With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about 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. We return to the Marvel Universe for the second half of one of the most iconic stories of the last twenty years.
Early last year, Brendan and I talked about the first half of perhaps the most iconic Captain America story to date- Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Even with my fond memories of it, we found it kind of lacking. However, with the title character starring in Marvel’s second big TV show, we decided to take a look at the second half of the story from Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Michael Lark, Frank D’Armata, and Joe Caramagna.
In the wake of a terrorist attack on Philadelphia, everyone is after the bomber. However, when Steve Rogers discovers a stunning connection to the suspect, his world begins to crumble around him. Is this mysterious Winter Soldier really Bucky Barnes returned from the dead? Or is the sinister Aleksander Lukin playing a much more devious game?
Tony Thornley: So the first half of this story was one of our earliest editions of the column, and frankly… It was kinda of a “meh.” It wasn’t until we were talking that I realized all the stuff I actually liked about the story came later. Now, this is VERY much the second story of a very long run (Brubaker’s actual run is just shy of 100 issues, if I remember correctly), but I think this is quite a bit more solid and enjoyable, despite some warts. What would you say?
Brendan Allen: You’re right. The first half was all right, but I wasn’t into it very much. This second arc is much more fun. There are a couple little things that made me scratch my head a little, but it’s an engaging story that doesn’t require a whole lot of foreknowledge. I did end up going back to read the first arc again, but I didn’t really need to. Though it’s part of a bigger story, it stands alone just fine.
TT: Yeah, it’s probably the most standalone part of the entire run. And this is a great mix of what superhero comics can be. You get a little political thriller, some superhero scifi, and a touch of the previous arc’s crime thriller story. Brubaker adds a hefty bit of soap opera, and from there it ends up on the page.
I think you’d really like Brubaker’s creator owned stuff, thinking about it. This is a good introduction to his work, then you can transition into stuff like Criminal, Velvet or Pulp.
BA: Yeah, I think I liked this one mostly for the crime thriller elements. That leans heavily into my personal tastes, and the superhero stuff wasn’t so heavy handed that it turned me off the thing.
TT: Yeah, this was more of the book that I remembered so fondly when we started talking about it in the column originally.
I think the art is a bit more of a mixed bag this time around. Everything Lark does in this volume is top notch. But Epting isn’t quite as strong. I think Epting’s action scenes are really good. He conveys the emotion really well, especially because Steve’s emotional state is a mixture of shock, anger and sadness.
But wow, does every male character in this book look like he’s fifty or older. Every one of their faces are shaped the same, and really just have hairstyle to distinguish them. I had never realized that until this readthrough.
BA: I had a couple other issues with the art. Most of it’s pretty good. There are just a couple parts that just don’t visually make sense. There’s a montage in the chapter where Steve is reading the dossier on the Winter Soldier, where we see scenes of Bucky training. In one of the inset images, Bucky is firing a pistol with his left hand with both index fingers on the trigger. He switches to an MP5 in another image, which he’s firing right handed.
Not saying ambidextrous shooters don’t exist. They do. Every shooter has a dominant eye, though, and just like switch hitters in baseball, they’ll favor one side over the other. It’s possible that Bucky was showing off, but if this dude is all about lethal efficiency, it makes more sense that he’d stick with the dominant side.
And, not for nothing, that trigger thing is just bizarre.
TT: Yeah, I remember Epting getting some flack for not really doing his research when he drew the story originally. There are a handful of other small errors like that throughout the story that I can remember happening.
BA: Later in the story, there’s a flashback sequence from Steve and Bucky’s first meeting. Steve is wearing Captain bars on his collar. The officer making introductions says, “This is CORPORAL Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America.” What? Corporal is an enlisted rank (E-4), lateral to a Specialist, but in a junior NCO role. Captain is a commission (O-3). The lowest commissioned rank, Butterbar Lieutenant (O-1) outranks the highest enlisted rank, Command Sergeant Major (E-9).
It makes no sense that Steve Rogers would be referred to as a Corporal and a Captain. That isn’t how rank works.
TT: Oh, I know the answer to this one though! If I’m remembering this correctly, Steve was given the rank of Corporal so no one would suspect this enlisted soldier is actually Captain America (even though Captain is his official rank). HOWEVER, that doesn’t explain the captain’s bars on the collar, as you mentioned.
Generally though, I think Epting (and Lark on the flashbacks and one fill-in issue) do a very good job with the broad strokes. He needed to spend a little more time with the details though, without a doubt. It’s kind of like when an artist draws a Hawkeye or Green Arrow comic but never researches how archers hold a bow.
BA: I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to either of the things I mentioned if it weren’t for my own background. It’s one of those things that if you know, you know, and it’s hard to look past without at least acknowledging. Once you do, you start to find those little inaccuracies wherever they pop up.
TT: Hey, you know I have stuff that bugs me like that too. Overall, I thought this was a solid read. All thirteen issues of this story need to be read as a chunk though, in my opinion. The first volume by itself just doesn’t land as well without the second.
BA: I can see that. It’s a lot like Rock Candy Mountain in that sense. Released in two parts, but really best served as a whole.
TT: What did you think?
BA: What’s that you always say? It’s not without its faults, but it is a pretty solid book. I do like it quite a bit more than the first one. I don’t know if I’d jump right into the next arc after this, though. Seems like the Bucky stuff is kind of resolved for the time being and he might not come around again for a minute.
TT: Yeah for sure (spoiler: Bucky shows up in the next arc).
So what’s up next?!
BA: We’re going back a few years to hit up Donny Cates’ slightly blasphemous account of the Anti-Nativity in Babyteeth: Year One, from AfterShock Comics.
Captain America: The Winter Solder V2 is available now from Marvel Comics.