Once again, Ed Brubaker plumbs the depths of Captain America’s [retconn’d] past, and once again, he comes up with gold. In the first issue of Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier, it’s revealed that scrawny Steve Rogers was not the only candidate who went through all of the Operation: Rebirth training, that there is indeed an heir to Professor Erskine, and that Steve’s only got a few issues to track down the source of the bootleg Super-Soldier serum that’ll otherwise be flooding the global marketplace.
In his capacity as “America’s top law enforcement operative,” Steve tracks down the mysterious Jacob Erskine in Madripoor, with the intention of uncovering the reason behind the mystery man’s defaming of the combined legacies of his father (who was a fellow enrolee alongside Steve in Rebirth), his grandfather (inventor of the serum that transformed Steve into the peak of physical perfection), and Steve himself, but he’s met by a trio of “enhanced” guards, all of whom are dead set on beating him, well, to death. Decades of fighting experience enables him to take them down without too much trouble (particularly when one has a reaction to the serum and drops dead of an aneurysm), and when he finds the younger Professor, he learns that Erskine’s just as much in the dark about the illicit purposes of the serum as he is; Erskine wants to use it to cure cancer. Moments later, a sniper’s bullet fells him, and, as Steve himself remarks, the man who once was Captain America once again cradles a dying Professor Erskine in his arms.
It was tough to know how to feel about Steve’s decision to step away from the role that had defined him for most of his adult life at the close of Siege; while the Bucky Cap clearly plays better to Brubaker’s strengths as a writer than Steve Rogers ever did (which, let’s be clear, does not mean Ed’s time spent writing Steve was anything less than excellent, it’s just that he designed Bucky, from WWII to today, to be the sort of espionage action hero he writes best, while Steve exists in a more black and white world of legitimate moral authority than the American-hero-turned-brainwashed-Soviet-supersoldier-turned-real-American-hero-once-again Bucky ever has), Steve is Captain America, and always has been, even when he walked away from the job because of government interference. I had hoped that Steve’s latest rebirth wouldn’t take Bucky away from the book, and that maybe the two men could exist as sort of co-Captains of America. We would’ve gotten the best of both worlds, in that way, but, of course, that was not completely to be. Norman Osborn’s complete meltdown on national television, coupled with Nick Fury’s ongoing absences, created a void at the highest levels of power in the Marvel Universe, and I guess the powers that be figured one Captain America was enough. So, Steve got promoted.
Thankfully, Rogers hasn’t stepped far away from the action at all, between his time here and Secret Avengers (in fact, he might be as busy as he’s ever been). In this series, it seems like Brubaker’s moving Steve ever so slowly out of his comfort zone as a character, and more into Ed’s writing wheelhouse. Rogers’ pervasive inner monologue keeps us in lockstep with our hero throughout the issue; this is as good an introduction to the character of Steve Rogers as anything I’ve read before. As usual, the action beats perfectly punctuate the moments of discovery, and I bet there aren’t going to be better end-of-issue cliffhangers than the one we’re left with here.
If you’re a little surprised, dear reader, that I’ve been able to write this much without mentioning a single word about Dale Eaglesham’s art, well, let’s just say that you’re not the only one. While I’m still not totally happy with his departure from Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four, the fact that he moved on to draw a miniseries written by the man who’s clearly my favorite comic book author certainly does lessen the blow. And Eaglesham’s art is excellent here; his portrayal of Steve as simultaneously musclebound and introspective is something that’s rarely done (at all, let alone as well as it is here) in most comics I read. His action is just as kinetic as the best work he’s done in the past, and he communicates through posture and expression with the best of them. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Andy Troy’s great color work (particularly at the beginning and end of the book) and Joe Caramagna’s lettering job (with the sound effects, especially).
Despite its handicap of one of the more awkward titles in comics, Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier is pretty much a can’t-miss first issue. With action and intrigue this good, who could ask for much else?