Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

Captain America: No
Escape

written by Ed
Brubaker, illustrated by Jackson Guice & Mitch Breitweiser

collects Captain America
606-610

 

Why I Bought This: Baron
Zemo is the villain who killed Bucky. If you are going to bring Bucky back from
the dead then sooner or later this is the natural story to tell, and of course
I wanted to read it.

 

The Plot: Baron
Zemo (son of the original) learns Bucky is back from the dead, and he’s not
happy about it.

(spoiler below)

 
Chapter 1 – It begins with a chance meeting between Zemo and
the Ghost—an Iron Man villain who is a master of uncovering secrets; and does
he have a doozy to share with Zemo about the new Captain America. Meanwhile
Cap (Bucky) and Falcon are fighting the Wrecking Crew. Falcon’s narration tells
us Bucky has been erratic since their last mission wherein Bucky had to shoot
and presumably kill the 1950s’ Cap (who had joined the Watchdogs and become a
terrorist but was still wearing the Cap costume); and indeed we see
confirmation of the narration as Bucky’s recklessness allows the Wrecking Crew
to escape. Sam talks to Steve as he thinks only Steve can get Bucky to talk
about what’s bothering him. Meanwhile Bucky is having nightmares about killing
the 50s’ Cap. Meanwhile Zemo is recruiting old Nazi super villains that used to
work for his father. Steve, Sam and Bucky are having drinks at a bar where Cap
and Sam give Bucky advice. They leave and Bucky is drunk even though he only
had two beers. Sam offers to get Bucky’s motorcycle for him so he won’t have to
drive. When Sam puts the key in the ignition it explodes. Zemo & Fixer
watch from the roof, where Zemo reveals the bomb was not meant to kill Sam,
just injure him enough to screw with Bucky’s head. We then see a flashback from
two days earlier where Zemo breaks into a prison to meet with Sinn and get all
the information she has on Bucky. 

Chapter 2 – Falcon is rushed to the ER where Bucky is
punching walls in his rage at Falcon taking a bomb that was seemingly meant for
him. Just then Iron Hand Hauptman (the Nazi villain Zemo recruited last issue)
attacks Bucky at the Hospital, and with Bucky still being drugged/drunk lays a
beating on him. Bucky briefly turns the tide because his cyborg arm is stronger
than the villain’s iron hand but then reinforcements arrive in the form of a
platoon of Nazis wearing full-on WWII uniforms. Bucky brutally beats the foot
soldiers into oblivion until Steve arrives to stop him, at which point we see
Bucky was hallucinating and he just beat up the local cops. Hauptman also
escaped during the confusion. Medical tests show Bucky wasn’t just drugged, he
was injected with a nanotech virus that can release additional drugs into him
as needed. The Avengers use an EMP to kill the nanos. Steve and Black Widow
brainstorm with Bucky on who could be behind this. Meanwhile the news is
running with the story of Cap brutalizing cops, and asking questions about who
this is new Cap is and who he is accountable to. Bucky is about to rush out and
confront the media when Natasha stops him by noting that is what the mystery
villain obviously wants him to do. They backtrack for clues and decide to look
into the female bartender to see if she drugged him. While they investigate,
Steve calls to say Sam is out of critical condition, adding to the heroes
deducing that everything happening is meant to enrage and distract Bucky since
otherwise a bomb should have killed Sam at that range. Natasha heads up to the
apartment of the waitress and the door explodes. This time as Bucky rushes in
to help he is met with a laser blast followed the debut of a new, female
Beetle. Meanwhile in the cliffhanger Zemo meets with an ex-KGB agent and
purchases film of the Winter Soldier.

Chapter 3 – Beetle has a brief fight with Bucky and Widow
but in her own words this is her first day as a super villain so despite the
superior firepower she’s easily outmatched. She realizes this and tries to fly
away but Bucky catches her in midair and KOs
her. They take her to the Raft prison, where Fixer works as a Thunderbolt. When
the heroes go to question her in costume she calls Cap “Bucky” and he loses his
temper again. She unnerves him more by reciting his real name and history until
Widow steps in. Beetle reveals she isn’t working for herself but little else to
Widow. Zemo contacts Fixer on a secure line and he’s okay with Beetle talking
to the heroes since she doesn’t know enough to upset his plans, and besides
he’s already set the next step in motion. Widow offers Beetle a plea bargain
but Beetle laughs in her face. Afterwards Bucky notes they got the information
they needed; they just learned that whoever is targeting him is after him
because he is Bucky and not because he is Captain America. They work through the list
of villains who know Bucky’s secret identity before Natasha hits on Zemo. Just
then a horde of reporters rushes Bucky on the street in his civilian identity questioning
him on 1-being Captain America,
2-Being Cap’s original WWII partner and 3-being the soviet assassin Winter
Soldier. Furthermore Zemo leaked to the media Winter Soldier’s training films
he acquired last chapter leaving little doubt to the public that the current
Captain America
is a former Soviet traitor.

