One of the problems with James Barnes, the former Bucky and Winter Soldier, as Captain America is that he’s been out of the hero game so long that he doesn’t have many villains that are his own. Ed Brubaker could fall back on the regular Captain America villains to highlight the differences between James and Steve, but he does something different in the current storyarc by positioning Baron Zemo, a traditional Cap villain, as the natural antagonist to James. Because Zemo’s father was, supposedly, responsible for James’s death, Zemo treating James’s role as Captain America as a personal slight is a logical outgrowth. It’s an interesting approach and makes a lot of sense for both characters.
The tactic that Zemo has used in his attack on James is a familiar one: he’s been destroying everything surrounding James, including outing his secret identity to the press along with knowledge of his time as the Winter Soldier. In response, James takes Zemo up on his offer to finish it despite warnings from his friends to keep calm and lay low, not to play Zemo’s game. It’s a classic approach to the hero/villain dynamic with the villain meticulously taking apart the hero’s life through extensive planning and preparation, but Brubaker writes it well. James’ anger and rashness show a side that he’s tried to bury since taking up the mantle of Captain America.
The use of the supporting cast continues to be strong with Steve, Natasha, and Sam all watching James’ back and trying to work out exactly what’s going on. However, Zemo has Iron Hand Hauptmann engage them and keep them from preventing James from falling into Zemo’s trap. The passion that Steve shows in this fight is more than we’ve seen recently, pointing to how his experiences in time changed him — and just how important James is to him. Despite Steve being the former Captain America, his appearances here revolves around James and strengthens that plot.
Despite very strong art on the first issue of this story, it has deteriorated somewhat over the course of the next three issues. Butch Guice’s pencils are still good, but they lack the visual inventiveness and playfulness of that issue. In issue 606, he made every page pop with exciting, stunning pictures that jumped off the page, and that doesn’t happen nearly as much in this issue. The art is also hurt somewhat by Dean White’s absence on colors. Paul Mounts is a talented colorist, but White’s colors had a dark, muted feeling to them that complemented Guice’s art very well, giving it a unique look. Mounts’s colors are a little brighter and shinier, which doesn’t fit the tone of the story as much. Don’t take that to mean I dislike the art; compared to most superhero books, the work done in this issue is miles ahead. The problem is that Guice and White set such a high standard on issue 606, both delivering work that ranks with the best of their careers.
The “Nomad” back-up strip’s use of Steve Rogers adds an extra element to make it more in sync with the main story, and Filipe Andrade’s cartoony, offbeat art is definitely worth giving a look. The strip still feels jarring in tone after the main story, but it has improved over the last few months.
As “No Escape” moves towards its conclusion next issue, Ed Brubaker writes a great confrontation between Captain America and Baron Zemo. Zemo is your typical confident, five-steps-ahead-villain, while James shows he’s not as adept at being a superhero as he thought. This story arc has been a definitive one for James and this issue keeps up the quality.