Revisiting Ed Brubaker’s Captain America Part 1

captain america winter soldier vol 1Leading into the new year, I was on a big Captain America kick. After organizing my trades in my new office I realized that I had all of the trade’s covering Ed Brubaker’s run up through Reborn and decided it was time to give the whole run a read-through. This won’t be a traditional trade post going volume by volume, but I did want to take a bit of internet real estate out to write down some of my thoughts on this epic undertaking (Brubaker’s, not mine).

This run kicked off in late 2004. At the time of launch, I wasn’t aware of what was going on aside from what I read in Wizard. At the time, I was in my last year of college and not reading too many books, aside from Runaways and New Avengers which I was picking up at a local hobby shop (when I went home for vacations, I’d mainline my regular books). I can’t say for sure, but I probably didn’t even know who Brubaker was at the time. He was working on a run of comics that easily became not just a favorite of mine, but I believe, a definitive one for one of comics’ longest running heroes.

And it all started with a bit of continuity craziness. For as long as I’d read and read about comics, the adage was, “No one stays dead in comics except Uncle Ben and Bucky.” But Brubaker noticed something interesting: Bucky never died on panel. The event was referred to and remembered many times, but readers never actually saw it happen “in real time.” With that in mind, he set out on a series of events to bring Bucky back, first as the villainous Winter Soldier and then as a potentially more interesting man-out-of-time than his partner. Around all that, Brubaker created an espionage-filled tale of intrigue that involved Red Skull, a new villain called General Lukin, the Cosmic Cube, S.H.I.E.L.D., Arnim Zola, Agent Carter, Falcon, World War II adventures, murder, Civil War and falling through time.

death of captain america vol 1By pitting the seminal hero against a variety of villains old and new and also teaming Cap up with the best heroes the Marvel U has to offer, Brubaker shows how great of a person Steve Rogers really is. This is a man who never, ever gives up. He won’t just fight until he can’t fight anymore, but he will also believe in the goodness of his friends, even when they’ve seemingly done terrible, awful things. At the same time, Brubaker gives fantastic treatment to characters like Sharon Carter, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson that feel equally weighted, and sometimes even more important than what’s going on with Steve.

Of course, as anyone who read this book or paid attention to comics in the past 10 years or so already knows, Steve Rogers was not the star of the book after getting apparently murdered after the events of Civil War. This allowed Bucky to step into the costume and become a new kind of Captain America. This allowed Bru to continue exploring Bucky as a character while also showing how great Steve is in comparison.

Even with Steve out of the picture, though, that doesn’t mean the bad guys aren’t still planning and plotting against anyone wielding Cap’s shield. But, as we learn — and you’ll notice upon a new read through — this particular gang of miscreants has been planning something huge for YEARS. That’s one of the many reason I enjoy going back and doing these larger read-throughs, I pick up on so many of the seeds planted that I wizzed by the first time around. Of course, it helps when you already know where the story is going.

All of this comes to a head with Road To Reborn and Reborn. When I first read these books, I was working at Wizard and we’d snatch the issues up when they were available. That meant I read through them pretty quickly, usually while eating lunch, and getting them back to the stacks so someone else could read them. Actually being able to take my time with these, savor and study them a bit made for a much richer reading experience.

I’ve talked a lot about Brubaker in this post, but I also have to give huge props to regular series artists Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Luke Ross and Butch Guice who did an amazing job of keeping a consistent tone throughout these issues. Epting’s the hero for me, but all of these artists came together to create a general idea of dark, yet bold superheroics that look just as good in the daylight as they do in the shadows. I also give a lot of credit to series colorist Frank D’Armata who kept things consistent across the board. I think his work on this book was actually the first time I really noticed how important a colorist’s work can be.

captain america reborn

I read these 11 trades in pretty short order, but hit a roadblock because I didn’t have many of the trades after Reborn. I requested a series of books from the library — including these other Brubaker-penned volumes — but went off track in my read-through when I got some extra Christmas money and purchased the Trial Of Captain America Omnibus for about half price. I returned the Cap books I’d gotten from the library and waited for my killer hardcover to come in, but in the mean time, I went a little crazy with the library requests and haven’t cracked the brand new big book.

