If the comic book gods allow me one wish, it’ll be that Ed Brubaker never, ever, stops writing comics. I don’t want him going to movies, or TV or deciding to write the great American novel, I want him focusing on comics. Why, because he is, to borrow from Wolverine, the best at what he does. Not only has his work on Criminal been consistently exemplary but the direction he’s taking Captain America is nothing short of extraordinary.
It’s easy to write Captain America as an infallible hero or a tortured sad sack. Brubaker has instead distilled the essence of what Captain America is and then made him a wholly three-dimensional person. Steve Rogers is more human, more admirable and more interesting than he’s ever been. As if that wasn’t enough, Brubaker has applied his considerable talents to Bucky, a second tier character given new life and purpose through Brubaker’s words.
Captain America #618 continues the story of Bucky Barnes languishing in a Soviet prison as Steve Rogers and friends attempt to break him out. The story is split into three mini-sections that all overlap. It’s an interesting twist as different artists split certain sections. The first section is about Black Widow and her underground moves to get to Bucky.
The second is about Bucky and his battle against not just a murdering monster but also a betrayal that leaves him in a very bad way. The final section is about Steve Rogers and sets up an even deeper mystery. The way Brubaker layers these three tales, balancing action and plot is a real pleasure to read. Few comic book authors can handle more than one story arc and even when they do one part often feels less complete than another. Brubaker attacks comics with a more literary approach to structure.
The art cut up works really well, which isn’t always the case. At times, having three artists with three different styles cut into a book is jumpy and jars you out of the stream of the arc. Here, they fit their storyline. For instance, the Black Widow and Steve Rogers sections, handled by Chris Samnee, have an old school Golden Age spy comic feel. Thusly, Samnee uses his versatile way with a pen to create that style. It’s not nostalgic or a copy of something Kirby or Eisner would do, but more a combination of a modern edge with a Golden Age touch.
The Bucky section is grim, violent and lacks hope. To that task Butch Guice and Stefano Gaudiano are assigned and they knock it out of the park. Part pulp violence, part Gorky Park, Guice and Gaudiano bring a real sense of dread to Bucky’s plight. The only downfall to all of this is how the lack of continuity in Fear Itself has driven a stake through all of Ed Brubaker’s hard work. This story arc in Captain America could be the highlight of the writer’s time with the icon and if Fear Itself is to be believed, Bucky will be back in the stars-n-stripes costume fighting Nazi scooters and pissed off hammer bearers. It’s unjustly anticlimactic. Regardless, Captain America #618 is another outstanding issue from Brubaker, a writer who continues to elevate comics as an art form.