Review: Velvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men (Velvet #2) by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting (Illustrator)

Velvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead MenVelvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men by Ed Brubaker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Velvet is back!
This time around she’s trying to piece together a list of suspects that would have been able to set her up, not only for the recent murder of an agent, but set her husband up as a traitor (and her to take him out) all of those years ago.

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This isn’t just life and death for Velvet, it’s personal.
Fortunately, there’s a short list of people who would have been alive and in a place to frame her husband, and yet still alive and in a place to frame her now. To get the answers she needs she’s going to have to think outside the box, take some pretty big risks, and maybe help break a dangerous ex-agent out of prison.

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Remember the agent who thought he was chasing down a glorified secretary in the first volume? Well, he’s still trying to figure out how to catch her.
And he might finally be realizing that things don’t seem to be adding up when it comes to Velvet’s actions.

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This was great! Brubaker shines when he writes these sort of stories!
The best part (to me), though, was Velvet herself.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for making a female character that’s kick-ass, smart, tough, and sexy…without making her into a skanky boob monster in high heels.
Yeah, that sounds like a no-brainer, but (evidently) it’s not.

If you haven’t had the chance to read this one, make sure you keep your eyes open for it. It’s definitely worth a read!

Thanks to NetGalley & the publisher for giving me a digital copy to review.

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Review: Velvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men, by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

Velvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead MenVelvet, Vol. 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally. I’ve been waiting for something great to sink my teeth into, and who should become available on NetGalley? Why my old friend Ed…Brubaker that is. Alongside for the ride is his other frequent collaborator, Steve Epting. (Winter Soldier arc of Cap).

I read and loved Volume 1 of Velvet, who’s like Ms. Moneypenny if she’d been an even more lethal machine than Bond.

In the last volume, Velvet found herself framed for murders she didn’t commit…unfortunately for ARC-7 (The Agency) she retained all of her field training and experience as an asset from before her 10+ yrs as the secretary to the Director.

This time around, they’ve caught on and they’re coming at her hard, but tons of questions arise, and Velvet turns the tables on them. She finds someone who might be able to help her, but with her desire to work alongside someone else, has she lost sight of the most important rule? Trust No One.

It’s great to have a female hero who kicks serious ass and is still sexy, even in her 40s…We don’t have nearly enough characters like that, and when leading writers like Brubaker do it, you know there’s going to be copycats soon. It won’t be the same as Ed’s work, but it’s great that they don’t all have to be young men.

The twists and turns sometimes can be ridiculous and forced in many spy/thriller books, but here it feels natural and legit.

I’m so very pleased to have got a chance to read this, and a thank you to Net Galley for making the ARC available. This is my honest review I give in exchange for getting to read this fantastic book.

Go out and grab this now! If you haven’t, start with Vol. 1!


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Review: Books of Doom, by Ed Brubaker

Fantastic Four: Books Of DoomFantastic Four: Books Of Doom by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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This is a 241 special…FF and Evil Villain.

Ed Brubaker does a solid job giving us an origin story of our favourite Latverian megalomaniac. The art is decent, and definitely focuses on Victor and his transformation to Doctor (funny enough, he never actually earned that degree, because he was booted after the experiment which left his face (and psyche) scarred).
Victor encounters a lot of tragedy in his early years, his mother dabbled in the dark arts, and it cost her her life and soul; his father died saving Victor while they were on the run from the evil Baron in Latveria.

Then, he ends up in the US, at the same school as Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, and also works as a weapon/tech guy for the military. Funny enough, he thinks Reed sabotaged his work, much like Reed thinks Victor sabotaged his own work in Ulitmate FF. That being said, FF doesn’t feature in this at all.

There’s Doom’s love for his mother, and his obsession with saving her from Hell, but the only other thing approaching love is for Valeria, another girl who grew up with him. Even that ends up in heartbreak…and makes me wonder why Reed and Sue’s daughter shares her name with Doom’s only love….? (If anyone knows, clue me in!)

