letters." One of the soldiers explains that they're on the computer inside, but they can't get them out. So Ghost Rider whips out a flash drive, grabs all of the emails, and drives off.

I do not think that being handled by a MAN ON FIRE falls
under the "recommended usage" for the device.

Then we cut to Earth orbit, where Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer is making his way to the hijacked military satellite, and the whole while we are treated to more narration as we read a letter that he wrote to his lover shortly after leaving her to save his entire planet and become the herald of Galactus. He's basically saying in the letter that Galactus promised to show him wonders in the universe, and that the ecstasy of seeing things like "the spectrum of colors when a nebula fades into redshift at near-light speeds" is so tempting that it almost makes him want to stay with Galactus rather than be in her arms, which clearly means that the Surfer is totally gay.

As we read this letter, we witness him fighting the HYDRA robot guarding the military satellite, which, rather creatively, is a giant mechanical hydra. With lasers.

"Dude, an actual fucking hydra? What the hell is this, a D&D game?"

After destroying the HYDRA hydra with ease, the Surfer radios Cap and asks him if he wants him to destroy the satellite. Cap responds by more or less saying "What are you, a giant retard? We are trying to protect it," and then tells the Surfer to just hang out and keep an eye on it.

We then see Captain America jumping from a plane to attack the Arizona satellite transmitter station, and over this text is a narrated voiceover by someone talking to his lover, but he keeps referring to her as "babe", so it doesn't sound like it would be Captain America.

"Oh crap, this isn't my parachute, it's my camping backpack! Boy, do I have egg on my face!"

Also, it's hard to see in that picture, but this has to be the funniest drawing of Captain America I've ever seen. Let me blow it up so you can see what I'm talking about:


Just look at that. That's doesn't look so much like the hardened face of a hero who means business, but rather the determined facial expression worn by the kid in the helmet who enthusiastically licks the windows of the shortbus every morning. Not very flattering to say the least.

"Ow! That really hurt! Who the fuck throws a shield at people!?"

Cap pummels the shit out of the HYDRA goons outside the station only to hear someone off panel thank him for the "colorful diversion". He turns around and suddenly we see:

"The banana peel on the front steps made it even easier for me to slip in. Get it?"

Captain America is about ready to go off on him, pointing at him and yelling that he's a psychopath, but the Punisher shuts him up by giving his name and rank and listing the medals and honors he's received in the service.

Cap ponders long and hard about whether he wants a man with a girl's name playing on his team.

The thing is, the Punisher's real name isn't Frank Castle, it's Francis Castiglione, and while it's possible that he Americanized his Italian name before he signed up with the marines, I believe that the writer and editor simply made a mistake, as it seems more likely to me that he would give his real birth name before listing his military credentials like that.

Anyway, Cap begrudgingly allows the Punisher to come along after he calls him "sir", but orders him not to kill anyone, because this is a military operation, mister, and that's just now how this sort of thing is done on his watch, you got that, buster? Castle and Cap run into a room where a bunch of HYDRA goons are standing over a large map of the world trying to decide which city to nuke first, and now we come to my favorite part of the whole comic, as Cap yells "NOW!" and a variety of things happen.

Captain America uses his influence to orchestrate a
series of events that have no relevance to anything.

This two-page spread deserves some serious analysis, as several simultaneous events happen in carefully planned concert, as if Captain America is in direct communication with everyone displayed across these pages. First, the Silver Surfer strikes a pose in space, showing off his finely sculpted buns of steel! Or perhaps he destroys the satellite against Cap's wishes? It's unclear! Then, in our main theater of action, Captain America and the Punisher charge into the room, guns decidedly not blazing, as Castle has been ordered not to kill anyone! I have to wonder how intimidating this would be, to see a guy running into a room toting semi-automatic weapons with a painfully obvious intent not to fire them. At what point during his running around screaming wildly and brandishing these unused firearms would it become comical? One minute? Two? At what point would it just become sad? To the right of them, some unidentified soldiers open a random crate, the relevance of which will remain unknown! Then, beyond them, Ghost Rider rides through a desert! Perhaps he is still in Iraq, perhaps he is in combat, or maybe he is just riding to the store to buy some milk, but I am afraid his motives will remain a mystery for now and ever! And in the top right corner, some unidentified but presumably US silhouettes of soldiers attack some HYDRA goons in an unknown location! So much excitement, I can't even tell what the hell is going on!