I’ve calmed down a bit with the requests and hope to get back to Captain America pretty soon. Not only did I have a great time going back through these issues, but we’re getting to a point in the book that I’m not nearly as well-versed in. In fact, I haven’t read a good deal of these issues, so this will be a whole different, reading experience!

Captain America Trade Post: Reborn & Two Americas

Captain America: Reborn (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Bryan Hitch
Collects Captain America: Reborn #1-6

Man, remember how long it took Captain America: Reborn to come out? It seemed excruciating at the time because I was heavily into Ed Brubaker’s Captain America epic and was dying to see how he would bring Steve Rogers back from the dead. At the time the book came out the whole “becoming unstuck in time, but coming back thanks to a constant” thing was very Lost. It’s funny how similar the idea seemed then, but only vaguely so now. Bru’s had some really funky timing with things like this on Cap, he brought Bucky back right around the time that Jason Todd returned in Batman, he created new MODOKs that were an awful lot like the then-new OMACs were plaguing the DCU and…damn there was another one that I just can’t remember right now.

Anyway, reading Reborn all together several years after the fact was interesting. I was thrust right back into the “how are they going to bring him back” aspect of the story even though I remembered some of the deets. I also liked how the story really felt like a big piece of the Marvel Universe what with H.A.M.M.E.R.’s involvement, Avengers Dark, Mighty, New and whatever else making appearances and Reed Richards helping out. I like how Hitch can marry very real world events like World War II and the street-level feel of Bucky Cap’s adventures with much bigger sci-fi concepts like the aforementioned time becoming unstuck and whatnot.

My biggest problem with this series is that it wasn’t drawn by Steve Epting or one of the other Captain America regulars. I don’t have a problem with Hitch — though it does seem like he was sloppily inked or colored in many of the pages that make them look muddy instead of dark, possibly a result of the book being late — but I’m such a big fan of the ongoing series, that it would have been cool if this landmark story had been drawn by one of the guys who had been killing it up to this point along with Bru. It’s not the kind of thing that makes me want to ditch this book and never read it again, but it was something I kept thinking while reading: why couldn’t this have just been done by the regular team in the regular book? (And yeah, I know the answer is, “money, money, money.”)

Captain America: Two Americas (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Luke Ross with Butch Guice
Collects Captain America #602-605, Captain America: Who Will Wield The Shield?

After Steve Rogers came back, he didn’t become Captain America again right away. While he was off heading up the newly reinstate S.H.I.E.D. and leading the Secret Avengers, Bucky stuck around as Cap and some people thought the book began spinning its wheels a bit. I can see where they’re coming from in this arc that finds Bucky infiltrating a supremacist group run by one of the guys who was Cap while the real one was frozen.

The story itself is interesting and well told. I really like the Bucky/Falcon dynamic which takes center stage here without all the dark notes thanks to Steve’s death that loomed over the series earlier. The problem is that this felt sort of like a rehash of some of Bru’s earlier stories. Steve had his own encounters with replacement Caps and they were pretty intense and sad and really well told. So, when it happens again but with a different Cap on both sides of the conflict, it’s not super interesting.

The best part of this collection which feels a little sleight, especially for a hardcover (which I got for half off at a comic shop nearby), is the Who Will Wield The Shield one-shot in the beginning that features Steve trying to figure out what he wants to do moving forward with his superhero career. That issue felt very much in the same vein as Bru’s earlier Cap stories without feeling like its treading familiar territory.

So, while neither of these trades really wowed me, I still really like how Bru handled Captain America in the macro sense. At some point, when he exits the series, it will be interesting to sit down and read all of it to see how well it works as a huge story. As much as I like this ongoing series, I look forward to that day, like I do for most of these things. The hope is that there will be a nice, big ending that’s part of the writer’s plan instead of editorially mandated stuff or, even worse, cancellation.

