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Waiting for the Trade - Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

Captain America: No Escape
written by Ed Brubaker, illustrated by Jackson Guice & Mitch Breitweiser
collects Captain America 606-610

Why I Bought This: Baron Zemo is the villain who killed Bucky. If you are going to bring Bucky back from the dead then sooner or later this is the natural story to tell, and of course I wanted to read it.

The Plot: Baron Zemo (son of the original) learns Bucky is back from the dead, and he’s not happy about it.

(spoiler below)

Chapter 1 – It begins with a chance meeting between Zemo and the Ghost—an Iron Man villain who is a master of uncovering secrets; and does he have a doozy to share with Zemo about the new Captain America. Meanwhile Cap (Bucky) and Falcon are fighting the Wrecking Crew. Falcon’s narration tells us Bucky has been erratic since their last mission wherein Bucky had to shoot and presumably kill the 1950s’ Cap (who had joined the Watchdogs and become a terrorist but was still wearing the Cap costume); and indeed we see confirmation of the narration as Bucky’s recklessness allows the Wrecking Crew to escape. Sam talks to Steve as he thinks only Steve can get Bucky to talk about what’s bothering him. Meanwhile Bucky is having nightmares about killing the 50s’ Cap. Meanwhile Zemo is recruiting old Nazi super villains that used to work for his father. Steve, Sam and Bucky are having drinks at a bar where Cap and Sam give Bucky advice. They leave and Bucky is drunk even though he only had two beers. Sam offers to get Bucky’s motorcycle for him so he won’t have to drive. When Sam puts the key in the ignition it explodes. Zemo & Fixer watch from the roof, where Zemo reveals the bomb was not meant to kill Sam, just injure him enough to screw with Bucky’s head. We then see a flashback from two days earlier where Zemo breaks into a prison to meet with Sinn and get all the information she has on Bucky. 

Chapter 2 – Falcon is rushed to the ER where Bucky is punching walls in his rage at Falcon taking a bomb that was seemingly meant for him. Just then Iron Hand Hauptman (the Nazi villain Zemo recruited last issue) attacks Bucky at the Hospital, and with Bucky still being drugged/drunk lays a beating on him. Bucky briefly turns the tide because his cyborg arm is stronger than the villain’s iron hand but then reinforcements arrive in the form of a platoon of Nazis wearing full-on WWII uniforms. Bucky brutally beats the foot soldiers into oblivion until Steve arrives to stop him, at which point we see Bucky was hallucinating and he just beat up the local cops. Hauptman also escaped during the confusion. Medical tests show Bucky wasn’t just drugged, he was injected with a nanotech virus that can release additional drugs into him as needed. The Avengers use an EMP to kill the nanos. Steve and Black Widow brainstorm with Bucky on who could be behind this. Meanwhile the news is running with the story of Cap brutalizing cops, and asking questions about who this is new Cap is and who he is accountable to. Bucky is about to rush out and confront the media when Natasha stops him by noting that is what the mystery villain obviously wants him to do. They backtrack for clues and decide to look into the female bartender to see if she drugged him. While they investigate, Steve calls to say Sam is out of critical condition, adding to the heroes deducing that everything happening is meant to enrage and distract Bucky since otherwise a bomb should have killed Sam at that range. Natasha heads up to the apartment of the waitress and the door explodes. This time as Bucky rushes in to help he is met with a laser blast followed the debut of a new, female Beetle. Meanwhile in the cliffhanger Zemo meets with an ex-KGB agent and purchases film of the Winter Soldier.

Chapter 3 – Beetle has a brief fight with Bucky and Widow but in her own words this is her first day as a super villain so despite the superior firepower she’s easily outmatched. She realizes this and tries to fly away but Bucky catches her in midair and KOs her. They take her to the Raft prison, where Fixer works as a Thunderbolt. When the heroes go to question her in costume she calls Cap “Bucky” and he loses his temper again. She unnerves him more by reciting his real name and history until Widow steps in. Beetle reveals she isn’t working for herself but little else to Widow. Zemo contacts Fixer on a secure line and he’s okay with Beetle talking to the heroes since she doesn’t know enough to upset his plans, and besides he’s already set the next step in motion. Widow offers Beetle a plea bargain but Beetle laughs in her face. Afterwards Bucky notes they got the information they needed; they just learned that whoever is targeting him is after him because he is Bucky and not because he is Captain America. They work through the list of villains who know Bucky’s secret identity before Natasha hits on Zemo. Just then a horde of reporters rushes Bucky on the street in his civilian identity questioning him on 1-being Captain America, 2-Being Cap’s original WWII partner and 3-being the soviet assassin Winter Soldier. Furthermore Zemo leaked to the media Winter Soldier’s training films he acquired last chapter leaving little doubt to the public that the current Captain America is a former Soviet traitor.

