Wow. How Totally Not Surprising. At All.
With Fear Itself having finally dragged itself to a conclusion, Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice are free to continue their Captain America story which had to be put on hold to service the cheap drama of Marvel's latest big event. Though nothing that happens in this issue is really a shock, it is a welcome turn of events and satisfying to finally have this story moving once again.
I'll say this now. Spoilers lie ahead. I figure if you haven't read this issue yet you at least already know or have accurately guessed the big development within it. But you know, here's fair warning anyway. I do usually try to avoid spoiling, but it's hard to find anything to say about this issue without being obvious about what happens within it.
Thankfully, this issue reads like an issue of the previous volume of Captain America rather than an issue of Fear Itself. It's intelligent and character-driven. Brubaker shows us the hidden scenes around Bucky Barnes' last stand as Captain America and basically explains why Matt Fraction was allowed to do what he did with the character. This is the real payoff to it, and it is a good one.
This is almost exactly the story I figured we would see in this 7.1 issue. I just couldn't believe that Bucky actually died in Fear Itself. There were two big reasons for that. The first was that I really could not buy the idea that Brubaker would actually approve of Fraction ending Bucky's story that way. It was an awful scene that had the dramatic weight of styrofoam. There was no way Brubaker would have gone for the story he has been working on since he started with Captain America to end in such a generic death scene in what was really much more of a Thor event than a Captain America one. Secondly, it just made too much sense in terms of where Brubaker had left the character to fake his death so that he could become the Winter Soldier again.
The real dramatic meat of this story is how Steve Rogers reacts to it all, as he has been left out of the loop on certain things that have happened. He is essentially the readers' window into this story, finding out what went on along with us, and it goes without saying that Brubaker writes a great Steve Rogers.
I do have to say that it feels like Brubaker cops out a little with how it all plays out when Bucky goes down during Fear Itself. Rather than going all the way with how harsh and calculating a move it is to fake Bucky's death, Brubaker kind of only goes halfway with it. Having it happen as an opportunity offered by chance rather than something premeditated really does hurt the credibility of the story because it adds a level of contrivance to the whole situation that really isn't necessary. I get that it makes the parties involved seem somewhat less like cold and manipulative jerks, but we're talking about characters who are defined by doing those kinds of things. It also glosses over one of the problems with Bucky's alleged death scene in Fear Itself, which was why he was even running around as Captain America like Brubaker's whole Trial of Captain America and Gulag story arcs hadn't just happened. Yes, it would have been annoying if it was revealed that the Bucky who fought Sin was actually just a L.M.D., as L.M.D.'s are always cheap and annoying, but the story resorts to using one anyway.
I previously mocked the idea of these extra Final Crisis issue, given how the event itself read like it had already been dragged out three issues too long. However, this is an issue that really does feel like it should exist. It reveals an unseen part of Fear Itself and sets up a new ongoing series, Winter Soldier. There is definitely substance here, and it's substance that makes sense to be told here rather than in one of the two Captain America titles. I'm not sure the same will be able to be said about the other two issues coming, though.
This aftermath issue of Fear Itself may not really offer a surprising development, but it does give one hell of a satisfying one with the promise of a great new series next year. It doesn't make up for the moment of Bucky's death earlier, which was still just a cheap and poorly done scene, but that is best chalked up to being an unfortunate price for what really is a great new chapter in Brubaker's ongoing story in Captain America's corner of the Marvel Universe.