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With this issue, Ed Brubaker gets back to what made his previous volume of Captain America so great. He has always had a knock for balancing superheroics with more grounded and realistic elements, and he brings that to the beginning of this new story arc. Steve Rogers is thrown into the deep end of witness protection in the Marvel Universe as a new Scourge begins hunting down criminals turned state’s evidence.
I’ve been disappointed with this book since the relaunch. It just hasn’t felt like the same. Yeah, yeah. After a relaunch, it arguably shouldn’t feel the same. But when “the same” refers to a damn good Captain America series, it makes change pretty disappointing. Brubaker seemed to lean more toward the superhero side of Captain America for the past two story arcs with giant Captain America robots, other dimensions, a fairly generic new HYDRA villainess and the usual superhero story where the hero loses his powers. I’ve been losing interest. I have other books to read for more purely superhero stories. I’ve been reading Captain America regularly for years because it brings elements of military, government and espionage into the superheroics in what usually is an intelligent way.
Thankfully, this story arc looks like it is swinging the book back into the direction.
Seriously, I think I would read a whole series based on the premise of the witness protection program in a superhero universe. It’s just an interesting concept. But since this is just for one story arc, Brubaker doesn’t get too detailed about it here. We come into the story as a second witness, a former agent of AIM, is chased down and executed. This reminds me of what Greg Rucka is doing over in Punisher with the Exchange. Both are finding interesting ways to humanize the typical cannon fodder of the Marvel Universe. The Exchange features henchmenw ho have taken their skills to go into business for themselves, while this issue shows them becoming defectors and witnesses for law enforcement. It’s becoming a trend that I like to see, because honestly, the constant hordes of faceless henchmen can get rather boring.
This issue brings back a Captain America character who has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Diamondback. I’m probably mistaken, but I heard a rumor that Brubaker didn’t really care for the character. I… can’t really blame him, but I love her. Whether he actually likes her or not, he puts her in an interesting role here. Involving her with supervillains who have cut deals with the government makes a lot of sense as well. My only disappointment is that they’ve changed the color scheme of her costume. Okay, okay. I totally understand why they would ditch the bright pink. But still, I loved it. Don’t judge me.
As much as I like Captain America getting involved in this situation, it brings to light something that is confusing me about the current Marvel Universe. Steve Rogers still holds that top cop position he took from Norman Osborn, right? But S.H.I.E.L.D. has returned and is being run by Daisy Johnson? And… Nick Fury, the white one, is still operating as a spymaster too? I think Marvel needs to sort out there law enforcement structure here, and with Steve back as Captain America, it’s probably time to give up his top cop role. The thing about the top cop is that there’s kind of only supposed to be the one.
That confusion doesn’t really hurt this issue at all, though. Where this issue does falter a little is with the reveal of a new Scourge. Our heroes see the footage of the witness killer and immediately recognize him as a new Scourge. Huh? I’m not clear how they come to that conclusion. We’ve had a few incarnations of Scourge, and each one has looked pretty different from the other. We had the original with the all white coat and hat with a simple but ghoulish mask. We had the Jack Monroe incarnation in a colorful suit armed with various villains’ weaponry. Finally, we recently had the Nuke incarnation who was a cyborg in Osborn’s black op Thunderbolts. The Scourge in this issue does kind of resemble that Scourge from Thunderbolts. But come on. You can’t tell me that Scourge, who only briefly existed and did so as a covert operative, became the iconic Scourge. I don’t really see anything distinctly “Scourge” about this character. It’s silly to have Captain America see a blurry image of this guy and dramatically declare that they are dealing with anew Scourge. We’re given nothing reasonable about how he comes ot that conclusion.
Despite fumbling the debut, this new Scourge does seem to be interesting. He’s getting back to the roots of the Scourge identity, dispensing lethal justice on criminals. These just happen to be criminals who have cut deals with the law. This also seems to be the beginning of a “Who is Scourge?” plotline, because Diamondback indicates he is not a brand new character.
I’ve generally found Patrick Zircher to be a really good superhero artist, so I wasn’t surprised to learn he was going to be the next artist on this Captain America series, which has been more superhero-oriented than Brubaker’s other Captain America stuff. So I am kind of surprised to see Zircher do so well when Brubaker gets back to the more grounded storytelling he’s known for. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Thinking about it now, Zircher also did great on Mystery Men. The darker shading and other stylistic tweaks really make Zircher’s art work fit the tone of these grounded stories. I would love to see Zircher get more work in this vein.
This issue of Captain America brings my attention back to the series. It was really losing me for awhile, but this is a great return to the kind of Captain America stories Brubaker excels with. Personally, I love the return of Diamondback to Cap’s book. The idea of a witness protection program in the Marvel Universe is something that is just immediately interesting and makes me want to read more about. The mystery of who this Scourge is also grabs my interest. I somehow doubt it’s going to turn out to be Jack Monroe again, though.