In the latest edition of Comics to Read Before You Die, Jessie Robertson looks at the The Death of Captain America….
Captain America (Vol. 5) # 25- 42 (April 2004- Nov 2005)
Written by Ed Brubaker.
Art by Steven Epting.
Deaths in comic books are often lamented quickly, then either disregarded, with the knowledge that the character will return or completely overlooked, depending on the status and relative importance of said character being killed off. I can still remember talking with my neighbor when I was a kid about the Joker killing Robin in a comic book. It was kind of hard to wrap my head around because Robin was Batman’s sidekick; how could be gone forever? Well, he wouldn’t be. There’s a certain stigma I have in my head that always correlates to a death story and that is how that character came back ties directly to my opinion of the death story in hindsight. But that’s not always true. In fact, in the case of Steve Rogers, Captain America, that is outright not true. Because, spoiler alert, Cap does return. But the story here is so layered, full of intrigue, that it does in fact stand alone.
Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting took on the task of writing Captain America in his fifth series and brought him to a whole new level of popularity. His death came during the Iraqi War where we had been entrenched now for several years. The story picked up national coverage on ABC news, comparing and contrasting the story with real life events. There was a general feeling that this fictional character, who was the very embodiment of the American spirit, being killed off was not good for the morale of America. When you read the story, none of that, at least on the page, came into play, even if the creators had bigger ambitions in their heads.
This story came right off the heels of one of Marvel Comics’ most successful major event crossover storylines, Civil War. The government had pass legislation that would require all heroes, villains and any meta human to register their identity and powers in a national public database. Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man, was the face of that campaign, since he had already done so. Captain America became the unlikely face of the Anti-Registration movement, believing that it was America’s freedoms that protected these people from having to report such information. The storyline involved almost every character in the Marvel Universe until a climactic battle that pitted Cap against Iron Man took place. When Captain America saw the devastation his campaign had extolled, he revealed himself as Steve Rogers and allowed himself to be arrested, finally giving up the fight.
This story picks up at the end of that one as Steve Rogers is being brought to trial for his crimes; most importantly, for being a “traitor.” News stations and protestors on both sides cover the street in front of the court-house as Steve Rogers is paraded up the steps to his arraignment. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Bucky Barnes (also known as the Winter Soldier) and Sharon Carter (Rogers’ girlfriend) are in the midst of staging a plan to arrange Rogers’ escape. But before they can, a sniper takes aim at Cap and guns him down on the courthouse stairs. From there, the story is off and running.
This book is like a large ensemble cast drama, with all the different players with their own motivations and plans in motion. Cap’s closest allies, Bucky, Sharon and Sam Wilson, better known as the Falcon, Cap’s longtime partner in fighting crime and injustice, all want either retribution or answers. Tony Stark, now the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., takes ownership of Cap’s legendary outfit and shield and confers that no one else shall ever bear the name Captain America and creates a museum exhibit in his honor. Then we have the Red Skull, Cap’s greatest foe. He has recruited the mind-bending Doctor Faustus, genetic experimentalist Arnim Zola, his right hand man Crossbones and his own twisted daughter Sin to further unfold his plan; as killing Steve Rogers was merely step one.
This is a story, if you don’t already know it, that I don’t need to spoil in detail in this review; suffice to say, it never stops running once these pieces get set in motion. It’s a great ride and if you liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier from earlier this year, this is in the same vein, with a lot of the same principal characters being intrigal parts in this book.
Now does it hurt the story to find out that Red Skull had planted the gun that killed Steve Rogers to transfer him through space and time only to return him in a state where the Red Skull
has taken control of Roger’s mind and body? That’s the beauty of reading; that’s for you to determine.
Next Week: A special review of my trip to Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con!