The early ’90s were a difficult time for Captain America. Although there were several strong, memorable storylines, when compared to the meteoric success of other comic mainstays, it felt like the ostensible hero was batting far below his ability. Thus, following the Onslaught storyline in the X-comics, Marvel decided to shuffle Captain America (along with the Fantastic Four and Avengers) off to a pocket universe under the direction of Rob Liefeld and other Image rockstar artists. Rebooting the character and giving him a more “modern” visual style seemed just what the fans wanted in 1996.
While the Liefeld Captain America title has since become a lesson in how not to craft a comic, there was renewed interest in Steve Rogers, allowing the character to return to the 616 in a new title written by Mark Waid. This trade collects the second arc from that relaunch, and reading it makes clear why this run is beloved by comic fans. Under Waid’s tutelage, Rogers is again given the weight and superheroics that elevate the character to a core lynchpin of the Marvel Universe. Accompanied by incredible art from Andy Kubert, this volume perfectly captures the gallant energy Captain America requires.
Volume 2 sees the Sentinel of Liberty transported to the future to fight a Cosmic Cube empowered Red Skull. Cap’s shield is shattered, and his powers diminished, yet he fights against the vibranium cancer that is demolishing all remnants of the potent metal. Classic villains such as Crossbones, Absorbing Man, Hydra and Flag-Smasher all make appearances and push Captain America to the edge.
These issues (#13-24 and Annual ’99) give Cap a giant, world-altering mission with massive stakes, while playing to the character’s emotional strengths. Issue #17 finds our hero battling an empowered Red Skull, while The Watcher and Galactus look on. Waid, with his deep knowledge and love for Marvel lore, meshes the human character of Rogers with these cosmic elements seamlessly, giving the entire narrative the right voice. Its pacing is brisque, while still providing readers less versed in this realm with the necessary context and history. Most of the issues have Adam Kubert as penciler, and they are a pleasure to visually absorb. Lee Weeks and Vince Evans do some fine fill-in work, as does Pablo Raimondi.
The trade comes packed with supplementals. In addition to obligatory sketch pages featuring Kubert’s beautiful line work, background details on this run are also provided. Perhaps most interestingly is the original version of issue #14, which was rewritten by request of Marvel editors for being offensive. With both versions available in this trade, readers can see what was changed in the editing process.
Captain America has had many forgettable runs, but this collection of issues is not one of them. It’s Captain America at its narrative and visual best and can be enjoyed by any fan of the titular hero.
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