Having regrettably missed Ed Brubaker's universally beloved first run on Captain America, as well as having thoroughly enjoyed this summer's blockbuster film adaptation of the character, I sensed greater forces at work goading me toward finally investing time in some Cap comics. Brubaker's recently relaunched volume of the flagship title was my first attempt at making that happen, but its awkward shift of emphasis onto sci-fi superheroics didn't play well to what have traditionally been the writer's strengths. For me, the much more on-target offering turned out to be Captain America and Bucky, a reverent flashback to the WWII-era incarnations of the star spangled duo. For its first four issues (numbered 620 through 623… don't ask), it had been an engaging, heartfelt tale of young Bucky's growth from boy into man.
With the advent of Issue 624, however, that pattern finds itself uncomfortably broken. Brubaker and co-writer Marc Andreyko abruptly yank us into the 1950s, the period during which Bucky regularly performed assassinations for the Soviet government as the brainwashed Winter Soldier. It's an odd setting for a story that purports to be a finale, bearing nary a mark of continuity between itself and the prior elements of the arc to date. Not only has the focal character suddenly gone from hero to villain, but the events leading him to do so occur almost entirely off-panel, being explained only briefly in a quick recap of scenes from previous Captain America comics.
Had those snippets been spaced out to more gradually trace Bucky's plunge into darkness, they might have formed the backbone to a strong story, one that could have ominously mirrored the character's ascent to heroism during the war. As it is, there are still some pretty nice moments to be found. The Black Widow shows up as a love interest, drawing out the humanity in Bucky that has otherwise been covered over by his remorseless Winter Soldier façade. The incomparable Chris Samnee renders both sides of that equation well, drawing out a tenderness to the romantic relationship that is effortlessly cast off once Bucky slips back into his killer persona.
The problem isn't that the creative team falters in presenting any of these aspects of the book, but simply that they feel like the pieces of a different story than the one that was, up 'til now, being told. With the chronological setting of the series set to jump forward once again in the next issue, it's anyone's guess as to what the future of Captain America and Bucky holds. Based on previous output, I'm inclined to trust that Brubaker and company have a firm command over the direction they're heading, but the ultimate success of this series will rest in its ability to maintain a consistent trajectory.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found at @Chris_Kiser!