Thanks to Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Red Menace coverWriter: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Mike Perkins, Steve Epting

Issues: Captain America (2004-2011) #15-21

Writing a follow-up adventure to the excellent Winter Soldier story that kicked off Captain America’s gritty and personal run that began in 2004 could’ve easily crashed and burned under the weight of high expectations. The newly crafted Winter Soldier could’ve been exploited to rehash more of Steve Rogers’ tumultuous emotions and responsibilities toward his former sidekick turned brain-washed villain turned questionable outlaw. What we get instead is a nice story that includes Bucky as a piece of a much larger tale involving the not-quite-so-dead Red Skull that was teased at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Red Menace contains two main story arcs, though the trade itself is much shorter than Winter Soldier’s, clocking in at seven total issues. In the first story Cap and Agent 13 visit a small town as part of their ongoing search for Bucky Barnes, who’s seemingly on a personal vendetta against those who used him. Something’s not quite right, and eventually they stumble upon a hidden AIM base underground.

Captain America crossbones & sinThose events almost make up the ‘B’ story to the bigger focus on our villains – Crossbones and the newly deprogrammed Sin (Red Skull’s daughter). During one of the issues in Winter Soldier, Crossbones stole a somewhat rehabilitated Sin from a government facility, and he spends the entire first issue here deprogramming her with physical and verbal abuse. It never veers into crazy dark territory but it did make me a bit uncomfortable at times, and when Sin ’emerges’ to embrace her captor it’s all the more heartbreaking. It’s a bold start to a new story to focus completely on the villains – Cap doesn’t even make an appearance in issue #15!

At the AIM laboratory our heroes and villains finally cross paths, but our evil duo manages to escape, hoping to track down Red Skull’s killer. The Skull, as teased in Winter Soldier, now inhabits the body of the villainous Aleksander Lukin, and the two share some neat Jekyll and Hyde scenes together.

The plot leads Captain America to London in the four part “21st Century Blitz,” where he meets up with British heroes Union Jack and Spitfire as they untangle the dark threads that Lukin has crafted. The story remains straightforward and fun as Cap and company spy on Lukin and follow leads, eventually battling against a new version of the Nazi’s Master Man, and culminating in an epic battle against a giant reawakened robot from World War II. Spitfire and Union Jack are used effectively as both witty allies and powerful combatants, and we finally get to see an awesome team-up and reunion between Rogers and Bucky to defeat the gigantic foe.

Unfortunately the intriguing criminal duo from the last story arc are sidelined a bit here to make room for our multiple heroes and menacing Red Skull/Lukin mixture.  Crossbones and Sin show up in London with intent to blow up Lukin’s building, eventually capturing Agent 13. It’s annoying that as strong and responsible as Sharon is in these stories, she manages to get herself captured in just about every story arc.

Red Menace isn’t quite as tight as or as personal as Winter Soldier but it does offer a fun plot and continuation of the Lukin/Red Skull villain, and the climax with Cap and Bucky is very fun and rewarding. Ed Brubaker continues to make this run of Captain America absolutely phenomenal, and the art work remains as consistently great as the previous story. Bring on Civil War!

captain america #20