It’s been a week since the 235th Independence Day for the United States of America, and while we don’t share the same holiday here across the Pacific, nonetheless, it has been a time of reflecting on what the American Dream means to this life-long fan of the embodiment of the Stars and Stripes, Captain America. While no one is more excited then I am for the opportunity to introduce my favourite superhero to a whole new legion of potential fans when the movie opens in Singapore on the 4th of August, I am also rather contemplative after the events in the Marvel Universe, both in the main Captain America title, as well as in Fear Itself.
So, with less than 4 weeks to go before the movie opens, here’s a review of Captain America #619 and Fear Itself #4 to start off our series of preludes.
WARNING: SPOILERS BENEATH THE CUT!
Captain America #619 ties up the “Gulag” storyline as well as the epic “Winter Soldier” journey that Marvel Architect Ed Brubaker began some six years ago when he first took over the title. It undoubtedly feels like a swansong in many ways, with Brubaker tying up the final loose end on his resurrection of Bucky Barnes, the original partner of Captain America. Although we have dealt with Bucky’s return and assuming of the mantle of Captain America, it was not until “Gulag” that all the questions about Bucky, like “What has he been doing all those years when he was a brainwashed Russian agent?” and “What are the consequences of his work for the Russians?”, were finally answered, in one violent altercation after another in a Russian prison. With his partner Steve Rogers, now the Super-Soldier, looking for ways to exonerate him and his lover, the Black Widow, looking for ways to free him, can Bucky last long enough in the prison when his past comes looking for payback?
The sad thing about the timing of this story is that, although it was written to occur prior to Fear Itself, the outcome is obvious, since readers have already seen Bucky Barnes returning, in full costume in the pages of Fear Itself #3. Nonetheless, the story provides sufficient closure for the Winter Soldier epic, and it’s nice to see Brubaker finally able to close the book on such a befitting epilogue. In fact, one could say that Brubaker was willing to allow fellow Marvel Architect Matt Fraction do what he did in Fear Itself #3, because he had already closed the book for Bucky Barnes in this issue of Captain America.
This issue also sees the work of three artists, Butch Guice, Mitch Breitweiser and Chris Samnee combining in a most complementary way, as each takes on a part of the story. The issue also acts like a passing on of the torch from regular artist Guice to incoming artist Samnee, who takes over starting from the renamed Captain America and Bucky #620. Over the years, Guice has been a staple on the Captain America title as inker before taking over from the legendary Steve Epting back in 2008, soon after Bucky took over as Cap. Looking ahead, the renamed title is in good hands with Chris Samnee, who has impressed on his work with the all-ages series Thor: The Mighty Avenger, and looks to be brining the same kind of dynamism to the Captain America legacy.
With Captain America starting again at #1 this month just in time for new fans from the movie, it’s good to know that the stories of Bucky won’t end, and that Brubaker is readying himself for what can only be another epic in the saga of the Star-Spangled Avenger.
But beginnings can only come from an ending and it is with great sadness that I witness the real death of Bucky in the pages of Fear Itself #4. While the last panels of #3 seemed to hold out a sliver of hope that the new Captain America would be able to survive Sin’s viscious attack in her augmented Skadi form, there was none of that in #4, and from the looks of it, also no way of ever resurrecting the hero. Bucky is dead, for good this time.
That being said, #4 also brings forth new hope for this much maligned summer event. We now have a clearer picture of the enemy, the Serpent, who despite his Old Testament nature also has a very tenable link to Norse mythology. The Serpent is linked to Jormungand, who despite already having been represented in Marvel Comics in the past, now has more pertinent rivalry with Thor. As the prophecy goes, in a nod to ancient mythology, Thor is destined to slaughter the Serpent, but at the cost of his own life. This, as the Serpent explains to Thor, is justice for Odin’s sins, he must endure the life of the Serpent, his rival and brother, or the death of his beloved son Thor.
Artist Stuart Immonen finally pulls out all the stops here, showing off his diversity. From a dramatic, definitive shot of Steve Rogers once again donning the Captain America costume (sending chills down my spine in the process), to a horrific shot of Attuma, now known as Nerkodd, slaughtering dozens of Atlanteans, to the final dynamic panel, depicting Thor challenging the combined power of both the Thing and the Hulk in their Worthy forms of Angrir and Nul respectively. Despite our fears, Immonen once again proves that he is undoubtedly the right choice for a story such as this.
Finally, writer Matt Fraction seems to have finally found his groove, and Fear Itself is once again a story worth waiting for. By drawing from familiar epics and mythologies, Fraction has created foundations of familial rivalries, power struggles, battles between what is right and what is just – classic ingredients of just about any tale, let alone a comic book story involving Thor, the God of Thunder. If I may be allowed a terrible pun, it would seem like Fear Itself is found… worthy.