Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Captain America Omnibus

With today's Marvel Noise podcast comes a spoiler-filled edition of "Marvel Unbound". Here on Random Thoughts Escaping is a written version of the installment. Feel free to join the conversation about this in the Marvel Noise forum "Marvel Unbound" thread. Enjoy!

Last spring I was going through old comics from the Original Collection and reading trade paperbacks of some of the classic storylines I knew and loved as a kid. I wasn't reading any current runs at the time. My only cause for going to the local comic shop was to pick up copies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight for my wife. (And she was the one who tracked down the comic shop in the first place.) Then I caught wind of the death of Captain America. I think I read it on first, then dug around some more. It was the second wave of publicity around the event -- this time promoting the Director's Cut release of Captain America #25. I picked it up July Forth weekend and never looked back.

Well, that's not altogether true. I did look back... and read the Captain America Omnibus. What an incredible anthology. I have been consistently blown away by the work of Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Mike Perkins. They are a large reason for my being back into the comic book culture. It's likely I would never have pursued things further if I hadn't enjoyed what I found on the pages of Captain America, and my wallet wouldn't be as thin as it is now.

The Captain America Omnibus provided yet another way to lighten my bank account, but it offered a great way to catch up on what I had missed up to the point where I jumped on board. This beast collects the first 25 issues of Brubaker's run on the title in a single hardcover volume.

This title is so much more than just a "super-hero" comic. Brubaker offers up an amazing mystery and spy story set to Epting and Perkin's beautiful visual score. From the very first issue the medium is elevated by the apparent death of Cap's longtime nemesis, the Red Skull (handled with a twist clever enough to stifle a groan when revealed), and the way the introduction of the Winter Soldier is handled, all the way through to the death of Captain America in the last collected issue.

Brubaker's handling of these three very key, highly-charged plot points helped soothe a potentially shattered fan base. The status quo has always been that only Uncle Ben, the Stacys, and Bucky stay dead in the Marvel Universe. Then Brubaker goes and resurrects Bucky... as an assassin! Instead of providing background (both old and new canon) in one helping, Brubaker opts for a slow-burn reveal that unfolds over the course of nearly a year's worth of books, with flashbacks beautifully set off in black and white by Epting and Perkins.

There are stand-alone stories within the larger continuity collected here, like the "Interlude: The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe" issue (#7) and the "House of M" issue (#10), along with the "65th Anniversary Special" and "Winter Soldier: Winter Kills" one-shots. Good stuff. Not to mention Nick Fury, The Falcon, Agent 13, Iron Man, Union Jack -- they all show up here in just the right doses.

The dark tone of the book is matched panel-for-panel with Epting's tough, gritty visuals. And the world Cap's inhabiting is all the better for it. As much as I love Epting's work here (I mean, his art has me believing in flying cars for Pete's sake!), the one-off artists also do a fantastic job, particularly Lee Weeks on the "Winter Soldier: Winter Kills" story.

The extras in the omnibus are plentiful, as one would expect from a collection like this, and if you're a fan of Marvel Spotlight interviews then you've just hit the mother lode. There are multiple interviews with both Brubaker and Epting reprinted here, along with the full script of issue #25, and some great sketches, design evolution, and covers by Epting. One of the coolest extras is a short, two-page spread on the media frenzy that took place around issue #25.

Collecting the first two-years of the title under one cover, the Captain America Omnibus is a mammoth tome. Almost to the point of being a bit unwieldy. This is the first and only Marvel Omnibus I have, and it's about as far away from a monthly book as you can get -- hardback, dust-jacketed, 700 or so pages. It's a beast, but worth the investment in time, money, and effort.

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