(NOTE: Although many retailers did not receive the book on Monday, it was available on that day, and this is a critical examination of the book and thus will undoubtedly contain spoilers. If you have not yet gotten your hands on the book, bookmark this page and I'll see you on Wednesday.)
I'll admit, when I first cracked this book open and saw the cover gallery and old reprinted story in the back, I figured, "Oh here we go. Another $5 Marvel anniversary book with about $2.50 worth of story in it." And, in a lot of ways, "Captain America" #600 doesn't quite deliver on that promise, despite the amount of names you see up there in the credits. That being said, the book did go a long ways to keep me from feeling too bad about its purchase.
Like a lot of these kinds of issues, it's a bit all over the place. It's got three genuinely new stories, one of them carrying on Ed Brubaker's main "Captain America" storyline and the others highlighting the anniversary of Steve Rogers' death. But lets start with Brubaker's since that's the one that will most likely draw the most attention. Undoubtedly given a landmark Monday release because of the return of Steve Rogers, the story is surprisingly uneventful on that score. It doesn't end with Rogers emerging from the dark, smoke and condensation drifting off his shoulders, saying, like, "Hello Sharon," or anything like that. If anything, the back cover advertisement for a series called "Captain America: Reborn" by Brubaker and Bryan Hitch gives more away than the story itself. What is revealed in "One Year After" is one heck of a Deus Ex Machina, one that until it's further explained, is a little bit hard to swallow.
You see, it turns out that Sharon Carter shot Steve Rogers but that now she's conveniently and suddenly remembered that it was "NOT an ordinary gun". Which naturally means that Steve could be and most likely is still alive. It's a bit of a sudden development, and one that hasn't been given much foreshadowing at all that I can recall. It may turn out that all this really was planned all along, and that Brubaker will fit together all the pieces wonderfully and confidently, but right now, it feels more than a little forced. Bucky has made a fine Captain America and his journey over the past "year" has been a fascinating one. That's not to say that Steve Rogers coming back somehow invalidates his growth, and it's not even guaranteed that he'll stop being Captain America. It just feels, in a run that has always laid its trail very meticulously and deliberately, like a rather arbitrary development. There's one brief moment, where Norman Osborn decries his detractors "the left," that makes me wonder had Barack Obama not been elected president, would Steve Rogers be coming back?
It sounds a bit outlandish, but one of the impressive things Brubaker, Stern, and especially Waid do in this issue is personify Steve Rogers' tenure as Captain America as living symbol of the hope and promise of America. It's no secret that when Rogers was shot, America wasn't looked at in the best light, both inside and outside its borders. "The Death Of Captain America" was moment rife with symbolism and the weight of that present moment. By bringing the political into the "Dark Reign" of the Marvel Universe, one can't help but draw the connection between the self-proclaimed "new hope" of Obama's administration and the rebirth of Steve Rogers.
Or it could all just be a happy accident. We'll just have to wait and see.
Brubaker is joined by some very talented collaborators, each one illustrating the brief story of a different character, from Sharon to The Falcon, to Crossbones. There was even the re-introduction of the Bucky from the "Heroes Reborn" experiment of a decade back. In a group featuring heavyweights like Howard Chaykin and David Aja, it says a lot that Mitch Breitweiser impressed me the most here. He drew the segment focusing on The Avengers, and simultaneously captured the grit and realism that Butch Guice and Steve Epting always bring to the title and infusing it with the kind of energy you see in the work of someone like Billy Tan. It's subtle work but very impressive none the less.
I noted Mark Waid earlier because his story "The Persistence Of Memorabilia" (with art by the criminally underrated Dale Eaglesham) is actually the highlight of this issue. It's a simple story about a Captain America collector selling off his collection of memorabilia. The warring beliefs as to just how much Steve Rogers really loved his country are on display here as some people still believe he died a traitor and some people feel that selling off this material a year after his death smacks of questionable morality. But the parable isn't what impressed me most about the story. Most of the story centers around the auction for the memorabilia and Waid links many moments of Steve Rogers' past through various mementos to the people they impacted most. Thanks in huge part to Eaglesham's art here, the thread of those brief moments in a larger tapestry of "Captain America" comics to the regular lives of policemen and soldiers was surprisingly disarming and poignant.
Roger Stern also returns to "Captain America" this issue in a story revisiting many of the characters he brought into Steve Rogers' life. It's a similarly straightforward story, with great art by Kalman Andrasofszky, that will undoubtedly have more of an impact on readers who still carry fond memories of his run.
So while people may have been lured to their local comic book stores on such an odd day by the promise of a big splash page return of Steve Rogers, they will instead find an impressive examination of just what Steve Rogers and Captain America meant to Americans. The big reveals will have to wait, and there are plenty of things that need explaining, but the dozens of people involved in this issue have done a remarkable job in honoring the memory of Steve Rogers while they still have the chance.