So there’s the inevitable building of the suit to keep himself safe from the power of the Devil’s touch (which is what scarred his face apparently) and the robots, and so forth…there’s more about his conquering people, working tirelessly, and learning to master all.

Eventually we get to how he takes Latveria and becomes ruler, and there’s a twist at the end, as the narration has all been to a reporter who wants to profile him, but the revelation leaves us to wonder…was that the real story? Or just another decoy?

It was solid, 3.5, but I just didn’t connect with it enough to rank it higher than that, and the art didn’t blow me away…but the writing was good, though you can see how Brubaker has grown since nearly 10 yrs ago on this…


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Review: The Fade Out #1; by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

The Fade Out #1The Fade Out #1 by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel like we’re spoiled by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. They go so well together, like PB&J, Cookies & Cream, Lono & Dead Hookers…they really are a dream team.
But it’s not like they’re doing anything crazy that’s changing boundaries or going outside of the norm; they’re just creating fucking awesome crime/noir stories that feel timeless. The kind of thing you read and are then convinced you’ve read before or seen a movie version of. (and I mean that as a total compliment, I’m not saying it’s just run of the mill).

Their latest, The Fade Out, seems to have a few things in common with ‘Satellite Sam’ Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s book about TV in NYC in the 50s. Except this book is in the movies in the late 40s in Hollywood, and is much better. There’s still sex, drugs, dames, scandal, but Ed and Sean show how to make it the best it can be. Every time I start a book of theirs, it feels like I flipped across the channels late at night and came across a great Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade movie, with the narration of the main character, all world weary, smoked a few too many cigarettes, had a drink or 5, and always had stories about women who’d done you wrong.

There really doesn’t seem to be much I can say about these guys, other than I hope they live forever, and keep producing such masterpieces. As much as I love Ed’s superhero work (Captain America especially) I think this really is his calling. Why he’s not making movies yet is beyond me. Screenplay, direct, whatever, I feel like Hollywood needs to take some of these and make them into the talkies.

So ya, I will for sure be checking out the rest of this series, and thanks to Humble Bundle and Image for a winner.


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Review: Suicide Squad Vol. 4 – Discipline and Punish; by Ales (thank God it’s a new writer!) Kot

Suicide Squad, Vol. 4: Discipline and PunishSuicide Squad, Vol. 4: Discipline and Punish by Ales Kot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars for sure, creeping a bit higher?


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After the clusterfuck that was the “writing” of Adam Glass (is NOT half full of anything but shitty writing), this new direction from Ales Kot is a VERY welcome change. It’s like eating Spam for 3 meals in a row, and then, having a hamburger: The hamburger to anyone else, is just an average hamburger, but to anyone who choked down the Spam? It’s fucking Filet Mignon!

Finally, instead of infighting, triple agents, betrayal, the constant threat of blowing up bombs in their heads, and Deadshot being shot. dead. by. his. own. gun.; we have a squad of killers actually working at their maximum potential, and we’ve mostly eliminated the C-list cannon fodder.

No Yo-yo (shockingly he didn’t regenerate AGAIN), Voltaic is there, and talks, all totally normal, but gets the shit kicked out of him, and the aftermath, well takes him out of the picture. No Avalanche, El Diablo, Black Spider, or any other fucktards.

We get: Deadshot, ALIVE AGAIN!!!!!! Harley, Unknown Soldier, King Shark, Cheetah (Wonder Woman villain) and…James Gordon Junior…WHA?????? OK well he’s just an advisor to Waller, but he seems to make a lot better choices and suggestions than the past people have.

We finally get told that they unlocked Samsara Serum, which resurrected all the dead peeps (Deadshot especially). We also see the team work together to get the upper hand on Waller, and we also see Gordon wisely work with them, in order to balance things out and get everyone moving forward to actually accomplish shit.