Chapter 4 – Sam checks himself out of the hospital after
seeing the news reports, and he and Steve head off to find Bucky. Meanwhile
Widow talks Bucky into going into hiding until she can decode Zemo’s next move,
but as Bucky is packing up his belongings at his apartment he finds a note from
Zemo challenging him to a fight “where he was born.” That Zemo would come into
his house is the last straw and Bucky heads out to meet him, no longer caring
if it is a trap. Steve, Sam and Natasha find the note to try and figure out
where Zemo wants to meet Bucky. Zemo sends Iron Hand to slow them down, who
bazookas Bucky’s apartment as an opening salvo. Bucky arrives at Camp LeHigh
(where he was trained to be Cap’s partner) and finds Zemo waiting for him;
though Zemo says this is not the location he meant in his note. We cut back and
forth between the two fights. Zemo uses tech to keep Bucky on the defensive,
while it takes all three heroes to eventually overcome Iron Hand; and that
fight only ends when Steve accidentally breaks his foe’s titular hand thinking
it was a cyborg hand and not an iron glove. Bucky’s fighting skill takes Zemo
down but Zemo is playing possum and uses tech to shut down Bucky’s cyborg arm.
The fight doesn’t last long after that as Zemo shoots Bucky with a laser gun
for the KO. Bucky wakes up on a plane with Zemo revealing he is taking him to his
father’s castle where Bucky originally died.

Chapter 5 – Cap (Steve) figures out where Zemo is taking
Bucky. Cut to Bucky waking up on the island, dressed in his original costume
just outside of Zemo’s castle. Zemo has thugs dressed as Nazi’s for Bucky to
fight before he enters the fray himself wielding Cap’s shield. Zemo claims he
isn’t doing this for his father, but because Bucky does not deserve redemption.
Bucky wins the fight and is about to decapitate Zemo before thinking better of
it. Zemo says Bucky is still a killer and not a hero like Steve then hits a
button activating a trap in his castle to KO Bucky. When Bucky wakes up he is
of course tied to a replica WWII airplane with a bomb on a timer. Zemo launches
the plane, and while Bucky can’t see the timer he knows it will blow up in the
same spot as last time allowing him to estimate how much time he has to escape.
Bucky escapes as the plane explodes in midair. When he swims to shore the Cap
costume and shield are waiting for him but Zemo is gone. An hour later the
other heroes arrive to take Bucky home, who despite all Zemo put him though
realizes Zemo is right about one thing—he will need to earn his redemption.

 

Critical Thoughts:
I liked this comic book a lot, which I suppose is par for the course at this
point on the Brubaker Cap trades. In
general I find Zemo to be a very interesting villain. Historically he is Cap’s
#2 foe thanks to both the killing of Bucky and the legendary Avengers Under Siege story. While still
a Nazi, Zemo is in many ways a much more interesting character than the Red
Skull. I enjoy a good Cap vs. Skull story but generally Skull’s goals are
always the same, whereas Zemo has a lot more nuance to him thanks to years of
appearing in the Thunderbolts and his
schemes tend to be more elaborate than the Skull’s. This book is a perfect
example of that as Zemo’s scheme unfolds across every chapter showing him
outmaneuver and manipulate the heroes time and again. I also like how Zemo’s
resources and allies pay heed to both his father’s continuity in WWII and his
own with the Thunderbolts. It’s a credit to the writing that this book ends in
the most obvious comic book way possible (Zemo ties Bucky to a death trap that
recreates an iconic prior story) and yet the journey to get to that point still
feels deliciously complex.

That also brings us to Zemo’s motivation. I think the
dialogue in the finale hits just the right note of harkening back to the themes
explored with Zemo in Thunderbolts—a
book at its core about redemption, and in Zemo’s case his duality with being
raised that he was “born better” while witnessing his teammates embrace that
chance for redemption in a way he never does. This is the rare story allowing a
character to pivot back to his roots (in this case as an arch villain) without
feeling like a retread. It’s always tricky when a redeemed villain backslides.
I personally still hate what happened with Sandman in the Spidey titles. In this case however I think it fits. I mean on a
surface level Zemo is a Nazi so I don’t think many readers ever bought into his
redemption anyway. Beyond that even in Thunderbolts
he never fully became a hero at any time; even when he comes closest to
that role (circa issue 100) he still kills a true hero in Photon
(Legacy/Captain Marvel v3.0) albeit for the greater cosmic good. Bucky’s
resurrection is the perfect catalyst to make Zemo backtrack given his
longstanding daddy issues. Brubaker’s writing fleshes out the details of what
should be obvious, and even so he lets Zemo depart ambiguously by leaving the
Cap identity behind for Bucky to reclaim.

As for the heroes, by this point Bru had been writing these
characters for five years so it should not be a surprise that all of them read
true. Basically if you like Bru’s prior interpretations of Steve, Bucky, Falcon
and Widow then this is more of the same. If you like his style of espionage
flavored super-heroics this delivers on that front, although not to the degree
of his earliest work on the title. I liked Bru’s take on these characters before,
and that has not changed.

One last bonus kudo is this marks the first appearance of
the female Beetle. She’s interesting enough here for a secondary villain making
her debut. The scene where she taunts Bucky in prison is a good one. But of
course the real treat is for those of us reading Superior Foes of Spider-man where she is one of
the lead characters. In the second trade of that series you get to see these
same events from a different perspective, some of which is hysterically funny
and yet the writing of both series is such that the askew view in that title
does not diminish the dramatic tension of this trade.

