Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection
Captain America Vol. 5 #1-6 (“Out of Time”), #7 (“Interlude: The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe”), #8-9, 11-14 (“The Winter Soldier”)
Writer - Ed Brubaker
Artists - Steve Epting (#1-6, 8, 11-14); Michael Lark (#2-5, 9, 12); Jon Paul Leon and Tom Palmer (#7); Mike Perkins (#8, 10-14)
Colorist - Frank D’Armata
Editor - Tom Brevoort
Creators - Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
With Captain America: The Winter Soldier coming out in theatres recently, I decided to review the body of work that it was loosely based on. The comic story arc and the movie have little in common with each other, except for the larger strokes: a Cold War brainwashed Bucky and the idea of mistrust in large entities stayed true in both adaptation, but many elements were left out for sake of brevity and prior knowledge. This particular entry will highlight how the comic was effective in its storytelling; if you would like to read about the movie review, please refer to this shiny red link for your needs.
Speaking of shiny blue links and anecdotal and charming critiques, please check out tomorrow’s Post Pwnage for a more in-depth look at why I chose these categories to critique a comic. In retrospect, I probably should have posted that tidbit first. Please think of me as the fun Uncle, since I’m letting you have dessert before dinner.
Level of Artwork and Craft
Steve Epting had the majority of the art-load on his shoulders, and even though I don’t usually prefer his art on a personal level, the tone and style really fit the story arcs involved. I feel that he has a tendency to make faces look “older” with certain age lines and creases, and at times it is distracting to the point where it takes me out of the story. Some of the action scenes also struggled to feel believable, especially with a character whose fighting style is grounded in reality. There were a few instances where practical fighting and combat physics were off; examples of this would be where a body naturally falls if taking an impact, or how a person would be holding a conventional firearm. These problems are fairly miniscule though, and the earthy palettes alongside the dark theme makes the story completely worth the read. To head not one, but two story arcs for an iconic character is no easy feat, and Epting and his ensemble art cast form a cohesive visual narrative that was proven to be award-worthy.
Story Pacing, Movement, and Cohesion
There wasn’t a selection of panels that were ever questionable, and the action never moved at a pace that was off-putting or jarring. Cuts between current action, simultaneous action, and flashbacks moved in a seamless way, often involving close-up shots and and intimate scenes. The story was grand in scope, but the selection of artwork flirted in the opposite direction; there were little to no elaborate backdrops, and even the background details felt mundane and appropriate.
Brubaker portrays Captain America a with a harsher tone than fans would expect, but this makes sense in the midst of Avengers: Disassembled and House of M. Saying that Cap is going through a hard time is a laughable understatement: the team (read: “family”) he developed is forced to break up, the only sense of stability that he’s formed since his decades-long stint in suspended animation. He moves with a sharper sense of brutality through this trade: his words are meant to be cutting, while an increasing outlet of physical violence is sought out more and more as the story progresses. This was the perfect amount of grit and empathy that I love to experience with Steve Rogers; anything over this would have felt over-the-top and pandering to what the audience thinks they want to see out of an “outdated” character.
The only character that I was remotely bothered about was the portrayal of Agent 13. Sharon Carter is a trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with high-level access, yet for most of the story she’s portrayed as either a MacGuffin or as an ineffective voice of reason. For a few of the issues she’s a glorified babysitter and hostage, and is the only character portrayed to cry on-panel. For being the only prominent woman in the story arcs, it was a little disheartening to see her portrayed as the emotionally petty, swoop-in-at-the-end cavalry.
Depth of Theme and Thematic Reach
These two story arcs had so many overt and subtle themes that worked well in conjunction with each other that I could have written this entire review solely on this section. The first of which are the lengths we go to pay debts: whether they stem from familial, emotional, or political ties, this highlights the idea that most of us are working to pay them off. Take, for example, the friendship between Lukin and Leon; trusted friends throughout the covert service of their country and beyond, Lukin only realizes that the Cosmic Cube can never be controlled when his intense want for power almost kills his most trusted advisor. The “debt” that is owed to friends and loved ones comes into play for everyone involved. I mean, even Crossbones feels a warped sense of loyalty to the Red Skulls, and promptly breaks his daughter out of a S.H.I.E.L.D. re-education facility to continue his ideals.
Another theme that I especially enjoyed was the nature of memory and perception. Cap thought he remembered his last days of the war, but as they were becoming tangible (thanks to the Cosmic Cube), he finds that his perception of the situation had been inaccurate and driven by faulty secondhand reports. Lukin experiences the same epiphany about the Cosmic Cube, never being able to perceive how such a small item could be a danger to himself or others until it’s too late. The best portrayal of memory and perception though is in issue #7, highlighting Jack Monroe’s degrading mental health. Realizing that he has never been “his own man” and constantly trying to emulate other people’s lives, the combination of his ailment and his sense of justice warps into a rampage of hurting innocent people. And the saddest part about this? He dies thinking that he made a difference in his daughter’s life, while the perception that the public gains is a crazed masked vigilante who was more of a detriment than a help.
Utilization of the Sequential Art Medium
The use of flashbacks was probably the most effective use of the medium, but using two different artists for the two different time periods is what set it apart from most stories. I understand that many comics have done this beforehand, but the use of subtly different lines and styles gave the flashback a familiar yet whimsical feel. When introduced as a flashback, the story turns a sort of muted grey, and facial features that were clearly defined in earlier panels are now a little muddled and soft, as if we were actively remembering the instance with Rogers. These subtle differences between Epting and Lark never takes the reader out of the story, but places us in a more focused and introspective mindset. This isn’t just a part of the story for sake of exposition; we need to pay attention because it’s imperative that we uncover the secrets with Captain America, which in turn creates an active reader.
When this was released in 2005, we were sorely in need of a Captain America story that resonated with modern audiences. Before this, in the 616 Universe, we were receiving a strong showing coming off of the heels of Avengers: Disassembled, but keep in mind that we were also experiencing Ultimate Captain America for a while, which left a bad taste in the comic fandom’s collective mouths. This marks one of the first moments to challenge the status quo of our flag-waving Super Soldier, and it came at a time culturally and politically where we needed stories that challenged cultural and political attitudes.
Brubaker stayed on Volume 5 until issue #50; this doesn’t show a writer trying to earn a paycheck every week, but highlights someone who deeply cares about where a character arc is taking a beloved character. We get to experience Captain America’s deep emotional struggles and hard choices leading to his eventual death, and it was a ride we were all willing to pay a ticket for. Although I wasn’t a fan of Bucky-Cap, many people loved the direction, and I honestly couldn’t think of another character that I would want to fill those red boots and scale armor. Captain America: Winter Soldier Ultimate Collection definitely earned its Eisner Award and its love from fans alike, while paving the way for more realistic and politically charged stories to be taken seriously.