The team are all actually bad guys here, not lame-o dudes. Deadshot kicks the shit out of Unknowy for payback after he killed him last volume, and Gordon knocks Deadshot out. Cheetah leaves Deadshot to fall to his death (though he doesn’t actually).

We finally see the violence directed against the right people (ie. targets, and not each other so much. We also have a revelation, tied to Voltaic’s death…that’s permanent this time…the Samsara Serum…will actually kill people exposed to it…including…Deadshot AND Waller!!! Dum Duuu DAHHH!

The art goes downhill in the second half of the book, but seeing as how the writing isn’t spam anymore…I’m not going to gripe too much about it.

Finally, instead of having their target always get the better of them, have a spy, an infiltrator, or just defeat them, with the aid of Gordon’s brain and everyone on point, they totally bitchslap the minions of the badguy (named John Lynch…how original! He’s the bad guy in the A-Team, in one of Ed Brubaker’s books – SLEEPER I think…and just obvious) who was also on Team 7 (seriously, who the fuck WASN’T on this Team 7?)

Finally a squad of psychos and killers (who are actually intelligent here) gets the job done and just makes the other baddies look like chumps.

Oh, and there’s a Foreigner song lyric used! I love it. 80s music nostalgia used in a 2010s comic…so good. Big Smile. (Oh and Gordon is in love with Waller!)

Then we’ve got 2 issues by Matt Kindt, which are both stand alones, one about Harley and one about Deadshot (because this series is making them the bread and butter of it, no matter what.)

I didn’t care for the Harley one too much, as Mike ably pointed out, there’s more info about how she got her costume together than anything else, and it’s not very interesting, just kinda rehashed info.
I’m guessing Kindt wanted these to be packaged together, because Deadshot shows up at the end of Harley’s, and his words at the end are more or less EXACTLY what he says at the end of his own story the next issue.

Deadshot’s focuses on his origin, which I wasn’t really aware of, and it’s kinda Batman-esque, and also in a bad part of Gotham…but it doesn’t have the same outcome, even though he also becomes a highly trained soldier in his own personal war, and he likes big money.

I almost liked it, except he lost the plot (Kindt) when he made it appear that Floyd’s only motivation was $$…for everything else he shows, he just ruins it by showing the $$ motivation. I could have done without that…and then he goes and pretty much says he’s useless without being aimed at the right target, and can’t do anything alone…so of course he has to go back to Waller and the Squad to be complete or worthwhile…

What a pile…for everything in the Deadshot issue I liked, he ruined it in the last 3 pages by wiping his ass with it.

So all in all, if you’ve not read any of Suicide Squad in New 52, this is average at best…if you’ve read it all, then this is like a Da Vinci masterpiece.

In all honesty, it’s just above 3 stars, but the context of how bad it was, makes this a lot better. Were I to read it without context or not right after all the others today, it wouldn’t impress as much.

I would actually go find volume 5 now…I will just wait for the library, but at least Ales Kot proved he’s at least worth paying some attention to as a writer who’s not stupid.


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Review: Southern Bastards – Here was a Man; by Jason Aaron

Southern Bastards, Vol. 1: Here Was a ManSouthern Bastards, Vol. 1: Here Was a Man by Jason Aaron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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My first Indy Week Buddy Read Shallows. Thanks to Humble Bundle for their last and superb Image Bundle. I will be flowing forth with tons of IMAGE reviews as such! (especially since I figured out how to load them onto my iPad!)

So this non-mainstream slice of Jason Aaron is his first since the glory days of SCALPED, a certain masterpiece of modern noir crime fiction. (I’m only in the middle of that series and I’m already hooked like a junkie for my next fix).

Aaron is in my Top 2-3 writers in the industry right now, no doubt. So when I read the jacket on the back of this one and look at all the names giving quotes and recommending this: Brubaker, Hickman, Fraction, Remender, Snyder; well holy fuck, that’s just like the 1927 Yankees talking about Gehrig or Ruth…a regular murderers row of talent. The best in the bizz.

