With the future of the comics industry still in flux, Brendan Allen and I are taking the opportunity to introduce each other to comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week, we’re checking out the beginning of one of the greatest superhero stories of all time!
In 2004, Marvel Comics signed Ed Brubaker to an exclusive contract. It was a huge coup for Marvel, as Brubaker was at the top of his game, coming off an acclaimed run on Batman. Brubaker at that point in his career was well known for two genres – crime and spy thrillers. Naturally readers assumed that Captain America, with longtime Marvel star artist Steve Epting, frequent Brubaker collaborator Michael Lark, and star color artist Frank D’Armata, would be the latter. Yet what readers got instead was completely unexpected, and the beginning of one of the single greatest stories in superhero comics.
Tony Thornley: So Captain America #1 was one of the first comics I picked up after a two year break. Naturally this series has a nostalgic place for me. It’s also the basis of probably the best Marvel Studios film to date, though there’s quite a big difference between the two. So Brendan, what did you think of the first part of this huge arc?
Brendan Allen: This is one of the more interesting Captain America arcs I’ve read, but it’s definitely a Captain America book. All the hallmarks are there. Overpowered Nazi bad man somehow escapes death and aging, pops up unexpectedly, throws all kinds of wrenches in the works. Cap fights through the threat, and emerges mostly unscathed on the other side.
TT: Hey, you’re not wrong. This starts as a pretty big deal, but it’s also got a lot of standard superhero tropes. As I read it, I realized a lot of the nostalgia and affection I have for this story comes from the issues that come immediately afterwards. The biggest difference from the standard superhero plot in these six issues I’d say is that it’s a little harder edged. In the first issue, Steve is directly responsible for the deaths of two terrorists. The Red Skull has a hole blown in his chest. Jack Monroe is murdered. We learn across this arc that Bucky actually was an assassin back in World War II, not the kid sidekick everyone had always thought he was.
It’s pretty grown up in comparison to a lot of what we’ve seen before. And also even though this book kind of has the standard superhero tropes, the ending of the arc absolutely kills. Bucky’s return was a HUGE deal and it meant huge things for the entire Marvel universe. It actually led to Steve Rogers’ death, which stuck for a pretty significant amount of time. Now, I know you have some deeper thoughts beyond that?
BA: Without the context of what comes before and after this arc, it kept reminding me of the old Hulk Hogan feuds in WWE. Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Tiger Chung Lee, Colonel Mustafa (Iron Sheik, rebranded as Iraqi), Yokozuna… The Foreign Wrestling Heel a.k.a. Evil Foreigner is a trope that gets used over and over again through every era of pro wrestling, and for good reason. It gets people riled up.
TT: And that’s a very common superhero trope too, especially with Russians and Nazis (though the latter is always understandable). It’s interesting what you say about the context too, because this is the first time I’ve re-read this arc in a long time. Without the context of the larger Brubaker Cap run, this is a very different story, leaning hard into nationalism, making the foreigners the bad guys in a very stereotypical way.
BA: Good point. I meant to bring up the nationalism versus patriotism angle. I’ve always thought of Cap as a patriot, like he was in Civil War, and he seemed to have more nationalist ideology here.
TT: Yeah, very true. I think you would enjoy what this series grows into because if I remember correctly, it addresses exactly that- while being a kick-ass spy adventure. Thinking about it, this is probably the story that makes people think of Cap as more of a “lawful good” character than the “neutral good” that he really is. This really makes me want to re-read the run now. What did you think of the art- Epting on the present day stuff and Lark on the flashbacks?
BA: I did notice the flashback sequences had a different look and flow to them. This is a good example of what I brought up when we were doing Immortal Hulk a few installments back. The art is different enough to get the point across, but not so jarringly different that it takes the reader out of the story.
TT: Yeah, I liked that. Lark was similar enough to Epting that it flowed, but different enough to set it apart. I remember when I originally bought these issues, I missed that Lark did the flashbacks until the issue that was mostly flashback!
In the end, I’m glad we sat down to talk about it. This first arc is VERY different than I remember it, and that’s not bad. I still enjoy it, but it’s definitely not the part of this massive story I liked the most.
BA: It’s not a bad book. I appreciate it for what it is, this just doesn’t really hit me. There are a couple things that felt just a little off, but it generally flows well, and it is definitely a Captain America book. There are some things that demand repeating, by the nature of Cap’s history. There are really only so many ways you can go.
TT: And that’s totally fair. This run absolutely turns into something different over time, but for this opening arc, I think you hit the nail right on the head. So what do we have up next?
BA: I laid off a little with the last book. Gave you a break from the super intense horror shows. Break’s over, big guy. Next up is Image Comics’ Winnebago Graveyard, by Steve Niles and Alison Sampson.
TT: You’re out to give me nightmares! I’m looking forward to it!
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If your local comic store is temporarily closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on this title, Marvel has a digital version of Captain America: The Winter Soldier Ultimate Edition currently for free on a limited time on Comixology. Physical copies are available at Amazon for $15.45 here, and TFAW has a few copies for $23.99 plus shipping here.