With 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!
Artists: Steve Epting, Butch Guice
Issues: Captain America (2004) #43-48
Been awhile since I read Ed Brubaker’s fantastic Captain America series, which began in 2004. The last volume I read was a gigantic 20 page tome covering everything from the Civil War to Steve Rogers’ death to former Winter Soldier Bucky picking up the shield.
The six issue volume The Man With No Face continues Bucky Barnes’ adventures as faux Captain America, while also battling his own guilt of the assassinations and killings he performed as the brainwashed Winter Soldier.
The volume is broken up into two 3-part stories, though the second one flows directly from events in the first. “Time’s Arrow” (#43-45) continues with Brubaker’s signature style of effortlessly weaving in World War II backstory and revelations into a modern story. In a daring rescue mission, Bucky and Cap rescued a young Chinese scientist. Unfortunately he learns entirely the wrong lesson after witnessing the power of super-powered heroes, and grows up to be a bit of a mad scientist.
Bucky had a previous run-in with Dr. Chin in the 60s, when he was sent to assassinate him. It went wrong, as no one knew that the mad doctor had created his own super soldier – The Man with No Face, a creepy, ghoulish man in a trench coat and fedora. He’s intangible until he touches you, making him quite the formidable foe.
The Winter Soldier escaped but not before killing a whole bunch of people, including Dr. Chin’s bride to be, setting him on a personal vendetta against Bucky. Jump ahead to today and Bucky runs afoul of the Chinese when battling Batroc, the lame villain who’s claim to fame is knowing French martial arts. Batroc’s working for Dr. Chin, and Bucky sees it as a personal mission that he must atone for.
We gets bits and pieces of the backstory through Black Widow, Bucky’s lover and confidant. She was well-utilized in the previous stories but here she’s mostly sidelined, and Falcon is nowhere to be found.
In “Old Friends and Enemies” (#46-48) Bucky requests aid from a very old ally – Namor, and they discover a sinister plot involving the body and DNA of the original Human Torch. It culminates in a final battle against The Man with No Face, and the mad doctor that wants to wipe out a large percentage of the planet to save those that remain (from…overpopulation, I guess).
It’s an intriguing, well written thriller that Brubaker excels at, and Steve Epting’s art continues to portray a dark, moody style that I absolutely love (Butch Guice takes over for the last two issues, and is a reasonable facsimile). The titular villain is impressive and powerful, though his motivations and backstory are glossed over to focus on the Doctor.
Brubaker also does a fantastic job exploring Bucky’s inner thoughts as he constantly grapples with his past actions, and the weight of wearing Captain America’s uniform. I like that he purposefully does not wear the stars and stripes when it doesn’t suit him – like when he goes to China as a wanted man, and that he fills guilty for knowing a large amount of assassination and infiltration techniques. The ex-Winter Soldier is a really fun protagonist to follow.
Brubaker also does a good job with Namor, who’s aloof, haughty attitude makes him one of the more memorable guest stars. After being captured and nearly killed at the end, he snaps the neck of The Man with No Face, because he’s fucking Namor and doesn’t have time for this shit.
I was disappointed in Black Widow’s reduced role as she mostly plays catch up to the events. It allows the comic to dive into the backstory as she recovers the clues to why Bucky takes these events personally, but otherwise she doesn’t get much to do. Even worse off is Falcon, who’s completely absent from the entire volume, despite being given a prominent role in the last one.
Brubaker’s Captain America is one of the most consistent comics you can read in overall quality and narrative style. Even when Steve Rogers is dead (a temporary setback in comics, though one that lasted a good three years in this case), the series stays true to its focus on a small but well-written cast of characters, with fun villains and troubled heroes. The Man With No Name is a great entry in the Bucky-as-Cap era, and helps solidify Bucky Barnes’ presence as a Marvel hero.