Captain America #43-44

Written by Ed Brubaker
Penciled by Luke Ross
Inked by Fabio Laguna
32 pages, color
Published by Marvel Comics

So let’s say that two years ago, you surprised a lot of readers by killing off one of your company’s iconic characters. And let’s say that you surprised even more readers by—at the end of an 18-issue follow-up—keeping that character dead, letting his old sidekick actually keep the mantle and title. What do you do next? In the case of writer Ed Brubaker and the comic book Captain America, apparently the answer is "business as usual." Fortunately for readers, that business involves writing really good stories.

Bucky Barnes is the new Captain America; as the old Captain America’s sidekick during World War II, some might say that he’s the best suited for the role. Unfortunately, between then and now he spent most of it frozen in stasis, occasionally thawed as a brainwashed assassin for the Soviet government to kill whomever they needed their "Winter Soldier" to exterminate. Now his time as the Winter Soldier is coming back to haunt him, even as he prepares to take on Captain America’s long-time foe Batroc. But who is the mysterious figure that recognizes him, and what does he have to do with a Chinese scientist that Bucky saved but the Winter Soldier tried to kill?

For all the sensationalizing that the press did over the death of Captain America, I can’t help but think that comic fans should thank the different press outlets for jumping on the story. It’s nice to see that people are still paying attention to Captain America since then, because both before and after Captain America #25 it’s been a really strong comic. Brubaker does a good job of mixing spy games and superheroes here, perhaps in part because the larger-than-life elements feel a little more grounded than normal. It’s easy to see Captain America as less of a comic that exists in a world with superheroes but rather as our world with additional technology tacked on, be it creating super-soldiers or high-tech weapons far beyond anything we could imagine. This latest story, "Time’s Arrow," continues that tradition with great skill. So sure, there are bionic arms, flying flaming robots, and mysterious glowing-eyed men, but it manages to feel both real and also fantastical, depending on what you want to get out of the story. As for the story itself, it’s fun—Brubaker continues to logically follow the idea of Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier to its logical conclusion, as Bucky’s past continues to catch up with him even as he tries to atone for what his years as a brainwashed assassin accomplished. It’s just the right sort of story to follow "The Death of Captain America," as it keeps the level of action and intrigue running high, while also presenting the new status quo for anyone else who decides to jump on with this story.

Luke Ross steps in on pencils to give regular artist Steve Epting a brief rest period, and Ross is a good choice for a fill-in artist. Ross’s figures are drawn with a little more open and clean nature than Epting, but at the same time Ross maintains the same basic look and feel that Epting has established on Captain America. It feels very realistic, very natural; both Ross and Epting work well with colorist Frank D’Armata to keep that sense about the comic. Ross in particular has a nice grasp of motion in his art; there are scenes where both Captain America and Batroc go flying into the air, and in each of those scenes you can really believe that they’re airborne. So often a scene like this would look staged or stiff, but you never think to yourself that everyone looks frozen here. (With a character called Batroc the Leaper, it’s a relief to have someone who can do Batroc’s acrobatics credit.) Ross also does a nice job with the more covert scenes of the comic; a scene as simple as Captain America ransacking an office has just the right atmosphere of it being convert and tense.

If you aren’t reading Brubaker’s Captain America, you’re doing yourself a genuine disservice. This is as good a jumping-on point as any, especially with Captain America #45 (the conclusion of the "Time’s Arrow" story) due to be released just around the corner. Just be warned that once you read Brubaker’s take on the character, you’re going to want to pick up all the other collections as fast as you can. It’s addictively good.

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