These guys have all the fearsome demeanor of the Monarch's butterfly henchmen.

But then, tensions run high as the HYDRA goons surrender to Frank Castle, who is sticking his gun in their faces, tempted to blow their heads off as Punishers are wont to do. Cap see this and expresses his concern, yelling "No killing!" across the room.

"I smasha you face! Pizza pie!"

But Castle merely smashes the butt of his rifle into their faces, knocking them unconscious. He tells Cap "your orders, your rules. This time," and he reminds Cap that there will be a next time, during which he will murdericiously shoot off their faces.

The heroes all exit the satellite station, and Ghost Rider is somehow there, along with Silver Surfer, Scarecrow and Tin Man! Somehow, Ghost Rider seems to have ridden his bike from Iraq to Arizona in what I imagine, based on the sense of urgency throughout the comic, is a matter of several hours. Perhaps his bike is so fast he can drive across the surface of the ocean? I don't really know if there is a precedent for this kind of quick transportation, as I've never really read much of Ghost Rider. But I'm guessing the writer was more like "Iraq, Arizona, they're both in the desert, so close enough!"

Why do the US soldiers look like Cobra infantry in this panel?

In a scene that just begs to be filmed for a commercial, Ghost Rider tosses the now pointless flash drive to Cap, who catches it with a satisfied smirk. A job well done! Hell, even those soldiers out in wherever they were managed to open that shipping crate with no problems, so a smashing success all around.

Captain America knew that when Ghost Rider tossed the
flash drive like that, it was his way of saying "I love you."

In the end we see Cap and Ghost Rider shaking hands, while Silver Surfer sticks his hands in the air as if threatened by an unseen gunman, and Frank slips out the front door of the building while everyone else is distracted sucking each other's cock. There's more voiceover from the mysterious letter to "Babe", and at the end we find out that it's a letter Frank wrote from Vietnam back during one of his tours. Or at least, I hope it is, because otherwise he's writing a letter to his long dead wife, which is really kind of morbid. I guess we're supposed to find it shocking that such a cold and callous killer ever loved anyone, but I find myself wondering instead why such a weak narrative device was used at the end to tie everything together.

"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good—JESUS CHRIST, BOY! YOUR HEAD'S ON FIRE!"

Again, not much of an outwardly holiday issue on the surface, because the heroes weren't fighting a giant Doombot in a Santa costume run amok or anything, but unmistakably a holiday story in spirit nonetheless. I like to think that perhaps Cap invited Ghost Rider and Silver Surfer back to the Avengers Tower for some Christmas dinner after all that, but then I imagine that eating with Ghost Rider is actually kind of gross, what with his head on fire and not having skin, and Silver Surfer is all kind of sealed-up on the back end there, so I doubt he actually eats much of anything on account of not being able to poop and all. So there was probably no dinner. But maybe they exchanged presents or something. Hell, if Ghost Rider had only wrapped a bow around that flash drive, he could've gotten away with a freebie.

Found any weird, bizarre, stupid or funny comics that
should appear in a future "Tales From the Longbox" column?
Email Protoclown and let him know!

Reader Comments

Feb 26th, 2008, 09:19 PM
That Duuuurrrp thing was so AWESOMELY FUNNY!
The Ghost Rider looks like a total goddamn spaz in that second last panel...
'Nother great one Protoguy.
Forum Virgin
Apr 13th, 2008, 04:37 PM
Great article Protoclown! I am digging your articles, for sure. Keep em coming. Also, since when did Silver Surfer get Speedos? this just for this particular issue or what? Ah well, it's not in continuity, so who gives.
Full of Country Goodness
Aug 4th, 2008, 10:55 AM
Frank Castle is short for Francis Castle? Did they do that intentionally as a throwback to the "Lighten up, Francis." scene from Stripes?
Amicable Herculean
Oct 12th, 2008, 12:38 PM
SSmasher- Apperently, he's been wearing Speedos the whole time.

Click here to return to the Comics homepage