By Christopher Franey & Rafael Encinas
Here we are at part eight of our tour of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and Grant Morrison’s Batman which continue to showcase great story and character while creating legacies that still stand today. During this read to make it easier for the reader I will be in BOLD FONT and RAFA will be in ITALIC FONT as we express our views on these great comics. In this part, we continue our adventures with both Bucky and Dick continuing with the mantles as Captain America and Batman. For those of you reading alongside with us, we will be discussing Captain America: The Man with No Face (Cap vol. 5 #43-48) which was first published back in December of 2008 and Batman: Life After Death (Batman vol. 1 # 692-699) and cover dated December 2009. Rafa why don’t you open this up with your thoughts on Batman’s adventures brought to us by Tony Daniel this week?
Tony Daniel’s run at Batman is something that unfortunately is not up to par with the rest of Morrison’s run. While I can appreciate the story that Daniels is trying to tell, it unfortunately comes off as boring and a slog to read through. We’ve got Dick continuing to try and bring order to Gotham. The use of villains, the motivations, and the overall pace of this story is just uninteresting. There are some good moments where we get to see Dick use his inner monologue to continue and rationalize his time as Batman, but it isn’t witty or that interesting. However, I do appreciate that Daniels tries to bring closure to the story brought up on Battle For The Cowl with the use of the new Black Mask, but it just doesn’t feel like a Dick Grayson Batman story. It feels like it tries too hard to bring mystery and excitement to a Batman story. What were your thoughts, Chris?
I’m right there with you, I honestly felt like it was quite the chore to get these issues read and that is super unfortunate as I love Dick Grayson as Batman. I honestly thought this was going to be a continuation of Judd Winick’s Batman from the previous story arc of Long Shadows which dropped hints of Dick Grayson’s family and origins yet nothing was touched upon. You’re right when you mention that this is clean up from Battle For The Cowl which is nice but that should’ve been what we last read in the Batman comics, so overall that makes this and the last arc super disjointed for Batman/Dick Grayson stories. I found myself teased by moments in the story that sadly didn’t go anywhere or honestly weren’t needed, like this kiss right here.
Like it is great tension playing with Dick and Helena’s past relationship but to just toss it in there and then force the idea that Barbara (Batgirl/Oracle) Gordon is jealous was just nothing but an exciting panel. It would’ve been nice if it was actually played out like maybe Dick or Helena are conflicted with their feelings for the other. The part with the Riddler at the end of this trade was just useless and like it opens a question, was Riddler faking the hero gig?
So this shift in him playing the hero feels like it was a long con in order to get his former partners out of the picture which is such a shame to the stories where he was a hero. Like I can understand him returning to his roots, but the panel doesn’t play it well that his demeanor was shifted to and then back. Also with Dr. Jeremiah Arkham being revealed as the new Black Mask, so it was a neat idea but again…it doesn’t go anywhere. Like did Jeremiah lose his mind or is the Black Mask possessed? I wish I knew. So I’m glad to have read these issues but there is so much that could’ve been done better for the characters and the story in my opinion. Any last thoughts on Batman, Rafa?
I think you perfectly put it into words with how this volume of Batman reads, Chris. Like I said, I can appreciate what Daniels was trying to do, but many of these elements that you bring up, just feel forced or lead to nowhere. This story does not elicit the excitement of what this run has done in the past; however, we got more than enough excitement in Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. This is a fun story because it allows Bucky to build on his legacy in his own way. Time has passed, we have gotten through the Civil War and Secret Invasion events, and Bucky is now more seasoned in his time as the new Captain America.
This story takes us back to the past as we see him continue to wrestle with his past sins. However, this time, it becomes that much more personal. We get an awesome team up with both Black Widow and Namor. We have Bucky chasing ghosts; righting the wrongs of his past. It is excellent storytelling because it presents a new dynamic to Bucky’s story that does not enter on the Red Skull. It is this breath of fresh air that really brings new life into this already excellent story. What were your thoughts on Captain America this week, Chris?
This was a fantastic story and adventure; perfect international espionage with reuniting with old friends. Which hits to the point that Bucky is also a man out of time just like Steve is. When you see how Bucky has interacted with Professor Zhang Chin and the Man with No Face (who actually was a late Golden Age character) it really showcases the homework Ed Brubaker does for these stories. To take actual comic book characters from various times and then inject them into real world political battle is just awesome; plus he still manages to make a compelling story without having to use big named villains.
