This latest installment in writer Ed Brubaker's run on the series has a premise which demonstrates the right way to use old continuity in a story. And when I say "old continuity," I mean a plot point from before I was born. It's a pretty famous one, though: When current Captain America James "Bucky" Barnes was killed, it was the original Baron Zemo who was responsible. Now that Bucky is back , the defining moment of the Zemo family is all for naught. Which is why his son is out to put Cap's former sidekick down for good.
I'm not sure Ed Brubaker is capable of writing a truly bad comic -- if he has, let me know becuase I'd be interested in seeing how it went wrong -- but his storytelling is usually defined by his noir instincts. These usually involve putting characters in morally ambiguous situations, dealing with fringe or criminal elements of society, and having either the bad guy or nobody coming out on top. While these instincts always result in stellar results when he collaborates with Sean Phillips ("Sleeper," "Criminal," "Incognito"), they can also add a welcome edge to his superhero work. The latter has generally been true of this series and his first year on "Daredevil." However, his work on that title eventually turned into a depressing grind as Matt Murdock kept losing to criminals smarter than he was.
That's something which has happened on multiple occasions in this title as well and it happens again here. Zemo's plans for revenge are fitting, if a little uninspired -- attacking Cap's partner, the Falcon, exposing his identity to the world -- and his attempts to get under the hero's skin in the latter half of the book by suggesting that Bucky doesn't feel worthy of the Captain America legacy are pretty spot-on. Then he straps the hero to a buzz-bomb like his father did and sends him up to die. He doesn't, but anyone could've seen that coming. The end result has a very "That's it?!" feeling to it and you're left wondering what the whole point of this story was.
It's not that I don't think seeing Bucky try to live up to the Cap legacy is an interesting direction for the series, but this is still a superhero comic. You expect to see the hero triumph at the end, and if the villain gets away there's usually a very good reason for it. Brubaker uses Zemo to point out the absurdity of the formula towards the end, and while his attempt to subvert it is admirable it doesn't really succeed. Personally, I would've liked to see Bucky knock out Zemo, then deliver a speech about his ongoing attempts to live up to the standard that Steve Rogers set while taking the man into custody. I know it's the predictable, obvious choice but what Brubaker does here instead isn't any more satisfying.
At least this story sets up a potentially more interesting arc for the next volume. "The Trial of Captain America," looks like it'll involve Bucky being made to answer for his crimes as the Winter Soldier. That's another idea I can get behind, so I'll be back for it. Still, this volume is another you can add to the "noble failure" pile.