Waiting for the Trade – Death of Cap

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

The Death of Captain America:
The Death of the Dream

By Ed Brubaker, Steve
Epting and Mike Perkins

Collects Captain America #25 –
30

 

Why I Bought This: I
actually checked this out from the library. It will probably surprise a lot of people
here that for as much as I love Cap, I avoided the Bru run until last year when
I got the first two trades and yea, holy cow is it ever awesome! Anyway, now
I’m making my way through volume by volume and my local library branch has a
huge collection of Cap trades in stock at all times making it easy to read
these on a budget.

 

The Plot: Captain
America
is assassinated and we see how the fallout affects Sharon Carter, Bucky, Falcon
and Tony Stark while Red Skull and Dr. Faustus pull the strings from the
background.

 

Chapter 1 – In the aftermath of Civil War Cap has been arrested and is about to be publically
arraigned when he is shot four times by a rooftop sniper on the courthouse
steps. Bucky was staking out the court from a rooftop as well and is mistakenly
believed to be the sniper by Falcon. They briefly fight until Nick Fury radios
in with intel on the location of the real sniper: Crossbones. Bucky captures
Crossbones and has Falcon turn him over to SHIELD while he makes himself scarce.
Cap shares a few words with Sharon
then dies in the ambulance. As Sharon mourns Steve in the hospital bathroom an
agent of Faustus triggers her memory, and she realizes that while Crossbones
fired the first shot, she fired the next three—which were the fatal ones.

Chapter 2 – Sharon
quits SHIELD once Tony is appointed the new director. We see some conversation
between Sharon,
Falcon and Rick Jones at Steve’s wake. We learn Arnim Zola is working with the
Skull and Faustus. The New Avengers also mourn Steve. Bucky picks a fight in a
bar after watching coverage of Steve’s funeral on TV. Bucky then decides he
wants to assassinate Tony Stark.

Chapter 3 – Tony holds a press conference saying there will
be no new Cap and a museum is opened in his honor, which Bucky visits. Sharon wants to commit
suicide but Faustus’s post-hypnotic suggestions won’t let her just as they
won’t let her tell anyone that she killed Cap. Fury learns Bucky wants to kill
Stark and asks Falcon and Sharon
to take care of it (This is the era where Fury is off-camera in all titles as
he investigates Secret Invasion).
Bucky spooks SHIELD into moving Cap’s shield from where they are storing it and
then makes his move only to be intercepted by Black Widow. We learn they had a
forbidden love affair in Russia
years ago. In the present Bucky wins the fight and retrieves the shield as
Falcon and Sharon
watch from above without interfering. In the aftermath Widow tells Stark of her
past with Bucky and anticipates he will try to assassinate Stark.

Chapter 4 – Bucky suspects Skull was involved in Steve’s
assassination but to get proof he needs to break into the Hellicarrier. Cut to
said Hellicarrier where Prof. X is trying to read Crossbones mind for details
on Steve’s assassination without success. Meanwhile Red Skull’s daughter Sinn
is now leading a new Serpent Squad with members Cobra, Eel and a new (male)
Viper and they kill a bunch of stock brokers then blow up the building. Fury,
Sam and Sharon have lost Bucky’s trail so Sharon
decides they should investigate the Skull instead. We see Faustus is
hypnotizing more SHIELD agents. Tony receives a letter from Steve’s estate
lawyer. Bucky takes down some AIM scientists and shakes them down for
information on the Serpent Squad, whom we see have successfully infiltrated the
Hellicarrier thanks to Faustus’s hypnotized agent letting them in.

Chapter 5 – We see the aftermath of the Serpent Squad’s
attack via Tony and Maria Hill watching a recording of them killing bunches of
people before freeing Crossbones and making good their escape. Meanwhile Widow
is still trying to track down Bucky with little success. When Bucky learns of
Crossbones escape on the news he is unhappy and decides to investigate a
possible connection between Kronas Corporation (his most recent handlers as the
Winter Soldier when he was still under mind-control) and Red Skull. We see Red
Skull is gaining more control over the body he shares with Kronas CEO Alexander
Lukin. Falcon and Sharon shake down some AIM
agents, though Sharon’s
guilt over Steve is making her physically ill. Widow spots them departing and
deduces that they too are looking for Winter Soldier. Bucky confronts Lukin
wondering why he would work for the Skull only to learn too late that Lukin is
the Skull.

