Captain America #1
“American Dreamers, Part 1”
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Pencils: Steve McNiven
Inks: Mark Morales
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: McNiven & Morales (regular)/John Romita Sr. & Joe Sinnott/Neal Adams/Olivier Coipel (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Worldwide
Price: $3.99 US
When it comes to repeated relaunches, DC has The Flash, and Marvel has Captain America. I’ve seen a couple of sites refer to this new series as Captain America v.5. The relaunch is a marketing strategy, but the bump it provides is usually so fleeting, it hardly seems worth the bother. After all, the big selling point here for comics fans isn’t the new #1, but the fact that longtime Cap writer Ed Brubaker is joined by popular artist Steve McNiven. McNiven really delivers here, offering up visuals that outshine his work on such recent projects as Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Nemesis and Amazing Spider-Man. As for the writing, while it’s clear Brubaker is comfortable with these characters, the plotting comes off a far too familiar.
Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter and some old friends gather in Paris for the funeral of another ally who joined Cap, Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos on many missions during the war. Unfortunately, another old ally from the war, this one with an axe to grind, turns up as an uninvited guest — one trying to fill some more caskets. Cap’s effort to catch the assassin falls short, but a glimpse of the perpetrator leads the group back stateside to seek out another friend from the 1940s, to whom time hasn’t been as kind as it has to Cap, Fury and the others.
Steve McNiven’s work on this issue stands out as his finest effort in recent memory. The action unfolds in a clear and exciting manner, but more importantly, he really dazzles with his design work. The new Hydra and Baron Zemo looks are consistent with past interpretations, but they look far cooler and more functional here. Furthermore, the design for the new character, Codename Bravo, works well too. It gives the look of a uniform but remains distinct. It’s memorable but generic at the same time, and it seems to suit the mysterious quality that’s been instilled in the character. I also enjoyed how well McNiven conveys the high-speed movement of the traffic in which some key action unfolds. The background detail is meticulous, aided no doubt by the colors. The opening scene in which the title character dresses for a funeral service is striking, as the detail in the hardwood floors and furniture in the room in which he prepares is quite convincing.
Brubaker’s script is curiously silent about Bucky, AKA the Winter Soldier, AKA the recently slain Captain America. I understand why. This comic book isn’t meant for me or any other reader who’s followed Cap’s corner of the Marvel Universe in recent years. This script has clearly been crafted with the moviegoer in mind. It’s understandable that Marvel would want to have an accessible gateway into its comics for people who enjoy the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger movie, focusing more on the World War II elements from the flick rather than recent developments in Cap’s continuity in other comics. From a business perspective, it makes a lot of sense. From a characterization perspective, it makes no sense and is a bit frustrating for longtime readers of Ed Brubaker’s Cap stories.
Another frustrating element is just how familiar the plot is. In this comic book, we learn of yet another forgotten costumed Allied agent from the Second World War who comes back after decades to plague the title character. That was essentially the plot of the “Winter Soldier” storyline at the beginning of the previous Captain America series, featuring the return of Bucky Barnes, penned by Brubaker. That was the plot of a recent arc in Secret Avengers — the return of John Steele, again, written by Brubaker. Now we meet Codename Bravo, a superhuman who fought alongside Cap in the war whose bitterness has led him to seek revenge in the 21st century. Again, this won’t be an issue for the new readers Marvel is clearly trying to court, but for those of us who’ve been with the publisher, character and writer for a while now, the formula is getting old. America was in the war for less than five years. How many lost, superhuman soldiers can return before the reader’s suspension of disbelief is shattered?
That being said, I can understand why the formula keeps coming up, because the story is interesting, and Brubaker certainly has a way when it comes to establishing an atmosphere of intrigue and tension. I genuinely want to learn more about Codename Bravo. It’s not the most subtle of character concepts — his name points to how he feels like he’s always played second fiddle to Captain America, both in combat and in affairs of the heart. I also enjoyed how this isn’t a Cap solo story, but instead, about how the past has come back to haunt a group of war buddies (with Sharon Carter subbing in seamlessly for her aunt). 6/10
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