Review for: Captain America #19
Ed Brubaker returns to script the final issue of his years-long, epic run on Captain
America, reclaiming the reins from Cullen Bunn as he is joined, once more, by artistic
collaborator Steve Epting. I, myself, am a fan of Brubaker from what I consider
his “glory days” on Cap, days spent deep in a partnership with Epting that came to define
the visual style of the book in which talented stalwarts like Butch Guice later followed.
This partnership was exemplified by the fact that Marvel invited the two to do an 8-issue
mini-series, The Marvels Project, which I consider a high-point of their collaborations –
but I digress. Suffice it to say that I am one of the dejected many, reading the “final”
Captain America with nary a dry eye, but that I had high hopes going into it, given the
reunion of the knockout creative team that earned my love for this book in the first place.
To say that my expectations were not met would be to sell a great “farewell” issue
short, but to say that they were would also be untruthful. In large part, it seems as though
this issue has nothing to do with the story arc that Brubaker passed off to Bunn, a story
arc that began with Bunn on-board, and ended before Brubaker’s return. It left a sour
taste in my mouth, and I was sure that my man Ed was back to deliver a final slam-dunk
on his way out the door. What he delivered wasn’t a slam-dunk, being largely devoid of
action and espionage of any variety, but it set its sights clearly on what made Captain
America, as a book and a character, great, an issue that comes off as a “recap,” but only
does so in service of providing a fitting farewell.
The entire issue plays out as a bedside visit between the ever-healthy Steve
Rogers and William Burnside, the Captain America from the 1950’s. Apparently, Bill
isn’t doing so hot, and Cap stops by to encourage him, as well as to relieve him of duty –
an honorable discharge, if not in as many words. Burnside sheds a tear when Steve
Rogers tells him that the responsibility to perpetuate the symbol of Captain America is no
longer his, and that he’s done well and will be cared for and left in peace. Then, hw rides
off into the distance, much like Brubaker himself.
Still, what’s important about this issue isn’t the straight skinny on “what goes
down,” but moreso how Steve Rogers – and Ed Brubaker – feel about what they’ve just
been through. To Brubaker, the biggest point is that Captain America has been REAL,
and this point is brought to the forefront when Rogers holds up one of his replacement’s
formerly basement-boxed copies of an early Captain America comic. It’s incredibly rare
to see characters in comic books holding comic books, just like no one in a zombie movie
ever appears to have heard of zombies before, but after the initial shock, what Brubaker
does with it leaves it feeling in no way out of place. As Steve goes through recounting
some of his own history for the bedridden Burnside, what we come to see is a portrait of
Cap not as the icon he was forced to continue perpetuating, but as a scared young man,
constantly trying to do his best in a world that seemed arrayed against him. Every
flashback, every anecdote is accompanied by Brubaker’s last pass at the exquisite
narration boxes that have become a sort of trademark here on Captain America,
explaining the entirely un-heroic, very ordinary, thoughts of the most heroic figure our
comic-book nation has ever known.
This all serves to establish that, as Ed Brubaker moves on, he bids farewell to a
very serious part of his life that is, just as seriously, over, but none the less meaningful
for it. I’m sure Captain America was real enough to change Ed Brubaker’s life, and
reading it has been “real” enough to change mine. Ed made the characters real one last
time before he called it quits, and I think he did it the best way he could’ve: this issue
clearly ignores any expectations you had, and the smart reader will see this as the author
putting us on notice to get ready for a true “farewell” that makes no concessions to
anything but the author’s feelings on his character.
Farewell, Captain Brubaker – or should I say, Eddy Barnes?