Tuesday, July 26, 2011

All Things Cap: History, Reading List, and a Review of Brubaker's Winter Soldier

In honor of the fantastic movie that I just can't get out of my head, I thought I'd begin an exploration into the character's past, because while I love the movie, and have long been a fan of Captain America, I am primarily acquainted with him via the Avengers, and rarely if ever via his own solo titles and personal history.

The first thing I picked up and read was part of Brubaker's recent tenure on the character, starting with his pre-Civil War resurrection of Bucky Barnes in the now-famous Winter Soldier storyline. The friendship between Bucky and Steve was very well done in the movie, and Bucky's final scene was heart-wrenching. And familiar as I was with Bucky's recent adventures as the new Captain America, and his participation in the New Avengers, I still hadn't read the actual story of his return.

Much more after the jump (including a nice little history.)

Somehow Brubaker managed to take a superhero comic book where an old sidekick comes back from the dead, and turn it into a noir crime story with about 40% of the storyline occurring as WW2 flashbacks. (And the flashbacks are neither oppressive nor uninteresting, as is often the case.)

Steve Rogers is going through a delicate time, processing years of grief and exertion and still trying to do his job, when unexpectedly the Red Skull is found murdered, his Cosmic Cube missing. Cap visits the crime scene and aids in the gathering of forensics, and thus begins the evenly paced, direct yet surprising, grim tale of a long forgotten Russian ally from the war, shamed by Cap's morals and prowess back in the day, who uses younger men to exact his painful revenge.

Cap is beat up, exploded, manipulated, telepathically bombarded, and forced to confront the most personal, awful truth he could ever consider; that his old partner and best friend, the guy who knew him better than anyone, never really died. He was picked up in the icy waters by a secret Russian sub, saved and repaired and brainwashed to become the KGB's most successful assassin, the Winter Soldier.

In addition, Cap has to deal with all this in the company of his rather harsh ex-girlfriend Sharon Carter, who honestly doesn't come off that well here. She seems like a pro, despite being kidnapped, handling her authority and her machine guns with equal skill. But her conversation with Cap is always a bit biting, saying things like "I forgot how frustrating you could be." Cap? Steve Rogers? I'm pretty sure he's only frustrating to people who like to kick tiny cute puppies. Also she's on a revenge kick since another ex of hers (she gets around it seems) was killed in the Philadelphia explosion that brainwashed Bucky pulls off, which she was completely incapable of stopping. Mostly she takes the role of Devil's Repetitive Advocate, vehemently supporting the shoot-him-in-the-head, ask-questions-later approach in regards to Bucky's miraculous existence. Thank god the Falcon steps in to be a true friend to Cap.

The final confrontation between Cap and Bucky is straightforward action, with the expected emotions simmering and poignant, and the climactic twist/development featuring the cosmic cube is both simple and completely brilliant. While the story doesn't tie up all the loose threads, it sets up some wonderful things to tackle in the following issues, which I fully intend to track down. And now I'm even more willing to explore Bucky's solo time as Cap, which I had little interest in before.

Of course his rehabilitation, redemption, and rise to the pinnacle of the superhero community is all a bit moot now, considering Matt Fraction killed him pretty early on in Fear Itself. But even that feels indefinite to me. I don't know if it's because heroes rarely truly die in comics, or because in this case so much mysticism and magic is involved, or just that with Bucky and Cap's popularity on an upswing, it seems like a dumb move. For god's sakes, why are Nick Fury and Tony Stark just staring at his body? Inject some super soldier serum, some infinity formula, get Doc Strange to mumble some voodoo; it's not like you've never done the impossible before.

Besides this is Bucky. He would NOT want to be killed by a girl, especially a red-skinned freaky girl who's part of a long line of Nazis. He's old school that way.

Next Up in my Captain America studies (which probably has to wait until Friday's paycheck):

-the next installment of Brubaker's run
-a nice TPB of some classic Cap stories, perhaps in the Kirby era
-rooting through back issues boxes for some choice Avengers issues. Specifically of interest are the ones where Peggy Carter comes back and works for the team. Anyone know the numbers for those?

For those unfamiliar, here's a nice little pictorial showing Cap's history and some relevant details. Though I must say, I entirely disagree with their graphics on his power ratings. His intelligence, strength, and speed are much much higher, and his fighting skills are second to none. The Avengers are as strong as they are because they were all trained personally by him, powers or no. And any stars for energy projection doesn't make sense, unless you mean his shield, in which case there should be more stars. Sheesh.

Click image to enlarge
Captain America Infographic
Via: Military VA Loan

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