Speaking of competence, anyone remember those days when superhero writers would have superheroes do things like care about whether or not civilians were kept safe in the latest brawl? I realize the recent Batman movies made about a gazillion dollars at the box office and were all grim-dark and violent, but even they recognized that Batman was supposed to actually save people and not kill them (apart from a few bad choices in some of the action scenes, but come on: that climactic scene in The Dark Knight where Batman takes on both the Joker’s goons and Gotham S.W.A.T. just to make sure no one gets killed? Forget Joker’s speeches, that’s the best damn scene in the movie), something most of the Big Two writers forget as they try to make their work “cool” and “super-serious.”
Here we have a series focused not on the brightly-colored spandex guys but the folks skulking in the shadows who do unpleasant things to each other, yet still has the decency to clear out a theater full of bystanders to ensure no one gets hurt, and it does so without Bucky making a big, attention-whoring spectacle of himself by shouting “NO ONE DIES!” at the top of his lungs like an eighth grader. Brubaker and Michael Lark even offset this with the villainous Leo Novokov shooting indiscriminately at Bucky and a tutu-wearing Black Widow (who Novokov kidnapped and brainwashed into working for him) while they fight. Yes, it’s not a unique way of revealing character, but it is a legitimate one. Put in a situation to keep fighting Black Widow until one of them gets knocked out or shot, Bucky instead says “Hell with that,” and makes his way up to the scaffold and give ol’ Leo a few knuckle sandwiches, giving readers the fictional equivalent of a precision strike, as opposed to screwing about in a pointless, distracting firefight and causing “collateral damage.” (Not a criticism of the Iraq war, just an idle thought…honest).
Lark’s typically efficient, workman-like pages stick with this running theme of competence I’ve got going, giving the theater fight scene/shootout the flow and clarity it really needed, while still managing to throw in a few nice touches–Bucky using his robo-arm to shield his head from bullets, or a transition from Bucky’s fists to Black Widow applying lipstick as he monologues how he’s “going crazy” waiting for a new lead suggesting a little bit of sexual frustration on his part–all of which is just shy of the intricate craftsmanship Paul Gulacy gave to his fight scenes in Shang Chi, Master of Kung-Fu or the Prey arc from Legends of the Dark Knight. Of course, Bettie Breitweiser’s alternating red/blue color scheme remains the visual star of the series, creating a striking, intense image out of the usual “hero jumps across the rooftops” panel: its minimalist design coupled with the sunset sky Breitweiser provides comes the closest to achieving the James Bond appeal of Jim Steranko this arc has seen yet. Brubaker buoys it all with a sense of pacing that shames his peers, even when the issue’s plot runs exactly the same as the last two; I don’t envy his replacement.