Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Five Comics Worth Reading, 10/22/08 pt. 2

And the five days of Five Comics Worth Reading keeps on keeping on...

Stop! Read the Disclaimer!


This is actually a fairly significant issue in Ed Brubaker's historic Captain America run. After nearly two years of telling a complex super-story that involved a pack of well-known villains, guest stars galore and major status quo changes around every corner, issue #43 was really Brubaker's first opportunity to showcase his new Cap in "just another adventure" since the death of Steve Rogers. Without all the trimmings, could Brubaker's Cap still bring the goods?

Well, obviously I think it did, otherwise it would be on my Five Comics Worth Avoiding list.

Brubaker keeps things interesting by switching gears from the 18 issues of non-stop action and a massive cast to a chance to focus in on the character of Bucky Barnes, now getting settled in his role as Captain America. Under Brubaker's pen, Bucky has grown enormously as a character since his unlikely return to life back in 2004. In this issue, we see why Bucky is a classic "hero with feet of clay" in the Marvel mold honestly moreso than Steve Rogers ever was. Steve was a great character in large part because he was the practically flawless hero in a universe populated by very flawed characters, but Bucky is great because he has all those flaws and then some, yet he's expected to fill the role his mentor did in spite of them.

Bucky's got the same "man out of time" gimmick that Steve had, and you see it in bits like his inability to elegantly manuever in dealing with people outside his limited circle. But Bucky's more interesting chinks lie in his simmering guilt over his actions during his time as the Winter Soldier and how those feelings feed into the inferiority complex he has as Cap. He's a haunted character, but not so brooding that you can't relate to and root for him. He's more than a little charming. There's something about the fact that he still refers to his smoking hot lover, the Black Widow, as his "best friend" that makes you smile. He's a bad ass on a motorcycle, but there's still a bit of that wide-eyed kid from the 40's kicking around.

Of course a major selling point for this issue for many (I'm not being sarcastic) was to see how Brubaker would handle a classic Cap villain in Batroc the Leaper. Despite being a fan favorite, Batroc has been portrayed as more or less a joke for the better part of his existence, with his ridiculous moustache, overblown French accent and propensity for losing fights pretty quickly after making a bold entrance. Upon hearing that Brubaker had designs on restoring some of Batroc's lost credibility, I had some concern that he'd go too far in the serious direction, robbing "Ze Lepair" of some of what makes him cool. Because honestly, at the end of the day, Batroc needs to be at least a little ridiculous.

Brubaker achieves a nice balance with Batroc in this issue. He is portrayed both by the writer and by Cap as a legit threat effectively not only through his actions but by Bucky paying respect to Savate, the French martial art of which he is the master. At the same time, he's still got the accent, he's still got the moustache and he's still got the quirkiness and arrogance, he's just able to back up his words. I'm glad Brubaker was able to see the potential that was already there in Batroc and recognize he didn't need to reinvented from the ground up, just tweaked.

Amidst the character exploration of the new Cap and the cool fight scenes with Batroc, we've also got the interspersed flashbacks to Bucky's WWII days with the original Cap and the Invaders (represented here by the Golden Age Human Torch) that have become a trademark of this book. It's always cool to see old school Bucky cutting loose, as Brubaker's enjoyment of writing that particular material is evident and infectious. Additionally, it seems like these particular flashbacks are leading to revelations about Bucky's time as the Winter Soldier and perhaps his first rogue truly all his own.

With nobody dying, nobody getting a new costume and not a Red Skull in sight, Captain America remains one of the best books on the stands.

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