When Marvel killed off Captain America in 2007, I thought they were nuts.
It was about the time I had just gotten back into reading comics (did an issue here and there as a kid really count, though?) and like many casual fans I had just read "Civil War." It was the first time I could remember Captain America really standing out. Here he was, for the first time, at the centre of the Marvel universe. And they took him away at his peak?
Now that we're in a world with Steve Rogers again putting down the shield, I get it. Like most people at the time I was blissfully unaware that Ed Brubaker had been redefining Cap for a couple of years in his new series, making tweaks to his history and re-establishing the principal parts of his universe like the Red Skull, Sin and Crossbones, Sharon Carter, and - of course - Bucky. The Captain America you saw in his second feature film is influenced greatly by Brubaker's time on the title. You could argue the same about the first, with the slightly gritty, slightly twisted presentation to his sensational origin.
In retrospect, "The Death of Captain America" does more for Steve Rogers' universe than any story that has come before it or since. What better way to devote time to those around Captain America than by removing him completely? After all, it's comics: no one is dead forever. Falcon becomes a better character, Sharon Carter becomes a better character and - most of all - Bucky Barnes becomes a better character.
For me, Bucky is Exhibit A when I defend any choice by any company to give someone else the role of a familiar superhero. It doesn't always work, I'll admit. But this time it did. And how. A Captain America filled with self-doubt is fascinating and somewhat refreshing. Rogers whenever he deals with doubt is really more mopey than anything. But the idea of the former sidekick thrust back into a world he is no longer familiar with, being handed a shield and told to get out there as a symbol for all that's good in America? That's a damn good story.
But despite that, it's Sharon Carter who steals the show. Make no mistake: the issue where Captain America is shot is one of the best ever, and her horrific realization about who pulled the trigger is masterfully depicted. (Kudos to Steve Epting who drew this issue, especially for the image of Cap laid out bleeding on a set of steps which was instantly iconic.) Learning the truth about how and why Steve was shot can be downright disturbing, especially witnessing those who are trapped with that information. It is here where Sharon shines, a mix of utter despair and robotic numbness. It's haunting.
So I've reversed course on my thoughts about Steve Rogers being killed. If people picked it up for the stunt value, they found a damned good story. One that's better than "Civil War." "The Death of Captain America" is layered brilliance with fascinating heroes, villains and plots. It's the high mark of Ed Brubaker's truly epic run.