Between that and the fairly accepted praise from friends on here who’s opinions I truly value, this was set up for greatness…

And boy, does it deliver.

Earl Tubb is one badass mofo. Having left the small Alabama town where his daddy was sheriff 40yrs ago, never to return…until now.
He comes back conflicted, and within hours, is knee deep in local bullshit all over again.
This feels like a Clint Eastwood movie just waiting to be made.
Cross Deliverance with Walking Tall and give ole’ Squint the reins.

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The county his father kept clean until his death is the usual Southern Hellhole, run by Coach Boss, a combination of Boss Hogg and the Coach in Varsity Blues, except filtered through Satan. The use of heavy reds and browns and yellows really give the feel of hell on Earth, heat, and damned souls.

Try as he might, Earl wants nothing more than to pack up his family house, and get the fuck out…but the murder of an old acquaintance is just a little too much for Earl to take when he sees the current Sheriff isn’t fixin’ to do a Good Goddamn thing about it.

This is the same kind of unflinching look at the real America of the South, that Scalped gave us of the Western/Plains Native Reserves. This is noir so dark, it’s black. It takes a chunk of you just to read it. Make no mistake, this isn’t some comic book, this is pure American Noir in the hands of a modern master.

If you haven’t already, grab yourself some fast, because like the best Ribs/BBQ, you DO NOT want to miss out on this.


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Review: Scalped, Vol. 5 – High Lonesome; by Jason Aaron

Scalped, Vol. 5: High LonesomeScalped, Vol. 5: High Lonesome by Jason Aaron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Jason Aaron has already made it to my top 5 comic writer list, and with this kind of work, he could make the jump to favourite of ALL genres. This is crime noir that sits comfortably alongside Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, and in his own medium, Ed Brubaker. The best noir ironically requires shades of grey; many…not quite 50…but a lot. Aaron has a cast in this series we have been getting to know, but here in this volume, we delve into the back stories of some of the more important members we haven’t yet…FBI Special Agent Nitz; Diesel, the 1/16 Kickapoo Indian wannabe; Catcher, the crazy old timer who’s fried and spooky, and a career criminal with many names who may destroy everything for Dash.

This is just epically great. Characters I should hate are seen in the contextual light of their experiences, which changes my opinion to a bit greyer…
Revelations are made that add even more layers of depth and lies to get through, and we are left with the setup for a big swing in momentum.

I could gush more, but if you’re not already on this train, get on now!! At the very least, read more Jason Aaron…in a just world, he’ll be screenwriting and directing any time now…


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Review: A vs. X by Brian Michael Bendis and Friends.

Avengers vs. X-MenAvengers vs. X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Underwhelming.

I am glad I didn’t hold off reading all the stuff that comes after this (pretty much all of AvsX leads into the Marvel NOW! Relaunch-y-ish-type thing. Makes a bit more sense now, but I had already pieced it together based on HOW GODDAMN OFTEN THEY TELL US THAT THE PHOENIX FORCE WENT INTO THE X-MEN IT DID!

UGH.

You know what? The story served it’s purpose. I can see how some think it’s a bit lazy to bring Scarlet Witch out of nowhere to be part of this, but I enjoyed it. Even the characters are like WTF is SHE doing here? I’m willing to see this as a cyclical karmic balancing of House of M. However, I like that the answer has to do with Hope AND Scarlet Witch, not just one of them. It’s the cooperation fostered that I think should be the telling moment of the series.

Instead, it’s how quickly can shit escalate to 11.

Cap and Cyclops are pretty much the same character. “I will take the burden of leadership. I am a great leader of people, everyone counts on me”
Except then they both shit the bed in terms of actually sitting down and TALKING about this.

Of course the fighting is very cool.
The FIRST time…
The other problem is that NONE of the characters outside of about a dozen actually factor in at all.
(Cap, Tony, Logan, Cyke, Emma, Namor, the Rasputins, and a few others).
I was pleased to see Iron Fist get an actual speaking role! With some importance! It’s a first for Danny Rand in a real event book.

