Or – “The Problem With Reality In The Marvel Universe.”

So, James Buchanan Barnes is in jail, being held for the crimes committed during the decades when he was a mindwiped Soviet operative known as the Winter Soldier.  This situation is being played for super-drama, even though it’s a world wherein telepaths exist and creatures like Malice that inhabit and control the minds of others run rampant.  If we truly believe that the Fantastic Four and such have been around for years, then we have to assume that this isn’t the FIRST time a character has been held for crimes committed under someone else’s control, right?  Of course, in the name of drama and awesome, we have to ignore that thought process for the story to work.  In short, the success of this arc is going to hinge upon Ed Brubaker’s ability to smooth icing over the edges of his metaphorical layer cake, hiding the apple pie baked into it.  Or something…

Captain America #612
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Butch Guice
Colors by Brett Breitweiser
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover Art by Marko Djurdjevic
Published by Marvel Comics

Previously, on Captain America:  Ever since James Barnes returned to the land of the living, his life has been a one-way rocketbus to adventure, quickly going from Winter Soldier to solo agent to replacing his mentor as Captain America.  During those months (or are they weeks?  Marvel time compression is a bit vague on this point) it has been known to Iron Man and others that Bucky worked as a Soviet assassin for a lot more years than he was cute sidekick in red booties, but now that the general public has found out things look bad.  The pendulum of public opinion has swung again, and the man previously heralded for saving the President and such is widely believed to be a stone-killer.  Commander Steve Rogers of the whatever-it-is-he-commands has advised his old pal to turn himself in and face trial for his crimes, while the daughter of the Red Skull has been ominously laughing in her cell at a remote lunatic asylum.  So, the hero is in jail, Nazis are in play, and things couldn’t get much worse, right?  If you agreed with me, you must be new to comics…

We open with wall-to-wall cable coverage of the trial of “the man who until recently, we only knew as Captain America.”  That’s kind of an odd statement, there.  We also get to see two schmucks talking about the coverage, one of whom wants to “just put him in the chair already.” Pull out a bit, and we find that we’ve been watching two of the guards at the prison where James Barnes is being held.  I kind of like that sequence, very cinematic and fitting for what we see.  Barnes goes to see his lawyer, and in a fit of nostalgia, he’s being represented by Cap’s 80’s flame, Bernie Rosenthal!  I spent about ten minutes staring at Bernie, trying to figure out who they’re stuntcasting her as, as it’s clear that she is drawn with photo-reference.  After obsessing, I finally recognized Lisa Edelstein, the actress who plays Doctor Cuddy on ‘House.’  With that out of the way, I was also troubled that my copy of Page 5 has a bizarre fading effect, as though it were printed with the wrong color balance.  The crux of Bernie’s defense strategy is to keep Barnes off the stand at all costs, figuring that having him talk under oath about all the people he has killed would be bad for his chances of aquittal, and she even warns Commander Rogers that Bucky may not get the clean slate that Rogers hopes will come of all this.

At the same time, upstate, the villainous Master Man busts into the Kurtzburg Institute for the Criminally Insane, to save Cynthia Schmidt from incarceration.  With her new facial burns, Sin is hailed as the new Red Skull and Master Man even kisses her to prove his point.  Ewww…  Since the arguments that favor Bucky Cap involve mind-control, The Falcon and the Black Widow set off on a solo mission to find an expert witness in mind control:  Doctor Faustus!  The not-so-good doctor tries to come quietly, but his words and history of mind-control cause the Falcon to punch him unconscious, angry that they need the help of such a villainous personage.  Bernie goes on TV, while Bucky contemplates his future, and the new Red Skull prepares to make a victim of the new Captain America.  In the Nomad backup, we’re treated to the main character being beaten and tortured after being captured on a black ops mission, ending with her breaking her thumbs to escape from handcuffs and apparently shooting her torturer dead.  As with all the Nomad episodes thus far, the strength of the narrative is undermined quite a bit by the cartoony Humberto-Ramos-style art, and the overall effect is jarring to say the least.

I’m really impressed with the fact that this arc of Captain America has built so organically from the first issues forward, and that for about 7 years now, Ed Brubaker has been involved in, essentially, one long storyline.  The events here spin out of previous arcs naturally, making it hard to remember what events took place in what issues, and making it seem like only yesterday that Captain America set off on the mission in issue #1.  There are some problems with suspension of disbelief in the issue, but the character work is strong, with Bernie on a Larry King-type show and The Falcon’s surly disbelief at having to team up with the villain who has vexed Captain America and himself for so long standing out as well done.  I’m less in love with the Nomad backup than the lead tale, but so far, the balance between real-life court drama and superhero stuff is holding better than I thought it would, leading to a good issue overall.  Captain America #612 balances difficult source material with style, earning an impressive 4 out of 5 stars overall.  Brubaker is working his magnum opus here, and its fascinating to watch a master craftsman at work in an extended narrative…

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Why in the world would the heroes ever trust Doctor Faustus with guys like Professor Xavier around?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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  1. November 28, 2010 at 9:14 pm — Reply

    (About the Nomad mini) And once again Marvel tries to be DC…. and fails miserably. ;p Seriously, you once said that all “they” know is how to sell Wolverine and they don’t know how to sell anything else. I’ll go one further. I’ll say that they know how to sell Wolverine and they don’t care to learn to sell anything else.

    (Answer to the question) Because he’s a filthy mutant and not to be trusted. ;p Is it me or are the regular folk in Marvel U a lot more douche-ier than the ones in DCU?

  2. Armaan
    November 28, 2010 at 9:25 pm — Reply

    Um, actually, based on what I’ve read about Xavier, I kinda trust Dr. Faustus a little more.

    Seriously, though… I have no idea.
    I’ve been wondering a lot about the less fighty aspects of Marvel and DC universes. The legality sides, why AREN’T there more rules incorporating time travel, mind control, shapeshifting, clones, and powers in general?
    This should have been handled a LONG time ago.

  3. SenorEjaz
    November 29, 2010 at 7:21 am — Reply

    I recently read Stan Lee’s autobiography and a part stuck out at me. He’s talking about Frederick Wertham and starts commenting on he how easy it was to rile up the public and cause mass hysteria over things. I think this translated into the Marvel Public who frequently in Stan’s comics would turn against the heroes through some manipulation, even supposed celebrities like the FF would get blamed for freak events that had nothing to do with them. So I would say that the public in the Marvel Universe are douche(y?) but that’s how they were designed, to be like us!

  4. TaZ
    November 29, 2010 at 10:51 am — Reply

    The X-Men don’t even trust Xavier anymore. Of course, Marvel’s done a WONDERFUL job of making all the “father-figure” leaders of the Marvel U into machavellian, manipulating dirt-balls (with the exception of Steve Rogers) with the recent arcs of FF, X-Men, Iron Man and “The Illuminati”.

  5. steviecool
    November 30, 2010 at 1:18 am — Reply

    Why won’t OtherBucky go away? Why? The character gets more pathetic with each issue.

    At least she upgraded from getting trapped and abused in the basement with creepyguy, to getting trapped and abused by terrorists. But she’s still lame. You haven’t changed a thing about her. Except now she’s killing people. Cap would be so proud.

    How awesome is it that Cap was so against Young Avengers, but allows OtherBucky to go on spy runs with the Black Widow? I don’t think this is a continuity error. I think he wants her out of the picture, too. Next up, OtherBucky vs. Marvel Zombies. Here, wear the Captain America Meat Armor!

    Squirrel Girl backups are more entertaining. There. I said it.

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