Captain America #1‒7 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Michael Lark and John Paul Leon
I have read some Captain America comics in my time, as well as comics with Cap as a central character in a team, but I’ve never really connected with the character. For this reason, I didn’t pick up this new version of Steve Rogers, even though Brubaker was writing it. Brubaker has written some great books (Scene of the Crime, Point Blank, Sleeper, Gotham Central) and continues to write excellent books (Daredevil, Immortal Iron Fist, Criminal), yet that wasn’t enough to make me pick up the book. So, once again, thanks to the library for existing.
Even with my doubts about the character, this is a great read. It starts with a cracking first issue: a bout of intrigue in Russia with the Red Skull and General Lukin and talk of the Cosmic Cube, followed by setting up the threat of the Skull and the current status quo for Steve Rogers, and some wordless action where Cap takes down some terrorists (plus a little insight into Cap’s emotional state). Then, with little preamble, and building up the Red Skull threat, ‘KSSH’ ‒ the Red Skull is shot through the heart by a mystery assassin working for Lukin, before he can use the Cube. Now that’s how you write a first issue to make people come back for the next one.
Brubaker keeps everything grounded: Skull’s DNA is checked (his body was a clone of Rogers) and there’s nice stuff about SHIELD having to destroy any samples they take from Rogers in case it’s used for nefarious purposes. In tandem, Cap is having flashbacks (with perfect art from Lark, his documentary style really capturing the feel of old war photos) that don’t seem to make sense, and he and SHIELD are investigating. At the end of this issue, Jack Monroe (the former Nomad and sidekick) is killed by the same assassin with the metallic hand. This is linked to the history of the Captain America (with mention of two previous Captain Americas) and the second world war, showing Brubaker has done his research and is working from a masterplan.
Now, of course, we know that the assassin is really Bucky Barnes, who we all thought long dead, but was revived and brainwashed by the Russians, which is such a simple and brilliant idea I’m amazed nobody thought of it before. Brubaker is able to completely change my view of the character: ‘The real secret of what Bucky was … he was highly trained. He wouldn’t’ve been out there with us if he wasn’t.’ I had always thought of Bucky as the chirpy, plucky teen sidekick, not a hardcore, well-trained killer. (Cap: ‘Bucky did the things I couldn’t.’)
There are more flashbacks to an incident with the Red Skull and the Russians, where a village was completely destroyed (and where Lark makes The Human Torch and Namor actually look cool), and there are more mysteries, such as the classified document called Winter Soldier that Fury doesn’t want Cap to know about.
With a visit to the island off the English Channel not on any maps, to the place where Cap ‘died’, and the return of Sharon ‘Agent 13’ Carter to recurring character duties, Brubaker is showing due care and attention. This is demonstrated in issue 7, illustrated by Leon, which is all about Jack Monroe, almost an apology for killing him in issue 3. It’s an interesting little story, but it gets in the way of the main thrust of the narrative, and is annoying because it is the end of the book even if it isn’t the end of the story. Combined with the surprisingly effective art of Epting (an artist I thought of as just an ’90s Marvel superhero artist but who has graduated to much better work here) and the intriguing mystery that Brubaker has concocted, this has to be one of the best revival of a main character (matched perhaps with his joint updating of Iron Fist with Matt Fraction) in some time, and definitely one of the best resurrection of a character long thought to be officially dead. This story has changed my perceptions of what can be done in a Captain America story, and makes me eager to read the Death of Captain America story.