Back to talking about mainstream comic books for a bit. I previously decided that, after over two decades of following it regularly, I was going to drop Captain America from my reading list. Since then, I found out that current writer Ed Brubaker will be ending his nearly eight year long run on the series in a few issues, with Captain America volume six issue #19. So I made the decision to stick it out and see how he wraps things up.
Brubaker’s penultimate story arc, “Shock to the System,” continues his ongoing subplots concerning Codename Bravo and the Hydra Queen, who have systematically been taking a wrecking ball to Steve Rogers’ life while simultaneously undermining the public’s already shaken faith in the government. Bravo and the Queen are relegated to behind-the-scenes players in this arc. Truthfully, I don’t mind, since I haven’t warmed to either character. Instead, taking center stage is government agent Henry Peter Gyrich and a new vigilante Scourge, assassinating supervillains who have been placed in a witness protection program. And the mysterious Scourge turns out to have ties to Captain America.
I might have been more impressed with this arc if it wasn’t for the fact that the central conceit, namely “Hydra brainwashes Gyrich to recruit a new Scourge who happens to be an old friend of Cap” hadn’t already been done before a number of years ago by Fabian Nicieza in the pages of Thunderbolts. Consequently, some of “Shock to the System” felt like a retread.
I was also, once again, underwhelmed by Brubaker’s decompressed writing style. So much of the time, Brubaker has done quality work on the Captain America series, but at the end of each arc I couldn’t help saying “That was really nice, but maybe it could have been told in one or two fewer issues.” Well, I had the same reaction to “Shock to the System,” which felt like a nice three part story padded out to four issues.
I don’t know, perhaps I am being too critical of Brubaker in this respect. The entire trend of decompressed storytelling, of writing for the “trade paperback,” has become so much of a house style at both Marvel and DC. Pretty much every writer utilizes it. For me this is frustrating, because Brubaker is generally a very good writer, but that practice of decompression serves as something of a liability to his stories.
On the plus side, “Shock to the System” did see the return of two long-time supporting characters from the Mark Gruenwald years, one of whom I am a big fan of. It was nice to see both of them back, and Brubaker uses each of them very well. Okay, true, one of them does end up dying. But it was well-done and dramatic. Brubaker really made it a tragic event, rather than merely a throw-away death.
The strongest aspect of Captain America #s 11-14 was actually the artwork by Patrick Zircher, or, as he seems to be calling himself now, Patch Zircher. I’ve written before that he started out penciling New Warriors back in the 1990s, doing good, solid work. Well, he’s definitely improved & grown as an artist, becoming even better over the years. His artwork on “Shock to the System” was extremely well done.
So, five more issues of Captain America remain until Ed Brubaker’s departure from the title. I don’t know how he is going to bring closure to all of his plotlines in that remaining amount of time. I’m hopeful that he doesn’t have to rush things and/or leave some of his subplots unresolved. It’s true, I’ve been underwhelmed by Cap volume six. But on the whole, Brubaker’s work on this series has been very good, and I would love to see him go out on a high note.