Review: Captain America #5 & #6

Yes, they both came out at the same time.  No, we don't know why.  But Brubaker double-shots are welcome!

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Captain America #6

I know what you’re asking. Iann, you devil, why are we so lucky to get TWO of your glorious reviews in one sitting?  Well, my children, sit and let me tell you the tale. It’s not really a tale; just that for some reason Marvel Comics released Captain America #5 and #6 at the same time. Since the stories have so much to do with each other, I figured why not knock them out together.  Captain America #5 ends the story surrounding Agent Bravo, while #6 gives us the start of a new and rather screwed up storyline from writer Ed Brubaker and new artist Alan Davis.

Wrapping up the Agent Bravo story, Captain America #5 is the less satisfying of the two issues. Don’t get me wrong, the fail-proof Ed Brubaker still gives the awesome, it’s just that #5 is a little less awesome, the same way #5 was less awesome in Short Circuit 2. Captain America is duking it out with Agent Bravo, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative that got stuck in a mystical portal in the 40s and is now wicked pissed.  Meanwhile, in reality, Sharon Carter, Nick Fury and the Falcon are trying to rescue the one person who can free Captain America from the other world.

This is where #5 kind of runs into trouble. The path to this final conflict has been so sharp and so on-point that the resolution is a bit hackneyed. The man who can free Captain America is an old operative with a special mutant power to open the portal. These days he’s a catatonic old man kidnapped by Hydra. As the battle rages on both fronts, the old man’s connection to the portal gets severed and all hope seems lost. Then, after a plea from Sharon Carter, the old man uses his last bit of energy to open the portal and bring our hero home. Not only is that a bit cliché for somebody like Brubaker, but the way they sweep Agent Bravo under the rug is a little odd given what a headache he’s been thus far.

The end of issue #5 is its saving grace. Steve Rogers is losing his faith, Hydra has attacked him in the one place even Captain America is vulnerable, his idealism. This issue starts manifesting itself into nightmares where Rogers turns back to his skinny weakling self at the worst times. The whole thing is shaking the foundation of Captain America and it’s causing him to be afraid. I do find it ironic that the best pages of fear in Marvel comics come after Fear Itself.

Steve McNiven has a sold send off here as main artist. Bringing in help from Giuseppe Camuncoli, McNiven does his usual thing. He’s all about the foreground, not so much what happens behind it. The characters and their actions are what McNiven wants us to focus on, no matter how trivial they might be. The reason it works is because his line work and human forms are so wonderful, as is his ability to convey movement and action. You aren’t worried about the backgrounds because you can’t take your eyes of the characters. It’s an interesting approach, which at times can lack detail, but it is effective.

 

Captain America #6 is where things pick up and Brubaker kicks back into high gear. This isn’t just a set up for a larger story arc; this is the beginning of a deeper look into what drives Captain America. Brubaker sets it up perfectly. He allows the story to grow, to let things mount on Steve Rogers' head so, when the final page comes, it’s as devastating to the reader as it is to Rogers. Again, Brubaker makes his bones by focusing on the characters and what makes them unique. What makes them tick? By humanizing our heroes, he makes us think of their vulnerabilities and we see them as something outside of the stereotype. That insight makes Brubaker’s writing more powerful than most comic book authors. It’s also essential to what he’s kicking off with issue #6.

When you start a comic off with Baron Zemo, shit can only be awesome. When Zemo is kicking around a plan for world domination with the sexy head of Hydra in a giant floating secret lair, then the paths of awesome are ours to dance down. Flipping from the secret lair to Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, our hero is bathing in another nightmare where he loses his super solider powers. It’s starting to mess with Cap’s mind, something Sharon Carter pushes him to rectify. Instead of a shrink, Rogers goes to Tony Stark to see if his powers are in fact breaking down.  There’s a great exchange between Hakweye and Captain America that is classic Brubaker. The man has such a knack for dialog.

Issue #6 is a real bait and switch. Brubaker keeps you believing that Captain America is only having a crisis of conscience, that all of this is in his head. When Hawkeye advises a night out chasing bad guys, it makes perfect sense. Brubaker lets the action flow so heavily that the idea of Captain America really being in trouble slips from the mind. Cap is kicking ass and taking names, busting up bank robbers and trying to stop a riot. Then, at the apex of a situation, the nightmare becomes real and Captain America loses his powers. It punches you right in the stomach and that’s how Brubaker ends the issue.

Speculation runs wild at the end of #6. Is it real? Is it in Steve’s head but he believes it’s really happening? Is Captain America actually still locked in the other world? By the end of the issue, Brubaker becomes Mr. Magoo. You raise your fist and yell out  “OH BRUBAKER!!! YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN!!” The fear Steve Rogers is experiencing is tangible; you can feel it coming off the comic pages.  That’s the Brubaker magic, the thing that makes him one of the absolute best things in comic books right now.

Alan Davis works his way into the Captain America fold with great ease.  Davis has a much more old school approach to comics than McNiven did. His pencils are strong, very true to life with great flow across the pages. I love Davis’s facial expressions, they remind me so much of the comics I grew up on.  His work is clean, with a good use of shadow to give the panel’s dimension. It isn’t all old school, Davis likes to play around with layout and he puts detail in when needed but not all the time. It’s clear he really focuses on every panel. Was it a lame cash grab that Marvel released these two books at the same time? Yes. It doesn’t matter though because twice as much Brubaker is always a good thing.

 

CRAVE ONLINE RATING:

CAPTAIN AMERICA #5  8/10 (4 Art, 4 Story)

CAPTAIN AMERICA #6  9/10 (4 Art, 5 Story)