Review: Captain America: The Death of Captain America hardcover/paperback (Marvel Comics)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

[This guest review comes from Scott Cederlund of Pop Syndicate and The Secret of Wednesday's Haul]

Steve Rogers has been a hero, a soldier and an icon. When he is in the hands of the best writers and artists, he's a man of our times even when he was a man out of time. Since Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting took over the character in 2005, Steve Rogers struggled with the idea of Captain America. In Brubaker and Epting's first issue, they killed the Red Skull and introduced the Winter Agent, a shocking face from Captain America's past. In a move that most comic fans said could not and should not be done, Brubaker and Epting brought back Bucky, Captain America's WWII-era sidekick, long dead and a part of Captain America's legend for over 80 years. It was a bold move by the creative team that surprisingly worked out better than anyone actually thought. So, after bringing Bucky back, what could they do next?

They killed Steve Rogers. Shot him dead on a courthouse steps in front of hundreds of witnesses and broadcast around the world, thanks to the ever present live media coverage.

Captain America: The Death of Captain America literally begins with a bang as Brubaker wastes no time. There's no long, drawn out death scene, no final words or last rights; just a simple bullet in the early pages of the book. Even in the end, Steve Rogers dies a hero, saving the life of one of his guards. After the events of Marvel's Civil War, Rogers was arrested for his rebellion against the Super Hero Registration Act and was ready to meet his fate at the hands of the justice system. Brought to the court house by U.S. Marshalls, he is the only one in large crowd who notices a sniper's rifle in a far off building, trained on one of his own captors. Knocking the officer out of the way, Rogers apparently takes the bullet, saving a life as only he would.

The rest of the book deals with the mourning and grieving of an American hero by those who knew and loved him. Sharon Carter fights to understand her own role in the tragic events. Tony Stark, the "winner" of the Civil War, tries to hold the country together. The Falcon and the Black Widow, two allies of Captain America, fight on, looking for the killers while trying to protect the legacy of Steve Rogers. Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, faces the toughest battle, believing in everything Steve Rogers did even after witnessing his assassination. The Death of Captain America is about the survivors trying to make sense out of actions that should not make any sense at all to them. Sharon Carter and Bucky face the worst in this story. Each, in their own way, have betrayed Steve Rogers and have to come to terms with their failures.

In a brilliant move, Brubaker hides almost nothing from the reader from the moment that bullet is fired. This is not a "whodunnit" type mystery, looking for clues as to who pulled the trigger or why. From the outset, Brubaker lets us know who is behind the murder and how it was done. The motivations are clear and make perfect sense within the story that Brubaker has been working on for the last couple of years. The hows and whys of the act are not what Brubaker is particularly concerned about here. He is concerned with how all of the characters react to it.

Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting killed a hero and an icon. It's a gutsy move to take your main character, a hero of several generations, and completely remove him from the book but this is not some cheap death, designed to boost sales and ultimately be forgettable. Brubaker and Epting have a story to tell about the loss of an icon. Steve Rogers may be dead but the dreams of Captain America still live on in his friends and allies.

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2 comments:

  1. Well-done review!

    I have been a bit cool toward the post-Steve Captain America. I felt like Brubaker was *just* starting to hit his stride with Steve's personality when he was killed, and Bucky hasn't really won me over yet, as a character. The writing itself is fine (if a bit self-serious) but I'm waiting to pick up the next Cap trade to see if Bucky comes into his own a bit now that the Death storyline is over.

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  2. Also (and I'm truly sorry to nitpick) the subject of this review is only Vol. 1 of 3 trades entitled "The Death of Captain America." Just in case any benighted souls think they'll get a complete story here.

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