 

Grade: A. This
book delivered exactly what the premise promised—letting us see what happens
when the villain who killed Bucky decades ago suddenly learns Bucky is alive—in
a satisfying way.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Secret Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

Secret Avengers (2):
Eyes of the Dragon

Written by Ed
Brubaker, Illustrated by Mike Deodato & Will Conrad

Collects Secret
Avengers #6-12

 

Why I Bought This: It
was $6 at BAM. Given the quality of Bru’s Cap run, I was interested to see what
he would do with an Avengers title, particularly one with Cap in the lead and
an espionage-based concept.

 

The Plot: Shang
Chi’s father (Fu Manchu) has returned from the dead and it is up to the
Avengers to stop him.
 

(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – Shang Chi is sleeping when he is awoken by a
ninja attack. He recognizes them as his father’s ninjas, even though his father
is supposed to be dead. Shang Chi has the fight well in hand, when another
Asian hero “Prince of Orphans,” who can transform into green mist arrives to
help. We learn the Prince was sent in by Cap to retrieve Shang Chi. We
flashback to two days ago when the Prince found a temple of slaughtered monks
and a missing magic scroll that can raise the dead. Back in the present Cap and
Shang Chi come up with a plan of attack to stop Fu Manchu from being
resurrected. This leads to Cap, Widow and Shang Chi breaking into a museum to
preemptively steal some other magic artifact only to be attacked by more
ninjas. Cut to the Shadow Council, where we see Fu Manchu is indeed walking
about though he is only ‘half-alive” and we get a close up of his undead face.

Chapter 2  – ThenNinjas
overrun the heroes and manage to teleport away with Shang Chi. Cap is
surprisingly okay with this as we learn Ant Man (v3.0) is hidden in Shang Chi’s
robe and Ant Man’s helmet is linked to the Hellicarrier. The plan was to track
the ninjas but when they want to behead Shang the heroes are forced to escape.
Meanwhile Valkyrie and Orphan Prince are in China looking for more magic items
and they too get ambushed by a few ninjas. The heroes easily win and bring back
a prisoner for Cap and Widow to interrogate. Meanwhile the Shadow Council is
unhappy so they decide to unleash John Steele on Cap, whom the narration tells
us was America’s
first super soldier.

Chapter 3 – We get a little back-story on Steele and Cap in
WWII as Steele plans a distraction so he can kidnap Shang Chi. Meanwhile Beast
researches and discovers Shang Chi’s father is centuries old and his original
name is Zheng Zu (because Marvel lost the license to Fu Manchu decades ago).
Also the secret to his immortality is to drain the life of family members. Sharon alerts Steve that Zheng Zu is committing a major
terrorist attack in broad daylight in Hong Kong.
The heroes respond and once engaged Shang is suspicious if this is really the
work of his father. Cut to the Hellicarrier where Steel and Max Fury (a rogue
Nick Fury LMD) break in to attack Sharon.
Zheng Zhu blows up Steve’s plane so the heroes cannot go back to aid her. Shang
Chi fights his way to dad only to discover he is a hologram. Beast and Sharon lose their fight.
War Machine and Steve fly in to make the save but its too late Steele has
escaped with Sharon.
He’s left Steve a video offering a hostage exchange of Sharon for Shang Chi.

 Chapter 4 – We get
Cap’s take on Steele’s origin: he dates back to the Civil War and while he
doesn’t have Steve’s fighting skill he does have super strength and
invulnerability similar to Luke Cage. He’s been MIA since 1943. Meanwhile Max
Fury tries to recruit Sharon
to the Shadow Council. Meanwhile Shang tells Steve he is willing to make the
exchange. Cap & Shang meet with Steele on a rooftop. He turns over Sharon and shoots Shang
in the head. That leads to Cap and Steele going one on one and surprisingly
Steele wins, at which point the rest of the team shows up to make the save.
Steele manages to escape while the heroes are occupied with generic thugs. Back
at villain HQ Shang and his father have a moment with Fu Manchu promising to
sacrifice his boy at nightfall. In the cliffhanger we see Moon Knight managed
to sneak into the villains’ hideout disguised as one of the thugs.

Chapter 5 – The heroes crash the sacrificial ceremony. This
time Cap leaves Steele to Valkyrie while he takes on Max. Orphans materializes
and disrupts Fu Manchu’s spell causing him to self combust. Max escapes. Steele
manages to fight Valkyrie to a stalemate but when War Machine lends a hand the
heroes overwhelm him. In the epilogue the door is left open for Shang Chi to join
the team, while Cap visits Steele in prison to ask why he switched sides.

Chapter 6 – Cap uses VR to access Steele’s memories. This
leads to the usual Marvel WWII flashback tale of Nazis in castles. This time
they were trying to summon monsters. Steele becomes aware of Rogers in his brain and breaks free of his
chains in real life.

Chapter 7 – Cap and Orphan Prince subdue Steele with ease.
We return to the VR simulation and see how the Shadow Council captured Steele
and then with an occult ritual summoned the Abyss, who took possession of his
body. At the conclusion of the flashback Steele is himself again and agrees to
join the team.

