Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Captain America #600

I just finished reading the massive 600th issue of Captain America, and while I plan on doing my usual rundown of the week's comics, I thought that this one deserved its own blog post.

Even if you don't read comics, you may have heard about the "Death of Captain America" story that was published a couple of years ago, as it got some mainstream media attention. Of course, no comics fan actually expected this death to be permanent. At least, no comics fan who has been reading as long as I have anyway. Sure enough, it turns out that Captain America is very much alive with the current issue.

A non-comics fan might be wondering what the point is of reading all this stuff when we fans knew where it would all eventually go. Not only that, but there are probably some comics fans out there who saw the whole thing as being a gimmicky excuse to get some media attention and sell more comics. Certainly superhero "deaths" can very well be nothing more than a gimmick. While I'm sure that there are people out there who will disagree with me, that's how I saw the "Death of Superman" story from years ago. It certainly did the trick and got a lot of attention (Saturday Night Live even did a sketch based on it) but I skipped out on that one.

Why did I buy this particular death and rebirth though? To begin with, I've been reading Captain America comics on and off since I was in college, although I have always been a fan of the character. For a few years there, the series was pretty hit-or-miss, and I often found myself picking up the first few issues when a new creative team came on board only to eventually drop it again. This changed though when Ed Brubaker came on board as the regular writer. I had enjoyed everything that I had read by him before, and I had high hopes for what he'd do with the series.

He didn't disappoint, and Steve Epting's art was nothing short of spectacular. This was a series where I've probably read every issue at least twice now, and I'm sure that one day soon I'll go back and reread the past five years worth of issues. Brubaker hit the ground running with the storyline that introduced the Winter Soldier, who turned out to be Cap's long-thought dead partner, Bucky. Now, if you had told me that they were bringing Bucky back, I would have said that was the lamest idea in the world. Somehow though, I was sold on this, as they were able to do it in a way that didn't cheapen those Captain America comics from the 60s where he was dealing with the death of his partner. Brubaker also made Bucky more than just a former sidekick, as it turned out that the Soviets had brainwashed him and kept him in stasis between assasination missions. Ultimately, Bucky regained his memories and became a man on a mission to amend for his sins as The Winter Soldier.

And just around this time is when Cap "died". I also wasn't surprised to see that eventually Bucky would become the new Captain America, but that's not what kept me reading. What held my interest was that it's simply a compelling, and even somewhat relatable, character-driven story. What better of a way to have Bucky redeem himself than by stepping into his mentor's shoes? Who can't relate to the notion of trying to amend for past mistakes? Who hasn't ever felt intimidated at the thought of filling the shoes of a mentor? That's the kind of stuff that kept me reading.

The only thing that was surprising, plotwise, about the story is how long they held out. It's been two years since Captain America was shot, and issue #600 is just the beginning of the story where he finally comes back. Instead of feeling like a gimmick, this all seemed to genuinely come out of the story. Just as Bucky has finally started to adjust to his new position in life, he gets thrown a curve ball. The one thing that I can't predict is what's going to happen to him next, and considering how much time has been invested in this character, I have to say that I'm invested in his story.

I realized of course that I didn't write much about the issue itself. Unfortunately, I don't think that it would hold much appeal for somebody who picks this up as their first issue. I'd suggest buying some of the collected editions of Brubaker's run instead for those folks. If you're already reading, then you won't be disappointed. It moves the story along while still fitting in with what's happening in the Marvel Universe right now. Norman Osborn does something pretty shameful to tarnish the memory of Captain America, and I'm looking forward to the storyline that finally gives him his comeuppance.

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