Tag Archives: Steve Epting

Today’s Super Comic — The Uncanny X-Men #319 (1994)

Here’s an excellent example of a mid-‘90s X-Men comic, one of the sort that writer Scott Lobdell excelled at.

Uncanny X-Men #319 features three conversations, each featuring a pair of X-characters and each different in nature. And there’s little in the way of comic booky action.

The cover story is Angel (then Archangel) and Psylocke on a date. Meanwhile, Rogue accompanies Iceman on a visit home to his parents, where he clashes with his bigoted father. And on the astral plane, Professor X chats with someone who appears to be Magneto…or is he????

So these three vignettes entail, respectively, a soapy romance, a message of tolerance, and the setup for the next big storyline. All three are essential ingredients to X-Men comics, but each conversation does something a little different than usual.

The budding Angel/Psylocke romance is refreshingly free of drama at this point, just two teammates growing closer in an organic way. Iceman’s father isn’t building any Sentinels. His bigotry is borne of ignorance rather than evil villainy, and as with most bigoted people, it’s not so simple as labeling them wholly “good” or “evil.” Also, Iceman and Rogue had seldom been paired up before this issue, but they had a good enough rapport that the movies later picked up on what started here. And the usual Professor X/Magneto discussion acquires an interesting subtext here once the twist is revealed.

All good stuff.

Writer: Scott Lobdell

Artist: Steve Epting

Inkers: Dan Green and Tim Townsend

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #48 (2009)

In order for the reader to care about the plot, the characters need to care about the plot. Yeah, that’s a pretty basic observation, but it’s an essential ingredient. And Captain America #48 provides an excellent example of how it works.

An unscrupulous scientist seeks to eradicate about 35 percent of the world’s population—for the good of the planet, of course. To achieve this, he’s used the remains of the original Human Torch to create a virus, one that renders its victims combustible. (Marvel’s first Human Torch was an android who debuted in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939; no relation to the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch.)

That’s all a good start. It raises the stakes by putting the fate of the world in the balance. But that alone would be too big and too impersonal. We’ve seen the fate of the world imperiled time after time in comics. We need a personal connection.

In this case, Bucky Barnes fought alongside the Human Torch in World War II. They were colleagues and friends, and those were happier times for Bucky, before he was forced to become the Winter Soldier. Bucky already lost Steve Rogers not long ago, and now another friend’s memory and body are being disrespected. Bucky is fighting not only to save the world, but also to preserve the honor of a man he respected more than just about anyone (other than Captain America, of course).

Joining Bucky in this mission are Namor the Sub-Mariner (another WWII ally) and the Black Widow (his current girlfriend). They represent his past and present, and they both have their own personal reasons for getting involved.

Not that anyone should need a personal motivation for saving the world, but it makes for a much more interesting story.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Pencilers: Butch Guice, Luke Ross, Steve Epting

Inkers: Butch Guice, Steve Epting

Cover: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Man With No Face (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #37 (2008)

Dayyy-umm, what an excellent series this is.

Yes, I know—that was the height on intellectual literary criticism. I’m a bit pressed for time.

Captain America #37 begins the third trade paperback collection of the “Death of Captain America” arc, so we’re back to some rising action. The Falcon expresses his skepticism about the new Captain America to Tony Stark and the new Cap himself, Bucky Barnes, and these scenes are especially interesting in hindsight considering that Falcon (Sam Wilson) is the current Captain America substitute.

But the scenes are strong in their own right, adding tension and casting doubt as to whether Bucky can succeed as Captain America. As another former partner of the original Cap, Falcon is certainly qualified to have an opinion.

Falcon isn’t the only doubter—we get a nice little Hawkeye appearance, too, giving the new Cap a hard time, kind of like how he often gave the old Cap a hard time back in the day.

And if that all isn’t enough reason to keep reading, the cliffhanger involving Sharon Carter will do the trick.

Dayyy-umm indeed.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

Cover: Jackson Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #33 (2008)

In the past 15+ years or so, comics have embraced longer-form storytelling. Stories are still divided into chapters of 20-22 pages, but there’s been a greater focus on the overarching narratives that build over the course of years. The old rule of “every comic is someone’s first, so make it accessible” is less of a concern (recap pages try to compensate for that, though), and you’re best off starting with #1 or the first issue of a new creative team (which partially explains why companies keep rebooting books back to new issue ones). Television has undergone a similar evolution during the same time.

