Heroes die. Heroes come back. Heroes give up their mantles. Heroes take their mantles back. It’s cyclical and cliché, yet no comic publisher will give up this particular plot device anytime soon. Recently, both Batman at DC and Captain America at Marvel have died and come back. Batman put the costume on right away; Captain America opted to take on a new role sans iconic costume. The irony of “Operation: Rebirth” is not lost on Marvel. But with a major movie set for release and the inevitability of needing new story arcs, the original Captain America Steve Rogers may find himself in the red, white and blue sooner than he’d like.
Give Marvel credit, Steve Rogers stayed dead for much longer than any DC character (aside from Flash Barry Allen). In the interim between his death and eventual return, his former kid sidekick Bucky Barnes took up the shield and patriotic costume. But how long is his tenure as the symbol of America? Though Marvel answered that question twice with a one-shot issue and the end of the “Siege” event storyline, it’s still yet to be seen considering his storyline legal troubles. If Captain America 615.1 is any indication, it might not be much longer…or there could be two Captain Americas? Two people with the same moniker, running around in nearly the same costume? That might get confusing or expensive or demand more titles for them to appear in…
The will he or won’t he question surrounding Steve Rogers aside, Captain America 615.1 is a jumping on point for new readers. Part of a company wide effort to slow down and let new consumers join the party, the point-one issues have been relatively tame, lacking any sense of drama, excitement or enthusiasm. They have been fairly good summations of where titles have been, where they are currently and where they could possibly be going. Captain America point-one is an exception, however, as writer Ed Brubaker and artist Mitch Breitweiser revel in the opportunity and present a compelling, well-crafted book. And by doing so set a bar for which the other point-one issues should be judged.
There are a few writers whose work has become synonymous with an iconic character. Brubaker is certainly that with Steve Rogers, especially from his run on Captain America pre-Civil War. But he also has a handle on Bucky Barnes and the difference between Barnes’ Captain America and Rogers’. That’s a difficult task for a writer.
When DC decided to have two Batman – Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne – it took several different writers to create the separation and distinction, and arguably the formula has yet to be perfected or stabilized. Marvel has that possible conundrum with Captain America appearing in several titles written by various writers as well. Sticking to the main series, Brubaker has shown that the difference between the shield wielders is stark and compelling, worthy of further exploration as the developing storylines allow. It’s also helpful that Steve Rogers has refrained from wearing the costume since the end of “Siege,” setting up a new persona for himself as America’s top law enforcement operative. That allows the distinction, at least visually, to cement the roles each will play in the current setting.
Looking firmly at Captain America 615.1, this is a light exercise in existential rumination. Is Steve Rogers a commander or a field operative? Is he best with or without the shield? He’s having doubts, and his reservations are confounded by the appearance of yet another person acting as Captain America. This has been Marvel’s legacy with this title. Many others have taken up the role, but it inescapably goes back to the originator. Brubaker didn’t have to do much heavy lifting to set-up that plot point, but that’s not the hard task. The hard task is making the plot point seamless, flowing naturally from the preceding storylines. In simplest terms, that’s what makes for good execution. Work with what you have. It can be the greatest strength for any comic.
Guiding that execution is the artwork of husband and wife team Mitch and Bettie Breitweiser. The pencil work by Mitch is sketchy, showing a classic superhero comic influence that has come in vogue. His lines are thick, giving a kinetic energy to the panels that is both contained and jumping off the page. The dulled yet poignant colors from Bettie highlight the action scenes and add drama to the exposition scenes. Their work together is the narrative balance that any comic with explosive action and character defining drama needs.
Captain America 615.1 is many things. It’s a jumping on point for readers. It’s a set-up for the next several story arcs. It’s a meditation on what it means to be Steve Rogers now. But, in the end, it’s a well-crafted comic book. Story and art balance and enhance each other. The conclusion peaks interest in what’s coming next. The other questions and circumstance can be put aside for awhile. Steve Rogers will take up the mantle again. That much is fairly certain. Corporate synergy would suggest that a movie about one Captain American cannot have a comic with another Captain America. Or does it? At least with Captain America, it’s one at a time.