Saturday, April 30, 2005

CAPTAIN AMERICA #5

Since the get-go, Steve Rogers has been plagued by flashbacks, but what is really unnerving him is that the flashbacks are wrong -- his memories don't match up with what he's seeing and he's not sure if he's being affected by his own guilt or by something external. What is worse is that he's not getting any aid from either end. Captain America's confidence in his memories is being tested by an unknown assailant who seems to remember more than he does. And Nick Fury, as ever, is being helpful with one hand while hiding crucial information with the other. SHIELD needs a functional Cap, which usually means someone who is at ease with himself and his mission and in Fury's case means obfuscating for a higher purpose.

This issue is told mostly as a tale from long ago, Cap recounting an event from World War II that may or may not connect to the murder of Red Skull by Russian mercenaries. (Okay, so we know it does because wasting an entire issue on a red herring is extremely poor planning.) Aleksander Lukin and Vasily Karpov have ties to Cap from 1942 and while Our Hero hasn't quite got enough information to piece things together, he certainly seems to know more than he's telling Fury (and therefore us).

For all of my pecking unto death about Ed Brubaker's not making either Cap awe-inspiring or Steve Rogers human, this issue did a pretty good job of both. Cap's retelling of the story from the Russian front carried off both the hero's pragmatism and the man's lament and where they intersected. He isn't fazed by the fact that Bucky was basically a teenaged Special Forces operator, but he's deeply regretful of the civilian casualties and he understands why this is all coming back to him even as he wishes it wasn't -- and maybe even resents it a little.

As for Bucky... I liked this twist. Not being heavily invested in the character while he was alive, I'm not feeling shattered by this bit of retconning. It is perfectly logical for Bucky to be the dark shadow to Captain America's brilliant light. On the one hand, it never made sense either for Bucky to be less trained than any of the GIs (who were really about his age) he was encountering on his adventures or for the Army to saddle America's super-soldier with a relatively defenseless sidekick. On the other, Cap's explanation is grimly perfect -- there was no way for Cap to be as effective as he was and to have his hands remain spotless. Captain America was as much public relations tool as warrior and that meant someone had to do the dirty work -- and that person was Bucky. Is this an Identity Crisis-styled move? A bit, but not in a bad way and arguably more successful than anything that got futzed with in IC. Brubaker has always excelled at finding the ugliest bits of pragmatism in a story and if you're going to do a 'realistic' take on teenaged sidekicks, you might as well let the kid be able to defend himself.

Next month, we find out who cold-cocked Sharon Carter, what's in that file on Fury's desk, and whether Lukin's got anything more in the way of a motive for going after Cap than revenge for not saving the village of Kronas. What we aren't going to find out is that Bucky's not dead after all. Brubaker was fairly insistent on that point.

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