However, other than the 5 X-Men who get the Phoenix force, the rest of them are just shunned to the fringes of irrelevancy.
Maybe they’re more present in other AVX books? But, other than a little bit of Storm, and a touch of Rogue, all we get is the 5 of them going all supernova.

This is a spot where I feel like they lost the chance to give Magneto a much more crucial part (even though they did in a way).

There should have been a LOT more focus on Logan and his pull between the 2, especially since both Scott AND Steve treat him like a loose cannon asshole, when in fact, he’s probably the most realistic about the whole issue.

The thing is, this book misses a LOT of opportunities to actually go into character relationships. Other than Black Panther/Storm and a little bit of Scarlet Witch/Vision, we don’t get much on the relationships here, much is just thrown out the window so the artists can do punchy mcpunchersons again.

I think with the writers here (Bendis, Aaron, Brubaker, Hickman and Fraction), they have the Top of Marvel’s heap, yet it seems like they were forced to do this one, and the different voices actually take away from the cohesion of the whole story. I would like to blame some of this on editorial staff, because otherwise it means some of my favourites actually wrote some horridly turgid shit here.

There’s just such a rich history to delve into here, and it just turns into: how many ways can Cap throw Avengers at Cyke and the Phoenix 5 until Tony Stark figures some shit out?

Oh ya, and where the F was the FF? (Other than Benny) You think Reed is going to let this all happen without involving himself or his brain? The FF is the perfect go between here, because they’ve served as Avengers, but they’re separate and they understand what changes like mutations do (ESPECIALLY BENNY!).

Oh and, I’m hoping someone will explain why Hulk doesn’t show up until the end? They make a huge deal of Cap asking him for help, and then he’s barely used at all…was this a point at which Banner was unavailable? Because otherwise, he, Pym, McCoy and Stark should have been working on some answer.

In the end, what might have been will never be known, because this milquetoast shit happened instead. Other than making Scotty into the biggest badguy since Magneto (irony of ironies, Erik was the one trying to talk him down). I am glad to see that they took the events here and used them to the best they could (Scott/Logans X-Men, Uncanny Avengers, etc.)

I just really wish they’d DONE something instead of throw every character at the books and hope things would stick. We really didn’t need Luke Cage, Daredevil, Red Hulk, and a lot of others if they weren’t doing anything. It should really have been called “The entire roster of Avengers and reserves from the last decade+ versus the Mutant Power Couple, Namor and the Ruskie Sibs.
(speaking of that, who decided that Peter would have ABSOLUTELY NO PERSONALITY WHATSOEVER???? Based on who he is/was, he should have been the first one to reject the Phoenix power. There’s some few lines about not liking Ilyana’s angry rage, but that’s about it).

OK I’m going to stop, because I realize I could go on and on raging about what went wrong here forever. That’s not the best result for a major event book like this.

Do yourself a favour and focus on the aftermath instead:

Prof X is dead at Cyclops’ hand, which opens the door to him being the badguy mutant outlaw, which actually suits him better and makes him more interesting. So in that regard, SUCCESS! Now to wait for the return.

Miss this and save the headaches.

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Review: Scalped: Vol. 4 – The Gravel in Your Guts; by Jason Aaron

Scalped, Vol. 4: The Gravel in Your GutsScalped, Vol. 4: The Gravel in Your Guts by Jason Aaron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well shit got even darker than it already was pretty fast…

Intro by the great Ed Brubaker rightly points out: This is Noir. Noir is when you know shit gonna go bad, but you can’t help but watch, you just know things aren’t getting better.

There’s some beautiful work being done in the Noir world, and Jason Aaron makes it raw, unflinching, and downright sad.

