This a an excellent, lovely collection of some wonderful "Captain America" stories between issues 25-42 of the current Captain America series being published by Marvel comics. Although not a perfect collection, it comes pretty close, and is presented in a sturdy, wonderful and high quality format that will look great on any shelf and stand up to several readings.
The collection starts with the issue in which Steve Rogers apparently "dies," and is perhaps one of the best "death" of a superhero stories in that genre, and continues onward until the assumption of the Captain America identity by Bucky and beyond. It is an uncompromising issue in which Brubaker hits all the right notes, and in which the tragedy of Steve's death is enriched by the wider "civil war" conflict which leads to the circumstances he finds himself in. Thankfully, detailed knowledge of that event is not a pre-requisite, as I did not read it, but was aware of the basic conflict between Captain America and Iron Man on the issue of registration of costumed heroes.
Although issue 25 was printed in the first Captain America Omnibus published by Marvel, it's appropriate to be reprinted here, since all the stories that follow are set off by the events in that issue. Brubaker's approach here is well in keeping with his approach since starting his run, which is to ground the stories in a sense of realism and avoid navel gazing and spending too much time on faux reflection on Steve's passing by the supporting cast. Characters mourn and the loss of Steve Rogers permeates and is the catalyst of all the events that follow, but life does go on and Brubaker commits himself to continuing the story. Essentially, as Sharon, Sam (the Falcon), Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Nick Fury are forced to come to terms with Steve's demise, unexpected events take place which put Bucky in the position of having to assume the identity of Captain America. At the same time, the Red Skull's plot barrels along with the assistance of a plant in Shield itself and Sharon is captured. Although the Skull's plans are anything but transparent, an insidious plot to destroy America by taking over it's government comes frighteningly close to fruition and the new Captain America does an admirable if not flawless job at putting a spoke in the Skull's wheel. The stories here are lyrical, the characters are well drawn and the stakes are high in the right kind of way (without being silly). If anything, it is in this volume that the Cap series finally picks up some real momentum, with events unfolding organically, and with an immediacy and urgency which the previous 25 issues of Captain America sometimes lacked. In fact, while the first Captain America Omnibus is a great read, I preferred this second volume, as that volume occasionally got a little bogged down and could be slow at times.
Brubaker isn't quite the genius some make him out to be, but is instead, a solid storyteller with a talent for creating realistic sounding characters and for creating grand, organic plots that satisfy thoroughly when read in bulk. It will rarely be a case where one particular chapter of Brubaker's run will really stand out as exceptional in and of itself, or even be very memorable, (issue 25 being the exception.) Issue to issue, the stories are hardly full of single events, or lines of dialogue or example, that will resonate with you afterward. Events seem to blur and intertwine, but as part of a larger whole, each chapter advances the plot substantially and provides a satisfying reading experience that comes together to make an even more satisfying whole. In fact, on reflection, it occured to me that actually, Brubaker has been telling the very same story since his Cap run began in 2005; namely a story about the confrontation between the extreme, fascist philosophies embodied by the Red Skull and perhaps, the idea of Captain America more than an individual wearer of the suit or bearer of that name, and all those things that go along with that. While all of Brubaker's other characters seems well drawn, his Steve is ironically a little removed, even slightly aloof, which isn't necessarily a bad thing and often helps promote the necessary mystique around the character that makes him likeable. At one point, Brubaker has Bucky, the character with whom we as readers probably most sympathize, describe Steve as that cooler, popular older brother the rest of us never want to let down, and it's a wonderful encapsulation of that mythical element Stever Rogers is supposed to represent. Structurally though, it's the overarching story that is the compelling element here, rather than individual issues, and for that reason, reading these stories in this volume in one or two sittings is therefore probably the best way to experience them. If Brubaker has any obvious weaknesses, it's that he's clearly not as comfortable with traditional comic science fiction as he is with crime or military fare, as the more slightly fantastic elements of his story, most swirling around the possibility of Steve's resurrection, seem a little clumsy and out of place. But this is early days yet for that particular tree to bear fruit. It is however, a weakness I noticed with some of the scripts.
The art on this volume is by most of the same team from the previous volume. Epting and Perkins do a serviceable job of providing a consistent, realistic vision to the stories that perfectly compliment Brubaker's grounded, humanized run. The characters feel like real people and generally move like real people, and the team demonstrate an exemplary record of clear storytelling and page layout; I've never been confused by the action in a Captain America comic drawn by these two and that's rare these days, but I would expect nothing less than that from Epting who's an old pro. If there's a minor complaint here, it's that while clearly technically competent and excellent artists in their own right, there's also nothing particularly spectacular or any images, sequences or pages that wow or arrest your attention, and maybe that's not a bad thing. The art should service the story after all and not the other way around. It's perhaps just slightly unfortunate that this team hasn't produced any defining single images that will resonate with readers in and of itself beyond Brubaker's stories. They do however have an admirable work ethic, as the need for fill in artists is infrequent, ensuring a generally unified artistic vision to this run of stories.
My only major complaint about the volume is that as the previous voilume was 25 issues plus, the 18 or so issues presented here seems a little short. While some might counter that the later issues after 42 relate more to Steve's eventual return and therefore don't meet the theme of the "death of Captain America," one still leaves the volume feeling like there's so much story which hasn't been included. However, that's more a compliment to the creative team than anything else, and only the unreasonable would refuse to accept that the story "ends" at a natural break. My other complaint is minor and about the format, namely the extra, DVD like material, articles and interviews etc presented in the first Omnibus is pretty light here, which I think is unfortunate. There are some bits and pieces about the media coverage of the death issue and Brubaker's intentions when starting the series some years back, but given the importance of the stories collected here and the volume of material produced about them by other media and by the industry at large, the few pieces presented here seem a little on the lean side to me. But that's a minor quibble and does not in any way diminish the excellent work the team accomplishes here.
Captain America under Brubaker and Epting and Perkins is a great property and I can't wait for the next Omnibus in this series, as I don't buy the monthly installments and never have. Highly recommended.