It’s hard to know what to make of Captain America at the moment. Ed Brubaker’s long term planning for the book has been exemplary, with the audacious move of restoring Bucky to life being followed with an even more attention-grabbing move. The playoff for killing Steve Rogers was enormous, both in media profile for the title and the storytelling momentum that swung to book through two years’ worth of stories without the need to pause for breath.
And then the pace began to slacken. Bucky Barnes’ adventures seemed to be stuck in a holding pattern, endlessly dwelling on his past. Almost as if the book was waiting for a certain issue number.
It’s impossible to write about ‘Captain America #599′ without considering the wider implications for the character of various hints from Marvel as to the content of next month’s spectacular. It may sound rather shallow to hold Brubaker’s run in less esteem if he has indeed always intended to raise Rogers from the dead, but the writer’s work will be viewed differently if his radicalism does prove to be a front.
The appeal of Brubaker’s run, and the reason why the writer has had so much success in drawing in readers with no particular attachment to Cap, was that he treated the property as a living, breathing entity. Of all Marvel’s properties, Rogers most resembled the Fantastic Four, who for decades have held little appeal for readers due to their static status quo. Over time, this has become a self-perpetuating view, with any actual change to their set-up being dismissed by readers as a temporary gimmick, and abandoned by the publisher when it fails to fuel sales.
This issue itself gives grounds for optimism, with last month’s return of energy to the writing maintained, as Barnes considers over half a century of birthdays. Given the tendency to melancholy the book has shown in recent months, it’s refreshing to see Cap’s musings being interspersed with comparatively light-hearted action, as he fights off an assassination attempt in modern-day New York. Another novel development is the inclusion of the Avengers in the book. While Brubaker has obviously enjoyed his work’s isolation from the Marvel Universe, a story about how his character has grow into his place in the world wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by his team, and the writer sensibly breaks his unwritten rule. At the risk of sounding rude, this issue is a very well crafted brick. It just remains to see what the finished house looks like…