by Ed Brubaker (writer), Patrick Zircher (art), Paul Mounts (colors), and Joe Caramagna (letters)

The Story: Someone’s leaking SHIELD intel to a vigilante who’s taken to killing reformed criminals in SHIELD’s witness protection program.

The Review: As another arc of the relaunched Captain America begins, the same problem rears its head again.  Put simply, the story here is far from high concept.  In fact, it’s pretty unoriginal and unimaginative.  At surface level, it’s another story about a Punisher type villain, this time Scourge, who’s KILLING the bad guys and, as such, the heroes have to stop him.  It’s just an extremely basic, familiar premise, much as the core concept behind last arc’s plot (Steve loses his powers) was also extremely basic.  I’m not sure if this is a sign that Brubaker is running out of steam for Cap, but it’s a bit disconcerting how simple the core plot is.

It’s not all bad news however; while the plot may be familiar, there are enough elements and mysteries to it to keep you reading.  The identity of Scourge is completely up in the air and unknown and Brubaker also lets us know that HYDRA is, somehow, involved, but literally tells us no more than some yelling “HAIL HYDRA.”  At the very least, these teases will keep you going and keep you interested in what would otherwise be a fairly by the numbers plot.

Moreover, I’ll admit to being a sucker for “superheroes do detective-work” storylines.  Hell, Batman made a career of it.  There’s always something smart and extremely down to earth about these sorts of stories that I appreciate.  Cap isn’t battling cosmic entities here, nor is he protecting or avenging the deaths of any big name heroes.  Rather, Scourge is killing former criminals under SHIELD’s protection, guys who are either random AIM thugs or D-list, forgotten villains.  The result is a story that feels much smaller, more contained, and hence more focused.  There’s a sense in which the heroes have to put their brains to work here.  There’s also a great scene where Diamondback and Dum Dum visit a crime scene that had a very “Gotham Central” vibe to it.  There’s something innately satisfying about seeing superheroes, particularly in plain clothes, visiting a crime scene, exercising jurisdiction, and looking for clues.  At the very least, it makes for something a little different.

That said, as much as I like detective work, there’s a crucial scene that comes FAR too easily for Cap.  Figuring out who leaked the info to Scourge is no more difficult then simply looking it up on a computer and heading to an office.  It’s pretty anticlimactic and lazy on Brubaker’s part, a clear cutting of corners.

While the relaunched Cap has had a rocky road, one thing that has been consistently excellent has been the artwork.  First Steve McNiven, then Alan Davis, and now Patrick Zircher have lended their skills to the book.  Zircher’s work here is excellent and a great fit for Cap.  It reminds me a bit of Bryan Hitch at his very peak, but with a slight noir edge and a fantastic, but subdued, sense of drama.  It’s never overly flashy or bombastic, but Zircher’s mastery of his craft is clear on every page.  I also loved the way he laid out his action scenes, which was extremely dynamic.

Conclusion: While the core plot may be uninspired, there are a lot of elements going into it that hold a lot of promise.

Grade: B-

Alex Evans