Sunday, March 20, 2005

CAPTAIN AMERICA #4

I feel a little bad parsing through here looking for the next geography error... no, wait. I don't feed bad at all. "City of Manhattan" is unforgiveable and deserves Top Cow-level dissection and scorn for the next few months. Brubaker gets a couple of drops of mercy for choosing La Guardia Airport, but unless Cap is planning to fly over the BQE, ten minutes is laughably optimistic from Brooklyn. Heck, it's laughably optimistic from the other side of the Grand Central.

As for the actual story... More history lessons, Brubaker letting his donkey-print slip show a bit, and a somewhat dysfunctional Cap doing a miserable job of defending himself as he is still preoccupied by memories that don't quite jibe.

We're four issues in and I'm starting to get the sneaking suspicion that this is going to be one of those cases where Ed Brubaker reveals why his best work hasn't been straightforward superhero stuff. Thus far, Steve Rogers has been a bit like Ultra Boy -- so many great attributes, but he can only use one at a time. He can fill in backstory, he can brawl, he can formulate plans, he can be human... but he can't do any of these things in combination with any other.

Captain America has been living off a reputation not earned in the four issues thus far -- he has not reinforced why he is an inspiration to anyone, he's not winning a high percentage of his fights, he's not been smarter than the average bear, and he's not been especially empathetic as either man or superman. He has felt like a relic who is all too aware of the moth-holes in his get-up and that he's being involved in events because of who he was and not who he is. You can almost hear him creak when he walks. And all this could work if we had more vested in Steve Rogers, the person behind the shield.

Rogers is a man who has lived through unimaginable horrors and heartbreaking losses, a man who has lost everything he grew to care about... but managed to find new things to care about -- and lose, too. We just haven't been given a good view as to what Brubaker thinks those things are.

Cap has been a passenger and not a driver. Trapped in a funk by nightmares that he knows aren't true but can't shake, he has been pretty content to leave the thinking and data collection to SHIELD's Nick Fury and Sharon Carter -- it's like those Batman (and especially Nightwing) stories where the world's greatest detective and his protege leave all of the mental work to Oracle. Sure, Cap is more brawler than brainy, but he is displaying a rather depressing disinterest in independent thought and analysis and a frustrating inability to work past the distraction of the false memories. I can't believe that the man who busted heads in the trenches in World War II is so easily taken down by matters irrelevant to the situation at hand. (And yes, the false memories are irrelevant for the moment because they are the focus of the next story arc, not this one.)

To portray Rogers as a man haunted is a legitimate road to travel. The Liefeld/Loeb run began with a sort of woulda-coulda twist on what Rogers gave up by being Captain America (execution aside, the concept has legs) and John Ney Reiber started his turn focusing on Rogers trying to come to grips with a much more recent and galling failure. But Reiber's Cap was active, keeping his grief at bay through constant motion and consciously letting himself be used by Fury as a kind of atonement. This more passive Cap... I'm still waiting.

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