Sorry I didn’t get this review up last week as promised. Some of the front matter took longer to assemble than I expected.
Title: Captain America #600
Authors: Ed Brubaker, Roger Stern, Paul Dini, Mark Waid, Joe Simon and Stan Lee
Illustrators: Alex Ross, Butch Guice, Howard Chaykin, Rafael Albuquerque, David Aja, Mitch Breitweiser, Frank D’Armata, Edgar Delgado, Matt Hollingsworth, Kalman Adrasofszky, Marte Gracia, Dale Eaglesham, Paul Mounts, and Al Avison
Cover Date: August 2009
Cover Price: $4.99 US (for 104 pages instead of the usual 32)
It’s been one year since Steve Rogers was shot on the steps of a courthouse leading to his trial for his role in the Civil War. He is remembered by his friends and companions in a variety of ways.
This 104 page anthology includes the following content:
- Origin – A two page spread depicting the origin of Steve Rogers as Captain America, by Alex Ross and Paul Dini, originally printed in Captain America: Red, White and Blue.
- One Year Later – Ed Brubaker and rotating art teams show the impact Steve’s death has had on his supporting cast to date, including some who haven’t been involved before. This is the chapter that reveals Steve Rogers’ upcoming return. This is the story that is garnering attention, and this is the one I’ll focus on in the review. The rest feels like bonus material of varying quality.
- In Memorium – Bernie Rosenthal and Josh Cooper, part of Cap’s supporting cast from well before Brubaker started writing the title, hold their own memorial of sorts, with a conversation that ties up some loose plot threads from that era.
- The Persistence of Memorabilia – A collector of Captain America memorabilia sells it at auction, but only to carefully invited individuals.
- My Bulletin Board – Captain America was created almost 70 years ago by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. In this two page prose piece, Simon recounts some “behind the scenes” details of his creation.
- Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge – A story from Captain America Comics #16, originally published in July 1942, written by Stan Lee with Al Avison art.
- Cover Gallery – Includes all of the covers to the Golden Age Captain America Comics and Weird Tales before moving into the covers to Tales of Suspense #1-99 (even though Cap only featured in the title from #59 on) and Captain America #100 through all of the reboots until this issue.
Captain America first appeared in “Captain America Comics #1” cover dated March 1941, back in the days Marvel Comics was known as Timely Comics. I haven’t had a chance to read through the entire GIT Corp CD-ROM to do a proper “History of the Marvel Universe” title yet, but I’ve looked into enough to give a quick background on the characters who appear in this issue. If you use this title as a jumping on point, you’ll probably want to know the following.
Captain America was a war-time hero. Steve Rogers tried to enlist in the army, but his health did not meet the standard. Everything else about him was exactly what the military was looking for, so he was offered a chance to participate in Project: Rebirth, a procedure to turn a man into a “super soldier” through artificial muscle enhancement. (Think about a one-time, super powerful steroid.) The procedure was risky. The military had started experimentation with minority groups, and Isaiah Bradley was the only survivor from that group. When he showed the formula worked, they started trying it on white people who could become a symbol the then-racist country could get behind, and Steve Rogers became that living symbol. During the war, he was a member of the Invaders, whose numbers also included the Sub-Mariner (Namor McKenzie), the original Human Torch (an android), Union Jack (now a member of MI13), Cap’s teenaged sidekick Bucky, and Human Torch’s sidekick Toro.
When World War II ended, the title struggled and was cancelled. When the Korean War started, Marvel (then known as Atlas Comics) brought it back, but with a tone that didn’t catch on, and it was soon cancelled again. This run was ignored when Captain America was brought back after the name change to Marvel Comics once more, this time in the pages of the Avengers. In the rewritten history, Captain America had watched his sidekick Bucky die stopped a missile bound for America, and Cap himself had been frozen in Arctic Ice, only to be rediscovered with Namor’s help.
