|So long, Ed! (source)|
Since the announcement of Brubaker's imminent departure from Captain America, I've been been thinking about doing a rather extensive annotation of his run with the character. Such a project would be both massively enjoyable and massively time consuming, and I'm not sure if I have the wherewithal or, more importantly, the knowledge base, to do it properly. Now that I know that Brubaker's time with the House of Ideas is coming to an end, my impulse is to expand the scope of my annotations, which would, of course, mean both more time and more research. Even if I decide not to undertake such a sprawling project, watch this space for a couple of retrospective essays, which will deal with his Captain America work and his writing for and influence on the company in general.
Right now, though, I think its important to talk about what, exactly, is ending when the man who brought back Bucky Barnes walks away from Marvel to concentrate both on his creator owned comics and on ventures in other media. Much more than any other superhero comic book writer in the last fifteen years or so, I think that Brubaker understood that, when he was dealing with Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, or even when he was dealing with Iron Fist or Daredevil, he was dealing with the stuff of legend, and so he always approached the material in its own terms, with gravity and without anything resembling irony. Given the generally accepted absurdity of comic book superheroes, it would be very easy to laugh off Brubaker's seriousness as a kind of misreading of the state of mainstream comics, but I think to see him in this way fundamentally misses the point.
Indeed, I've always gotten the sense that Brubaker believes in superhero comics, that he believes in what they're capable of, and that he believes that they can affect the culture at large even if they don't often reach beyond an, unfairly stereotyped, niche market. That he is ambitious in this way is evident, of course, in his politically resonant work on both Captain America and Winter Soldier, but I think it can also be seen in his incredibly well respected Daredevil issues and the Gotham Central series he wrote at DC with Greg Rucka, and in his flawed X-Men work, and in his abortive run on Secret Avengers. His attraction to the big idea, to the conspiracy that takes years to unravel, to the story that takes dozens of issues to unfold, is clear in all of his work, but his ability to use the combination of medium and the genre as a certain kind of more- or less- subtle allegory is what sets him apart from even from the talented writers, writers like Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman and Jason Aaron, that are guiding Marvel's bold new direction. What Ed Brubaker gifted to us, more than almost a decade of excellent stories, was a renewed sense that not only could mainstream superhero comics be culturally important, but that they could also be literary, particularly if their readership was willing treat them as such.
Not all of his allegories are played out, yet, and the real shame here is that, for the next few years, even if new writers pull at the threads that Brubaker left behind, the work will probably lack that double ambition, that driving desire to tell stories that matter to everyone and that are also great. Everyone who is going to have to pick up from where Brubaker left off is going to have to deal with this, and I think that, rather than try, most are simply going to give up the gun; Andy Diggle's Daredevil run is the cautionary tale here. There is an obvious exception to this in Winter Soldier, but I wonder if, even with a talented writer like Latour and a movie with that title on the way, the book has any long term prospects without its creator at the pen. On the other hand, Captain America has, in the last year and a half, certainly begun to feel less essential, even as the month-to-month quality of the book hasn't dropped in any significant way, and so I'm not sure that Brubaker is pulling as hard as he used to, not even at his own big ideas. Still, if Rick Remender's high action Steve Rogers as John Carter of Mars new direction for the character is any measure, we're not going to get a chance to see superhero comics done quite as well, or quite as seriously, as Brubaker did them, at least not for a long time.
While this turn is lamentable, it is certainly not disastrous. Its important for those of us in or on the edge of fan communities to remember that nothing lasts forever, and doubly so in this case, since to act like it should, to assume that it would, betrays the high quality and literary aspects of Brubaker's work. Rather than mourn the end of something I love, something I think is important in way that superhero comics tend not to be important, I would much rather celebrate it. There are, after all, volumes of Captain America on my shelf, just waiting to be annotated.