Captain America #34
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Steve Epting and Butch Guice
This may be heretical to say about a comic book character, but let the dead stay dead. Steve Rogers died ignobly in a misguided political struggle for freedom in America, and anyone who has taken the character as a metaphor for American life knew it had to happen one day.
What we didn't know was that a writer like Ed Brubaker would come along and make a compelling argument for the legacy of Captain America. Over the decades since Steve Rogers thawed out in Avengers #4, many have tried to make the same case and failed, partially because Steve was always in the wings, ready to put them back on his head. The only book that came this close before was What If --? #4, which chronicled the series of second-tier patriotic heroes that donned the Captain America uniform after his "death" at the end of World War II.
(By no coincidence, Brubaker opened that up last week with the return of Young Avengers to the stands - that Patriot wasn't just carrying on his grandfather's legacy, but that of one of those substitute Captains.)
So for a year, Captain America has been the best book with a dead title character in years. (Let's not overlook Deadman or The Spectre.) And now, with a wildly overhyped hand from Alex Ross, a new Captain America strides across the stands.
**Potential Spoiler Ahead**
**No, really, I mean it, unless you assumed that
the events of Captain America #33 were really sincere
and there would be no twist. **
**Spoiler: There was no twist.**
And perhaps that was the best twist Brubaker could have done. From the moment that Steve Rogers realized that Bucky Barnes was alive, from the moment he decided that he could not rest until he gave Bucky redemption, this book has headed towards one inescapable conclusion.
In the process, Brubaker (and some incredibly subtle artwork from Steve Epting and others) has almost redeemed Iron Man, too. Surely Tony Stark's guilt has played a huge role in the last few issues, and you can see one weight lifted off of his shoulders knowing that against his own policies, he is doing the right thing by honoring Steve Rogers' last wishes.
Thus has Brubaker taken an event many considered to be crap and carefully used it as fertilizer for the first great Captain America story of the 21st Century -- indeed, the one to make him viable for today's world. It's not that Steve Rogers was too idealistic; it's that all of us want to have that idealism about our nation and most of us struggle with it.
Though I haven't been a fan of the retconning of Bucky as having a hidden, darker agenda in World War II, doing the dirty work Steve didn't know needed doing, it works here as part of his need for redemption. He's going to struggle with the mantle, the ideals and yes, the unblinking goodness of his old mentor. We want to believe; Bucky needs to believe.
That's a pure and noble storyline, but Brubaker has also woven into it a dark and complex socio-economic commentary. Similar to what has been going on over in Iron Man, but far more believably done here (once you get past the Cosmic Cube possession business), a major villain has subsumed his identity and begun orchestrating attacks on the fabric of society by tipping certain economic dominoes.
It's chilling, really, and all too plausible on the heels of last week's economic headlines. In real life, we're panicking; if only we could join Tony Stark in blaming the Red Skull.
We might not exult with that evil former Nazi that Captain
America is dead. But with the new man carrying the shield,
we should cheer "Long live Captain America!"