I know it isn’t exactly topical with this week’s books but you have to admit, it’s a little difficult to talk about Captain America. Can a book be so good that it becomes a constant of the universe? The sun will rise and set and there it is, turning with the rest of the cosmos as one of Marvel Comics’ finest ongoing series. It’s near indisputable at this point, the rock of Gibraltar of comic institutions at this point; pick up any issue and you’ll find quality crafted storytelling with some highly underrated artwork. Steve Epting has been nothing but solid during his tenure on the book, bringing both realism and the fantastic to the page.
See? You just can’t say anything about it but glowing praise!
Or maybe you can as I noticed something rather unique about the book that doesn’t have to do with its incredible consistency for greatness (see? there I go again!). It was so masterfully done (it’s like an infection!) that I didn’t really notice until I heard other people talking about it in the same slight wondrous tone of realization. It’s taken #41 issues of plotting, planning and pacing but the honor of Captain America has been passed down to the next generation.
it’s taken awhile; we had to be introduced to him, we had to get some background and some believability to the character. He had to grow and flesh out a bit from our memories of him, but James Buchanan Barnes really can’t be called ‘Bucky’ anymore aside from the past tense. He is just as much Captain America as Steve Rogers was and still is to some extent and before you call blasphemy, let me try and explain how rare this particular situation is in the Marvel Universe.
While the Distinguished Competition can line up a row of guys, shout ‘Hey, Green Lantern’ and have them all turn around, identities are unique to Marvel heroes. Ben reily shows up, says he’s Spider-Man and no one buys it. The idea of passing the torch to a new hero in honor of the old isn’t really all that prominent, if at all viable. If you hit the OHOMU, you can find something similar, but never really an honest-to-God “Here, take this symbol and do my job”. Heather Hudson became Guardian after her husband’s death, but stepped aside during his returns; you can’t really stand them next to each other and expect them to represent the same character. Clint Barton was Goliath for a time, but not only does Hank Pym have aliases to spare, it really wasn’t in honor of anything and was purely temporary. Both Patriot and Stature are inspired by family, but the transition between one generation to the next took awhile with no real feel for a continuous legacy. while Jim Rhodes took on the Iron Man job, he stepped aside for Tony Stark and got his own identity that we recognize him for. The Black Knight certainly has a continuous legacy, but that seems more of a curse than any actual passing of the torch.
In fact, if you think about it, legacies aren’t so much handed over than taken. Scott Lang stole the Ant-Man gear and then got to keep it due to his (at the time) misplaced heroism. Rita DeMara went through the same thing, taking the identity into the 30th century with the original Guardians of the Galaxy. And of course, most famously, a bout of insanity drove Harry Osborn to put on his father’s Green Goblin disguise, leading to a rather tragic ending. Identies are rather permanent things for Marvel Universe characters, the man and the mask tied distinctly together. For awhile, Peter Parker’s name was printed on the cover right next to Spider-Man (and Spectacular), both one and the same.
Which makes this particular passing of the torch so interesting in the pages of Captain America. Being a patriotic hero, Cap always had that symbolism to bear as well, no better embodied than in Steve Rogers himself. But at the same time, Rogers himself knew that he was a symbol and used the power of that to do good by his country and fellow man. He has a set of precepts to follow, guidelines set down by forefathers for his interpretation. Where as all of that came naturally to him through his belief in the United States of America, it was a role that could be followed by others of similar ilk. Which makes handing everything down to Bucky (can we even call him that anymore? Neil Patrick Harris doesn’t exactly go by ‘Doogie’…) all the more dramatic as he had been subtly groomed from his teens to carry the same beliefs as his mentor. Sure, Lukin and the Red Room got a hold of him and all that went by the wayside for a little while, but it is something he’s been trained for at one time or another. He knows how difficult the job is, he has great and deep respect for the man who carried that shield and he knows the more or less how it should be done thanks to the legacy of Steve Rogers. While the letter he left for Tony Stark might not have blatantly said “Give my shield to Bucky and make sure he takes over’, Rogers’ final wishes of keeping the Captain America legacy alive and finding redemption for his former sidekick coincide as handing the role to James accomplishes both at the same time.
There’s a certain satisfaction I had reading Cap #41 and seeing Cap take a missle to the shield then kick back and come to grips with the fruits of his labor, that he really is Captain America now and while Steve Rogers is dead, his legacy lives on. We all know that with the Captain America movie looming over head, we’re bound to get Rogers back on the pages of our funny books in one way or another but I can’t personally say that I really need that. I think Brubaker has done a masterful job of crafting this new chapter of the Cap legacy and if Steve and James (okay, you just gotta call him Bucky), if Steve and the older, wiser <i>Bucky</i> were to stand next to each other and someone were to shout out, ‘Hey Captain America’, both have the right and honor to turn and answer to that name.