Chapter 6 – Tony pieces together that all of his agents who
were seeing SHIELD’s in-house psychiatrist have disappeared then learns the
psychiatrist himself is dead and has been for some time. (This is the man
Faustus replaced and impersonated though Tony does not know who is responsible).
Bucky takes down both Crossbones and Sinn as the Skull watches then Skull uses
a failsafe codeword Lukin left in Bucky’s brain to shut him down. Widow meets
with Falcon and offers to team up, while Sharon
learns she is pregnant. Bucky awakes as Faustus’s prisoner, and he’s preparing
to brainwash him. Tony goes through the records of the dead doctor’s patients
and finds Sharon’s
name and Tony pieces together that she killed Steve. He attempts to relay that
info to Widow but she and Falcon have just arrived at Sharon’s
house where Faustus’s conditioning again kicks in and Sharon shoot both heroes at point blank
range. We end seeing the letter Steve left for Tony in which he asks for two
things: that the Captain America name live on and that Tony makes sure Bucky
doesn’t fall back into darkness.

 
Critical Thoughts: This
is excellent. First of all these chapters are densely plotted by today’s
standards. Each chapter is filled with both rising action and character beats
as we follow a fairly big cast in the wake of Cap’s death. It’s amazing how
good this book is even though the protagonist is dead. Just an amazing bit of
ensemble writing that pays off in spades each time the stories from the
different groups intersect.

It’s funny I avoided Bru’s run for a long time because it
was centered around Bucky returning from the dead and let’s be honest on paper
that sounds like such a contrived comic book plot. Plus to be honest I never
cared about Bucky to begin with. It’s why I never liked Waid’s run because he
constantly had Cap dwelling on WWII and Bucky and I’m of the opinion that Cap’s
been thawed out long enough (probably 10 years Marvel time) that he should be
over that by now. (My favorite era of Cap is from roughly issues 250 – 350 by
Stern, DeMatteis and Grunewald; and each author told barely one Bucky story
each as they kept the focus on Cap in the present.) But what Bru’s run shows is
that any idea can be valid if you execute it right, and boy does he. Bucky’s
decision to assassinate Stark is a fantastic plot twist I didn’t see coming
that feels right inline with how Bru has recrafted the character. The
subsequent reveal of a long ago connection between Widow and Bucky also plays
out really strong in these chapters and adds a whole new layer to Bucky’s
revival. Good stuff all around on the Bucky front in this trade.

It’s become clichéd to call Epting’s art during this run
cinematic. But it is a cliché for a reason. The art is so visually fabulous and
fluid. When you combine it with Bru’s writing you get a really intense
espionage noir story that has just a dash of the superhero milieu. Anyway this
is book is fabulous with characters like Sharon
and Falcon having never been written better than they are here. (Sharon is another
character that I’ve had very little use for historically but she carries the
story here). The same with Faustus, a villain I’ve always found to be very
unconvincing as a threat to Cap in the past and yet here because of the
espionage overtones his psychological mind control shtick has never been more
effective.

I can come up with a few criticisms but they’re mostly
small. As a fan of Crossbones I don’t like how easily Bucky takes him down in
their two fights. Under Gru Crossbones was shown to be very close to Steve in
fighting skill on several occasions and also matched up pretty well against
Bullseye in “Streets of Poison.” I also doubt that Cobra would rejoin the
Serpent Squad after leading the Serpent Society, particularly if it meant
teaming with a new Viper since the true Viper (a.k.a. Madame Hydra) tends to
take revenge on those who try to usurp her place and Cobra has been shown to be
wary of her in the past. It’s a case where Bru is clearly paying homage to
Englehart’s Serpent Squad, and while I understand that impulse, I don’t know
that it fits the characters.

The only other criticism I would add is the cliffhanger in
the last chapter is off. Sharon
shooting the heroes is clearly where the chapter should end and not on Steve’s
letter, but again that’s a quibble. The scene where Sharon shoots the heroes
just as Tony is trying to warn Natasha plays out perfectly and makes me want to
rush to the library to get the next chapter and see what happens next.
Grade A.  Nuff Said