With the two panels above this I love how the pasts of Bucky and the Winter Soldier intersect with one of the villains; like it is just perfect how the Professor wants to dissect a friend from Bucky’s past yet also wants revenge on the Winter Soldier for taking his wife’s life. I just love how this villain is that greedy yet also that much of a menace too. Plus we get some awesome fights with Batroc the Leaper and the relationship between Bucky and Natasha is well played as they are lovers yet spies and will do what they feel needs to be done and hope the other understands. What about you Rafa?
Ultimately, this story succeeds in the fact that it can bring in a bunch of new characters and immediately create a story that you feel invested in. I never knew anything about Batroc, and seeing him in action was a lot of fun. I could hear his French accent and I thought that was a great choice for a villain because it continues to show you the scope of a Captain America story. I find it funny how so much of these stories do not happen on American soil. I especially liked how they gave Bucky some more meaningful interactions with other characters besides Sam.
Seeing his interesting dynamic with Namor was a highlight for me because you could see there was a deep connection and appreciation that Namor has for Bucky, but he could only show it in his own stubborn way. I really liked this. I think it made me like both characters that much more because I could relate to that kind of friendship. And at the end of the day, this is what makes these stories from Brubaker so endearing. Even though they pertain to deep espionage and explosive hero action, it is the human heart that makes them so impactful. Any last thoughts, Chris?
Reading your thoughts here made me realize that the connections Bucky has in the here and now are very important and since his reintroduction he has gained quite the “family” of his own. Bucky messing around with “Subby”, as he called him, was great and they do have a trust that is forged from being brothers in arms during the great one. Knowing that Natasha will forsake all to help save Buck is such a dynamic love and it really adds depth to Natasha that I haven’t seen in her past relationships with Daredevil or Hawkeye. I am so glad I read this after Batman because it hyped me up again and you called out a lot of great points to Ed Brubaker’s writing and stories. This run of Captain America has been fantastic and I am really looking forward to our next reads which start to set the stage for some big returns.
Come back and join us again as we continue our read with Brubaker’s Captain America: Road to Reborn tpb (issues 49-50 of Captain America volume 5 and return to renumbering of vol 1 with 600-601) and a double dose of Grant Morrison with Batman: Time and the Batman tpb (vol 1 issues 700-703) and Batman and Robin: Batman vs Robin tpb (Batman and Robin vol 1 #’s 7-12). Please feel free to reach out to us and let us know your thoughts and opinions as we would love to get your views as well as share this excellent read of comics with you all; you can find me on Twitter as @StuffIShudSay and Rafa as @Mobilerafie, please check out all Geek Elite Media has to offer on this site as well as our podcasts and social medias and always remember to GEEK OUT!
By Christopher Franey & Rafael Encinas
Welcome back everyone to part seven of our read/review of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America and Grant Morrison’s Batman which continue to up the ante with each volume we explore. These are two respective runs that continue to illuminate the vast importance of the Captain America and Batman mythos and legend. During this read to make it easier for the reader CHRIS will be in BOLD FONT and RAFA will be in ITALIC FONT as we express our views on these great comics. In this part, we continue our adventures with both Bucky and Dick running with their new mantles. We have seen them embrace their new identities, let’s see how they continue to fair! For those of you reading alongside with us, we will be discussing Captain America vol 5 #37-42 and Batman and Robin (2009) #1-6. Let’s get started with arguably the greatest mind in comics; Chris, what did you think of Captain America: The Man Who Bought America?
As per usual with Ed Brubaker he starts where he does best, in WWII and with that flashback of the Invaders winning a battle against Red Skull and his minions it just goes to show that Skull plays the long game and you can see that right here:
Skull wants them to enjoy the victory and eventually he will take that and more from them as is told to us with that title, The Man Who Bought America. It is no joke and I remember when I was first reading these issues I was so scared of his plan because it could happen, this is right up there with Geoff John’s Avengers run where Skull became Dell Rusk. That infiltration of the system to use it against itself is horrible yet full of suspense just right for Bucky to take on along the way on his journey towards redemption. I like how it plays to both sides of the coin since Bucky as Winter Soldier would infiltrate America and try to bring it down from within. Skull isn’t the only villain here, Doctor Faustus is quite the character in this story arc as well. I love that Faustus doesn’t have a turn of heart in order to stop Skull, yet instead it is that he is tired of being the whipping boy.