 

Critical Thoughts:
This is a fairly mundane comic. It’s not bad per se, but it is rather run of
the mill in both action and characterization. There are not any major plot
twists. The threat never seems all that serious. Even the few new characters we
are given are not interesting at all. Furthermore on the latter point Prince of
Orphans is a terrible name for a superhero, while Steele is a yet another
heretofore unknown Super Soldier for Cap to deal with. I’ve complained about
this once before but the point still stands: Cap has way too many foes that are
variations of his powers and origin; one of these is fine, nearly a dozen is
ridiculous especially since no one stays dead in the Marvel Universe so you can
just use the existing ones if this point if you need to tell this story yet
again.

Also on the continuity police front,  why is Fu Manchu dead?
I’m assuming he died when Shang Chi’s 70s book ended (which I never read). But
he was alive and running his empire in the excellent 2000 era team book Marvel Knights. And since Marvel doesn’t
really own the name to the character and Shang Chi doesn’t appear very often I
find it doubtful that he died since that series’ premature cancellation. (Also
an interesting footnote is that series also had a rogue Nick Fury LMD as one of
its recurring villains, so that makes it twice as unforgiveable for an editor
not to catch this point since one could argue Max Fury first appeared in that
series too).

The only positive thing I have to say about this book is the
art in the two fight scenes with Steele is very dynamic.

 

Grade C-. Again
not a terrible comic but there is no reason to go out of your way to read this
either.


Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Happy new year all

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

Captain America: Winter
Soldier ultimate collection

By Ed Brubaker and
Steve Epting.

Collects Captain America #1-9
and 11-14

 

Why I Bought This: I
mentioned this before but I actually avoided this book for a long time. I don’t
think I picked it up until 2012 or so. Because let’s be honest, the idea of
Bucky comes back from the dead as a cyborg assassin screams comic cliché/fan
fiction—on top of which I never particularly gave a crap about Bucky to begin
with. Chances are if you’ve read one flashback Cap and Bucky in WW2 story,
you’ve read them all; most of them involve old scientists in castles behind
enemy lines (according to Marvel, WWII was fought with more castles than the
middle ages). The net result is Bucky has always been just a plot point in
Steve’s backstory rather than an actual character so I’ve never particularly
cared when other writers would dig up his corpse for some flashback story or
heretofore unknown threat from the past emerging. Of course every review written
gushed over Brubaker’s run in general and this arc in particular. Being the Cap
fan I am I finally caved and bought this.
The Plot
Captain America’s world moves more fully into espionage and terrorism when a
mysterious assassin known as Winter Soldier kills the Red Skull under orders
from Russian general Alexander Lukin in a bid to claim the power of the Cosmic
Cube forcing Cap and SHIELD to investigate.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Years ago the Red Skull met Russian general
Alexander Lukin for the first  time as
Lukin sold him weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lukin also
has a frozen cyborg in his possession that intrigues the Skull, but Lukin says
he will only trade it for the Cosmic Cube. Skull notes he too is looking for
the Cube and if he got it he certainly wouldn’t trade it. Cut to the present
where the Skull has recovered an imperfect Cosmic Cube. He intends to jump
start its power by burning several cities to the ground. Steve meanwhile is
depressed about the death of Hawkeye and disbanding of the Avengers in “Avengers
Disassembled” so Sharon Carter checks in on him. She also notes his tactics
have been more extreme of late as he recently thwarted a hijacking of a train
and in the process hospitalized and killed the perps. Steve goes home and we
see the Skull has someone tailing him. Skull’s plotting is interrupted by a
phone call from Lukin who offers to buy the Cube from him. Skull turns him down
and is promptly assassinated by our mystery cyborg.

Chapter 2 – Crossbones is waiting on Red Skull to call. Cap
is having nightmares about Bucky dying in battle in WWII. Fury calls Cap to the
Hellicarrier where SHIELD has recovered Skull’s body. Their spy tech confirms
this is really Skull but Cap has his doubts. Cap flashes back to how he was
created to battle the Skull. Cap and Sharon
find some leads at the Skull’s house that lead them into the sewers where they
find Crossbones and some henchmen recruited from AIM however because of the
darkness of the tunnel the heroes never see Crossbones. After the heroes win
Crossbones overhears them talking about the Skull’s death. Fury’s forensic team
learns Skull had a Cosmic Cube and now it’s missing. Crossbones vows to burn
down several cities in memory of the Skull.

Chapter 3 – SHIELD is following more leads, while Cap keeps
having World War II flashbacks that end differently than they historically played
out. Union Jack reports Skull’s agents in London
were murdered and the firebomb stolen. Cap and Sharon track down and beat up the responsible
AIM agents, who stole the bomb because Skull’s henchmen within AIM stole it
from them first. Cap and Sharon spend some
downtime in Paris.
Meanwhile in Pittsburg Cap’s former partner Nomad is murdered outside of a bar.

