Lost in the shuffle of Fear Itself’s momentum-less narrative, DC’s Hail Mary relaunch, and Chester Brown’s fantasyland where all women are hookers, is the little comeback story of Ed Brubaker. The kick-off to the most recent Criminal story has been rightly praised. The cast of Archie comics grown up into reprehensible adults is a good basis for any story. It plays around with in-story form by playing rose-tinted memory and reality off of each other, not only with the way Sean Phillips switches between his normal inkblot shadow style and an Archie-esque style, but how that contrast plays out within those memories as well. The last time Brubaker went into this territory was the “Bad Night” story from a couple of years back which was to me the strongest story to date. Stories of heists, revenge, and detective work are creme of Criminal but it seems like when the series makes periodic visits outside those tropes is when it is at its best.
But Criminal has been pretty well-covered critically while his recent Captain America work has been criminally underrated. The “Gulag” cycle of issues running the last four months has been a return to form for the book since its “Death of Captain America” high point and the loss of momentum it suffered due to the “Reborn” story. If I had to attach some sort of behind closed doors theory behind this spike of quality I would say its due to the fact that Brubaker is really excited to get to write Steve Rogers as Captain America again. Which is something he has not gotten to for a stretch since 2007. The “Commander Steve” status of the last couple of years was something it seemed he couldn’t get into. That’s why “Secret Avengers” never took off from a writing or reading standpoint. I think that now that he gets to write “real” Captain America again, the Captain America of his Steve Englehart reading youth, he’s jazzed again. Not only that though, he gets to keep playing with Bucky in the re-dubbed Captain America book with Chris “I’m channeling Darwyn Cooke and Mazzuchelli motherfuckers” Samnee. So with the direction of setting the elements into place for the launches and “Fear Itself” (which is carrying the load of the Bucky to Steve transition. Just not very well) the book has snapped into tight focus. “This is the last hurrah of this part my Cap run everyone lets rock it out” could easily be the tagline from Brubaker to the rest of the people working on this book. Samnee is stepping in and revving up. Butch Guice is saying goodbye so he’s doubling the fuck down on riffing Steranko one last time.
Mega tiny panels every, impressionism, properly used montage and these Chunks of blood-red and white snow that Bettie Breitweiser has been slapping down are just killing me. Brubaker’s Marvel stuff when in top form have always been the best modern version of the Marvel-style. He’s always been quietest of there star-writers and I can’t help but like a guy whose pleasure is writing pulp, crime, and badass Captain America comics. Because I like those things too.
-Daniel Von Egidy, 2011