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Sunday Slugfest - Captain America #18

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

“Twenty First Century Blitz: Part One of Four”

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting, Frank d'Armata (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

EDITOR’S NOTE: Captain America #18 appears in stores this Wednesday, May 17.





Average Rating:

Dominic Davies:
Michael Deeley:
Diana Kingston:
Sam Kirkland:
Judson Miers:
Nicholas Slayton:

SPOILER ALERT: These reviews comment on some of the issue’s plot developments.






Dominic Davies

General Lukin, whose soul is inexplicably tied to the Red Skull, continues the battle in his mind with the former Super villain while recruiting some help off the books. A few months later, Steve lands in London and is greeted by some old friends and allies. After a brief catch-up, he explains that he has arrived to track Lukin but also to try and stop Bucky from doing the same. They begin to investigate a suspicious Kronas tanker and sneak aboard, but are discovered and attacked. Meanwhile back in Texas, Crossbones and Sin steal a passage to the UK, intent on killing Lukin themselves.

I really enjoy Brubaker’s run on Captain America and so do my friends. They enjoy the fact that I have been picking it up without fault for over a year now and especially enjoy not having to buy any books themselves because of my generous nature. Part of the appeal of this run of Captain America is that it is so much more than a traditional Superhero story. Brubaker’s talent for espionage stories darkens and adds levels of mystery and menace to the American Avenger and his cohorts that has scarce been seen before, and this latest issue is no exception.

From the very start we are taken into the story as we see what has happened to General Lukin as a result of his using the Cosmic Cube. The battle of wills between himself and the Red Skull are only curbed when their cooperation is mutually beneficial, and it allows for some great banter between the two and a particularly menacing intro. Is the Red Skull finally taking control? What do they have planned for the new recruits? All questions which Brubaker effortless plants in our minds.

It is fun to see Cap in London; it’s a great city and during my own travels, I often thought of it as a great background for so many potential Superhero stories. It’s also nice to see the Union Jack and Spitfire in action, and both characters are given the attention they deserve. British Superheroes are cool. The issue make clear that even as Cap arrives, Bucky is already in London, and Crossbones and Sin are en route as well. It’s all going to lead up to something big, and something messy.

Steve Epting’s artwork is best augmented by D’Armata’s colours, and this issue proves yet again they are the premier creative team (at least in my mind) on this book. The realistic style of Epting’s pencils gives all the characters a much more human appearance than in a traditional Super book, but it is clear this would not have been possible without the colour shadings provided by D’Armata, even in broad daylight the colours still give the book the spy/thriller look that it needs.

In this latest issue the characters finally head for one big clash. It’s a spy/thriller/superhero book featuring the Red Skull vs. Lukin vs. the Winter Soldier vs. Crossbones vs. Captain America, and there’s no way it’s going to end well. Pick it up.




Michael Deeley

The Red Skull, in the mind of Aleksander Lukin, assembles racists for an unknown purpose. Months later, Captain America comes to London anticipating Bucky Barnes’ plan to kill Lukin at an upcoming event. With the help of Union Jack and Spitfire, Cap finds a boat carrying suspicious cargo for Lukin’s corporation. Before they can learn what it’s carrying, Cap and Jack are ambushed.

This reads more like a spy drama than a superhero story. And I like that. Brubaker sets up the plot and major characters in this first of four chapters. We’ve got our heroes, villains, their reasons for coming together, and the possibility for an interesting little love-triangle. It seems Spitfire had “slept” through the decades much like Captain Rogers. A romance between her and Union Jack just ended. She seems to be making a play for Steve. Will this affect the trio’s mission? Can they find enough evidence of Lukin’s crimes, or will his political influence help him and the Skull get away? Will “Winter Soldier” Barnes kill Lukin? And will anyone realize the Red Skull is still alive in Lukin’s body? That’s a great hook! Real-world espionage with costumed spies and complicated love. Brubaker’s taken the fantastic elements of Captain America’s life and successfully combined them with a realistic action/drama.