Chapter 4 –Lukin’s Cube has very little power but it has
enough to help him in a corporate takeover meeting with Roxxon Oil. Cap
receives a call from Fury that upsets him and he departs immediately. Fury then
meets with Sharon
to reveal the assassin may be Nomad as his prints were found on the rifle used
to kill Skull though both feel that is awfully convenient. Cap is at Arlington Cemetery where the gravestones of two
former replacement Caps have been destroyed. Cap is attacked by Crossbones
while simultaneously having more weird flashbacks Crossbones beats Cap down but
denies destroying the graveyard, saying he got a call from a Russian telling
him where to find Cap. Bones realizes he has been setup as well and leaves. Sharon’s search for Nomad
has her find the unknown cyborg, who drops her with one punch.

Chapter 5 – Fury tells Cap the most likely Russian suspect
(based on Crssobones comments last chapter) is Lukin, who we are told heads the
international Kronas Corporation. Cap then tells a story of a WWII mission in Russia under a
Colonel Karpov whom Cap immediately dislikes because he tortures prisoners.
This is also the beginning of the Bucky was an assassin during the war retcon.
Anyway the mission goes south, Cap calls in the Invaders, and ultimately the
Red Skull is found in the village
of Kronas using a heat-beam
laser. The village burns to the ground and the weapon is destroyed but the
Skull escapes. After Cap left Karpov found the village’s soul survivor: a boy
named Alex Lukin whom he would raise and train. Of course Cap doesn’t know that
last part while Fury’s intel puts Karpov as 20 years dead. Cap heads off to
deal with his escalating weird memory problems while Fury has a classified
dossier that may “destroy Cap’s world.”

Chapter 6 – The mystery cyborg is in Philly setting a bomb
and leaving Nomad’s body behind as a scapegoat. He also had Sharon tied up in his trunk. We meet some
SHIELD agent whose been dating Sharon
and is worried she hasn’t checked in for 24 hours. Cap goes to Castle Zemo and
begins to remember being tortured with Bucky. His reverie is interrupted by
some Nazis who disappear as suddenly as they appeared. Cap begins to suspect
the Cosmic Cube is being used against him. He flashes back to Bucky’s death on
the plane with new details. He gets ready to fly home and is hit with a mental
image of Sharon
tied up. Cap arrives in Philly and easily rescues her. When he unties her she
tells him she’s seen Bucky (aka our mystery cyborg). Bucky could take a shot on
Steve but Lukin order him not to. Instead Bucky detonates the bomb just as Sharon’s new boyfriend
was attempting to deactivate it. The deaths caused by the explosion power up
Lukin’s Cube.

Chapter 7 – We see what Nomad was up to before he was
murdered. One year ago the super soldier serum in his blood began
disintegrating. As a result his powers, immune system and sanity will all fade
until he dies. He refuses to go to Cap and the Avengers for help. He eventually
tracks down Bucky v4.0 (a baby he used to dress like the original Bucky and
wear on a backpack while he fought crime in his 90s solo series) who is now in
first grade. He learns there are drug dealers operating near her school and
vows to take them down. For the most part he does pretty well except for when
he has blackouts and loses weeks and months at a time. And then one night is
waiting in a bar to meet with a source and Winter Soldier finds him and kills
him.

Chapter 8 – In 1945 a Russian submarine hears the Germans
broadcasting that they killed Cap and feel they are close enough to check it
out. In the present Fury presents Cap with photos of Bucky alive today as an
assassin and tells Cap that Bucky is the prime suspect in the firebombing of
Philly. Cut back to Philly the night before and Cap evacuates some survivors
and fights some AIM agents with their MODOC hive mind soldiers. In the present
Fury unveils the entire origin of Winter Soldier as a mythical KGB assassin
that is kept in suspended animation and only unfrozen for high profile
missions. Cut back to Philly where Cap saw a glimpse of Bucky at the end of his
fight though Winter Soldier did not recognize him and then disappeared. Back in
the present Steve flips out and breaks stuff as he accepts the truth, then
agrees to go on a SHIELD mission to capture Lukin—who they now fear has a
functional Cosmic Cube. Fury also tells Sharon
her boyfriend died in Philly. Flashback to 1945 where the Russians retrieve a
one-armed unconscious Bucky from the English Channel.

Chapter 9 – Crossbones breaks into a military base and
kidnaps a young girl. Cap and Sharon
have tension over the mission because she wants justice for her dead boyfriend
while Cap wants to save Bucky. Also this mission is off-book because Fury has
no evidence against Lukin–indeed all the evidence points to Nomad. They
assault the Kronas building on some private island off the coast of China.
When the heroes make it to the boardroom Cap loses his temper attacking Kronas
and screaming at him to tell him where Bucky is. Unfortunately the U.S. Vice
President’s Chief of Staff and the Assistant to the Secretary General of the UN
were both in a meeting with Kronas when this went down. They pull rank on Cap
and Fury who are escorted from the building. Meanwhile Crossbones reveals he
has freed the Red Skull’s daughter Sin.

Chapter 10 – Lukin is getting irritable and absent minded
and worries the cause is contact with the Cosmic Cube. At his home Cap receives
a top secret file on how Bucky was turned into Winter Soldier.

