Captain America #25–30 by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting & Mike Perkins
The media frenzy and the blip in interest in comic book shops (how many reprints of issue 25 were there?) caused by the death of Captain America was astounding. (There is a nice little summary of what is was like at the Marvel offices on the day in the back of the book.) The reaction was amazing for a fictional character, and, apart from the connection of the character to the country, I think a lot of that has to do with the quality of the book under Brubaker and Epting. The consistency and strength of characterisation has been superb, and this collection is another excellent instalment. What’s more, it takes the death of the central character and not only makes it work but uses it as the starting point for the next story.
We pick up after the end of Civil War, with Steve Rogers being taken to a New York federal courthouse for his arraignment, being watched by Sharon Carter and Bucky Barnes. Even though he is under arrest, he is the one who notices the sniper and, after two more shots, he is dead on the courthouse steps. Only, at the end of the issue, it is revealed that Doctor Faustus had hypnotised Sharon Carter to shoot Cap, and she has been told to not remember the incident …
Next, there is the fallout (Sharon resigns, at the wake Sam Wilson is told be everyone that he gave a good eulogy, there is a secret wake by the New Avengers, Bucky takes out his frustrations in a bar brawl) before Bucky decides to steal Cap’s shield back (because nobody else is worthy to carry it) after Tony Stark declares that there will be no new Captain America. Tony gets a letter from Steve from an attorney, only to be delivered in the event of his death, and a new Serpent Squad led by the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, is causing trouble and releasing Crossbones from a SHIELD facility. Sam and Sharon are hunting for answers, and the Black Widow (former intimate of Bucky during his Soviet years) is following them. Bucky goes after Lukin, only to be put down by shutdown code from his Soviet handlers, and Sharon is still under the influence of Faustus, as he gets her to shoot Falcon and Widow, on the morning she has found out she’s pregnant.
This is a lot to fit into six issues, but Brubaker not only handles everything smoothly but also juggles the multiple plot strands and emotions of the characters (Bucky’s anger at the loss of the man who helped define him; Tony’s despair and frustration; Sharon’s anguish at the loss and at her role in it). Brubaker uses (for want of a better term) the Frasier approach of using titles for individual sections (The Wake, Dead Letter Office, Spy Versus Spy), which actually works rather well. The artwork, which has been strong throughout, is still clear, sharp and focussed – no unnecessary splash pages, just detailed art full of background and facial expressions. This is really good superhero comic books, taking a wonderful approach to the hoary story concept of the death of the central character. Brubaker has come along and taken one of the oldest characters in the Marvel universe and done brilliant things with the return of Bucky and the death of Captain America, ideas that would be expected to fail but have succeeded spectacularly. Bravo, Mr Brubaker.