On the surface, I shouldn’t like the concept of Captain America. It’s a throwback to a previous time. He’s a jingoistic, nationalist, character that really shouldn’t work in today’s geopolitical climate. But in terms of the Marvel comics universe, he’s the top dog. Although not always (or often) reflected in sales, his character is always at the forefront of Marvel’s storylines, and does for Marvel what Superman does for DC, in that he’s the de facto leader of Earth’s heroes. I think I admire the simplicity. At the character’s best, he represents everything that is “good” about America. At his worst, he’s a government puppet, fulfilling the mandate of whatever politician is currently in power. It’s a fine line, and when done well (the runs of Mark Gruenwald, Mark Waid, and Ed Brubaker), he can be a compelling plot device. But the character itself is quite bland, and so it’s been my experience that there are more bad Cap stories than there are good. As I’ve done this project, there are books that I realize I need to pick up, and Mark Gruenwald’s epic run on Captain America is at the top of the list.
Captain America – The Otherworld War/The New Deal
Blah. A bland, generic, character is bound to guarantee some bland, generic stories, and these are two mini-series that fit the bill. There’s not much to discuss here, as there isn’t much to either of these. Although the New Deal does have the benefit of John Cassady’s pencil work, and is somewhat readable, neither comic is anything other than just a run of the mill exercise in blandness.
Captain America – The Winter Soldier Vol. 1 & 2, Red Menace Vol. 1 & 2, Civil War, The Death Of Captain America Vol. 1, 2, 3, The Man With No Face, Two Americas, Reborn, No Escape
I’m not going to go as far as many people have and declare Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America to be “the best ever”. But it is a very good run, one that blends superhero theatrics with quasi-realistic espionage thrills quite seamlessly.
Even now, this is still one of the better superhero comics on the market, though it doesn’t quite have the impact that it did in its hey day. There is a lot of story here: The death and resurrection of Cap’s arch-nemesis; The resurrection of Cap’s WW2 partner Bucky; Cap being wanted by the US government; Cap being shot and killed; Bucky taking up the mantle of Cap, The original Cap coming back from the dead, etc. As I said, there’s a LOT of stuff going on here. And while this book is quite plot heavy at times, it still never gets too dense, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I would say that Brubaker finds the character of Bucky to be a little more interesting than that of the original Cap, as he’s done more in terms of character development with that character than with that of Steve Rogers. Brubaker takes a similar approach to Steve Rogers as Christopher Priest did to the Black Panther, in that he really makes the book about how others perceive the title character, more than he makes it about that character himself. Good approach for an iconic character like Cap.
I would recommend this as a good-to-almost great mainstream superhero book, though at times it resembles spy books like Queen & Country more than it does more traditional Cap stories. The Cap Reborn trade is easily the weak link of the bunch, though I’m keeping it.
Captain America – Fallen Son
This was an attempt by Marvel to capitalize on the hype created by the “death” of the original Captain America, Steve Rogers. Like much of Jeph Loeb’s writing these days, it’s heavy on schmaltz, low on story. And so while you get some decent character moments, it’s not really compelling enough to justify a reread, and comes across as inconsequential.
Next: Captain Britain! Captain Marvel! The son of Captain Marvel! A shapechanging alien that thinks he’s Captain Marvel!