Chapter 11 – Lukin assembles a bunch of corporate heads to
auction of the Cube to, but it turns out to be a ruse and he uses the Cube to
brainwash them into signing over their companies to him. Later the Cube causes
him to have an episode and when his assistant tries to help him pick up the
Cube, Lukin goes all Gollum and murders him for touching the precious.
Meanwhile Cap, Sharon & Fury discuss the file, with Sharon still believing Bucky should be
killed. Steve leaves and recalls a mission with Bucky where they had to fight
zombie soldiers and how horrified Bucky was that American soldiers were used by
Nazis and forced to betray their ideals in life making Steve wonder if Bucky
would want to be killed after what’s been done to him. Steve’s reverie is
interrupted by the Falcon.

Chapter 12 – Steve talks over his troubles with Sam and the
two also note the Cosmic Cube never seems to grant wishes they way various
villains like the Skull expect, foremost among these examples being how the
Cube ended up making Cap and Falcon partners. Lukin meanwhile tasks Winter
Soldier with hiding the Cube. When Bucky leaves we see Lukin is hearing voices
who disagree with him. Cap, Falcon and Iron Man raid an AIM warehouse. They
capture a scientist and question him on how to track the Cosmic Cube. This
leads them to another Kronas facility, though for corporate reasons Tony Stark can’t
be part of an assault on Kronas. Cap radios where he is going to Sharon after he has
already left so the politicians can’t stop him this time. As Cap and Falcon
approach Winter Soldier gets a bead on them and despite a momentary hesitation Bucky
pulls the trigger.

Chapter 13 – Winter Soldier misses the mark when Redwing
warns the heroes to get out of the way. Cap’s shield then drives Bucky into
retreat. Sam takes on the generic thugs giving Cap a clear path to the long
awaited one-on-one showdown with Bucky. As they fight Cap tries to get Bucky to
remember. When that fails he drops his defenses to allow Bucky to pull the
trigger. Even that doesn’t work as Bucky shoots but Cap casually dodges and
then uses his Shield to take Bucky down and retrieve the Cube all in one throw.
Cap then uses the Cosmic Cube to restore Bucky’s memories. Sharon still wants justice for her friend but
Cap convinces her to drop it. Bucky tells Cap he’d have been better off dead
and in a fit off rage he grabs the Cube with his cyborg hand and crushes it.
This causes cosmic energy to pour out that seemingly disintegrates him. Cap
refuses to believe it, and indeed in the epilogue we see Bucky teleported
himself back to Camp
Lehigh. In the finale we
see Lukin talking to the voices in his head and when he looks in a mirror the reflection
that stares back is the Red Skull as their minds now share Lukin’s body.
Critical Thoughts:
If you haven’t read it, believe the hype for this is indeed as good as everyone
says it is. A good barometer is to watch the movie that bears its name. If you
liked the film then you will like this book. Best of all there are plenty of
similarities in tone but differences in details that you can watch the film and
still thoroughly enjoy this as its own experience.

The plotting is really good. One thing Brubaker does very
well is pace his reveals as he adds new intrigues or introduces additional
players so that this builds and reads far better than most comic book stories.
He is aided by Epting’s excellent cinematic art. All of the espionage elements
are plotted quite well, but it is the Bucky reveal done in stages that really
is superb. At the same time we got to see Cap’s reaction to it, so that the
second act with Steve over the edge and furious at Lukin is really good. Best
of all it feels in-character despite being new territory for Steve, which is
the best kind of character-based story-telling.

I supposed one could criticize this story by saying ‘well
it’s easy to build tension when you kill off longtime characters like Red Skull
and Nomad in the first three chapters’, but as with any story it’s the execution
that counts and in this case the way the murders unfold and reveal themselves
show much more narrative skill than simple shock value. Nomad is a character
that had not been relevant in a decade or two; and sure he is just killed in the
cliffhanger of chapter three at first, but then Bru goes back in chapter seven
and gives us a beautifully written standalone chapter on what the last few
months of Nomad’s life were like. As for killing the Skull, of course it is a
shock value up the stakes moment, but it also serves to deepen the mystery
since otherwise he’d be the de facto prime suspect in any plot with this much
scope and personal history for the protagonist.

I like the way Cap is written has having a network of
resources. Cap is often written as the most respected hero in the Marvel
Universe and an experienced soldier. So it makes sense that he would call upon
Union Jack or Iron Man or Falcon if they could be of help to him in a mission.
I think Cap’s often cooperative yet tense relationship with SHIELD is also
portrayed very consistently with established history in this volume. Certainly
the increased SHIELD presence fits into the espionage milieu Brubaker wants to
project.

One thing I don’t like is the Bucky was an assassin in World
War II retcon. It’s not so bad here, but future writers have portrayed Bucky as
borderline psychotic in newer flashback tales. I have two problems with it.
One, It undermines Cap’s character: as either he is a moron who doesn’t know
what his kid sidekick is up to, or he is complicit in letting a minor carry out
murders just so his own image isn’t tarnished—neither to me are acceptable for
Steve. Second, it undermines the impact of this story that Brubaker is telling.
If Bucky was always a psychotic killer then who cares if the Russians hypnotize
him and turn him into an assassin? Conversely, if Bucky was a superhero in the
past and now he’s been turned into a murder against his will that’s a lot more
powerful dramatically and tragic for his character.

