Posted by: Graeme McMillan on November 13, 2009
CAPTAIN AMERICA REBORN has the odd distinction of being one of the most dull event books in recent memory. I realized that when, less than a day after re-reading the most recent issue (#4, if you’re curious), I couldn’t remember what had actually happened in it, and felt compelled to re-read the entire thing from the beginning to see what I’d missed. What I’d missed, apparently, was the Summer Blockbusterization of something that didn’t need that kind of treatment.
Let me preface this by saying: Brubaker’s Cap run in general is, according to our regular SavCritic scale, Very Good bordering on Excellent, with the eighteen-part story that started with Steve Rogers’ death being the kind of longform superhero story that people should reminisce about in years to come, when the kids are huddling over their tablet reading devices and complaining about stories that’re longer than five pages. But Reborn isn’t just separated from the regular run by its faux “event” status and separate series, but by a complete change in pace and storytelling style brought on by superstar artist Bryan Hitch (with inks and what looks, in many cases, more than just inks, from Butch Guice) that… well, feels like it doesn’t really belong with what’s come before.
Don’t get me wrong; Bru keeps the characters’ voices consistent, and the overall shape of the story fits with what we’ve come to expect, but the execution is just off. In interviews, Bru has talked, glowingly and lovingly, about Hitch’s artwork for the series, and you can see his adoration for his collaborator in each issue, in the amount of space he gives Hitch/Guice, the number of double page spreads or splash pages for him to show off with. The only problem being that each one of those pages slows the story down even more, making each issue feel even lighter than it already did (A problem when so much of the series is essentially a Cap’s Greatest Hits compilation of moments we’ve already seen).
That feeling of lightness isn’t helped by the deja vu that the series has had throughout; we had action set-pieces in the first three issues that didn’t feel as if they had any point or impact on the rest of the story at all: BuckyCap has been captured looking for the McGuffin that it turns out we don’t need! Oh now he’s escaped! Let’s go rescue Sharon! Oh no she’s not there! They feel soulless, pointless; there to give fans a momentary distraction from the talking heads – because, apparently, if you go to Hank Pym for scientific advice, he sits around for four issues and talks to you, bringing in Reed Richards to talk to you as well when needed – and scenes of Cap lost in time, and excuses for Hitch to draw something exciting and self-consciously awesome. But it doesn’t feel right, somehow; like the numerous, superfluous guest stars (Really, the Thunderbolts? Even the Fraction-esque captions couldn’t make that sequence seem less out-of-place), it all feels like not only a different series, but a different world from everything that’s come before. It’s as if the normally tight, thriller genre series that Captain America is has been adapted for the screen by Michael Bay, with all the razzle-dazzle and lack of logic that that implies: Heroes get their asses beat down, for example, for no reason other than to set up another action sequence later where they can escape and be bad-ass.
(It’s unsurprising that another issue was added to the run when you realize how much plot the series would have to squeeze into its one remaining issue otherwise; especially when it’s taken four issues for the following to take place: Sharon Carter goes to superhero scientists for help, and then gives herself up when Norman Osborn outs her as Cap’s assassin. Meanwhile, Osborn also recruits the Red Skull and Doctor Doom to bring Cap’s body back from being lost in time, while the superheroes run around ineffectually trying and failing to stop him. I’m sure that could’ve been done in at least one issue less than it took, and also that it would’ve been, if Brubaker was in the same frame of mind as he was when writing the regular Cap book.)
In the end, what makes the book feel like a failure for me isn’t a sign that it’s a bad book at all; it’s my dislike/disappointment for the transformation it’s made – seemingly intentionally – from one style of book to another, maybe even one audience to another. I preferred, by far, the more writer-led, more tight (and I’m fighting not to say “Smarter,” because it’s not that Reborn isn’t smart, as such, but… but…!) Captain America to the crowd pleaser filled with an amazing number of images of Cap leaping across villains and a double page spread while inner-monologing about being confused and characters who add nothing to the story other than brand names.
For some reason, it feels wrong to say that, like I’m begrudging Bru and/or Cap his success and day in the sun, just like it feels wrong to say that the series for me is Eh. But it’s true, nonetheless; maybe Morrissey was right. Maybe we really do hate it when our friends become successful.