This is a review of the (beginning of) the much-beloved Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting run on the Captain America revival. I bought the whole “Winter Soldier” storyline in two trade paperbacks (compiling issues 1-14) on the advice of a friend, and wow, was I not disappointed. In the comic-movie world, Robert Downey’s Tony Stark/Iron Man will probably always be my favorite character, while in (my admittedly short exposure to) comics, Kate Kane’s Batwoman will probably never be unseated. She has some stiff competition in Brubaker’s Captain America now though. God almighty can this man write! But more on that later. For now, lets begin with…
First Impressions: I love the artwork. The dialogue seems a bit thin just flipping through the pages, but we’ll see what happens once we actually start reading. The layout is nice–easy to follow and understand. Also, nothing makes me want to shout “hooah!” like the sight of Steve Rogers in the same Army physical training shirt I wear to PT every day. I love Cap.
Artwork: This is one hell of a beautifully drawn book. Both from my (quite extensive) experience with cartoon animation and (not so extensive) experience with comic book art, I’ve determined that I much, much prefer art that is realistic. That’s not to say I can’t get into or understand stylized books or panels, but generally speaking the less ‘cartoony’ and more photo-real-ish the artwork of a book is, the more I’m going to like it. And wow, is that ever the case here. Just in flipping through the book I can see gorgeous panels that look realistic, are highly evocative, and tell a great deal of the story even without reading the words. That is some damn good art.
The panel layout is pretty classic, it seems; pretty much like a newspaper comics layout. Very serviceable, easy to understand and follow, but certainly nothing like the style that J.H. Williams is experimenting with in the current Detective Comics run (which is also, to be fair, a lot more recent).
I really, really enjoy Epting’s use of color too. Despite this being a rather (make that ‘very’) dark story, it isn’t all just drab grays and blues (although it does have its share of those.) There are plenty of bright colors here used to balance out the dark, in everything from the muzzle flash of a rifle, to the bright colors of Cap’s uniform, to the fires burning in a Russian village during a series of flashbacks. I like artists who know how to mix things up and balance out color use, and Epting handles both issues beautifully here.
Writing/story: As I’ve mentioned before, this is the meat and potatoes of a comic book for me–its what I come to the table for. Give me all the pretty pictures you want, but if you don’t know how to write or tell a story effectively, I’m not buying. Well, no worries here. I can tell right from the start I’m in the hands of a true storytelling master. This is the first Brubaker comic I’ve ever read (although I have of course heard of him by reputation), and even this little taste is enough to make we want to seek out more. (Daredevil Omnibus, anyone?)
This story, literally, has it all: there’s mystery ( a murder-mystery no less!), political intrigue, character history, friendship, betrayal, and plenty of Cap kicking ass, both of the Nazi and non-Nazi variety. There’s even a cameo from two of my other favorite Marvel heroes, Iron Man and Falcon.
On top of just being a rollicking (and at times undeniably heartbreaking) read, the comic is even further elevated (!) by Brubaker’s mastery of prose. He doesn’t just know what to tell, he knows how to tell it. His language is gritty, realistic and completely believable, while also being quite poetic, and even meditative in places. A brilliant piece of work.
Final thoughts: A masterpiece. Not much more can be said. Epting’s beautiful and evocative images perfectly complement Brubaker’s story and prose, and achieve the kind of gestalt that I imagine is very, very rare in the comic world. An amazing and emotional story, and one I can’t wait to get the next installment of.