Monday, October 15, 2007

Captain America #31

Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s recent run on Captain America has been a roller coaster. Not only have they removed the title character from the proceedings, killing him off in issue 25, but they kept the book fresh and arguably improved it. With Marvel’s recent announcement that the star-spangled Avenger will be making a glorious return to his own title in three short issues, we can expect a few wheels to begin turning on that front starting this month.

One of my biggest gripes about the last issue of Captain America I reviewed was that too much was going on at one time. Ed Brubaker’s writing was great, but there was so much jumping around, so many different plotlines intertwining with one another in just twenty-two pages, that I found myself overwhelmed and lost. This issue confronts those flaws and erases them, focusing on one particular story (the Winter Soldier’s captivity and attempted brainwashing) with a few interspersed asides. The end result is a format that’s much friendlier to new eyes, a story that I could sit down and enjoy without struggling through a six paragraph “previously in…” blurb.

The slower pace allowed me to appreciate the strength of these characters more than I did when the story was more spread out. This issue is primarily a reactionary tale, with the Falcon and Tony Stark discussing Sharon Carter’s betrayal, the Red Skull introducing himself to a new army of followers and the Winter Soldier struggling with his past. With a thinner supporting cast, this issue may not have been possible, but this is when all of the work Ed Brubaker’s done in the build-up really starts to pay off. Although very little of consequence actually happens in this issue, especially compared to the last few months, it’s still an outstanding read. The characters have begun to fend for themselves, now all Brubaker needs to do is drop them into a situation and allow them to react.

Steve Epting’s artwork is something of a paradox: it’s exceptional in the all-too-brief warped flashbacks that frequent this issue, but a step or two below when the dialog returns to the present. The way he treats Cap and Bucky during World War II is downright gorgeous – the skies a dark grey haze of smoke and dirt, the fallen soldiers and shell-shocked vehicles he’s left abandoned on the cold city streets, the American icon’s silhouette in the background as Bucky leads the charge into a foxhole. His love of this era is blatantly obvious, so much that it detracts from the panels that follow, as they can’t hope to meet the lofty expectations he sets for himself from the outset.

Which is fine, because in its current format, this book doesn’t really need flash and flair. It needs substance, atmosphere and legibility, which Epting doesn’t hesitate to deliver. His work is technically sound, his characters identifiable, his storytelling classical. He’s a nice match for this book, and while I occasionally wished for a little more excitement to match the situation, what he delivered in its stead was perfectly acceptable.

This is a damn good book, and surprisingly one of the publisher’s most understated. With everything seemingly in place for the big event in just a couple short months, the next few issues could prove to be can’t-miss. I’d recommend you buy this one – it’s addressed the problems I previously had with it as a reader and seems to be on the verge of greatness.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8

No comments: