June 30, 2009

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Captain America Red Menace Volume 1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Mike Perkins and others
Marvel

Having decided it was finally time to forgive Brubaker for bringing back Bucky, and after liking the Civil War Cap trade, I decided to give this a shot. Picking up where things left off in the Winter Soldier arc, Cap and Sharon try to investigate SHIELD business while also tracking Cap's old partner to an odd town with curious AIMs.

Yes, that's a pun, thanks for asking.

Once there, they do battle with some agents of the Red Skull who are on a mission of their own, showing Crossbones as having a particularly mean streak and a desire to recreate Natural Born Killers along the way. Neither of these stories go very far in this set-up volume that includes a one-shot special that backs up some of the retconning of Bucky that Brubaker's doing in this series and gets us ready for part two of the arc.

I am very impressed that while it's obvious Brubaker must change Bucky to fit his new vision--he's shown as aggressive and reckless and always ready to kill--it's written in such a way that I don't feel like it's gratuitous. And that's the key for me finding these issues to be great storytelling instead of a murderous romp through Cap's history, wrecking all in its path. While the details are often heartbreaking for me as a long-time Steve Rogers fan, the way in which these stories are constructed are nothing short of amazing.

The one shot is the best part of this trade, showing Cap in his glory and helping to make the Bucky we have now be more palatable to the readers. It's a Cap on top of things, not the one-step-behind Steve Rodgers that Brubaker writes in the main comic.

And that hits on my one problem with this book as a whole under Brubaker. The story itself is great but it's not a good story for the main character. His handling of Sharon and Bucky and the villains is just fine, but Rodgers just feels off to me. Cap is a leader, a thinker, a planner. In Brubaker's care, he feels sluggish, ready to do whatever Sharon wants or SHIELD leans him towards or events dictate, despite comments to the contrary. Sure, he's always been flexible, but it was always within a plan. I can't see any plan so far, and I've now read all but a few issues before Cap's death.

This is not the Cap we see in New Avengers, or the Cap from his prior 6 (7? I've lost count by now) incarnations. It's enough to make me think--here we go folks, wait for it--that this is NOT Steve Rodgers (or at least not *our* Steve Rodgers) and so Cap isn't dead after all.

And you know what? I would be okay with that, because if this was Cap's swan song series, I don't think he was given proper justice. While the stories are top notch, I just feel, as I did with Winter Soldier, that Brubaker isn't playing fair. As a result, I recommend this, but with a caveat that it's a good story, but not a good Captain America story.