A lot of folks seem all too willing to give Ed Brubaker a “get out of jail free” card in regards to everything Cap related. I’ll be the first to admit that the man has earned it: not only was he writing the best Captain America in years, he actually killed the guy and replaced him without missing a beat. And to top it all off, the book continued to get better! Regardless, I felt that the whole “Bucky is the new Cap and he’s fighting the Red Skull” storyline went on about one arc too long and was starting to get stale by the time he finally wrapped it up (though the ending was 110% awesome).
Then Ed followed it up with Batroc the Leaper and some Cold War-era Chinese scientists and… well, it started to slow down a bit. I was happy to see Bucky finally get past all that Red Skull stuff and get down to business as the new Captain America, but I have to admit that his first mission wasn’t really impressing me all that much. I’m happy to say that with the current issue, Cap is back on track! Captain America # 46 has all the action, intrigue and great characterization fans of Brubaker’s run have come to expect from him.
This issue finds the star-spangled hero teaming up with his old pal Namor to track down Professor Zhang Chin, a child prodigy that Cap (as the Winter Soldier) attempted to kill back in 1968. Professor Chin is all grown up now and he’s got the remains of the original Human Torch in his possession. He seemingly intends to turn the Torch into an unwitting slave. Being old friends with the Torch and knowing how much he valued his “humanity”, it’s easy to see why this mission is of such personal importance to both Cap and Namor.
I really enjoyed the way Brubaker handled the Namor/Bucky relationship in this issue. Namor was as smug as ever, begrudgingly admitting that “Rogers would be fine with it” in regards to Bucky assuming the role of Captain America and constantly second guessing Cap’s mental faculties. Despite the bad attitude, it was quite clear that the two men had a great deal of respect for each other. Well, it’s hard to say whether or not Namor really respects anyone, but it was clear that he didn’t hate Bucky, which is saying a lot for a guy like Namor.
Brubaker continues to write a damn fine Bucky/Captain America as well. Much like the original Cap, Bucky is continually reminded of his past mistakes. It seems that his life as the Winter Soldier will haunt him as long as he walks the earth, but it’s never overdone. You never get sick of hearing about it and he never seems like he’s whining. I guess that the mantle of Captain America isn’t just about honor, stars and stripes; it’s also about guilt. Lots and lots of guilt. Brubaker handles it nicely.
As far as the supporting cast goes, the Black Widow is also handled in a particularly awesome fashion in this issue. The manner in which she obtains information on Professor Chin from an M16 agent is fantastically badass and super-sexy at the same time.
As far as the art goes: While other artists fill in from time to time, and do an awesome job, this is Steve Epting’s book all the way. His pencils have become synonymous with the character and while you don’t always miss him when he’s away, you definitely take notice when he comes back. My only complaint with Epting’s art is that sometimes it seems too dark. I was going to blame the inker, but checking the credits revealed that Steve Epting is listed as “artist”, so I guess he’s doing his own inks as well. I understand the book is supposed to have a sense of realism and a harder edge, but sometimes there’s a bit too much shadow. I wouldn’t mind seeing more than ½ of a face once in a while. Oh well, it’s a minor complaint.
All-in-all, it was a great issue and it restored my slipping faith in Captain America and Ed Brubaker. I was glad to see it and I’m looking forward to the next issue – and at only $2.99, it’s a steal by Marvel standards!