There are some writer/artist combinations these days that are almost comic-book royalty. Near the top of the list is certainly Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, especially after collaborations like "Batman: The Long Halloween" and "Superman For All Seasons". After three mini-series for Marvel, the two went on to other projects, but they've finally reunited for the brand-new "Captain America: White".
They're kicking off the series a little early with "Captain America: White" #0. While it's a designation that is really overused, I'm actually glad that this issue stands aside from the rest of the mini-series. It probably got branded #0 because the story is a shorter length than normal, and the rest of the issue is filled up with interviews and a sketchbook. I can't help but wonder if it's because it's a prologue that it felt more than a little lackluster.
It's a retelling of Bucky's origin, and considering that their other three big collaborations for Marvel have also retold significant past stories ("Daredevil: Yellow", "Spider-Man: Blue", and "Hulk: Gray") that really shouldn't have been much of a surprise to me. The problem, though, is that it felt like both Loeb and Sale were on auto-pilot for this story. At their best, their collaborations really expose the emotional cores of the iconic characters, bringing an extra punch to a story that you already know so well. Here, though, we don't get that. It's very by-the-numbers and unengaging; Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting brought more pathos to two- and three-page flashbacks in "Captain America" than all 16 pages did here.
Even Sale's artwork isn't up to its normally high standards here. It's not bad, certainly, but I think everyone's used to so much better from him. I had high hopes with the very first page, a beautiful drawing of an old-fashioned movie theatre, complete with amazing colors courtesy Dave Stewart. But it quickly slowed down from there, his characters looking a deformed and off-kilter in panels. (People still mock Rob Liefeld's infamous drawing of Captain America where what were supposed to be pectoral muscles looked like a gigantic rack of breasts, but I'll contend that Bucky walking in on Captain America changing in "Captain America: White" made me wonder when Cap had become a woman.)
I really hope that when the mini-series proper debuts, that "Captain America: White" is up to Loeb and Sale's higher standards that I've come to expect. The two of them together so often produce real works of beauty. It's not a debut for the ages, that's for certain.