CAPTAIN AMERICA #614
Writers: Ed Brubaker & Sean McKeever
Art: Butch Guice, Stefano Gaudiano, Filipe Andrade, Chris Sotomayor et al
Stewart R: I pick up a fair few Marvel books each month with $3.99 slapped on the front and I have never really flinched too much at handing over that increased sum of money for 22 pages regardless of the quality of the content. That said, the jump from a tasty $2.99 price point for my monthly Captain America comic to an inflated $3.99 so many moons ago really stuck in the throat for some reason, possibly because the main story took a small dip in form following the Captain America: Reborn debacle and because I had no interest in the Nomad back-up whatsoever. The fact that I was getting close to 30 pages of comic action seemed to pass me by as month on month I picked up Brubaker’s premier Marvel title and failed to find the enthusiasm for it that had gripped me for a good couple of years. Oh, how things have changed...
From the brooding Marko Djurdjevic cover to the final emotional page of McKeever’s Nomad chapter this is an issue of Captain America to relish. Brubaker kicks things off by showing just how powerful and dangerous Sin’s ultra Nazi henchman Master Man is when he’s unleashed upon Black Widow and Falcon who are trying to track down the Red Skull’s unbalanced daughter. That initial sequence adds an extra dimension to the courtroom fun to follow as the Trial of Captain America gets stuck into a good bout of witness testimony. There’s some brilliant fun to be had as Bucky’s defence attorney, the irrepressible Bernie Rosenthal, starts to take apart the prosecution’s case pointing out the nefarious backgrounds of each and every character swearing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You certainly know that when Norman Osborn’s asked to testify, someone is definitely clutching at straws!
I love a good courtroom drama and Brubaker keeps things brisk and snappy, ensuring we don’t get too bogged down in the litigation, and all the while keeping the tension high as we’re not left any more confident about the eventual outcome of the case. This isn’t the same situation as when a character dies and we all know that they’ll be alive and kicking at some point down the line; this case goes right to the heart of who Bucky was, is, and where his future lies - who knows how Brubaker will lay things out? Certainly this issue’s high point, where Dr Faustus takes to the stand, shows that anything is possible as the master of hypnotism and psychological manipulation goes about the job of defending Bucky in his usual pompous and devious manner.
This is where this book has really picked up in recent months. The story is not just about Bucky being Cap; it’s about the group that is there to help and support him when he truly needs it; it’s about Steve Rogers not being able to fully let go of his ‘sidekick’ and allow Bucky to be his own wielder of the shield; it’s about what it actually means for both the man and the people he’s sworn to protect to be the voice and the fist of justice and freedom. When you add into that equation some truly intriguing and well rounded villains who just seem to get smarter and more intimidating then there really isn’t much to go wrong.
Luckily for us too, Butch Guice has been on hand to deliver Brubaker’s enthralling tale to the page and his ability to mix action sequences with slower, emotionally complex scenes has really been highlighted during this arc. Bucky and Faust’s ride in armoured transport is a prime example of Guice pencilling at the highest level, capturing the earnest look in Bucky’s eye while maintaining Faust’s mysterious and calm manner - it’s gripping and entertaining stuff. The only slight blemish is once again a noticeable difference from inker to inker - and this title tends to use a fair few! - that can be distracting on occasion, but it's a small and forgettable niggle.
After 22 pages of that quality I’d be happy enough but then we’re treated to 8 pages of fantastic material with the Nomad back up and, my word, I don’t think my opinion has ever changed so drastically. From initially hating its intrusion into one of my favourite comics, feeling it to be incredibly out of place with its mismatched tone compared to the main drive of the book, Sean McKeever and Filipe Andrade have really drawn me into the world of this crime-fighting, time-displaced orphan. The art is distinctive, the tension palpable and emotionally charged. I’ll even admit right here that I got a little wet in the eyes reading the last page this issue, it was that good! McKeever’s Rikki is similar to Brubaker’s Bucky in many ways, doubting herself and her abilities and always trying to measure up to ‘greater’ heroes. There should be no doubt though that this is one triumph of a Captain America issue and it’s good to see this book rise back to the top. 9/10