Review: Captain America #44

by

Or – “Serious Flashback Time…”

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Part two of the first REAL story about James Barnes as Captain America continues apace, as the sins of the past come back to bite him in his cyborg @$$, and we find that even a kid in a band uniform called Bucky might have a skeleton or two rattling around in the closet…

Previously, on Captain America: The year was 1941, and the Invaders headed into occupied territory, to CA2.jpgsave a young Chinese scientist named Zhang Chin from under the thumb of the Axis powers.  The Invaders swept in like the wrath of Barney Stinson, and snatched him from under the noses of his captors.  Bucky went on to get blowed up, left for dead, his arm replaced with a big steel meathook, and spend a few decades as a covert killer for the Soviets (and who says comics don’t have any realistic characters left?) before coming in from the cold and watching his former partner get assassinated.  Now, wearing the colors of Captain America, James crossed paths with Batroc Ze Leapair, Fronch mercenary and snappy moustache wearer, who recognized him as the former Winter Soldier.  Batroc has already sold the information to a mysterious organization who seem to have less-than-pure motives in mind for our former kid sidekick.  Now, with forces moving against him, Captain America’s chickens are coming home to roost and other cliches of ill repute…

We start our story in 1968, in the People’s Republic of China, as the Winter Soldier slips into a compound in Beijing, taking down all sentries (the implication is that he does, indeed, kill ‘em all and let Comrade Mao sort ‘em out) on his way to his target…  Dr. Zhang Chin!  In the present day, Cap and the Black Widow liase with one of their old contacts, who reports that his superiors (possibly in SHIELD, though I honestly don’t remember) have not only punished him for helping them, they’re reassigned him to a meaningless desk gig in Madripoor.  “They were grilling me about Cap here…  What did you see?  What did you say?  How much did I show you?”  The implication is that someone doesn’t want Captain America to find something in the files, the same information that Batroc tried to steal last issue.  Bucky and Natasha have an absolutely adorable moment where they agree to meet up later, and she swings off into the rainy night, and I realize that I love them as a couple.  Both guarded, set in their ways, and yet they let that guard down with each other.  It’s a nice humanizing element for the former Winter Sojer, and I am a little bit in love with her myself…

Cap starts rattling cages throughout the city, roughing up those who might have information to sell, and making it absolutely clear that the Winter Soldier is back in town.  One of his “contacts” babbles out some information about a mercenary who might have been working for Batroc, while we see the selfsame Leaper kidnaps a big-time scientist guy as part of his eeevil plan.  He calls his employer to give the update, and is asked the most important question of the day:  “Did you leave a clear trail for this Captain America to follow?”  The Winter Soldier tracks down the missing merc, finding his black ops a bit easier than openly adventuring in the red, white, and blues, but finds the information he needs.  The next afternoon, Batroc makes his move on a convoy carrying the info he wants, only to find Captain America bouncing his motorcycle of a handy Prius and engagning him in combat.  It’s a very cinematic and awesome sequence, and Luke Ross’ art makes Batroc a convincing and imposing threat in hand-to-hand combat.  A strange cloaked man steps out of nowhere (possibly out of the truck?) and Cap suddenly remembers him.  Flashing back to ’68 again, he remembers how he was sent to kidnap the very man that he saved in the 40’s staring at him.  “I know you,” said Dr. Zhang.  “You were Captain America’s friend…”  The Winter Soldier’s programming is shaken by this revelation, and we see the strange apparition, in cloak and slouch hat slides out of the shadows.  “No one’s going to touch you,” says the stranger.  “Not as long as I’m here.”

This was a really nicely done issue, and this arc feels a lot like Bucky-Cap finally getting to tread his own ground with the shield and winged helmet.  The villain of the flashbacks looks familiar to me, and during the issue I realized that he appeared on an Invaders cover back in the day, and I have absolutely no idea what his name is…  A quick web-search yields no clues, thus I shall dub him “The Fandom Strangers.”  In any case, it’s an interesting plot, and it’s well-crafted, as always, by Ed Brubaker.  It’s kind of funny to think that Bucky might have people looking to get revenge on him, but the tale takes it deadly serious, despite any odd connotations that might crop up from such an odd premise.   Captain America #44 earns a nicely done 4 out of 5 stars, and shows that this book has life well after Steve Rogers’ ghost has been (even just temporarily) exorcised.

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