The retcon allowed Captain America to have a life outside the military, and a personality without the mask. He became the man out of time, having “slept” through decades, surviving only because of the Super-Soldier serum. He tried to build a life for himself as a commercial artist, and sometimes ran under a different identity when he lost faith in the country’s “current” leadership. He never lost faith in the country itself, even when the Super Human Registration Act came into effect, kicking off Marvel’s Civil War. Cap found himself at odds with longtime friend and ally Iron Man, and was going to trial for his actions during that Civil War when he was attacked on the steps of a Federal Court House in issue 25 of the current title. (Ed Brubaker wrote issues 1-50, as well as a significant portion of the renumbered #600.)
Captain America’s supporting cast includes a number of characters who appear in this issue. Here’s a rundown of who they are, for those who “jump on” with this issue:
- Red Skull – Captain America’s WWII era nemesis also survived into the present day, due in part to transferring his mind into a body cloned from Captain America himself. His obsession with power led him to seek the Cosmic Cube, a device that essentially grants the wishes of the user. Thoguh Captain America prevented him from keeping it long enough to do long term harm, the Red Skull did use it to keep his mind around after death, first existing within the cube, and eventually finding a new home within Aleksander Lukin, a businessman who came to possess the Cube. It was through Lukin that his latest plans have been brought to bear. His new body is also gone, but his mind lives on once more, this time in the robotic body of villain Arnim Zola.
- Sharon Carter – A relative of Peggy Carter, Captain America’s girlfriend during World War II, Sharon met Cap through her work as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13 and became his love interest. Dr. Faustus, an evil psychologist, worked with the Red Skull to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. and starting using post-hypnotic suggestion to manipulate Sharon Carter, programming her to become a part of the Red Skull’s plan. On the courthouse steps, Steve received a shoulder wound from Crossbones, an assassin hired by the Red Skull. During the resulting chaos, Sharon Carter acted on post-hypnotic suggestion to shoot Captain America in the stomach.
- Grand Director – This was a retcon of the Korean War era Captain America. He was a lot more violent and darker than the original. He’s been reintegrated into the mythos as a man who idolized Captain America to the point that he had extensive reconstructive surgery to “become” him. With the help of the government, he actually convinced himself he was the real Cap, just as he had a partner who convinced himself he was the real Bucky, still a teenager ten years after World War II. He returned to continuity as the Grand Director, a highly unbalanced man and villain. The Red Skull also got his hands on this Steve Rogers, and incorporated him into his recent plans before the man gained his physical and mental freedom.
- Patriot – Isaiah Bradley’s grandson Elijah inherited his grandfather’s drive, if not his powers, and formed the Young Avengers. He’s met Captain America a few times, and they gained a mutual respect for each other.
- Rikki Barnes – In the late 1990s, the Marvel Comics company was in serious financial trouble. One of the steps taken to stay afloat was to contract four titles out to a third party for a year, essentially creating a temporary “Ultimate” universe before the “Ultimate” line was properly conceived. The villain Onslaught was created to facilitate this. In the original Onslaught story, an amalgamation of Professor X and Magneto went crazy, and reality was saved only by the personal sacrifices of the Fantastic Four and the active Avengers. This was followed by “Heroes Reborn,” in which the Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America and the Fantastic Four all restarted their stories with new continuity. By the end of each 13 issue run, the characters had realized the world was not as it should be. In “Heroes Return,” it was (apparantly; I haven’t read the actual issues yet) discoverd that Franklin Richards, superpowered son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, had used his enormous power on a subconscious level to create a “pocket universe,” with the alternate timelines, and moved the heroes to that reality just as they sacrificed themselves. When they returned, Rikki Barnes came with them. She was the Bucky who worked with Captain America in thise alternate universe. To the best of my knowledge, “Captain America #600” is her first appearance since “Heroes Return.”
- Sin – The daughter of the Red Skull, and girlfriend of Crossbones. The pair have also been working within the Red Skull’s plan.
