Captain America #29

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Or – “This Just In… Former Captain America Steve Rogers Is Still Dead.”

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Trust me… In the right context, that joke is hysterical. The good Captain has been gone for four issues now, but the threads that led to his assassination are still unraveling. Tony Stark and Natasha Romanov have a mole in their organization, Sam Wilson and Sharon Carter have no leads, and the Winter Soldier has murder in his heart. Add in a new Serpent Squad, Red Skull’s continuing battle for dominance of Aleksandr Lukin, as well as continuing drama about exactly WHO pulled the trigger on those fatal shots, and we’ve got a recipe for a strong act two. Call it “The Barnes Supremacy” if you like, just don’t call it late for dinner…

Previously, on Captain America: Thanks to a conspiracy consisting of the Red Skull, CA1.jpgDoctor Faustus, and possibly Arnim Zola, Sharon Carter has been hypnotized to kill the man she loves. Steve Rogers, Captain America has fallen, and his friends and former partners are having to come to terms with a Cap-free world. The Winter Soldier knows exactly who is to blame: the head of the group that botched the prisoner transfer in the first place, Tony Stark. Knowing that the Soldier is gunning for him, Stark has mobilized the Black Widow, perhaps his best field agent, and also a former lover of Winter Soldier’s. Sharon Carter, still under a posthypnotic suggestion keeping her from talking about her participation in the murder, has teamed up with The Falcon in an attempt to track down The Winter Soldier before he reaches Tony, but only find a Hydra listening post, and the reveal that Sin and King Cobra have been seeking information on SHIELD listening posts in the New York area. Why, you ask? Simple… The Serpent Squad wanted uniforms to make it easier to bust Crossbones out of SHIELD custody.

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I’m glad that somebody remembered that there’s a new Cobra running about, and that Klaus has a new moniker. Either way, the snakes had full SHIELD uniforms and ID, including hologram generators to make their faces look right, but most frighteningly for Tony: one of his men just OPENED THE DOOR FOR HIM. Director Stark may be a bit of a controlling sociopath, but even I don’t want to see his innocent agents get killed. Tony inquires about the security staff that SHOULD have been on duty to stop the serpents, and the news isn’t any more encouraging…

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There’s no way around it: SHIELD has a mole. Tony is overworked already, but puts his feverish Extremis-infected brain to work on some sort of countermeasures. One agent he CAN count on is already in play, and the Black Widow busts heads across the city looking for any kind of lead on the former Bucky. Even though she knew Winter Soldier decades ago, she still can’t find even the thinnest thread that might lead her to her former lover. Natasha is frustrated, but she’s still a professional, and continues to rattle cages in an attempt to find out something meaningful.

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“What do I know about this man?” she asks herself, and a subtle smile crosses her face… The object of her search is likewise racing across rooftops, irritated about the fact that Crossbones got away. “The Skull’s daughter and her new crew just grabbed him right out of their hands and left a trail of bodies behind… And if she knew WHO to target, that means Fury was RIGHT. That place is being poisoned from the inside out.” Winter thinks back to earlier that night, when he was forced to make one of the worst decisions of his life…

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The Kronas Corporation, owned by General Lukin, the new host to the consciousness of the Red Skull. As a former Soviet soldier, he has little use for the face of the Nazi party, he has little use for Herr Schmidt in the first place, but sharing his brain has become untenable. “That isn’t what we agreed on, Skull… Our pact was HIGHLY specific in it’s details.” The Skull has a standard-issue pure evil response up his sleeve.

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The Skull is surprised, when Lukin turns his mindscape against him, crushing the Skull under the Stalin statue’s bronze hand. “You won’t do a thing, Lukin!” says the Skull. “I know your part in this means too much to ever throw away. I know ALL your secret thoughts.” Lukin relents, even letting the Nazi up, and I wonder exactly what hidden machinations are in play here. This story gets more and more complex every issue, without feeling like it’s being drawn out (Might Avengers take note!) Across town, at another hidden AIM base, The Falcon and Sharon have busted in, searching for leads on the Winter Soldier. Falcon takes a stray energy blast, and proves that he is, indeed, a bad motha– Just talking ’bout Falcon!

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Sam wades into the beekeepers again, cracking skulls as Sharon heads out to find the files they need. Racing down the hall, dodging bullets, Agent Carter takes out all the fighters, leaving her face to face with a lowly computer tech. She orders him away from the systems, but he stammers in panic. “Please… don’t kill me!” The fear in his eyes triggers a flashback, and once again Doctor Faustus’ mesmeric memory loop engages…

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Overwhelmed by the memories of what she’s done, Sharon loses her lunch in a very graphic way, completely unaware that the techie has pulled a gun on her. Luckily, she doesn’t work alone, and he gets a mouthful of size 12 Falcon-boot for his trouble. “I DON’T think so,” Sam says, and checks on Sharon. The twosome grabs their information and gets gone, seconds before The Black Widow drops in, following the same trail. She resolves to tell her boss, before following them. All three of them missed The Winter Soldier, though, now deep inside the security of Lukin’s Kronas building. Lukin is distracted by his internal monologue with the Skull, and Bucky is confused.

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Winter has figured out that Lukin is in league with the Skull, and tells him that he’s acting even worse than a mass-murderer would. Lukin replies that he’s rubber, and Bucky is glue, but Winter slams him into the wall again, demanding to know where the Skull is hiding. “You want to FIND the Red Skull?” Lukin smirks. “Now that IS amusing.” When Bucky asks what the hell he’s talking about, Lukin replies, “You have NO idea what you’re doing.” And then, the cavalry, in the form of five costumed jackasses, arrives.

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Y’know, even with two guns to his head, I suspect that Barnes is about to raise some hell in that room. I’m really enjoying The Winter Soldier’s arc, wavering between heroism and murder, and generally being the only person in the room who knows enough to figure out the right answers (even if it’s for the wrong reasons.) It’s fascinating to me how the book has continued, even though the main character is long gone, and they haven’t even gone with the expected “Who Will Be The New Captain America?” bit.

Ed Brubaker is on top of his game here, weaving together the various sides of the story in a manner that keeps us informed and interested, without tipping his entire hand. The plot behind the murder is getting deeper, and I’m kind of hoping that Iron Man, Black Widow, Falcon, Sharon, and Winter Soldier realize that no matter their differences, they’re all on whatever side is opposite of the Red Skull. Steve Epting’s art is top-notch as always, and I like the fact that none of the storylines feels padded. There’s no inherent problem with the decompressed storytelling technique, just as long as there’s enough story and technique to go around, and Captain America #29 has both in spades. It’s a 4 out of 5 star effort, and a damn fine comic book. Even if they do undermine the whole story for the sake of placating a “superstar” artist, this arc will stand as one of the best Cap stories in years.

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