Today I want to look at a six issue limited series much like its lead character, slipped out of time only to re-emerge years later: Captain America: White. To the best of my knowledge, this is the last published Loeb “color” collaboration following Hulk: Gray, Spider-man: Blue, and Daredevil: Yellow. Each miniseries (including this one) takes a look back to the early day of their respective heroes and explores the pivotal relationships that shaped each character. They’re the kind of stories that are neither deep in-continuity or out of continuity. They are all more timeless takes that can be slipped in effortlessly. Loeb has that knack, not dissimilar to a Mark Waid, that really knows how to cut to the essence of a character and remind you why they are great. When paired up with Sale and his stylistic worldview that somehow manages to bend to and yet make each characters’ universe his own, it’s magic. I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the excellent work Loeb and Sale have done for DC, including the masterful Batman: Long Halloween and Superman: For All Seasons. Whereas the Marvel efforts are interesting character studies in what makes the characters tick, the Loeb/Sale DC efforts were all about what makes the characters work. Sometimes both companies need reminders with their top heroes to help refocus and get things back on track.
Getting things back on track, unfortunately, is one of the missteps of this particular Captain America story and why this book took so long to come out. Initially solicited in 2008, when issue 0 was released, Captain America was cresting the top of a wave of one of the highest points creatively and popularly—Ed Brubaker’s run.
Captain America as a franchise was not only on-track, but it was barreling down the way at top speed. Ed Brubaker broke one of the cardinal rules of comics: he brought back Bucky. Not only did he bring Bucky back, but he made him an awesome character whose retcon managed to not only fit into but expand the Captain America universe. The Winter Soldier storyline by Brubaker, Epting, and others is a classic example of a comic working on all cylinders. It respected the history and the backgrounds of the main characters, but it tweaked things just enough to add a modern flair and a touch of badassery. Captain America changed in my eyes from simply being the guy who gets to yell, “Avengers Assemble” to a true Super Soldier, capable of getting his hands dirty enough while still preserving his moral fortitude. I can’t say enough good things about those comics. From the cinematic art to the complexities of the character-redefining moments, that Brubaker run, especially early on, was the best of the best. Then the hyper-frenzy that was Marvel’s Civil War lead to Cap being taken off of the board and the whole Marvel Universe exploring how important Cap truly is. Unfortunately for Loeb and Sale, this was the worst possible time to release a story meant to refocus a hero and get them back on track. Captain America had been on track, and his track was firmly cemented in recent memory all across the Marvel Universe. So after issue #0 was sold to hype the series, issue #1 didn’t come. To be honest, it didn’t seem like the loss it would have been had the series been solicited 5 years earlier. Whereas the rest of the universe was focused on what Cap meant to them, a story about what Bucky meant to Cap just didn’t have the weight it should have. It’s almost painful to say because Loeb and Sale always put out quality work, but much like the man out of time they were writing about, this story was simply misplaced due to the timing.
Then, eight years went by. A lot changed in those 8 years. Those Brubaker Cap/Bucky stories became loosely adapted into two big budget and highly successful Marvel movies. Marvel was under a new direction, primed to shake up the universe and get as many new #1 issues as possible out there. Sam Wilson, the Falcon, had taken over the mantle of Captain America for the time, while Steve Rodgers was mixing it up as Old Man Steve due to a decade’s long stint in Dimension Z. It was an exciting time, but it was messy. Many of Marvel’s big name heroes: Thor, Nick Fury, Nova, Hulk, the Fantastic Four and many others were all being replaced with alternate characters or had Dr. Octopus brains or just shuffled off the board.
Fans were up in arms and calling for a return to the days of yesteryear: now the timing was right to tell a story meant to get Cap back on track. Enter Captain America: White #1 finally.
The first issue picks up with Cap just being flushed out of the ice by the original Avengers.
