Sunday, 2 March 2014

Captain America and Bucky by Ed Brubaker (#620-628)

Last time, I took a look at one of Marvel's most recent series, Young Avengers. Now, we're going back to a beginning of sorts.

For, this is the series that actually fully got me into Marvel comics.

Released only five days after The First Avenger, it's one of the more creative ways that Marvel have tried to attract fans of the movies towards the comics. Rather than a mere retelling of what the viewer has already seen, the focus is placed not on Steve Rogers, but on the recently 'deceased' Bucky Barnes. Events only hinted at in Brubaker's run on Captain America are presented in full, from one issue of Bucky's revised history training at Camp Leigh, and into three adventures from World War II, before climaxing with the conditioning of the Winter Soldier in 1950s Russia. It may be recap for some, but the stories are so well written that character portrayal shows up on the foremost. It can be 'skipped' - it's outside of Brubaker's main run, and only ties into Winter Soldier loosely - but I feel that it would be missing out. #620 gives us such a new angle on the origin that it is at least worth the price of admission. The second arc, whilst more forgettable than the first, is still pretty great, examining the mantle left of Captain America and how it affected Fred Davis, who everyone seems to forget about - paired with not one Captain America, but two.

Captain America: The First Avenger left a mark on me after I'd seen it. I feel 2011 was a diverse summer so far as superhero films went - Thor, a Norse God; the X-Men of the 1960s; a WWII American patriot. (Let's not mention Green Lantern.) It was such a great mix, and it's hardly surprising my spending was soon drawn towards Captain America and Bucky and X-Men: Season One, which looked at the 'yellow spandex' only months later. I remember spending ages reading into character history on Wikipedia, fascinated by everything about him; the review of Captain America and Bucky's first issue soon convinved me to buy it. I'd borrow Patriot and Man Out of Time from the library that same year, and all of those together really helped cement my affection for Captain America and comic books altogether.

This series takes over from the numbering of Captain America, relaunched with a new series, also by Brubaker, at the same time. In my naivete back then, I thought "OH! This is great! Marvel has killed off one of their major heroes, but they won't be bringing him back with the original/another legacy version - but they are telling stories in the character's past, strictly in the past, and reinforcing their earlier role." Obviously, that wasn't the case. (Although, that said, a similar thing happened to Thor: he had no title between 2004 and 2007, instead relegated to limited series and the like in his non-existence.)

Although only 9 issues of Captain America and Bucky were written, I suspect Brubaker had intended to stay on for long. Indeed, #625 was teased as "New Arc! New Direction!" - a direction which lasted for those 4 issues of the arc. It was such a strong concept - an exploration into the pairing of Captain America and Bucky, through different eras and incarnations. Can you imagine the 2099 Cap and Bucky? The Cap and Bucky of another universe, borne under different circumstances of conflict? Stories with Steve and James, Jeff Mace and Fred Davis; and, oh, God: the Bucky from the 1950s which we saw catapaulted into the 1980s. The Captain America team-up with the Winter Soldier; a story which we're really now seeing in James Robinson's All-New Invaders. I still feel it's a strong run, and it isn't that much of a missed opportunity: Jeff Mace's story was told in Captain America: Patriot; William Burnside's in the 1970s and 80s, and again brought back in Brubaker's run, along with the death of Jack Monroe; James' story was told through the breadth of Brubaker's run and continued on into Winter Soldier. But, to give this pairing a series - especially in light of the ubiqtuious Batman and Robin - seems like a no-brainer. 

Instead, after 9 issues it transformed into a team-up book by Cullen Bunn - or, as I'd like to call it: "Nothing Special." It became as interesting as Avenging Spider-Man, or perhaps even less. It ran for three arcs and then disappeared into the realms of cancellation. Even then, it had potential: I was holding out for a Falcon team-up, but no luck there. The closest we got into Steve's past was with a Namor issue. Sure, Hawkeye, Iron Man and Black Widow are all important figures to Steve's life - especially in the wake of Civil War and Winter Soldier - but those stories weren't so much an exploration into those relationships, but just fun. Bunn missed the ball there. Captain America continued on with one title, plus an Avengers book, and no-one really cared.

Captain America and Bucky is special, and I hope you enjoy it too.

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