I was skeptical when the previous issue of "Captain America" ended with the words, "to be CONCLUDED next month." After years of extended subplots and one prolonged Red Skull/Faustus/Arnim Zola main plot, I doubted that Ed Brubaker could wrap it all up in a single issue.
Would "The Death of Captain America" arc all of a sudden conclude with Steve Rogers bursting forth from the grave, shouting, "America has never needed me as much as it needs me now"?
Would the new Bucky-Cap piece together the intricate components of the deep-rooted conspiracy and single-handedly defeat the Red Skull and his Killer Komrades?
Would Sharon Carter have any good luck, ever?
Well, "Captain America" #42 answers all of these questions, and more. And, for the record: no, Steve Rogers doesn't come back from the dead, thankfully. And no, Bucky-Cap didn't single-handedly defeat anyone. This has turned into a Captain America/Falcon/Black Widow team-up book if you haven't been paying attention. And, no, Sharon Carter won't have any good luck, ever, but at least she gets to shoot up the joint.
Of course, my immediate reaction after reading this issue was, "how are they going to collect this?" Because issues #1-42 tell a single extended story, and another "Captain America Omnibus" volume for issues #26-42 would seem logical, even though it's a bit short for an Omnibus. The point is that Brubaker and his artists -- mostly Steve Epting -- have crafted an engaging long-form superhero espionage thriller, full of finely-tuned character work and intriguing suspense. And it's worthy of a fancy collection, to showcase what Brubaker has accomplished. With "Captain America" #42 as the final story in the collection, because it really does wrap up the multi-year plot in a satisfying way, with the defeat of the Red Skull coming from an unexpected (but totally appropriate) source and Bucky fully embracing his role as the new Captain America.
But even though issues #1-42 could be read as a single, satisfying whole, the forty-two issue saga is really just Act I, isn't it? It's the ascension of Bucky Barnes, and now that he's firmly entrenched in the Cap role, what's next? What will Act II have to offer?
Any comic book series that makes me ask, "what's next?" after forty-two issues is doing something right. Brubaker and the gang have built an exceptional example of what a serialized comic should be in "Captain America." Not only am I asking, "what's next?" with genuine curiosity, I'm as eager to pick up the next issue as I've ever been. Not because some hot new creative team is coming on the book, not because upcoming storylines promise to change the Marvel Universe forever, but because Ed Brubaker has told a story exceedingly well, and he's hooked me for the long term. This is good stuff.