Thursday, May 10, 2012

Captain America: The Trial of Captain America (comics)

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Daniel Acuna, Butch Guice, Mitch Breitweiser
Collects: Captain America #611-615, #615.1, Captain America 70th Anniversary Magazine

There's a real feeling of coming full circle with this volume, as the chickens have come home to roost. As you may recall, last volume ended with Baron Zemo blowing Buckys past as the Winter Soldier out of the water. Here, we realize just what that means as America turns on him and he is brought to trial for his crimes.

It is, of course, gripping stuff brought about at the perfect time. By this point - including the fifty issues of volume 5 before its numbering was switched back to volume 1's - Bucky has been the star and focus of Brubakers Captain America for longer than Steve Rogers. Hell, even when Steve was the front runner the book was at times as much about Bucky as it was him. So by now, we care about him, we've grown to like him in his new role and we've largely accepted him. Time to throw a wrench in the gears; his past - which you could be forgiven for thinking Brubaker had forgotten after so long - is the perfect tool.

It raises a few good questions as well - the kind only comics could ask - about the nature of being controlled. Obviously, such a thing would have to utterly wreck the legal system, because good grief, how do you deal with that? How can they be held responsible? If they can't, then who do you blame? Going after Russia isn't going to be pretty or productive, especially given the changes since the Cold War. It's all tricky; the closest comparison I could think of is being forced to kill someone else by threat of your own life, but at least there you have the smallest measure of control and options in the matter.

Regardless of this, the Marvel populace goes to crucify him, because they are morons easily swayed when shiny keys are dangled in front of them.

Obviously, the legal details are fudged somewhat, as they always are in fiction. I don't find this to be a real problem. Look, I'm no expert in legal matters; a lot of the time I'm generally clueless about the intricacies. I am, however, a guy who, for several years, watched CourtTV regularly. Even the cases that are full on media circuses - Michael Jackson, Phil Specter, Scott Peterson, take your pick - are nowhere near as engaging as Phoenix Wright would lead us to believe. If they were, it'd be the hottest spectator sport going.

As it is it's a lot of standing around, dully arguing minutia while talking heads argue whether the case is just during recesses. It can be interesting, but entertaining it is not. On top of that, if anything exciting happens you can catch it repeated ad nauseam on the news. So generally, I accept that fiction is not going to follow the legal system to the letter, because overall it's pretty boring. Bru manages what seems like a potent mix of legal realities and fictional ones, managing to keep our interest through them.

He also understands that a full four or five issues in a courtroom - no matter how fudged the rules are for the sake of being entertaining - is going to get dull real fast. So while all this is happening, Sin - daughter of the Red Skull - has reared her ugly head and started to cause trouble. Thus, Bucky has to struggle with the decision to stay put - when escape would be simple if he chose - and leave it to Steve Rogers or to escape and suit up as Captain America one last time to track her down and stop her, even if it means ruining his case. Guess which one he chooses?

So, the story is fine. The art kind of wavers. We've got no less than three artists working on this volume and it shows. I'm not an art expert - and it's part of why I don't talk about it much unless there's something to say - but the shift is pretty noticeable. It's not going to sink the book, of course - at this point in Brubakers run, you're probably long past the point where some rushed art will cause you to drop it - but it's unfortunate.

At the end of the volume is another one of those lovely point one issues. As usual, It's not really a great jumping on point. In this case, it acts as more of an epilogue to the trial than anything; Steve is struggling with the decision to take back the identity in lieu of Buckys legal trouble. While he angsts about that, he has to deal with a pretender to the mantle. It's a pretty decent read, but accessible? If you were to jump into this cold after watching Caps feature film, you'd probably end up wondering why Steve was out of the costume to start with.

I don't think Marvels writers really know how to handle these things. Few of them are properly structured as a place to jump on the book; either they're positioned as another chapter of it or as setup for something else entirely. I'm sure they have good intentions - and the idea of an issue being put out from time to time which will catch up new readers is a very good one - but by now I'm convinced this "point one initiative" just isn't working.

The Score: 8 out of 10

If you've been following the book all along, then this is a definite purchase. Ed Brubaker has yet to really fail on Captain America. This volume is largely payoff to long running plot threads, however, so a good point to get on board it is not. I'm sure you could get the gist of things but I don't think you would get nearly as much out of it.

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