Chapter 4 – Sam checks himself out of the hospital after seeing the news reports, and he and Steve head off to find Bucky. Meanwhile Widow talks Bucky into going into hiding until she can decode Zemo’s next move, but as Bucky is packing up his belongings at his apartment he finds a note from Zemo challenging him to a fight “where he was born.” That Zemo would come into his house is the last straw and Bucky heads out to meet him, no longer caring if it is a trap. Steve, Sam and Natasha find the note to try and figure out where Zemo wants to meet Bucky. Zemo sends Iron Hand to slow them down, who bazookas Bucky’s apartment as an opening salvo. Bucky arrives at Camp LeHigh (where he was trained to be Cap’s partner) and finds Zemo waiting for him; though Zemo says this is not the location he meant in his note. We cut back and forth between the two fights. Zemo uses tech to keep Bucky on the defensive, while it takes all three heroes to eventually overcome Iron Hand; and that fight only ends when Steve accidentally breaks his foe’s titular hand thinking it was a cyborg hand and not an iron glove. Bucky’s fighting skill takes Zemo down but Zemo is playing possum and uses tech to shut down Bucky’s cyborg arm. The fight doesn’t last long after that as Zemo shoots Bucky with a laser gun for the KO. Bucky wakes up on a plane with Zemo revealing he is taking him to his father’s castle where Bucky originally died.

Chapter 5 – Cap (Steve) figures out where Zemo is taking Bucky. Cut to Bucky waking up on the island, dressed in his original costume just outside of Zemo’s castle. Zemo has thugs dressed as Nazi’s for Bucky to fight before he enters the fray himself wielding Cap’s shield. Zemo claims he isn’t doing this for his father, but because Bucky does not deserve redemption. Bucky wins the fight and is about to decapitate Zemo before thinking better of it. Zemo says Bucky is still a killer and not a hero like Steve then hits a button activating a trap in his castle to KO Bucky. When Bucky wakes up he is of course tied to a replica WWII airplane with a bomb on a timer. Zemo launches the plane, and while Bucky can’t see the timer he knows it will blow up in the same spot as last time allowing him to estimate how much time he has to escape. Bucky escapes as the plane explodes in midair. When he swims to shore the Cap costume and shield are waiting for him but Zemo is gone. An hour later the other heroes arrive to take Bucky home, who despite all Zemo put him though realizes Zemo is right about one thing—he will need to earn his redemption.

Critical Thoughts: I liked this comic book a lot, which I suppose is par for the course at this point on the Brubaker Cap trades. In general I find Zemo to be a very interesting villain. Historically he is Cap’s #2 foe thanks to both the killing of Bucky and the legendary Avengers Under Siege story. While still a Nazi, Zemo is in many ways a much more interesting character than the Red Skull. I enjoy a good Cap vs. Skull story but generally Skull’s goals are always the same, whereas Zemo has a lot more nuance to him thanks to years of appearing in the Thunderbolts and his schemes tend to be more elaborate than the Skull’s. This book is a perfect example of that as Zemo’s scheme unfolds across every chapter showing him outmaneuver and manipulate the heroes time and again. I also like how Zemo’s resources and allies pay heed to both his father’s continuity in WWII and his own with the Thunderbolts. It’s a credit to the writing that this book ends in the most obvious comic book way possible (Zemo ties Bucky to a death trap that recreates an iconic prior story) and yet the journey to get to that point still feels deliciously complex.

That also brings us to Zemo’s motivation. I think the dialogue in the finale hits just the right note of harkening back to the themes explored with Zemo in Thunderbolts—a book at its core about redemption, and in Zemo’s case his duality with being raised that he was “born better” while witnessing his teammates embrace that chance for redemption in a way he never does. This is the rare story allowing a character to pivot back to his roots (in this case as an arch villain) without feeling like a retread. It’s always tricky when a redeemed villain backslides. I personally still hate what happened with Sandman in the Spidey titles. In this case however I think it fits. I mean on a surface level Zemo is a Nazi so I don’t think many readers ever bought into his redemption anyway. Beyond that even in Thunderbolts he never fully became a hero at any time; even when he comes closest to that role (circa issue 100) he still kills a true hero in Photon (Legacy/Captain Marvel v3.0) albeit for the greater cosmic good. Bucky’s resurrection is the perfect catalyst to make Zemo backtrack given his longstanding daddy issues. Brubaker’s writing fleshes out the details of what should be obvious, and even so he lets Zemo depart ambiguously by leaving the Cap identity behind for Bucky to reclaim.

As for the heroes, by this point Bru had been writing these characters for five years so it should not be a surprise that all of them read true. Basically if you like Bru’s prior interpretations of Steve, Bucky, Falcon and Widow then this is more of the same. If you like his style of espionage flavored super-heroics this delivers on that front, although not to the degree of his earliest work on the title. I liked Bru’s take on these characters before, and that has not changed.

One last bonus kudo is this marks the first appearance of the female Beetle. She’s interesting enough here for a secondary villain making her debut. The scene where she taunts Bucky in prison is a good one. But of course the real treat is for those of us reading Superior Foes of Spider-man where she is one of the lead characters. In the second trade of that series you get to see these same events from a different perspective, some of which is hysterically funny and yet the writing of both series is such that the askew view in that title does not diminish the dramatic tension of this trade.

Grade: A. This book delivered exactly what the premise promised—letting us see what happens when the villain who killed Bucky decades ago suddenly learns Bucky is alive—in a satisfying way.