He also writes characters that are some crazy shades of grey. Red Crow was an asshole at the start, but now we get a glimpse into who he thinks he is, why he’s done what he’s done, and who he thinks is evil. Dash was going to be our unconventional hero, but he’s getting tainted with darkness all over his white hat too.

It’s like this is the Graphic Novel version of Alice in Chains beautifully miserable “Down in a Hole”.

Down in a hole, feelin so small
Down in a hole, losin my soul
I’d like to fly but my
Wings have been so denied

Red Crow is becoming a Shakespearean villain (ie. multiple layers of evil/bad on top of what used to be a pure/decent soul; or simply one bad decision that led down the road to years and years of them).

The “romance” between Dash and Carol Red Crow is agonizing and makes you feel like shit, because you know it’s based on something so real. Neither of them has anyone else they can come close to trusting, so they join together for the downward spiral.

(This really is an early 90s Alternative Music video adaptation I swear.)

Bravo to Mr. Aaron, it’s so authentic, so real, I’m amazed this hasn’t been made into an HBO series yet. It’s right up there with those ideas.

If you’re not already reading this series, what is wrong with you? Wake up! Get it!

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Review: Captain America Vol. 4 by Ed Brubaker – The Conclusion to the Epic 8-YEAR Run.

Captain America by Ed Brubaker, Vol. 4Captain America by Ed Brubaker, Vol. 4 by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the end of Brubaker’s legendary (and it was, for 8 YEARS!) run on Cap. It’s a shame they brought in Cullen Bunn, because he’s just not the same caliber. Issues 15-18 2 stars…Issue 19 4+ stars.

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Disappointed. Yup. I mean I see where Brubaker wanted to take this, that the new Madame Hydra and Bravo are using psychological warfare to turn the people against Cap, and a commentary about our focus on Talking Heads and the 24/7 news cycle. (there’s some great art showing totally moronic people on their phones not even noticing there’s a super-battle going on, and then getting mad when a Supe saves them)

I see what he wanted to do, but Bunn just isn’t up to task to do a Brubaker.

There’s lotsa fighting, Falcon helps out, Sharon, Baron Zemo shows up in a decent duel with Agent 13. Cap gets his showdown with Bravo and Madame Hydra…

Yawn. Really.

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But then…Issue #19 Steve Epting and Ed Brubaker, nearly redeem the whole volume….Nearly.

First off, Epting’s cover art is beautiful.

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Seeing as how Epting drew the majority of Cap during Ed’s run, it’s fitting to have him back to close this chapter. This issue runs almost like a summary of the past 8 years, but also I think as a testament to who Captain America is, was, and will be. Like all great writers who really understand their heroes; Brubaker has defined Steve Rogers the man as separate from Captain America the institution. There’s no doubt reading this issue that Ed seemed to be endorsing a new Cap for the future (and we now have Sam Wilson!).

The whole issue humanizes Steve the man, and shows his doubts, fears, beliefs in his time as Captain America, and his belief that the idea of Cap is more important than the man who wears the costume. I’m not American, but you just have to be moved by Rogers here, baring his soul to a man lying broken in a hospital, who idolized Rogers his whole life, and which drove him mad. (William Burnside or Cap of the 50s)

Talking about how his legacy had been tainted by those who would use men like Burnside for their own government agendas, and the realization that he could never control what people THOUGHT Cap stood for, even if Rogers wished he could.

“The mission isn’t just mine…the mission goes with the symbol. And if I don’t wear this uniform, then someone else will…someone else always will…because that’s the hardest thing about being Captain America…Understanding that the mission is Too Big …and it’ll never end.”

Only someone who’s lived and breathed this character for nearly a decade could get inside his head and pull this off without sounding corny or cheesy. Bravo Ed.

And so, both Steve Rogers and Ed Brubaker ride off into the sunset to bring this epic chapter to an end. Ed includes a thank you note at the end, and you almost get a tear of sadness, knowing he’s going to miss Cap almost as much as we’re going to miss him writing it.

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