Grade: A+.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade: Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

 
Captain America: Red
Menace ultimate collection

by Ed Brubaker; illustrated
by Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin

collects Captain America
15-21 and the Captain America 65th anniversary special

 

Why I Bought This: This
is the second of the Ed Brubaker Cap trades. Once I finally read the first one
I was like ‘hell yea, give me more.’ It also features the reintroduction of
Crossbones as a major antagonist and I always liked him in Gru’s run.

 

The Plot: The Red
Skull is dead but Crossbones and Skull’s daughter Sin intend to carry on his
legacy and make the world pay.

 

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Sin has been turned into a teenager and given
false memories by SHIELD. Crossbones kidnaps and tortures her until she remembers
her origin. Then they hook up.

Chapter 2 – Crossbones and Sin are in Kansas robbing banks and killing cops when
they stumble upon an AIM agent, which apparently was part of Crossbones’ plan.
A week later Sharon Carter calls in Steve to help capture them since the
villains have been killing their way across Kansas all week. Sharon
also says they can stop by a town in Iowa
where Bucky may have been spotted. Steve and Sharon notice the town in Iowa may be a little too
perfect. The official story is an unknown drifter’s car crashed into a building
and blew up and then he stole a truck and tore out of town. Through
investigating Steve and Sharon learn Bucky as Winter Soldier fought a giant
robot in town and that’s how the building was destroyed. Steve is so happy to
learn Bucky is alive he kisses Sharon
and they fall into bed together for the first time in years. They are awoken
when AIM agents break into their room claiming to need their help. 

Chapter 3 – So the AIM agents explain this town is a front
for an underground research lab of theirs. Last week Bucky uncovered and
destroyed a bunch of their prototypes. Then on the heels of that Sin and
Crossbones arrived and took over the lab by force. They intend to use weapons
of mass destruction found therein to do bad things and the AIM guy wants Cap
and Sharon to
stop them. Sharon
radios in more SHIELD agents and they decide to raid the base. However we see
the villains were monitoring the whole thing and wanted to draw the attention
of SHIELD. We get a firefight that includes Sin turning on a group of hive-mind
soldiers known as MODOC but Cap takes them out single-handedly because he’s
awesome like that. In the aftermath Sharon
learns Crossbones & Sin did not steal a single AIM weapon but they did
kidnap a SHIELD agent in the melee. Back in the town Cap figures out why Bucky
came here: the inn he and Sharon stayed at is owned by the daughter of a woman
Bucky loved in World War II. Cap learns Bucky asked to see the mother’s grave
“before it’s too late” and realizes Bucky is going to try to kill Alexander
Lukin (the man who controlled him as Winter Soldier) and does not expect to
survive the attempt. Crossbones and Sin meanwhile torture the SHIELD agent into
revealing that Lukin is the one who ordered the hit on the Red Skull and they
too decide it’s time for payback.

Chapter 4 – A flashback World War II issue shows how Bucky
gets wounded in action and left in the care of the girl whose daughter we met
in the last chapter. Meanwhile Cap and the Howling Commandos have to stop the
Red Skull from excavating a weapon that we learn was built by a mysterious
Baron 500 years ago. The legend is the Baron came to this small German town
from a foreign land, where he ruled over them in a castle and built marvelous
farming machines, primitive flying machines and a giant robot to guard the town
from harm. Skull unearths the robot which proves to be the very first Sleeper.
Cap destroys it, blowing up the castle in the process though of course there is
no trace of the Skull’s body. In the present we see Lukin is overseeing a
similar excavation as he has the Baron’s plans the Skull stole back in the War,
and at the bottom of the plans we see the mysterious Baron was in fact Dr.
Doom.

 
Chapter 5 – FYI Lukin and the Skull are sharing a body right
now. Two months ago Skull recruited a neo-Nazi who we learn is a descendent of
an unnamed WWII era ally of the Skull. In the present Cap arrives in London to
fill in former Invaders teammates Spitfire (super speed, still young) and Union
Jack (British super soldier, a descendent of the original) about Bucky being
back from the dead and Lukin. Bucky is also in London waiting for Lukin to speak at a
charity event in one week. Cap & friends break into Kronos (Lukin’s
company) facilities for intel. Meanwhile Crossbones and Sin hijack a private
plane to go to London.
Back with Cap and Union Jack who get ambushed by security who are fast enough to
take Jack down and give Cap a serious fight and then we see they are being led
by Master Man.

Chapter 6 – Lukin is watching everything and this is a new
Master Man: the neo-Nazi recruited by Skull last issue. Lukin has also set a
bomb on his boat that Cap and Master Man are fighting on so even if Cap
survives it will like he is pursuing an illegal vendetta against Lukin. Master
Man has Cap and Jack on defense though when Jack gets punched through a wall he
finds the bomb. Cap radios Spitfire in to assist and she evacuates the entire
boat before it detonates. Lukin releases the security footage of Cap and Jack
breaking into his boat to the media. The heroes are ordered to stand down by
MI-5 until Sharon
arrives and pulls rank. Cap is shaking down leads on Bucky, who meanwhile tails
Sharon and
learns what the heroes are up to. Sharon tracks
down the security force from last night only to find the dead bodies of both
the neo-Nazis and a bunch of RAID agents along with plans for an airstrike on London. Red Skull lets
Master Man know Cap finding the plans is part of his master plan.

