2011 is almost over and, to celebrate, Marvel has lined up its shipping schedule to provide a triple dose of Captain America comics this week. It’s both an ending and a beginning with “Captain America” #5, concluding the opening story arc of the relaunched title before issue six can pick up where it left off and start a new story. This issue puts its eyes firmly on what’s coming next, providing immediate closure of the dangers facing Captain America and company, and planting seeds for the dangers of 2012.
The finale of “American Dreams” manages to be both haunting and underwhelming. So much of Ed Brubaker’s tenure on “Captain America” has been rooted in the past that yet another ‘forgotten’ person from Steve Rogers’s past coming back to haunt him doesn’t pack the punch it once did. Worse is when that ghost begins to make Rogers doubt himself and his role as Captain America, especially when he just resumed that role. Is there nothing else interesting about the character besides his fighting in World War 2 and that he cannot actually affect the direction of the United States in a meaningful way? In that respect, the finale of “American Dreams” cannot help but seem clichéd and redundant in its repetition of previously explored ideas.
Yet, there’s something about the way that Brubaker writes Codename: Bravo’s critique of Rogers and contemporary America that rings true and lends weight to the issue. Looked at from afar, it’s difficult to see where Rogers questioning America and his role as purely symbolic representation of the country can be resolved in any satisfying manner; in the moment, though, it’s compelling and interesting. Rooting the criticism in the ideals that Rogers holds makes it land, especially when you consider that, up until recently, Rogers was America’s ‘top cop’ and bears more responsibility for the state of the nation than he ever did as Captain America. The end result of this line of questioning may not result in permanent changes for the character or Marvel’s America, but there’s enough worthwhile material in simply asking the questions.
The emotional weight of the issue may rest in the questions of contemporary America and if Captain America failed, but what drives it is action; that’s where Steve McNiven and Giuseppe Camuncoli shine. McNiven’s work on this opening arc has been refined and utterly gorgeous, while maintaining a fluidity not often seen in artists that attempt this thin-lined, detailed approach. Usually, excessive detail results in stiff, static figures. McNiven’s art is anything but. Camuncoli’s art is a strong contrast to that of McNiven, favoring thick lines and more exaggerated expressions. The scene he draws, though, leans into his more manic approach to characters. A defeated Codenamed: Bravo looking crazed and unrestrained is perfect.
Ending the year with “Captain America” #5 is an appropriate choice. The story that ends here isn’t a hard ending since it sets up the story that begins (or continues) in issue six, raising ideological questions for Steve Rogers that will no doubt drive much of what happens in 2012. The familiarity of the territory for the title and character is offset by Ed Brubaker’s approach to it. Rooting the story in Rogers’ past so deeply is both a liability and strength where the skill of execution gives the latter the edge over the former.