The second issue of the relaunched “Captain America” sees Cap, Sharon Carter, and Nick Fury on the trail of Code Name Bravo, an Allied operative who has returned as a rogue agent, apparently allied with Hydra, after decades in quasi-mystical exile.
The opening sequence, retelling the story of the super-powered child, “Jimmy Jupiter,” is fantastic work from both Ed Brubaker and Steve McNiven. There’s an almost Peter Pan-esque innocence to Jimmy’s powers and history which contrasts heavily with both the havoc they could clearly wreak in the wrong hands, and the shady nature of his involvement in the war effort. This only helps compound the feeling that everything going wrong now wasn’t just an inevitable consequence of morally ambiguous decisions taken during World War 2, it’s just deserts for those who made them. In that way, it’s a Captain America story crafted right through to its core.
Interestingly, while Brubaker has tended to concentrate on either street-level, political or espionage-based villains throughout his run on the character, this issue sees the return of a adversary so unlikely that you won’t even notice him setting it up. This villain is straight from the fringes of Captain America continuity, and it’s easy to see why Brubaker chose now to bring them back. After all, if you’ve got Steven McNiven drawing your book, why not give him something truly impressive to draw?
And it is McNiven’s work that shines here. Brubaker’s “Captain America” run has always been enjoyable, but as good as his artistic collaborators have been, McNiven is on another level. In particular, his use of body language and posture can tell entire stories in a panel alone. With painstaking detail packed into every panel, imaginative layouts and fantastically kinetic action scenes, McNiven is easily one of -- if not the -- best artists at Marvel right now.
For all its genius, however, the story itself lacks that spark it needs to tip it into greatness. It’s cast in the same mold as all of Brubaker’s “Captain America” stories, which means that as good as it is, it feels a little like we’re listening to the same tune yet again. Enjoyable, but familiar. Coming on the heels of one of the greatest long-form Captain America stories for over a decade, one wonders whether Brubaker can find the stakes to make this arc stand alongside it.
Still, that doesn’t ultimately take anything away from a book that is, quite simply, a technical masterpiece. Whether you’re new to Captain America or a long-time fan, there’s something to enjoy here. And if you’re a fan of superhero comics at all, the “Captain America” relaunch is undeniably producing some of the best right now.