A common complaint when the “decompressed storytelling” trend first emerged was that you’d sometimes read an issue where it felt like almost nothing happened. The story would read great in trade paperback, but the month-to-month pace suffered…in some cases. Not in the case of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, which demonstrates the creative benefits of the slow build.

(Some spoilers ahead.)

Brubaker began reintroducing Bucky Barnes back in #1, took his time developing the character, and killed Captain America in #25. And yet, it’s not until #33 that Bucky is even ready to entertain the notion of succeeding his old partner.

By this point, clear motivations are established for everyone involved. The idea comes posthumously from Cap himself, communicated in a letter he arranged to have delivered to Tony Stark upon his death. He asked Stark to save Bucky from himself and to make sure the legacy of Captain America continues. Stark, wracked with guilt about how the whole Civil War debacle went down, feels especially obligated to comply, and he sees only one way to fulfill both objectives—have Bucky become the new Cap. Bucky, out of loyalty and respect, is not going to let anyone else take the job, and he has much to atone for. And Black Widow, who first met Bucky as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, knows he’s not ready to carry the burden, but out of respect and affection for both Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers, she’s there to help.

The full saga is basically like a novel with dynamically laid out artwork. And so far, it’s every bit as amazing as I remember.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Steve Epting

Inker: Butch Guice

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #27 (2007)

The title character may be dead, but Captain America #27 features lots of great escalation.

Everyone is still mourning Captain America in their own way. Tony Stark is taking it rather hard, on account of the guilt he feels regarding the “Civil War” debacle. Sharon Carter has quit SHIELD. Bucky Barnes decides to gather Cap’s equipment. The Falcon tries to find Bucky. And so on.

The Black Widow enters the story, and we learn there’s a bit of backstory between her and Bucky. Makes sense, as both were used and manipulated by the Russian government.

The issue begins with Stark’s public proclamation that no one else will take over as Captain America—Steve Rogers was one of a kind and the decision is final. So that’s crying out to be boldly defied.

Bucky has a nice moment at a Captain America memorial, talking to an old woman who says Cap saved her father during a particular battle in World War II. Bucky knows the statement to be factually incorrect, but he chooses not to spoil her father’s memory. It’s a nice little touch that makes him a bit more likable. And that’s kind of important, given the role he’ll be playing as the story unfolds.

Captain America’s death may look like a big event comic, but it’s actually a terrific character-driven story.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Penciler: Steve Epting

Inker: Mike Perkins

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #25 (2007)

captain_america_25If you simply must kill the title character, this is the way to go about it.

Captain America #25 made national news when it came out. Must’ve been a slow news day if fictional events were considered newsworthy, especially given death’s well-known lack of permanency in the comic book realm.

We know Captain America isn’t going to stay dead forever, and no one tries to fool us about it. His death isn’t treated as the climactic event of the character’s story; it’s the inciting incident of this new story, which will carry the title for a while after. It’s not so much about how Cap dies, but more about setting up uncertainty about what will happen while Cap is dead.

Interestingly, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting initially seem to present the death as a murder mystery. Cap takes a bullet for a stranger—a very Captain America thing to do—and in the commotion that follows, we see a gun drawing closer to him and shooting him point-blank in the gut. But we don’t see who fired the lethal shot. It’s a crowded, chaotic scene. Any number of people could’ve slipped in and done it. It looks like that question may be left unanswered for the time being.

Nope. We learn the identity of the shooter in the final pages, and rather than deflating the tension, this knowledge enhances the drama, demanding we read the next issue.

By the way, this issue also serves as an epilogue to the original “Civil War” crossover storyline, but that’s not essential reading for this story. You’ll get up to speed quickly enough.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: The Death of Captain America vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #21 (2006)

captain_america_vol_5_21There’s a lot going on here, all of it fun.

For the first time since World War II, Captain America and Bucky team up to take down a giant robot! And it’s just like the old days, aside from Bucky being the Winter Soldier, of course.

London superheroes Spitfire and Union Jack guest star and clobber a new Master Man (always good to clobber Nazis). Agent 13 (Sharon Carter) takes on Crossbones and Sin (the Red Skull’s daughter). And though his body his dead, the Red Skull shares a brain with an evil Russian, and somehow a non-corporeal Skull is far creepier than a corporeal one.

Issue #21 is a big action fest, though it builds on what’s come before, maintains ongoing story arcs, and continues to set up future threads. And during it all, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting successfully balance classic comic book fun with a modern tone.

