The legendary “long run” in mainstream superhero comics is mainly a thing of the past. Gone are the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s 10+ years on Fantastic Four. The modern market cannot seem to support such enthusiasm, not to mention the fact that the creators themselves often wish to simply move on. But every once in a while, there’s someone who manages to break through – to stick with a character so long they become synonymous with them, and that makes it a little harder to deal with when they eventually do part company. Like with Captain America.
Ed Brubaker has been writing Captain America since 2005. His last issue of the series was released just a month ago, after an impressive seven years. This latest trade, the last of Brubaker’s mighty run, wraps up the “New World Orders” storyline and delivers a punchy final few issues.
With the sweeping hand of Marvel NOW! looming over everything, there are a few unfortunate signs of rushed work. It feels like Brubaker’s plans for interesting new villain Bravo were brought to fruition earlier than intended. The sci-fi “Discordians,” while very much in the vein of old-school Kirby-Simon fantasies, are somewhat lacking as noteworthy antagonists. They show up, blast stuff, then crumble to nothing. While we are assured that, yes, this is all part of Bravo’s plan, it feels too obviously like flashy distraction. And the overall plot, to turn Americans against Captain America, is hardly unique. In fact, using mind-control makes it even less creative.
Nevertheless, there is a reason Brubaker has written Cap for so long: he knows the character so well. Having his people turn against him visibly weighs on Steve Rogers. This reaction is what really sells the story; showing us who Steve is at his core. A man who has only ever wanted to help. It is a resonant reminder for these “countdown” issues.
Other characters don’t fare as well. There is a pointless, albeit frictious, love triangle caused by Cap’s ex Diamondback, and while current flame Sharon does get some juicy turmoil to deal with, it is not given enough time to air before she returns to her normal, cool-headed self. Falcon and Dum-Dum Dugan are, as always, nothing more than buddies for Cap to talk to.
The action too, is a big sell here. Brubaker has always known how to write a good fight scene, and these are handled gracefully by penciller Scot Eaton, without losing any of their dynamism. There are also some grand-scale explosions and landscape damage, portrayed with the same evocation of thrill.
Just when you think Brubaker’s going out with a powerful, yet rote, bang, he hits you with that finale. The last issue is basically Steve sitting and telling his life story. Compared to pace of the narrative in the rest of this collection, it feels like a slow to a crawl. But, as I said, Brubaker knows his Cap. Getting Steve Epting, the original artist on this run, back just adds to the heart that went into this issue. Ironically, it serves as a great introduction to the man wearing the flag, and makes you realise just how much you’ll miss this writer on this character.