Captain America and a Past That Must Linger Still

Duck & Cover: Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve McNiven return to Captain America with a zeal and beautifully kinetic action sequences.

Despite the dark times that birthed the original Captain America #1, there was a hopefulness to the character. Writer Ed Brubaker however offers a Cap worn down by personal history. Or is that the point?

Captain America #1

Publisher: Marvel
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Ed Brubaker, Steve McNiven
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2011-09

With Captain America, perhaps more so than with other recent Marvel reboots, there's an accumulated history of public interest having been piqued. Steve Rogers (the original and at that point current Cap) was after all, killed just a few short years ago, and killed to much public outcry. Creator Jeph Loeb, writer of the Captain America: Fallen Son limited series had gone on NPR to express a sense of grief that clearly tied to the passing of his own son, Sam. Captain America regular writer, and mastermind behind killing Cap, Ed Brubaker had stated that Cap seemed something of a cipher; all shades of the political spectrum seemed to be able to read Brubaker's Cap as endorsing their position. Brubaker for his own part seemed to simply want to carve out a tale of how, even in the ideologically fractured landscape we find today, Cap was still emblematic of American ideals. The battles fought during those early days of the Brubaker run seemed only to put Cap into more subtle ideological dilemmas than into clear victories.

But of course things changed. Bucky, Cap's World War II sidekick, inherited the mantle after Steve Rogers' passing. After Rogers had been frozen in Arctic waters for decades, James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes had been kidnapped by Russian scientists and cybernetically enhanced. During Marvel's "Secret Invasion", "Dark Reign" and "Siege" mega-events, Brubaker's (and others) storytelling focused to Captain America as a concept. The idea that there can always be a Captain America became core to this new era. But now even that change has passed, and that events at the close of the last series have led to Steve Rogers reassuming the mantle of Captain America.

With the new first issue, creators Ed Brubaker and (artist) Steve McNiven definitely find a wellspring. There is a vibrant kineticism to Brubaker's scripting and McNiven offers a richly textured palette that visually disjoins the present from the past. Brubaker writes the opening part of the "American Dreamers" storyarc like a perfectly sequenced cinematic event. It is deeply reminiscent of the first issue of Captain America all the way back in 1941, rendered by industry legends writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby. Steve Rogers is skillfully pendulumed between near-maudlin meditations on the insurmountable history he has personally accumulated, hair-raising action sequences, and sober-minded investigations in an attempt to unravel the mystery he, Agents Carter and Dugan and Colonel Fury finds themselves embroiled in. It is this interchange between these three story-modes that gives an audience a sense of that original Captain America #1.

The difference between these two number ones however is stark. Brubaker and McNiven's number has that extra element, a Cap bedraggled by his own history. Nearly a year prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the original number one still read like a wartime story. Cap, along with Bucky, was on the hunt for Axis spies operating within the US. Despite the dark world the book was born into, there was a hopefulness to Cap. Brubaker's Cap #1, and rightly so given the history subsequent to 1945, reads like the opening rounds of a vast and immeasurable game of chess being played with Cap's own past. What unresolved wartime threat might pop up next? What unsatisfied grudge might yet be lurking to impel a new Uma Thurman to Kill Bill her way into a confrontation with Steve Rogers?

But perhaps this is exactly the quality of the drama Brubaker sees in Captain America; that if Cap is to be a credible icon for America it means publicly wrestling with the accumulation of history. We have seen this kind of maturity emerge in strange places this decade past; Elvis Costello's Secret, Profane & Sugarcane (or perhaps his slightly better follow-up album National Ransom), Eric Clapton's Reptile and subsequently Me & Mr. Johnson, cartoonist Joe Sacco's magnificent journey through rock, But I Like It coming long after Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde.

Costello perfects a transformation into an American identity that John Lennon never could, Clapton returns to his home which is the blues, and Sacco wrestles with the path that allowed him to perfect his skill as cartoonist. These are not re-calibrations, nor are they artistic reinventions, but like Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited or AC/DC's Black Ice or Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, these are meditations on having lived in the world and walked a certain path. Perhaps Ed Brubaker has realized that for Cap, as well as for America, the past must always linger.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.