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.