Cap immediately sets off to find Bucky, only to learn from his old timey pal Nick Fury what happened. Then, the flashback begins to the story of Bucky and Cap meeting up for the first time with Fury and his Howling Commandos during the war. The story of Bucky discovering Cap’s identity and becoming his partner had been presented 8 years earlier and was reprinted in the first issue as well. They go a long way to establish the big-brother/little brother relationship between Steve and Bucky. Cap is occasionally stern and tough on Bucky to keep him safe and alert, and Bucky is the friend there to help Steve face some of the obstacles he didn’t have to face before the Super Soldier program. It’s Bucky that rescues Cap when their plane is shot down, cutting off the symbolic shield that kept the hero weighted down on the ocean floor. Of course, when they reach air and Cap goes for that mighty shield, it’s an emotional gut-punch. Bucky is upset that he had to cut the shield, but Cap knows better. That scene, framed around the narration by Cap that when we lose someone, we sometimes hold on to things like are meaningless—it’s emotionally crushing stuff. The shield doesn’t matter; the people do.
Knowing just a little about Jeph Loeb’s personal life and how he lost his teenage son to cancer, it’s hard not to empathize and tear up as Cap acknowledges that “ We get attached to these things…when it’s the people we lost we should stay attached to. Their hopes and dreams become ours to carry on.”
Wow. Take that, every Falcon Cap or “Who Will Wield the Shield” story.
Of course, Namor pops out of the sea eight pages later to throw Cap his shield in a one page cameo. Thanks, Namor! You can’t really have a Captain America story without the shield; that’s just craziness.
Cap, Bucky, Fury, and the Commandos then proceed to get themselves captured by Nazis and escape and found out by resistance fighters while dressed up as Nazis. Pretty standard WW2 comic stuff. Cap even makes Nick Fury wear an eye patch for a disguise! Ironic! You know, because that’s what happens to him later for the rest of his life.
Moving forward, there’s a girl, there’s a plan, there’s the Red Skull and there’s Paris. There’s even Batroc the Leaper’s grandpa!
Cap struggles with the black and white view of the world, where he’s trying to do what’s right when the whole crazy world around him is more than willing to do things the wrong way. It’s talking things over with Bucky who helps him to smooth over those edges to become what Cap ultimately becomes. Finally, the flashback culminates with Bucky being held hostage and Cap having to choose to save his friend or save the city.
In the end, it wraps up back around those early Avengers issues, with Cap pledging to keep his memories of Bucky alive.
Stories like these are unique because of the value they hold while still existing out of the normal day to day craziness of comics. They help us to remember what drives the characters we love to do what they do and make the choices they make. If you want a quick course on why Bucky matters to Cap, this series does the trick. You don’t have to read a 70 issue run and fall down the rabbit hole for months at a time. They serve as great introductions for new readers or older readers looking for a quick dip. With that said, I would still probably sooner recommend diving into that craziness of the monthly hullaballoo, because that’s really where the stakes are. I feel like this is one of the defining differences between the Marvel and DC universes. DC is built for stories like the ones Loeb and Sale provide. Brief, satisfying, character-defining arcs with a style and flair unlike anything else. Their characters thrive on those great stand-alone stories that more often than not are outside of continuity. They get the best from the Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale types who tell great stories in their own styles and are best left alone. Marvel gets the runs from Stan and Jack, the Brubaker/Epting Cap, The Stan/Ditko/Romita Spidey, the Claremont X-men or Simonson Thor—the long, winding, crazy runs filled with twists and turns and drama and excitement and silliness that keep you coming back month after month. Whereas DC’s best stories take up space on the graphic novel shelves, Marvel has always been best for the long boxes to me. So when I get something like a Loeb/Sale book from Marvel, I take the time to enjoy it, but I recognize that just like Captain America, it’s a little out of place, no matter when it was published.
I’ll still take it for a nice change of pace, though. That change for pace was much more welcome in 2015 than it was in 2008, so I think the decision to delay was the right choice. These books are beautiful stuff. I would recommend the Loeb/Sale DC stuff first, and then Daredevil, Spidey, and Hulk before this, but there’s really not a bad series in the bunch.
Final grade: A-
Until next time,
My blogs will remain the ones quietly waiting for the right time to shine!