Chapter 7 – Crossbones & Sin arrive in London
and decide to load their small plane with explosives and crash it into Kronas Tower
during the charity event. Cap wants all air traffic in London grounded but
being the plans they found are half burned and have no date on them all MI-5 can
do is increase airport security; Cap however is sure the charity event is the
day of the attack. Bucky investigates a lead in the London subway and is horrified by what he
finds. At the Charity event Lukin has spotlights and bi-planes circling his
building which Cap says is meant to distract the heroes so they will publically
fail again. Cap decides a blimp in the Kronas air show is the real weapon. On
the blimp Master Man and his thugs have killed the crew. Cap, Spitfire and
Union Jack confront him but in the melee the blimp catches fire. Winter Soldier
is about take a shot on Lukin but when he sees the blimp going down he drops
his gun to see if he can assist Cap. Steve orders the Invaders to bail out
promising that he can take down Master Man and steer the blimp into the Thames River
on his own. Steve successfully diverts the blimp but Master Man throws himself
and Steve out of it though Cap catches the edge of a building to save himself.
Just then Crossbones and Sin arrive and Lukin is worried as their kamikaze
attack is not part of his or Skull’s plan. However he presses a contingency
button and wakes up a Sleeper robot (which is what Bucky apparently saw in the
subway last issue). The robot takes out the plane (Crossbones and Sin had
already parachuted to safety) as Cap and Bucky look on in awe.

Chapter 8 – The Sleeper starts blowing sh*t up including the
Kronas building once Lukin is out of it. Cap attempts to take the fight to the
Sleeper while Sharon
runs Master Man over with her flying car. This also totals the car and leaves
her concussed, which is unfortunate for her because Crossbones & Sin are
right around the corner. Cap asks the Invaders to take on Master Man while he
deals with the Sleeper. Winter Soldier also attacks the Sleeper on his own and
quickly realizes he’s outmatched as this one is far more advanced than the
World War II flashback one in chapter 4. Cap saves him just in time and comes
up with a plan to pit the two villains against each other. The Invaders hit
Master Man with everything they have which only succeeds in enraging him. That
however works to their advantage because when he leaps at Spitfire she dodges
and Master Man ends up crashing through the Sleeper. Bucky tosses a grenade
into the hole and that destroys the robot. Meanwhile Crossbones is about to
execute Sharon
when the Red Skull shows up and tells him that is not part of his plan. Bucky
disappears in the smoke. The Red Skull releases a video taking credit for the
Sleeper attack, while Lukin holds a press conference condemning both heroes and
villains for letting their vendetta destroy large portions of London. Cap and Sharon head home, while Bucky makes contact
with Nick Fury for a new mission. In the cliffhanger Skull introduces Lukin to
Sin & Crossbones.
 

Critical Thoughts: This
is excellent. The only thing to really be said is everyone tells you Brubaker’s
run is great. And then you read it and it’s even better than everyone says.

I love this trade. In some ways I like it even better than
the first “Winter Soldier” trade. Sure that one is the bigger more important
historical story and its pushes Cap on a personal level like few stories ever.
I have not a bad thing to say about it. But for visceral action this story is
better. Bru’s spy espionage style works so well on this title and that tone pervades
every page of this but this time its being combined with a lot of traditional
comic book action elements and Silver Age Cap foes and it all blends together
perfectly so that if you are a longtime Cap fan it feels like you are reading
a timeless Cap story that also feelis fresh and modern.

This is best seen in those two final chapters which are just
everything I would ever want in a Captain
America
comic. I think Master Man has always been a strong second tier
villain for Cap so it’s good to have him back. I love the Sleepers. My love of
Captain America
is directly tied to Stan Lee’s original Sleeper story which I had a big giant
oversized coloring book of when I was a kid. I love Crossbones. He is one of
Gru’s better creations, and Brubaker keeps the spirit of the character the
same: ruthless, brutal and if anything more deadly. Lukin meanwhile remains a
compelling new villain and the gimmick of him and Skull sharing a body works
well. The suspense of all these different players converging on London is palpable in
chapter 6 and the two issue fight scene that follows is a classic.

In the first chapter I really like Crossbones narration when
he is watching old WWII newsreels of Cap. Although I will say the SHIELD can
turn people into teenagers thing is a WTF moment, especially since it is just
casually mentioned as something that happened off camera.

The two follow up chapters in Idaho with AIM are another really good use
of Bru’s espionage style. Sharon
also has never been written better than she is by Bru.

The WWII flashback adventure does nothing for me, but then I
don’t think I’ve ever read a Cap and Bucky in WWII story that I’ve liked from
Stan Lee through Mark Waid. In a lot of ways if you’ve read one, you’ve read
them all and none of them are very interesting. Though I will say I like the Dr.
Doom time-travel twist. I think that’s a fine way of explaining how the Skull
later built his own Sleepers at the end of the War.

 

Grade: A    Nuff Said.

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