It's completely irrational, I know, but I can't tell you how much that I almost wanted to hate CAPTAIN AMERICA #26. If nothing else, I wanted to at least start this review with some kind of joke about it having been so long since the last issue came out, I wish I could remember what had happened in it. None of this is in any way fair, because none of it actually has anything to do with the book itself; it's all everything else, all the surrounding noise, that had turned me against the possibilities that Ed Brubaker, Mike Perkins and Steve Epting had something good to offer.
By this point, you see, I've started to settle into a slight boredom with the death of Captain America. It's not that I'm not enjoying the Marvel books more these days than I was pre-Civil War, because I am (although I do kind of see the death of Cap as the real "break" between then and now, for some reason, not Civil War itself; maybe because the death of Captain America was an actual event for characters to respond to, as opposed to the end of Civil War the series, which was essentially "Hey! Our seven issues are up!"?), but more that the death feels as if it's been run into the ground by this point thanks to The Confession oneshot and the Fallen Son miniseries and all of the crazy media hoopla surrounding the story itself. I'm a child of the internet age, daddio, and if it isn't a news story that's broken in the last five minutes I'm gone, you dig? That said, I'm a fan of Brubaker's writing - His CRIMINAL #6 this week is just plain Excellent, tight and tense, pulling you into it without trying and barely giving me enough time to wonder whether it's he or Sean Philips who has the smoking women fetish - and felt sorry for him even as I was getting bored of reading characters talk about what Cap meant to them; Bendis and Loeb seemed to be writing scenes that felt as if they should've been Ed's, and I wondered what the actual Captain America book would read like, when it returned. Would its thunder have been stolen, or would it go somewhere else entirely?
The answers, respectively, are No and Kind of. Fittingly enough, the second part of "The Death of The Dream" shows you characters reacting to - to channel Jeph for a second - The death of Captain America, but Brubaker manages to show something beyond the handwringing sadness that we've seen so far. His characters show more genuine emotion and humanity because of the complexity of their responses, and by focusing on that, he manages to move the story (and the series) past Steve Rogers dying. It's an interesting and subtle difference from things like Fallen Son, I think; that series feels as if it's there to remind you, over and over again, that Marvel has done something daring by killing off their character, and as much of a guilty pleasure it may be, it never transcends the sense of "We are so awesome". This issue does so quickly and quietly, not focusing on the death itself but everything that comes after, making the death a story as opposed to an "event", if you can see the difference. More than of his other mainstream Marvel work, it also feels like one of Brubaker's "mature" books, like Criminal or Sleeper - More in a grey area morally and (again, fittingly) more hopeless. Even though I have no doubt that Captain America will live again - I don't even doubt that Brubaker himself has already put plans in motion to bring him back himself, from the scene with the corpse this issue - there's still no easy solution to any of the concerns of the characters in this issue, and it's that complexity that makes this a Very Good return for the book that manages to make me want to find out what happens next.