July 3, 2009

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Captain America: The Dead of Captain America Volume 2

Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Steve Epting, Butch Guice, and Mike Perkins
Marvel

The changing of the guard for the Sentinel of Liberty continues in this second volume, as Brubaker continues his tale of redemption, betrayal, and secret agents.

No, I'm not referring to Sleeper, honest. While the basic ideas might be similar here and there, this is about as far away from that as possible, because while Tony Stark is a dick and Bucky Barnes became a stone-cold killer (as opposed to a justified killer in the form of a solider), these characters clearly has a moral compass that, while often faltering, never waivers from trying to make America a better place.

And there's no mistaking the evil of the Red Skull, Dr. Faustus (with an amazing set of hair and a body that reminds me more of Wilson Fisk than how I remember the character), Crossbones, and the rest. While this has the noirish feel of most of Brubaker's writing, there's no shades of gray, just black versus white in a complicated game that none of the players seem quite able to control.

As far as the plot goes, Bucky is tortured by Dr. Faustus while Sharon Carter helps. After Tony Stark and Co. recover from the events of last volume, they work to free Carter and end up with a different figure all together. Now it's time for Bucky Barnes to make the decision of his life...and I'd tease that out except the answer is right there on the damned cover.

Now Captain Bucky must try to be the face of America, a role Steve Rogers struggled with daily for years, all to try and prevent the Skull and his alter-ego Lukin from taking down the United States with a multi-pronged plot that's definitely one of the best I've ever read involving the character. Can he grow into the part in time to save America? Is he capable of being Captain America? And even if he is, can Bucky and his uneasy ally Iron Man stop the Skull from their goal of America's destruction? Plus what about Sharon Carter's role in all this?

The mysteries pile on top of each other even as Brubaker (who must be the world's most amazing comics plotter for this to all work so well over three years now of being on the title) dishes out new information to the reader on the Skull's plans, Bucky's thoughts, and Stark's battles to keep control of S.H.I.E.L.D. while the world gets more complicated for him by the day. It shows that really good things can come of asking a quality writer to stay on a title for several years rather than having a "hot" writer come in for an arc or two. I couldn't even begin to tell you what's going on with Geoff John's Green Lantern because I haven't read much of it, but like Brubaker with Cap and Bendis with the Avengers, a writer with a clear vision can layer story over story to create quality comics, even if they're not always the way I'd write the same characters.

So I guess my point here, Dan and Joe, if you're reading this, is this--PLEASE try to keep the same writers on the same books for more than a year. Your readers will thank you.

Having had a chance this week due to my Captain America special feature to really think about the character a lot and how Brubaker has used Cap, I must say that in this volume in particular, it's very obvious that while he's ready to dump continuity at a moment's notice (not unlike Mark Waid), Brubaker definitely knows his Captain America history.

The main supporting characters? Tony Stark, Sharon Carter, Sam Wilson, Nick Fury, Bucky, and the Black Widow, all echoes of Cap's long history. If Diamondback or shows up sometime soon, I would not be a bis surprised. Brubaker's looking at Cap's supporting cast and getting them into the show in ways that make sense (aguably better than he did for Rogers himself).

The villains? Well, it's hard to go wrong with the Red Skull, but we also get Faustus and Zola from Cap's earlier days and Crossbones from the Gruenwald years. AIM and Hydra have both shown up. Heck, this time around we even get the Serpent Society! There's folks from all parts of Cap's history ready to harm those he loved (loves?). And they're working together as part of a major story, just like they did in the Gruenwald years. While giving me fits at times about how free and loose he uses existing characters, Brubaker also had me going, "that's perfect" over and over again during this current arc.

But what's kind of odd is that while the characters played out more like how I'd want them to, I also felt a bit like Brubaker stepped back from his own vision to do so. This is mostly true in the acceptance by Bucky of help from Tony Stark, the man he wanted to kill not all that long ago--and fights an interesting battle with in the first half. I know people would have accused him of dragging things out had the Winter Solider vs. Iron Man story played on longer, but the conversion felt a little forced to me, like it was a plot point that needed fixing to move forward but wasn't important enough to dwell on. I'd disagree with that. Having Bucky take up the vision Cap gave up--resistance to Stark's New World Order--would have made for an interesting arc or two.

Then again, I'm not the one with the Eisner. I'm the guy with the blog, and since the rest of this story has been so go, I'll just sit back and enjoy where this one's going. We're left on yet another cliffhanger ending, even as Captain Bucky gets a well-needed break before things heat up yet again in volume three.

Having gotten this far, I can say without reservation that no matter how annoyed you get with some of his decisions, Brubaker is writing an amazing comic, that, while it still may not be Captain America to you (or, for that matter, to me), is really, really good. I can't wait to read more!