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: Bryan Hitch, Butch Guice
Issues: Captain America: Reborn #1-6
You just can’t keep a good superhero down. Other than Jean Grey pretty much every notable hero that has died returns in some fashion (and even Jean sort of returned with Brian Michael Bendis’ First Class time-forwarding run on All-New X-Men). Sometimes it’s embarrassingly bad, like when Magneto waltzes up to Charles Xavier in the ruins of Genosha a mere month or two after they buried him following an epic confrontation.
Captain America: Reborn is an exercise in how to do the hero resurrection story right. That’s not to say that Steve Rogers’ return isn’t fraught with dumb pseudo-science and nonsense hand-waving. You know when Mr. Fantastic and Hank Pym are involved, the plot is about to derail into Super Dumb Comic territory (no, I don’t like the Fantastic Four).
And yet by focusing on the excellent drama he’s been unfolding for years, Ed Brubaker crafts a worthy tale that explores Captain America’s storied history.
Thanks to the ongoing investigation of Cap’s death by Sharon Carter, Black Widow, and ex-Winter Soldier new Captain America Bucky, they discover that Steve Rogers hasn’t so much been killed as displaced in time. Yeah it’s kinda dumb, but Brubaker did lay down some backdoor seeds during his epic Death of Captain America arc.
It turns out that the villainous team-up of Red Skull, Arnim Zola, and Dr. Faustus’ true plan was to insert Red Skull’s consciousness into Cap’s body. Skull had been body-less since the opening pages of Captain America: Winter Soldier, and what better way to undermine the U.S. and your most hated rival than possessing Captain America’s body?
Things went wrong when Sharon Carter broke free and destroyed the time-travel device that was involved in all of these shenanigans. Steve has since been drifting through time, reliving all his past moments as a WW2 soldier and Avenger. There’s even a scene where he has to relive being frozen in a block of ice, unable to do anything.
Given Marvel’s rather confusing and decades-long continuity that they’ve never fully rebooted, it’s impressive that we get a fun glimpse into all these past events. A neat plot point – Cap using the android Vision to send a message far into the future to help Pym and Reed work out the kinks to return Cap.
Turns out Steve is linked to Sharon Carter through her blood or something. More hand-waving and it all comes down to an epic battle between some former Avengers like Hawkeye and Falcon versus Red Skull and Zola’s army of MODOKs.
It’s a classic big superhero battle, and I loved the inter-cutting between the fighting between the Avengers and villains, as well as the battle within Cap’s mind between he and Red Skull as they wrest for control of his body once it returns.
The story is slow to build and the actual resurrection mechanics still kinda dumb, but Brubaker’s solid cast returns in top form. Bucky-as-Cap has been a great hero to follow for the few years that Cap was gone (an eternity in comic-time), and Widow, Carter, and Falcon all get fun roles and spotlights during this mini-series.
The artwork has the tricky task of smoothly transitioning between entire decades and eras, as well as telling a coherent story. It remains consistently great throughout, with some really wonderful two-page spreads. A final epic full-page Captain America in all his radiant glory may make you a bit misty-eyed.
Bringing back such an iconic hero was inevitable, and yes Cap’s return does cheapen his death. If you’re reading Captain America: Reborn for the Whys and Hows it can come off as confusing and disappointing. As a continuation of Brubaker’s ongoing narrative, however, it’s a fun ride and a neat exclamation point to the lengthy series.