- James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes – Cap’s World War II sidekick lost his arm, but not his life disarming that missile at the end of the second world war. Early in Brubaker’s run, it was learned he’d been recovered by Russia shortly after the original accident, and was brainwashed into becoming their assassin. They kept him in suspended animation when he wasn’t in action, slowing his aging so that he now appears as a young adult. Several months after Steve Rogers’ death, he took up the mantle of Captain America at Tony Stark’s request, and now works with the New Avengers. The team uses his home as their base, and he’s now romantically involved with Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, whom he originally met when he was brainwashed into believing himself to be the Winter Soldier.
- Falcon – Sam Wilson was originally a brainwashed agent of the Red Skull, but he also broke conditioning and became a sidekick/partner to Steve Rogers in the 1970s. As an officially registered hero, he’s been able to walk the line, supporting the New Avengers without losing access to government resources.
It was once a tenant of the comic book world that only three characters would stay dead: Uncle Ben Parker, Jason Todd, and James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. With the latter two now returned, it was pretty much a given that Steve Rogers would make his way back to the world of the living once more. The fact that Brubaker had a master plan for the title including Rogers’ return seems (up to this point, anyway) to allow his return to come about logically and consistently in the context of the story that killed him. That’s not always the case, and the setup means Steve Rogers may not come back exactly as he was before he “left.”
I don’t like Chaykin’s art. His writing is often good, but his lines and proportions make some of these hardened heroes and villains (the Grand Director, in this case) appear soft. This guy doesn’t look like Steve Rogers, he looks like a plush toy based on Steve Rogers.
This isn’t the first time that a fallen hero is remembered by comrades just in time for his return, so it’s not the most original story in that respect. The mechanism, or at least the portion revealed thus far, does work in this context, though, particularly given that it was a part of the story that’s been designed and shaped for 50 issues preceeding this one. I give it 3 out of 6.
The artwork, as you may have guessed from the credits, has its ups and downs. Most are excellent, including Butch Guice (the most prominent of the group on this story), Albuquerque, Aja and Breitweiser. Chaykin’s work is so different from the other, more realistic styles, that it really stands out from the set. The others stories are generally good, with Ross’ amazing work to kick it off, and quality material essentially everywhere but the final, Golden Age story. I give it 4 out of 6.
The story in the main portion is well done, bringing several supporting cast members together, and setting up the next chapter of Brubaker’s run along with the Captain America: Reborn series that launches July 1. Brubaker’s been escalating and knocking the series out of the park from the beginning, often with use of the unexpected. We know Steve Rogers will return, but this issue reinforces my suspicion that he won’t be the man we knew when he does come back. I give it 5 out of 6.
The characterization is well done. Each member of the supporting cast has their time in the spotlight, and they come together nicely. “In Memorium” feels a bit long, but only because it follows a story in which Cap’s current supporting cast get 4-6 pages each, and these two former supporting characters get 12 pages. I give it 5 out of 6.
The emotional response is strong. Brubaker has earned my trust on this title (and everything else I’ve read by him, including Daredevil, Incognito, Criminal, and Uncanny X-Men) so I could come in with optimism instead of the usual hesitation for a story like this. He doesn’t disappoint. The story starts with Sharon Carter’s realization that Steve may not be dead, and ends with an appropriate bookend moment. The stuff in between is entertaining and interesting, and I’m left looking forward to next week’s “Reborn #1.” I give it 5 out of 6.
The flow within each story works fairly well, with the usual detriment from a mid-story artist change. Three of the stories (“One Year Later,” “In Memorium” and “The Persistence of Memorabilia”) all have thematic connections that help bring the collection together. I give it 4 out of 6.
Overall, it’s another solid piece in a large story. If you read only this issue, it may not be as impressive, but it’s a nice chapter in the long term epic Brubaker began with the relaunch cover dated January, 2005. I give it 5 out of 6.
In total, Captain America #600 receives 31 out of 42.