Steve Epting’s art is perfect for this style of story. He draws real people in real places. I consider an artist’s ability to draw subtle signs of emotion as a sign of his talent. Check out Joe’s face changes on page 6; there’s a story there, and Epting is telling it. And it’s great to see another Crossgen alumni working. Frank D’Armata is one of a handful of creators too talented to stay unemployed. His overall work tends to look dark. But his wartercolor-style, combined with Epting’s art, makes you think you’re looking at photographs instead of drawings.

The only drawback to this comic is how it’s the opening chapter to a longer story. I am confident the complete story will be great. But that means a single chapter isn’t as good as the whole. I would recommend this to those of you who are getting tired of clichéd superhero comics. If you think you’re outgrowing comics, give this series a look. Then track down other books by Brubaker.




Diana Kingston

Another excellent issue of Captain America. When Aleksander Lukin resurfaces in London, Captain America recruits two former teammates - Union Jack and Spitfire - to take him down. Lukin, distracted by his struggle with the Red Skull, is blissfully unaware that all the other players he’d moved against in the past are closing in on him, each with his or her own agenda.

This series is absolute hell to review, because there’s not much to say about it in individual increments: the writing and art are extremely consistent and top-notch, the plot developments are slow but not padded, the characters are continuing along the lines they’ve traveled so far... all part of the "saga" approach Brubaker is taking with this series.

This issue might as well be called “Out of Time: Part 18,” both in a positive and negative sense: positive because we’re getting the kind of epic that just isn’t done these days, negative because this is the story Brubaker is telling, and it’s not going to change anytime soon; if you’re not enjoying it, you might as well sit this run out. Personally, though, I think it’s working out rather well.




Sam Kirkland

Captain America is one of the select few comic books that, once I peel back the front cover, I know I’m going to enjoy, month-in and month-out. That level of consistency is rare, and Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s ability to achieve it has made Captain America one of Marvel’s best titles since it debuted following Avengers: Disassembled.

Issue #18 continues to deal with antagonist ex-Soviet General Aleksander Lukin, as Steve Rogers digs for more about the enemy he knows, the old enemy he thinks is still dead, and the friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend that he hopes is still alive. He enlists the aid of a few guest stars in the process as he travels to London. There, he encounters some frightening new villains with unknown ties to Lukin.

Is Bucky's “return” a little premature? After #14, I would have said yes. The conclusion to “Winter Soldier” was so perfect that I felt any more appearances by Bucky would act as overkill and ruin the poignancy of that moment. However, Brubaker eases all my fears by showing that his first year on Captain America wasn’t an isolated run; I considered the first 14 issues one of the definitive Cap stories, but it looks like Brubaker hasn’t even gotten started yet. The book is episodic in the sense that each issue builds upon the previous one, with no clear ending. The book isn’t really made up of arcs with dramatic shifts in focus every six issues; rather, it feels more like one big, continuous story than most other superhero comics do these days. That’s what makes it so much fun to read, especially if you’ve been around since the beginning.

Steve Epting’s art, along with Frank D'Armata’s colors, helps contribute to the overwhelming sense of consistency, drama, and spy-thriller-ness. The title had adopted a distinctive artistic style, due in large part to the perfectly muted colors. The artists have an outstanding ability to make the characters come to life. It isn’t the most realistic or detailed comic book art, but it captures motion very well. Slight haziness in the backgrounds keeps the focus where it should be, while enhancing each panel with great
richness. The final scene of the issue reads more like a movie sequence than pages in a comic book thanks to the spectacular framing.

Brubaker’s Captain America is a staunch defender of justice, the embodiment of the American dream. But that doesn’t keep him from having an attitude. He’s slightly bitter and jaded, a theme that has been evolving since issue #1. Brubaker makes Captain America extremely relevant to today’s world without doing anything as overt as having the hero search for Osama bin Laden. If you’re not reading Captain America, what superhero book are you reading?




Judson Miers

With all of the fallout over the House of M and Civil War, it’s refreshing to see Steve Rogers return to his roots as a soldier. If memory serves me well, Steve wasn’t able to become a soldier because of his “scrawny” body, and he had to take part in the Super Soldier program to serve his country. The formula was lost because of a Nazi enemy attack. It’s also refreshing to see that someone else remembers that as well and develop a storyline over 60 years in the making!

