Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #21 (2006)

captain_america_vol_5_21There’s a lot going on here, all of it fun.

For the first time since World War II, Captain America and Bucky team up to take down a giant robot! And it’s just like the old days, aside from Bucky being the Winter Soldier, of course.

London superheroes Spitfire and Union Jack guest star and clobber a new Master Man (always good to clobber Nazis). Agent 13 (Sharon Carter) takes on Crossbones and Sin (the Red Skull’s daughter). And though his body his dead, the Red Skull shares a brain with an evil Russian, and somehow a non-corporeal Skull is far creepier than a corporeal one.

Issue #21 is a big action fest, though it builds on what’s come before, maintains ongoing story arcs, and continues to set up future threads. And during it all, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting successfully balance classic comic book fun with a modern tone.

An enjoyable time all around.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Red Menace (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #14 (2006)

captain_america_vol_5_14I was reading an entirely different comic the other day, one that won’t appear among these all-positive reviews. It wasn’t bad on the whole, but the villain totally fell flat. He seemed formidable, sure, but the writer primarily used exposition to sell this new nemesis. No organic connection between hero and villain ever developed, and the result was utterly generic.

Everything that storyline got wrong, “The Winter Soldier” gets right. The initial arc concludes in Captain America #14 (though the story is far from over), as Captain America finally confronts his friend-turned-enemy.

Bucky Barnes, now the Winter Soldier, isn’t some random villain shoehorning himself into Cap’s life—he was a major part of that life back in their shared glory days. And now Cap needs to not only stop Bucky from hurting others, but he also needs to save Bucky, too. Cap genuinely cares about his opponent. That adds a nice extra dimension to the usual hero/villain conflict—stopping the bad guy means saving the bad guy.

Well…maybe.

Oh, and Sharon Carter/Agent 13 and Falcon are in this, too. They’re a bit overshadowed in this issue, but their presence is always welcome. Lot of great characters in this book.

I remembered this series was great, but I had forgotten just how great. The folks behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe were wise to draw inspiration from this particular story.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

Cover: Alex Schomburg and Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Winter Soldier (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #12 (2005)

captain_america_vol_5_12Retconning is tricky business. The writers are basically meddling with fictional history—changing backstories to suit current stories. When dealing with the Marvel Universe’s elastic timeline, tweaks are often necessary to keep things modern. But when the adjustments are more ambitious, books can easily go off the rails…or, when done properly, they can further enrich characters and stories.

Fortunately, Ed Brubaker’s major retconning of the Captain America and Bucky Barnes partnership falls in the latter category. Marvel doesn’t really do teen sidekicks, but it hadn’t figured that out yet in the 1940s (it also hadn’t even figured out it was “Marvel,” yet—it was Timely Comics back then).

The established story for many years was that teenage Bucky was an Army orphan who stumbled upon Cap’s secret identity, and he convinced Cap to take him on as a partner. And then he died at the same time Cap began his decades-long hibernation on ice. So…Cap fought with the aid of an experimental Super-Soldier serum coursing through his veins, while Bucky fought with the aid of plucky youthful exuberance and somehow managed to keep up. Other than the part where Bucky dies, it never made any sense, even by comic book standards.

In the “Winter Soldier” arc, Brubaker rewrites and fleshes out that backstory. Issue #12, we see Cap in 1941 learning about Bucky for the first time, as his superior officer explains the rationale for Captain America having a young sidekick. Part of it is propaganda, making sure the symbol of Captain America appeals to the youth. But there’s also a more pragmatic side—Bucky’s a gifted natural fighter who has received advanced training, and he can perform some of those wartime dirty deeds that need doing, thereby allowing Cap to keep his red-white-and-blue hands clean.

Brubaker didn’t merely retcon Bucky’s backstory—he gave a previously underdeveloped character an identity worth having. The friendship between Cap and Bucky was genuine, and that’s key, but otherwise the Bucky we had known was just the propaganda front. Turns out he was really Captain America’s secret weapon.

And now that secret weapon is aimed at Cap himself. It’s a rich conflict indeed.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Steve Epting and Michael Lark

Cover: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Winter Soldier (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #2 (2004)

captain_america_vol_5_2I reviewed the first issue of this series over the summer and was reminded just how fantastic Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America was. So it’s past time I resumed re-reading, and issue #2 validates that decision.

Brubaker’s portrayal of Cap is spot-on, and the excellent artwork of Steve Epting and Michael Lark bolsters the writing’s effectiveness. Captain America has gravitas here (which will make key events later in the run all the more meaningful), and he never seems like anything less than a hero.

Cap and SHIELD investigate the assassination of an old enemy, one who has tried to kill them all a ridiculous number of times over the decades. No great loss for the world, but the death brings Cap no joy. Though not exactly torn up, he feels the loss of someone who had played a major role in his life. And yeah, he’s appropriately skeptical, given death’s unreliability in the Marvel Universe. It all combines into a reaction that’s perfectly in character, and perfectly human, while further enhancing that gravitas.

I’ll have to follow through with this series, too. (What’s one more to juggle?)

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Steve Epting and Michael Lark

Cover: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Winter Soldier (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #1 (2004)

Captain_America_Vol_5_1Of course I was going to review a Captain America comic on the Fourth of July. What do you think I am, some kind of commie?

Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting had an absolutely fantastic run on a (yet again) relaunched Captain America title, and the quality shows right from the start. Between the Red Skull being at large and the Avengers having recently disbanded, Cap is on edge and feeling guilty about all the soldiers he couldn’t save. And the Skull is indeed up to something.

But what really sells this first issue is the great twist at the end, which hints at a character who will play a major role throughout the series.

Brubaker’s writing is in top form, and Epting’s grounded art style is a perfect fit for the world of soldiers and spies. They make a terrific team and a thrilling Captain America.

Issue #1 kicks off the “Winter Soldier” arc, a title moviegoers will recognize. Though they share similarities, the comics and movie tell different stories. Both are well worth your time.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Winter Soldier (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Catwoman #12 (2002)

Catwoman 12Catwoman has had quite a few solo series over the years, but none was better than Ed Brubaker’s noir take on the character, particularly in the first two years when the late, great Darwyn Cooke set the artistic tone.

Cooke’s clean, energetic style freed poor Selina from the over-objectification she’s often subjected to. This series was never about cheesecake—it was about a unique woman, one comfortable in morally gray areas, trying to do her part to improve her neighborhood. Cameron Stewart soon took over the art, and he admirably continued the general look and feel that Cooke established.

Issue #12 kicks off what’s arguably the pinnacle of the run. It’s a relatively quiet issue that spends quality time with the supporting cast, which Brubaker did an excellent job of fleshing out. That effort went a long way toward making Catwoman feel like the center of her own world rather than an extension of Batman’s.

And when faces from the past return to Selina’s life, we can trust that Brubaker and Stewart will be sending us on a thrilling ride. And yes—the next several issues fulfill that promise.

Catwoman at her best, no Batman necessary.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Cameron Stewart

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Catwoman vol. 2: No Easy Way Down (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up