After drawing so much of the inspiration for his run on Captain America from the character’s golden age roots, it comes as little surprise to find Ed Brubaker venturing back in time to take a fuller look at Marvel’s take on the second world war. Using the street-level narration of the book’s namesake, it s beguiling blend of retelling and character drama, but some elements of unease about the concept make it too early to judge the venture.
Dr Thomas Holloway takes a look around the unusual age in which he lives, his eyes opened by a gift from a late patient. Meanwhile, a number of forces are unknowingly baiting each other to push further and further at the boundaries of humanity. There’s much to enjoy here, and it’s easy to overlook the way Holloway narrates events he doesn’t yet know off, due to the smoothness it gives the book. The tone is generally consistent, although my inner historian was somewhat disquieted over the scene where the UK’s decoders uncover information of interest to the US. (British sigint was in generally poor shape pre-Bletchley, with the triumphs of Room 40 a distant memory, and decrypts certainly wouldn’t have been handed over to a foreign power in such a fashion.) The writer skilfully manages to weave action into an issue of set-up without it looks gratuitous, and it’s a joy to see Steve Epting delivering such strong work. There’s enough of a difference in focus from Ultimate Origins to justify the existance of the piece, with a clear relish for period detail.
But for all the quality of writing and depth of characterisation on show here, it’s an essentially unreconstructed view of a forties propaganda device. The joy of Captain America is the way the narrative acknowledges the “man out of time” way in which such a figure is presented in contemporary storytelling, and for all the Nazi soldiers that popular culture products have blown away in recent years, the mention of Himmler suggests that Brubaker is hoping to create a resonance with real-world horrors. It’s a laudable goal, but the work hasn’t yet reached the level to back it up. Hopefully once the themes of the overall story become evident, some of these misgivings will subside- it’s a well written and superbly drawn book, but it hasn’t yet paid its entry fee for the terrain in which it walks.