Books Of Oa: Green Lantern Corps Sins Of The Star Sapphire

GREEN LANTERN CORPS: SINS OF THE STAR SAPPHIRE (DC)
Written by Peter J. Tomasi, drawn by Patrick Gleason & Luke Ross
Collects Green Lantern Corps #27-32
So after the Sinestro Corps War and Ring Quest, the Green Lantern Corps finds themselves at odds with even more Sinestro Corps members like Quintet and Kryb, but also on a mission to discover even more about the Star Sapphires who we hadn’t really seen much of since Green Lantern: Wanted. We start off by seeing the new Warrior’s bar and grill on Oa and also meet Green Lantern Saarek who can talk to the dead. Good thing he popped up because some ugly looking Sinestro Corps member has been killing the family members of GL rookies and sent their eyes to Oa. While that killer, actually a set of five brothers and sisters going by the Quintet, is being hunted down, Ice, Guy’s ex who is now back from the dead, hitched a ride to Oa and Scar asks Saarek to search for the Anti-Monitor’s corpse. She also asked Ash to do this over in the “Alpha Lanterns” story, though he’s not mentioned at all in this book. I believe they later show up working on it together.

Anyway, the rest of this trade deals with Mongul on his way to Daxam while inadvertently creating a new Red Lantern, Ice telling guy she wants some time on earth to rediscover herself, a group of GLs including Kyle and Saranik hunting down the baby stealing Sinestro Corps member Kryb and Yat, Arisia and Guy accompanying a few of the Guardians–including Scar–on a trip to Zamaron where the Zamarons basically tell the Guardians that they’re not going to back down in their attempt to bring and foster love in the universe. The third new law of the Book of Oa also goes out saying that love between GLs is forbidden, which, again, is strange timing because it turns out that, according to that newly minted Star Sapphire’s gem, that Kyle and Soranik are bound to fall in love.

The Kryb stuff is super creepy (hence the horror tag) and done very well, but I’ve noticed the biggest difference now that Tomasi is on the book instead of Dave Gibbons. Overall, I like Gibbons as a writer on this book better than Tomasi, though I do enjoy Tomasi’s run. The difference is that Gibbons was telling stories with lots and lots of different characters with elements that were leading towards bigger stories, but Tomasi’s stories all seem like they’re just servicing the greater story instead of being important on their own. It’s less NYPD Blue and more…I don’t know, CSI in that it focuses less on multiple stories and instead just one. I still dig the stories, but there’s a definitely difference.

A few things I found interesting while reading through this book before moving on. First off, I think the Kyle/Soranik relationship feels really shoehorned. When I was reading these books in single issues, I bought it a lot more because I figured I missed a few hints at it during SCW, but having just read that book, it seems pretty out-of-nowhere. The other thing that caught my attention is how different lanterns fill their rings the first time. We know that Yellow ones get put in a fear lodge and have to relive their own personal fears to fill the ring, but in this book we find that the Purple light actually takes the place of an emptiness in the bearer’s heart (I wonder if a man can be a Star Sapphire). Finally, it seems like GLs are super easy to kill lately, right? One of them gets smashed in Kryb’s back spine things. That seems a bit easy to me. I don’t remember them saying anywhere that the various lights have different effects on each other (aside from Blue and Green, but we’ll get to that in the next installment).

Trade Post: Death Of Captain America Vol. 3, Walking Dead Vol. 10 & B.P.R.D. The Warning

THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 3: THE MAN WHO BOUGHT AMERICA (Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting, Luke Ross & Roberto De La Torre
Collects Captain America (current volume) #37-42
I’ve mentioned here and there how much I like Captain America, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a review on one of the trades before. Let me say this right off the bat, I think that Ed Brubaker’s Captain America is one of the best ongoing comic books ever written. I haven’t read a lot of Cap comics to compare it to, but I put it up there with some of my favorite runs of all time like Starman, Sandman and Preacher. That he’s been able to keep up such a high quality of story over so many issues, not to mention through several major events that lesser writers let screw up their flow, is ultra impressive. Brubaker’s Civil War tie-in issues are, in my opinion, better written and more logical than anything else wearing that banner. You can trust me on that one, I had to read it all while working at Wizard for an online column called Civil War Room (I’d link to it, but I think all that stuff is gone now).

I guess I should actually talk about this volume now, which I got for Christmas along with the second and third Immortal Iron Fist trades. What you have here is the second trade featuring Bucky as Captain America. We’re knee deep in the Red Skull’s plan to get his very own president and birth a new Steve Rogers thanks to his captive’s pregnancy (that would be Cap’s girl Sharon Carter). Bucky and Falcon team up and Bucky takes on the Cap from the 50s who thinks he’s Cap and is being manipulated by the Skull and Dr. Faustus. It’s kind of a hard volume to explain without spoiling everything that’s come before and after, but this book is integral for understanding the Skull’s plan and features Bucky Cap’s first real dent in those plans. Don’t bother starting with this trade (that should seem pretty obvious as it’s the eighth in the series), just do yourself a favor and get the first trade or catch up since whenever you left off because, next to Green Lantern, this is the best ongoing comic coming out right now.

