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!

Marvel Mini Trade Post: Thor Blood Oath, Beyond! & Union Jack London Falling

thor blood oath Thor: Blood Oath (Marvel)
Written by Michael Avon Oeming, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Thor: Blood Oath #1-6

As you might have noticed, posting’s been a little sporadic around here these days. That’s because our youngest has been a little on the angry side, but also because we’re in the middle of buying a house. I’m super excited to get into a bigger space and have my own office, but to get to that place, we need to do a lot of packing. I started almost immediately, but haven’t tackled the trades on my bookshelf just yet. The other day I pulled out about 10 books I wanted to go through and see if they will make the move. Most of them were collections of minis that I haven’t read in a while.

While on the subject, I’ve got to say that the mid 2000s were a great time for Marvel miniseries’. I was at Wizard at that time and just absorbing as much as I could, including these three books. A common thread through all three of these books — as well as something like the original Agents Of Atlas, Dr. Strange: The Oath and Ares that also came out in that time frame — is that these stories feel timeless. Sure, there’s some continuity in there, but, for the most part, you could hand these books to newbies and they’d have a pretty good idea of what’s happening.

That’s exactly the case with Thor: Blood Oath, one of my all-time favorite Thor stories. In addition to being a timeless tale that takes place sometime after Thor first appeared on Earth, but before he stopped being Don Blake, it also doesn’t revolve around Loki! Guys, I kind of hate Loki. He’s fine in the movies, but I feel like a lot of writers depend on his trickery way too much when penning Thor stories. I realized this while reading a huge stack of 70s and 80s Thor comics a while back and it turned me off of both characters for a while.

So, without Loki, who does our hero face off against? All kinds of mythological characters, actually. Thor’s pals the Warriors Three accidentally kill a shapeshifting giant. To appease the deceased’s father, Thor and the Three agree to acquire a number of items from various realms including Olympus. It’s a really fun, cool trip through Marvel’s various mythological places that also showcases why Thor is so cool. He’s impetuous and heroic and loves his friends, but he also takes his tasks seriously. Basically, Blood Oath is one of those great shared universe comics that takes many of the character’s classic elements, weaves them around a new story through more modern comic storytelling sensibilities and results in a wonderful, self-contained tale that showcases that character really well.

Oeming has long been considered one of the best when it comes to mythology-based superhero comics and he really shows that off well in this book. And then you have Kolins who is just fantastic on this project.He drafts these godlike characters who look as huge and majestic as they should. Both creators work really well together to mix not only the huge action scenes, but also the smaller moments between Thor and his friends. I love when friends love each other in my entertainment.

beyond

Beyond! (Marvel)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Beyond! #1-6

Of this batch of minis, Beyond! is probably the least accessible to new readers, but I’m still a huge fan. The book acts as a kind of sequel to Marvel’s Secret Wars, an event that found a bunch of heroes and villains plucked from their homes to fight it out on a new planet. Whoever winds gets whatever they want. For what it’s worth, I’ve never read the original, but will remedy that soon.

The same thing happens here, but with a more eclectic group of characters that includes Hank Pym, The Wasp, Kraven Jr., Medusa, Firebird, The Hood, Gravity and Scorpion-Venom. Deathlok (a personal favorite), Dragon Man and other familiar faces also show up. The line-up itself might be considered a barrier for many because some of them aren’t around anymore or were fairly of-the-moment. Heck, I still don’t really know anything about Firebird, but if you don’t let yourself get too hung up on all that, you should be okay. Personally I like being introduced to some of these characters I don’t know much about and not feeling like that lack of knowledge is inhibiting.

For me personally, the breakout performances here are from Gravity, Hank Pym and Deathlok. Gravity was a new character created by Sean McKeever in another miniseries from that era of the same name. He was a cool, fun new hero who flipped many of the superhero conventions and got to really shine in this crazy scenario. This book also gets into some of the history between Hank and Janet, but not in an overly involved way. Pym probably has the most complicated relationships in comics, but I thought McDuffie did a stellar job of showing this one with Wasp from both sides. And, finally, Deathlok is just so darn cool all around.

The big reveal of who’s behind all this might not be the most shocking one in the world, but it does play with expectations a bit. There’s also a few questions about when and how all this stuff takes place. According to the story, Deathlok has been on this planet for a really long time and he’s seen other heroes and villains who have appeared show up, fight, escape or die. Still, I like that McDuffie took such an odd mix of characters, put them in this alien setting and allowed them to bounce off of each other so well. And, once again, Kolins came in and did his thing so well that I smiled at just about every page.

union jack london falling Union Jack : London Falling (Marvel)
Written by Christos Gage, drawn by Mike Perkins
Collects Union Jack #1-4

Union Jack: London Falling is actually a nice combination of what I like about Blood Oath and Beyond. It’s not only a timeless tale of a cool hero like the former, but also a collection of strange characters I didn’t know much about like the latter. In this case, Union Jack is asked to do some government work (he’d been hunting vampires for a while) as R.A.I.D., an offshoot of A.I.M. plans a huge terrorist attack on London that utilizes a small army of supervillains. Since the timeframe is so short (a few hours) and other heroes aren’t available, Jack teams with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, Arabian Knight and Sabra to save the day. Together they run across the city trying to save as many people as possible while Jack does his best to keep the common man as safe as the rich.

Tone and look-wise, Union Jack feels very much a part of what Ed Brubaker was doing with Captain America. Bru’s book launched the year before this mini came out and both feature darker corners of the Marvel U, espionage and patriotic heroes doing their damndest to save the day. Mike Perkins’ art also looks like it belongs right along with Steve Epting’s thanks to their shared interest in dynamic, bold figures and the darker-yet-shiny color pallet in both books (and Bru’s Uncanny X-Men for what it’s worth). So, if you dig the now-classic run on Cap, give Union Jack a read. Oh, and don’t worry about not knowing who Sabra is, finding out is all part of the fun.

Another common element I found in all three of these books is that they feel like they came from an artistic place. Sometimes, when it comes to a miniseries, especially one that ties into an event, they feel like they were just banged out to make some dough. But, all three of these feel like they were pitches from passionate creators who had a great Thor, Union Jack and Gravity-Deathlok-etc. story to tell. You can feel that passion coming through from the writers and artists as it comes across the page so well. So, while this reading experience might not have lightened my packing load, it did remind me of some great self-contained comics that easily earned their places on my soon-to-be-much-larger bookshelf.