Originally intended as an annual in 2007, "Captain America" #601 is a 36-page story framed by the Winter Soldier and Nick Fury discussing the then-current "Civil War" events, which causes the Winter Soldier to tell a story from World War II featuring him and Captain America fighting vampires in a small village. Why it's coming out so late could have to do with legendary artist Gene Colan's age and speed, or maybe the time for its release passed and Marvel waited until an appropriate time and now is a good one. With "Captain America" going on hiatus while "Reborn" happens, a story featuring Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes as partners in WW2 is fitting.
The story is serviceable and features a twist that's not too surprising. Ed Brubaker clearly geared his script towards Colan's talents with this vampire tale, giving him numerous chances to flex his horror muscles. The story is a series of encounters with vampires and trying to find the cause before more American soldiers are turned -- or before their suspicions of one another cause them to kill each other. A nice little done-in-one that ties into "Civil War" thematically, but it's mostly a showcase for Colan.
And what a showcase.
Colan is in top form here, with his pencil work highlighted both by Dean White's colors and by the black and white version of the issue being released. He draws the experience that Cap and Bucky go through as rough and not very pleasant. Too often, these war stories are drawn in very beautiful and pretty ways, which undercuts the reality of situations where soldiers were stuck in bombed out German villages, morale low, and conditions harsh. When a dying soldier says to Cap, "...I'm cold... it's so cold in Europe..." you believe it.
Colan also shows off his flair for the dramatic, using the vampires in shocking and surprising ways. He plays up the horror and fright of the situation, following it up with quick, dynamic action by Captain America and Bucky. This comic is filled with movement. Even his page layouts direct you to move, often using soft, non-existent borders between panels, so your eye naturally drifts from one panel to the next.
Dean White's colors match Colan's pencils exquisitely, looking as if they were done with colored pencils rather than a computer. Regular coloring wouldn't have ruined Colan's art, but it's gratifying to see a colorist depart from the norm in such a striking fashion to work with the artist. Of course, his fantastic colors only makes the decision between the regular book and the black and white variant even more difficult. It's hard to pass up a version of this comic that's just Colan's gorgeous pencils and includes the script for this issue, but White's colors are so striking that the decision is tough one. Either way, you'll be getting a fantastic-looking comic book.
While it doesn't tie into the current "Reborn" story, this 'lost annual' does feature Steve Rogers as Captain America again, which seems fitting. And, after the celebration of Captain America's history in issue #600, Gene Colan illustrating the book also seems fitting. His art really overpowers the writing and makes this a must buy.