Marvel may have their broader strokes planned out well in advance, but, sometimes, things don’t line up too neatly. Ed Brubaker has lamented that the finale of the Buck Barnes “Captain America” didn’t come out before “Fear Itself” #3 and, while annoying, what’s more bothersome is how the end of “Gulag” seems rushed and doesn’t satisfy completely. Unless the first issue of “Captain America and Bucky” bridges the gap between this issue and “Fear Itself,” that gap is a glaring error. Especially when the issue basically puts forth the argument that Barnes can never be Captain America again, for good reasons and, yet, there he is in Marvel’s big event in full costume.
I don’t mean to be the continuity fanboy sort of reader or reviewer here, but it’s hard to overlook central points like these when the last two stories of this series have been designed to make the argument that Barnes is not the man to wield the shield. It makes for a disjointed ending; one that feels like there should be another part to complete the thought that Brubaker starts here. As it is, too many questions are left unanswered by the simple “Follow Steve and Buck in ‘Fear Itself!’” that ends the issue.
And, despite those two paragraphs, “Captain America” #619 is a good comic. Though the resolution may be rushed, the mixture of artists and stories that’s made “Gulag” read much like the post-"Death of Steve" issues continues to work here. Black Widow rushing to bust Bucky out of the Russian prison leads into Bucky breaking himself out leads into Steve dealing with the political ramifications of Bucky breaking out of the prison. In some ways, the Widow and Steve portions feel like the prologue and epilogue to Bucky’s story here. It’s an effective way to structure the events and gives a broad view of the events.
The art is what really makes the prospect of three different chapters so appealing. Mitch Breitweiser begins with the Black Widow and the style he uses is something in between Butch Guice’s moody realism and Chris Samnee's clean and dynamic cartoony style that are seen later in the issue. It’s definitely a more stripped down style than Breitweiser used previously on the title and it seems to stem from the character. It’s a style that has an almost campy goofy Bond movie feel as the Black Widow blows through the Russian black market to obtain the necessary weapons to rescue Bucky.
Guice, with some help from Stefano Gaudiano, impresses with line work that shifts between thin, detailed, scratchy lines and thicker blacks that envelop characters in shadows. His use a three-tiered page structure provides a baseline for his compositions that he constantly riffs on, seeing how far he can deviate from simple layouts while maintaining the three tiers until it’s time to ‘break out’ and he loses the tiered construction.
Samnee’s work on the final pages is excellent character work and storytelling. The way he draws Nick Fury is so classy and cool, but also typical superspy in his black suit. Since the point of this scene is that Steve Rogers isn’t really the man to replace Fury, making sure Fury visually looks like the archetypical spy is a smart choice by Samnee.
Throughout the issue, these three talented, yet different artists, are linked by the colors of Bettie Breitweiser. It’s interesting to see how she subtly alters her style for each artist while maintaining a consistent look. There’s a bluish grey look that runs through the issue, but even it changes for each artist, darkening on the Guice pages, for example.
“Captain America” #619 falls short in a few ways and is a weak ending for both “Gulag” and the Bucky-as-Cap era of the title. Still, Brubaker writes some nice character moments and clearly has the makings for a good story, it’s just one that doesn’t quite fit into this comic. Where the characters go from here will be interesting as, next month, the title splits in two with a new “Captain America” #1 and “Captain America and Bucky” #620. It’s a shame that this issue doesn’t provide a clearer ending and idea of what’s coming next.