An enjoyable time all around.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Red Menace (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #14 (2006)

captain_america_vol_5_14I was reading an entirely different comic the other day, one that won’t appear among these all-positive reviews. It wasn’t bad on the whole, but the villain totally fell flat. He seemed formidable, sure, but the writer primarily used exposition to sell this new nemesis. No organic connection between hero and villain ever developed, and the result was utterly generic.

Everything that storyline got wrong, “The Winter Soldier” gets right. The initial arc concludes in Captain America #14 (though the story is far from over), as Captain America finally confronts his friend-turned-enemy.

Bucky Barnes, now the Winter Soldier, isn’t some random villain shoehorning himself into Cap’s life—he was a major part of that life back in their shared glory days. And now Cap needs to not only stop Bucky from hurting others, but he also needs to save Bucky, too. Cap genuinely cares about his opponent. That adds a nice extra dimension to the usual hero/villain conflict—stopping the bad guy means saving the bad guy.

Well…maybe.

Oh, and Sharon Carter/Agent 13 and Falcon are in this, too. They’re a bit overshadowed in this issue, but their presence is always welcome. Lot of great characters in this book.

I remembered this series was great, but I had forgotten just how great. The folks behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe were wise to draw inspiration from this particular story.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

Cover: Alex Schomburg and Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Winter Soldier (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #12 (2005)

captain_america_vol_5_12Retconning is tricky business. The writers are basically meddling with fictional history—changing backstories to suit current stories. When dealing with the Marvel Universe’s elastic timeline, tweaks are often necessary to keep things modern. But when the adjustments are more ambitious, books can easily go off the rails…or, when done properly, they can further enrich characters and stories.

Fortunately, Ed Brubaker’s major retconning of the Captain America and Bucky Barnes partnership falls in the latter category. Marvel doesn’t really do teen sidekicks, but it hadn’t figured that out yet in the 1940s (it also hadn’t even figured out it was “Marvel,” yet—it was Timely Comics back then).

The established story for many years was that teenage Bucky was an Army orphan who stumbled upon Cap’s secret identity, and he convinced Cap to take him on as a partner. And then he died at the same time Cap began his decades-long hibernation on ice. So…Cap fought with the aid of an experimental Super-Soldier serum coursing through his veins, while Bucky fought with the aid of plucky youthful exuberance and somehow managed to keep up. Other than the part where Bucky dies, it never made any sense, even by comic book standards.

In the “Winter Soldier” arc, Brubaker rewrites and fleshes out that backstory. Issue #12, we see Cap in 1941 learning about Bucky for the first time, as his superior officer explains the rationale for Captain America having a young sidekick. Part of it is propaganda, making sure the symbol of Captain America appeals to the youth. But there’s also a more pragmatic side—Bucky’s a gifted natural fighter who has received advanced training, and he can perform some of those wartime dirty deeds that need doing, thereby allowing Cap to keep his red-white-and-blue hands clean.

Brubaker didn’t merely retcon Bucky’s backstory—he gave a previously underdeveloped character an identity worth having. The friendship between Cap and Bucky was genuine, and that’s key, but otherwise the Bucky we had known was just the propaganda front. Turns out he was really Captain America’s secret weapon.

And now that secret weapon is aimed at Cap himself. It’s a rich conflict indeed.

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Steve Epting and Michael Lark

Cover: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Winter Soldier (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Captain America #2 (2004)

captain_america_vol_5_2I reviewed the first issue of this series over the summer and was reminded just how fantastic Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America was. So it’s past time I resumed re-reading, and issue #2 validates that decision.

Brubaker’s portrayal of Cap is spot-on, and the excellent artwork of Steve Epting and Michael Lark bolsters the writing’s effectiveness. Captain America has gravitas here (which will make key events later in the run all the more meaningful), and he never seems like anything less than a hero.

Cap and SHIELD investigate the assassination of an old enemy, one who has tried to kill them all a ridiculous number of times over the decades. No great loss for the world, but the death brings Cap no joy. Though not exactly torn up, he feels the loss of someone who had played a major role in his life. And yeah, he’s appropriately skeptical, given death’s unreliability in the Marvel Universe. It all combines into a reaction that’s perfectly in character, and perfectly human, while further enhancing that gravitas.

I’ll have to follow through with this series, too. (What’s one more to juggle?)

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artists: Steve Epting and Michael Lark

Cover: Steve Epting

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Captain America: Winter Soldier (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up