by Ed Brubaker (writer), Patrick Zircher & Mike Deodato (artists), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer)

The Story: Captain America tries to put down Scourge, not knowing that it’s an old friend under the mask.

The Review: Who the hell is D-Man and why should I care?

I suspect that’ll be the reaction of most readers to this issue.  Brubaker never tells us who exactly D-Man is, what the nature the nature of his friendship with Cap is, or why we should feel even remotely attached the character (who, thank you Comic Vine, has only appeared twice in Brubaker’s 8 year run).  For some reason, Brubaker has decided that it would make good sense to write an issue, and by extension an entire story-arc, that was contingent on a reader’s being familiar with Mark Gruenwald’s run on Captain America 20 years ago.   Unless a reader has working knowledge of those early 90s stories, he or she is going to be totally in the dark about why D-Man is important.

The result is an issue that I can’t help but feel apathetic about.  Brubaker hasn’t given us a reason to care about D-Man or his fate and never really even seemed to try to.  The HYDRA elements were never explored.  Worse still, this entire issue is basically just one extended punch-up between  Cap and Scourge.  Making the issue feel even more phoned in is the fact that said punch-up ends up being yet another return to the tired old “mind control” comic book trope.  I half expected Steve to cry out to D-Man to “fight it.”  As talented a writer as Brubaker is, it really didn’t seem like he was trying very hard here.  D-Man’s motivations and insane rambling were entirely vapid and trite and we were basically just given a bunch of pages of punching.  And when the tragic ending strikes, who cares?  Maybe those two readers who fell asleep last night hugging onto their twenty-year-old Gruenwald comics, but that’s about it.

The one glimmer of hope that Brubaker’s script shows is Steve’s reaction to Sharon’s actions this month.  It adds a nice wrinkle to the their relationship and makes it just a little more strained.  It seems like that’s the direction Brubaker’s been going with Steve and Sharon since the relaunch, with Sharon making the tough, ugly calls and I’m interesting in seeing where he’s going with this.

For what it’s worth, Patrick Zircher’s art is also rock solid, basically giving us about as good as you can expect from a polished, detailed, and professional modern Marvel comic.  Added to this is that nice, dark noir edge that is all Zircher’s own, and it fits the story very well.  Honestly, while Brubaker’s script may lack character, Zircher helps out in that regard a lot, giving the book a shadowy, spy thriller look that makes the book feel more exciting than it actually is.  It’s a shame though that Zircher couldn’t actually finish the issue – Mike Deodato steps in to draw the final four pages.  Deodato is a fine artist, but it’s clear that these last pages were a rush job.  It feels rougher than what Deodato normally produces and the backgrounds are coloured in an effort to disguise how slapped together and possibly unfinished they were.

Conclusion: I’ve been really hard on this issue and I’ve perhaps made it seem worse than it is.  I suppose I’m just irritated to see one of my favourite writers half-assing it like this and turning out such mediocre work.  And that’s just what it is – not horrible, just completely mediocre and forgettable.

Grade: C

-Alex Evans