We find Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America) tracking his newest quarry, an ex-Soviet general named Aleksander Lukin, to London where two old friends have been investigating for Steve while he’s been detained. It seems that oil, or the lack of it, are prime resources that could keep a man like Lukin well insulated from all but the most provable of offenses. Additionally, it seems that Steve Rogers is afraid that an “old friend” is also tracking Lukin.

While doing some skulking around on board one of Lukin’s ships, Cap and Co. find some very unexpected and uninvited guests that look to give him a good run for his money. It’s not often that you see Captain America look like a 3rd string superhero, but it looks like his opponents have also got some sort of Super Soldier program as well…

Critique: I definitely liked the “feel” of this storyline. It’s a more covert operations, military recon type of a mission than we’re used to seeing in the pages of Captain America. I know that he IS a superhero, but primarily Captain America IS a soldier, and it just seems right for him to act like one. The “Lukin-reveal” was a little creepy and hard to rationalize but effective. The artwork is appropriately grim and gritty combined with a little bit of dark and dreary which really worked for the typical British climate. It’s even written to be a more “realistic” tale instead of the universe-splitting, time-altering type of storylines that have been recently flying off the shelves from DC and Marvel. It’s simply a story about a hero trying to do what is right!!!




Nicholas Slayton

Plot: Captain America travels to London, meeting up with Union Jack and Spitfire to continue his investigation of the Kronas group. Meanwhile, the head of the group, former Soviet General Alekansder Lukin has his own plans. Unbeknowst to either group, Sin and Crossbones are also on their way to London. And a certain renegade soldier has his sights set on Lukin...

Commentary: My hat is off to Brubaker and co. Anyone who reads my reviews knows I’m not a Marvel fan and am usually disappointed with their work. Not with this title. Brubaker has managed to juggle the multiple subplots in the book while moving into a new story arc without confusion. Brubaker’s handling of both political and human nature is dead on. This book flows. You are totally immersed in a story above all others.

The book starts off with a great scene in Germany in which Lukin converses with the consciousness of the Red Skull trapped in his head. The Red Skull isn’t out for the count a single bit. The tension between the two is overwhelmingly evident, and it totally works. An agreement between the two can only spell trouble. Jump ahead two months to London with a wonderful few pages of friendly, natural dialogue between Steve Rogers and his English friends. Then the villainous duo of Sin and Crossbones appear for a few pages, and their actions rank as some extremely creepy stuff in this book. Then there’s the final few pages, where our heroes begin their attempt to uncover the truth behind Lukin. The mystery is tense and serious, and the final reveal of the bad guys will leave you open mouthed, laughing at the sheer connection to the story arc's title.

The mystery that has been building in the previous issues continues here. Lukin’s trip to Germany to pick up a racist for a henchman seems pointless at first, but the reveal at the end makes perfect sense, leading people to wonder what exactly is Lukin planning? Kronas’s delivery in the ports of London isn’t revealed, but whatever it is, it must be big. Either way, I’m hooked. This is a Holmesian mystery of serious repercussions.

Steve Epting is by far one of my favorite artists. His figures are perfectly proportioned, and the actions scenes are fluid and exciting. Every character looks unique, every background is highly detailed, and his Red Skull is down right frightening. A word must be said about colorist Frank d'Armata. I’m blown away by the colors in the book. From the sunsets in Texas to the fog of London, he nails it every time. As I stated before, my hat is off.

Final Thoughts: “It was nothing...believe me.” I won’t believe you. This is by far the best series Marvel is producing right now. Brubaker, Epting, and d'Armata have crafted a wonderful issue to kick off their new story arc. The subplots are handled with superb care, and Captain America is indeed his own man under Brubaker’s pen. For those out to find a series that is not a Civil War tie-in, or if you are a Captain America fan, or if you just want a good title from Marvel, buy this issue. I know I’m sticking around for this arc.



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