With that set of panels I appreciate that he is a heel, but not a total scumbag. With him taking away the knowledge of Sharon’s baby it is quite the double edged sword; it is pretty wild and I don’t know if today’s comics could get away with it, but you have to remember this is not the writer, this is the character and how he would act. Speaking of characters Brubaker just does such a wonder with all of them and he has so many to choose from with Bucky, Sharon, Black Widow, Flacon, Skull, Faustus, and “Mad Cap” aka the Grand Director; what where some pop out moments of character for you Rafa?
For me, this story had so many wonderful character moments. We get to see Sharon Carter’s story continue to unfold into tragedy which was surprising but also felt real. To your point, we get full utilization of the secondary villains like Zola and Faustus which made the story feel like there were multiple layers between the main plot point of Red Skull and Bucky’s political tango. Hell, what worked for me the most was the relationship between Sam and Bucky. I like the moments where these two had a moment to train or to catch their breaths. Two men who lost the same beacon of hope helping one another to pick up the pieces and honor Steve’s legacy. Seeing them develop a friendship through their buddy-cop team up adds to the flavor and tone of the story, and what a story it is.
Ed Brubaker really amps up the criminal espionage and political drama with this volume of Captain America. I really enjoyed how “The Man Who Bought America” continues to build on Bucky’s voyage to carry on the legacy of Steve Rogers. It is more excellent moments with Bucky as we continue to get a look into his mind and feelings. We get to see him train and inner monologue about how he needs to not tarnish the good name of Captain America. This is juxtaposed to the arrival of another man claiming to be Captain America that really shakes the core of this political drama, and oh, what a political drama it turns out to be. The usage of 3rd party presidential candidates, the Red Skull’s menacing agenda to fabricate a narrative, the idea of fascism polluting the democratic system fire at all cylinders. Once again, akin to political espionage films like The Manchurian Candidate (1962) this tpb delivers a suspenseful plot that is interesting, multilayered, and exciting.
I believe this story to be a technical feat by the writer because even though this is just another chapter in Brubaker’s Captain America narrative, it still feels important and gives us a blockbuster climax to the suspense that’s been building for these past 3-4 volumes. It is quite impressive. Any last thoughts on this volume of Captain America, Chris?
As per usual your eye and mind catches the best of things and you nailed it with Brubaker bringing the flavors of Buddy-Cop with Political Thriller/Suspense; I mean what more could you ask for in patriotic street level comics? I really did enjoy the moments with Sam and Bucky and this has me even more hyped of the upcoming show and I hope, if they’re smart, they look at these issues and future ones to get the full Sam/Bucky experience. Looking at Cap’s legacy that is quite the cross Bucky has to carry and I love the fact that Brubaker even brings it up by having Hawkeye pop in for a visit and it just makes the point even better and more honest as Bucky says it out loud that is the last thing he wants to do is tarnish Steve’s memory. The conclusion that issue 42 brough was so satisfying and it closes the major arc with Lukin and Skull’s transformation but yet we still have the menace of “Mad Cap” to deal with, which is going to be amazing if memory serves. I love the ending of hope that Brubaker leaves with too.
Excellent points as always, Chris! I love that you mention how this volume ends with a happy ending for Bucky, at least for now . The good guys get a win for a change. I think this ties perfectly and resonates deeply with the overall tone and nuance of Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin. I remember reading this first tpb, Batman Reborn, and having a huge smile on my face. Rereading this now with greater context into Morrison’s Bat-World, my smile just gets bigger.