I also want to mention the art, specifically that of Steve Epting. I love his simple, but elegant style. All the figures have this amazing presence on the page that is only added to thanks to the inking and coloring. I really wish they would have gone to him for Captain America: Reborn instead of Bryan Hitch. I have never understood Hitch’s appeal and really dislike his art. Plus, I feel like Epting is just a better artist all around and should have gotten the chance to draw Steve’s return. Not that it really matters because the ending has been spoiled already. Ah well, moving on.

THE WALKING DEAD VOL. 10: WHAT WE BECOME (Image)
Written by Robert Kirkman, drawn by Charlie Adlard
Collects Walking Dead #55-60
I’ve had a lot to say about Walking Dead to pretty much anyone who will listen. I have problems with some of Kirkman’s writing ticks, like how he always tells instead of shows, but this 10th volume didn’t fall into a lot of those traps, thankfully. In fact, I think this is one of the better Walking Dead trades all around. Again, the tenth volume of any comic isn’t a good place to start, but as someone who’s read most of the issues, I think it’s one of the better ones. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this one picks up right after a pretty huge tragedy in Rick’s life and he’s going a little crazy. By this point, Rick and his fellow followers have teamed up with a trio of people trying to head to Washington, D.C. in order to get in with what’s left of the government. There’s a scientist, a crazy military guy and a girl who’s in love with him. We learn more about the military guy in this issue while he, Rick and Rick’s son Carl head back to a house that Rick stopped off at on his way to find his family early in the series. It’s a pretty cool callback to a character I’m sure most people figured would never be seen again. There’s also a ton of action as this trio-turned-quartet try to outrun a horde of zombies who are all after them (we’re talking hundreds of biters). All that mixed with a fair dose of drama from some of Rick’s people (including an attempted suicide and a faction wanting to break off on their own) make for one of the more fulfilling arcs in the book’s impressive run. Oh, and, to be fair, there’s a story that the military dude tells that I’m glad didn’t have a visual flashback, it would have been ultra creepy, sad and depressing.

B.P.R.D. VOL. 10: THE WARNING (Dark Horse)
Written by Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, drawn by Guy Davis
Collects B.P.R.D.: The Warning #1-5, “Out Of Reach” from Hellboy Free Comic Book Day 2008
Haha, I just realized that all three books I’m reviewing are pretty terrible jumping-on points for potential new readers. The best I can tell you is that, these series’ are all so good, that I’ve followed them this long, going so far as to buy the trades (or finagle them whenever possible). I remember reading issues of The Warning while still at Wizard and having no freaking clue how one issue tied into the last. Part of that comes from reading upwards of 20 comics a week and part of it comes from the fast and furious approach that Mignola and Arcudi took with this trade. A lot goes on that has to do with the ever-growing war on frogs and other evil things growing in both B.P.R.D. and Hellboy miniseries’. We find out more about the mysterious Panya and Gilfryd, witness a full-on destruction of Johann Kraus’s hometown thanks to giant monster robot things built by trolls or some such and a fight between one big monster and another one being manipulated by Kraus. This trade really has everything that makes B.P.R.D. awesome, big crazy monster stuff, interpersonal character development, the progression of a gigantic storyline and great action scenes. And, you could actually do a lot worse than starting with this or any other random B.P.R.D. book. If B.P.R.D. was an ongoing, it would also be on my list of the greatest ongoing comics. Actually, I wish more companies would take this route for books that might not do as well as ongoings. I also wish they’d take a cue from Dark Horse and include the level of extras that Dark Horse does. Almost every volume has an intro by Mignola or Arcudi as well as a sketchbook in the back with designs from Mignola and whatever artist is working on it. All the Cap trade has is a “Previously In…” paragraph on the inside front cover and Walking Dead doesn’t even have the covers. And don’t worry, the next Trade Post will have more books that anyone can just pick up.