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Re-reading Captain America: The Winter Soldier — Conclusion: Days Gone By

October 10th, 2014
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After having so thoroughly enjoyed the second Captain America film, The Winter Soldier (click here for my review), I have been re-reading Ed Brubaker’s lengthy run on the Captain America comic-book series that inspired the film.  Click here for part I of my re-read, click here for part 2, click here for part 3, and click here for part 4.

Steve Rogers is dead and Bucky Barnes has assumed the mantle of Captain America.  But that doesn’t mean that everyone’s troubles are over…

Time’s Arrow (Captain America #43-45) — following the dramatic conclusion to the eighteen-issue-long The Death of the Dream story-line (in Captain America #25-42), it’s not surprising that the next story-line felt like something of a letdown to me.  Having a fill-in artist (Luke Ross) didn’t help either, that seems like a poor choice.  When these issues were originally published I was very bored by them, though in hindsight they read much better.  I can also now recognize that Mr. Ross does fine work on the artwork.  He’s no Steve Epting, but his work feels very much of a fit with that of Mike Perkins & Butch Guice, the other two rotating artists on the book.

This story-line brings back classic Captain America bad-guy Batroc the Leaper, and while Mr. Brubaker & Mr. Ross try their best to take the character seriously, he’s still pretty silly.  More interesting is the mystery connected to an old Invaders caper from 1942, in which Bucky and the Torch saved a Chinese boy genius.  It seems that, years later, the Winter Soldier killed the man’s wife, and so the now-elderly genius is plotting vengeance on Bucky/Captain America.

At first this three-parter seems like a fairly inconsequential stand-alone story, but things change in the final pages of issue #45 as we see that Batroc’s employers have managed to acquire the remains of the original Human Torch, Cap & Bucky’s former ally in the Invaders during WWII.  This leads right into the next three-parter:

 Old Friends and Enemies (Captain America #46-48) — Steve Epting finally returns in issue #46, which caused me much rejoicing at the time that issue originally came out.  That, along with a kick-ass cover of Cap fighting Namor, made me much more excited about issue #46 when it was originally published than I’d been about the previous three issues.  (Though now I know that, sadly, issue #46 would be Mr. Epting’s final issue on the series.  I wish he had continued through issue #50, but that was not to be, though he would contribute covers up through issue #49.)

With the remains of the Original Human Torch in the hands of the Chinese evil genius Professor Zhang Chin, Bucky recruits the only other surviving member of the Invaders, Namor the Sub-Mariner, to assist him in a rescue.  The two sneak into the Professor’s laboratory in China, but things go wrong — in part because Bucky is a wanted man in China as a result of murders he committed there years ago during his brainwashed days as the Winter Soldier.

I love the pairing of Bucky and Namor, and Mr. Brubaker writes Namor really well.  I like this version of Namor, arrogant but also fiercely loyal to his friends.  This Namor also has a sharp, dry wit, which is a lot of fun.  Meanwhile, Mr. Brubaker continues to be able to mine a lot of fun out of the Bucky-Natasha pairing.  It’s interesting to see how Bucky’s nobility and guilt causes him to try to keep secrets from Natasha, but of course she’s a super-spy so is able to see right through him.  I like how clever Mr. Brubaker shows Natasha to be, and how loyal she is to Bucky, despite all that he has done in the past as the Winter Soldier.  She too has done many morally ambiguous things during her life.  These two are a great pairing.

The Daughter of Time (Captain America #49) — This issue serves as a nice epilogue to this whole first long run of Mr. Brubaker’s time writing Captain America.  The focus in this issue shifts back to Sharon Carter, and her attempt to return to some semblance of a normal life following her long abduction by the Red Skull, the brainwashing she suffered at the hands of Dr. Faustus, and her complicity in the death of Steve Rogers, the man she loved.  But Sharon is unable to find peace.  She is haunted by what she’s done, and also by the missing pieces of her memory.  By the end of the issue, she has discovered the truth about the baby she lost.

I am glad to see Sharon back with her full memory by the end of this issue.  I tend to hate amnesia/mind-control stories.  I think all of the mind-games caused by Dr. Faustus and his control of Sharon has worked in this long story-line, but I am glad Sharon wasn’t left without a memory of what had happened for too long.  I’m happier seeing the character face what has happened, so we can see the drama of her trying to work through that, rather than being left blissfully unaware.

I love that we see Sharon visiting her elderly aunt Peggy Carter, the woman with whom Steve fell in love back in WWII.  I am glad that Mr. Brubaker didn’t ignore that important piece of back-story.  Sharon’s scene with the elderly, forgetful Peggy is quite poignant.

Days Gone By (Captain America #50) — This stand-alone story is a nice pause, as Bucky — now fully in the role of Captain America — celebrates his birthday while hunting down some bad-guys.  Meanwhile, in flashback, several other momentous birthdays of Bucky’s.  We see his birthday in 1941 when the sixteen year-old Bucky, jailed at Camp Lehigh for starting a bar brawl, is recruited to be Captain America’s partner.  We see his birthday in occupied Poland in 1943, in which Toro accidentally blows the Invaders’ cover in an attempt to show Bucky a good time on his eighteenth birthday.  And we see Steve and Bucky celebrating Bucky’s twentieth birthday together in London in 1945, just weeks before the terrible confrontation with Baron Zemo that would result in Bucky’s being thought killed and Cap’s being frozen in ice for decades.

There’s nothing particularly revelatory in this one-issue story, but it’s a warm character piece and a nice look back at Bucky’s long history.  I quite liked it.

This anniversary issue also contains a well-illustrated history of Captain America & Bucky, written & illustrated by Marcos Martin, as well as a humorous salute to Bucky & Cap written and illustrated by the great Fred Hembeck.  I used to LOVE Mr. Hembeck’s cartoons in the Marvel Age magazine when I was a kid.  It was a delight to see him included in this issue.

And with that, this portion of my re-reading of Ed Brubaker’s long Captain America run is drawing to a close.  Mr. Brubaker would remain on the Captain America title for several years to come (and he’d also write some spin-off Cap titles as well), and I do plan on re-reading those soon.   My memory is that this first fifty issues was the best part of Mr. Brubaker’s run, and that while there were some highlights in his later issues, nothing came close to the fun and thrill of these initial years on the book.  I am eager to see if I still feel that the case, or whether I will appreciate Mr. Brubaker’s later stories more on a re-read.

But for now I am taking a pause.  I’ve already begun my next big comic-book re-reading project, going back through the entire run of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and all of his spin-off titles (B.P.R.D., Abe Sapien, Witchfinder, Lobster Johnson, etc.).  I am already deep into it and having a heck of a time (should have said a hell of a time), and I can’t wait to tell you all about it…

 

The issues discussed in this post are collected in Captain America: The Man With No Face and Captain America: Road to Reborn.

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