After the extravagance of Batman R.I.P., the convolution of Final Crisis, and the personal ballad of Battle For The Cowl, Morrison gives us a new format to play with. He gives us Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn. Set up as an introspective look into Dick’s foray as Batman, and set up as a fun, albeit weird homage to the adventures of Batman and Robin, this story is something unique; something that is exciting. Morrison wastes no time in creating his own brand of the macabre and strange with his very own rogue’s gallery of antagonists. The usage of these baroque-esque villains is provocative, silly, and disorienting. Professor Pyg, the Dollotrons, and Flamingo are all so extravagant that it is shocking, which is made even more jarring by the colorful palette of Frank Quitely’s art and Alex Sinclair’s colors. This choice of art coupled with the strange narrative presented feel unique, albeit sometimes disgusting, and this is important because it makes it memorable. We get so much more than just a Dick and Damian bonding story; we get so much more than a new Batman tale. We get something inherently different, that feels different, and I think Morrison does this perfectly.
However, though the style and presentation to this tpb is a standout, I would be remiss if I did not also credit the wonders of its narrative. Morrison’s Batman & Robin is so much more than its wild presentation; it weaves an interesting and heartfelt story about two sons; both who have lost their fathers and must now do their best to create a new foundation for their father’s legacy. Watching Dick and Damian work in tandem feels good and refreshing. We get a new dynamic to the Batman and Robin stories we had in the past. Watching these two bicker like a real family feels sweet, it feels earned. It is a pretty creepy, violent, and disturbing story, but Morrison is still able to put a whimsical fun and adventure into it. What stood out to you, Chris?
For me it was the smaller moments, seeing Batman and Robin together again was great but it was funny to basically deal with Bruce Jr. and adult Grayson. I love the twist on the dynamic and I love the realism in their relationship. Right off the bat in issue one this gave me a laugh as it pays to the history and forges to the future:
Dick recalling his days as the boy wonder and seeing Damian, basically with body language, say I don’t care. It was great, it really reminds me of working with younger kids who think they are so cool and edgy. The villains as you said earlier were exactly that gross and extravagant. I have to say Pyg is just horrible like the way he is drawn. I can imagine if he were real he would stink to high heaven, so gross and the stuff of nightmares. The second story in the arc really stuck out to me with Scarlet; she is just so damn tragic and the fact that Robin said he would help her and let her down made it much harder with her story. I will say that Grant’s Jason Todd did feel out of character but it works since it was so early on with Jason/Red Hood that DC probably didn’t know what they were going to do with the character.
I’m glad that Scarlet and Jason have since found better stories for them to go on with. I do like their introduction of Oberon Sexton, Gravedigger; since we know who he will turn out to be, it is going to be great to watch and see what he does between now and the reveal. I didn’t mind this read of the stories in this tpb, but it wasn’t my favorite set of stories. I feel Grant had a rough start here and everything was so “flash in the pan” but then again that works since this is Dick and Damian’s first adventures as Batman and Robin. Are there any other insights you have to this set of stories, Rafa?
I think you explain it perfectly when you said that the smaller moments are what worked best for you, Chris. Even though this story does feel very bombastic in its presentation, it really does work best in its smaller moments, in the inside jokes and call backs shared between characters. I liked that they utilized Jason in this story and how he tries to be his own version of Batman. The way he and Dick get into it after their tussle with the flamboyant Flamingo is a standout moment because we get to see them really hash out that old family drama. I think this moment is cathartic and moves the young men another step closer to healing their old wounds. I think this is a good rock bottom moment for Jason, so that we appreciate the hero he becomes later in Batman’s narrative. Overall, I felt that both Morrison and Brubaker did a good job of creating a brave new world for both Dick and Bucky. They have already been introduced, and now we are seeing them live out their new identities. I am excited to see how these stories continue.
There we go, both Morrison and Brubaker have teased us with the set of stories that began with Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne now handing it off to Dick Grayson and Bucky Barnes. We have been treated to some amazing adventures and the best is yet to come. Come back and join us again as we continue our read with Brubaker’s Captain America: The Man with No Face tpb (issues 43-49 of Captain America volume 5) and a return to Tony Daniel’s Batman in Life After Death tpb (issues 692-699 of Batman volume 1). Please feel free to reach out to us and let us know your thoughts and opinions as we would love to get your views as well as share this excellent read of comics with you all; you can find me on Twitter as @StuffIShudSay and Rafa as @Mobilerafie, please check out all Geek Elite Media has to offer on this site as well as our podcasts and social medias and always remember to GEEK OUT!