The last page of Captain America #36 is going to excite some people, but I can’t spoil it and tell you why. The second-to-last panel on that final page shows one of those things that leads readers to speculate about “what it means,” and “what’s going to happen next,” which is great for a serialized storyï¿½”it keeps people coming back for moreï¿½”but makes this issue difficult to judge on its own merits. What if the revelation turns out to be a tease, doesn’t that make this issue less impactful in the long run? I think so. Yet, if the revelation leads into a larger narrative direction, this issue becomes more important in retrospect.
Honestly, though, “Captain America” #36 is a good issue no matter what happens with the shocker at the end. Writer Ed Brubaker has created a true ongoing series with this comic, and he’s still telling the story he began all the way back in issue #1. In a world full of limited series and relatively self-contained story arcs, “Captain America” is telling a vast tale of manipulation and suspense: the story of Bucky Barnes’s ascension to the role of Captain America. I suspect the story will inevitably follow the same trajectory as something like “Knightfall” or “The Death of Superman,” in which the beloved hero returns after a suitable period of time, but the virtue of Brubaker’s storytelling is such that we aren’t quite sure that’s what will happen. Perhaps Bucky Barnes is the new Captain America for good. Or at least, for as long as Brubaker stays on the title. Brubaker’s apparent commitment to the story direction makes it all the more compelling.
Bucky is a man attempting to live up to an impossible legacy, and in this issue we see him try to move from the Winter Soldier approach to superheroics (which basically means shooting and punching) to a more Captain America-esque quality of leadership by example. Yet, when he stands on top of a car to speak to rioters, he fails to inspire them with his words, as noble as those words may be. Instead, the mass of angry citizens throw cans at him and shout him off the make-shift stage. As Bucky admits to himself, “…the punching and kicking…the shield…not so bad. The rest of what this is…well, that’s gonna take a lot more work.” In some ways, that sounds like vintage Stan Lee, because what Stan Lee did was to emphasize the emotional cost of being a hero, but that formula still works after all these years.
This issue features a seamless blending of Butch Guice and Mike Perkins, each illustrating half the pages, although you’d be hard pressed to identify many differences between their styles. Colorist Frank D’Armata helps maintain the visual consistency, as he’s done since the beginning of the series, and although I prefer the subtle application of flat color more than the overly rendered look he employs, I do credit him for being consistent.
“Captain America” has been good since Brubaker launched this new series, and this issue is no exception.