Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Publisher: Marvel Comics

“A Soldier in Winter”

Captain America has always been one of those characters difficult for writers to make interesting. A combination of Boy Scout and living legend, patriotic to a fault, and a symbol of America and all that is best about that ideal. And that is too often how he is written, as an ideal more than as a man. Only two runs on his title have captured the heart of the man as well as the ideal, Mark Waid’s run and now Ed Brubaker’s great run.

Ed Brubaker is one of those writers who has gone underappreciated. He has done crime stuff well, from Catwoman to Gotham Central, but he never quite got the due, the Brian Michael Bendis kind of attention that should be his. In Captain America, all of his writing strengths come together: part intelligence procedural coupled with non-stop action, all of which serves to flesh out the man beneath the flag.

The opening story arc, Winter Soldier, catches us up on the history of Captain America for all of those unfamiliar with him. It also introduces us to the people important in his life and foreshadow many of the events that will define Brubaker’s historic run on the book.

We forget how worldy the man under the cowl must be, having lived through a lot of history, traveling the world and speaking several languages. Steve Rogers underwent an experimental procedure and became the first (and last) super soldier, fighting for the Allies in World War II. His partner was a teen (teen sidekicks were big in the super-hero scene when Captain America was first introduced; they didn’t have those pesky child endangerment laws, I guess). However, Brubaker expands on the true nature of Bucky’s role: not just as a counter to the Hitler Youth movement, but an efficient soldier who got his hands dirty where Cap couldn’t.

The cast of characters surrounding him include Nick Fury, another World War II relic, and head of espionage agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Cap’s ex-girlfriend and S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, Sharon Carter. Also, we get a taste of Cap’s long history with the most tenacious of his enemies, the Red Skull.

“I was the icon. I wore the flag.” –Captain America

A real world immediacy surrounds Captain America’s current mission of fighting terrorism. Being on the front lines for so long has left him tired and angry after having suffered loss after loss. World War II comrades. His long-time partner, Bucky. The Avengers Disembled saga. All the others he couldn’t save. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now someone, or something messes with his memories of “the Day Everything Went Wrong”: his last World War II mission, where he fought Baron Zemo. The day Bucky died and Cap was sent into suspended animation until he was discovered and revived in the modern age by the Avengers. Cap is forced to re-live and re-remember that day, thus given back enough of his past to torture him. Part of the Red Skull’s plan to make him suffer before his death.

Captain America is in the line of “The Suffering Servant.” He isn’t a political messiah, although he has seen his share of battles, but a chosen servant who carries with him the weight of authority and responsibility, working in the spirit of God’s mission of justice. His is a life of constant struggle, one that by necessity forgoes any hope of a true personal life. Another hallmark of the hero’s journey is true love denied or sacrificed. Though the ultimate soldier built for war, he hasn’t let the constant battles harden him. He remains gentle and honest and kind.

Mystery and intrigue drive Captain America. Steve Epting’s art has a gritty feel that further grounds the story in a sense of the real world as well as portraying the cinematic action (and accentuates the iconic nature of Cap). All of a sudden, Captain America feels more relevant than ever.