In "Captain America" #49, Ed Brubaker spotlights Sharon Carter, a woman trapped insider her own memories, as incomplete as they are. Like he did so well after the death of Steve Rogers, Brubaker deals with the secondary characters -- here Carter and Sam Wilson, with not even so much as a cameo by Bucky Barnes -- and tells a good story about the people who surround the title character.
And he's still telling that grand Captain America narrative that he began all the way back in issue #1. This issue is either a step toward a resolution for the "Death of Captain America" super-arc, or it's another stage in its prolonged development. Between the mysteries hinted at in "Captain America" #49 and the in-house Marvel ads with the white star on the field of black, something seems to be brewing on the maybe-Steve-Rogers-will-return-after-all front.
With all the media attention around his death, comic book fans smugly asserted that it was just a matter of time before Steve Rogers returned. The American populace was foolish to believe that Captain America was really dead, weren't they? Steve Rogers was going to stay dead for just long enough to make it a big deal when he came back. We all knew the game.
But what Brubaker did surprised many of us -- it surprised me, anyway -- as he took Bucky Barnes and made him a Captain America that offered an interesting slew of story possibilities. It's been two years since Steve Rogers's death, and Brubaker has done such a nice job with the series that it has begun to seem possible that Bucky would remain as Captain America forever.
Or, if not forever, then at least until Brubaker left the series in the hands of someone more interested in nostalgia than forward-looking storytelling.
Yet there's something brewing here, in issue #49, something in the deep recesses of Sharon Carter's memories. Something that might lead to unexpected revelations.
Meanwhile (as they say in comic book land), Bad Cap (aka "Fifties Cap") is still around, his story hovering around that of Sam Wilson, of Sharon Carter. And just as Carter is trying to regain her memories, or make sense out of them, Bad Cap is trying to fill in his own memories. If Steve Rogers will not return, perhaps this flawed duplicate can replace him, and to do so, he'll need to learn what it meant to be the super soldier of World War II.
But there's that moment near the end of this issue that makes it seem like something bigger is on the horizon. I have no idea what Brubaker has in store for the future of the "Captain America" comic books, but he's earned our trust after four years of excellent stories, and though this issue is completely action-free, it still packs its own kind of punch.