Today marks the culmination of Ed Brubaker’s Marvel work, with his final issue of Winter Soldier before Jason Latour and Nic Klein take the book over. It’s a momentous occasion, as his time at Marvel has been one of great growth for him as a creator.
Undoubtedly, he had done great things before going to Marvel, but while he was producing his Captain America work it’s where he kept his partnership with Sean Phillips active and even greatly expanded on it, and it’s where he did iconic work on some of Marvel’s most famous characters.
To celebrate Bru’s departure from the world of Marvel, this week’s Countdown is a look at his best five works to-date. Now, to get in front of comments, I want to note that Gotham Central and Scene of the Crime are both works of his that I have not read. Additionally, both Fatale and Immortal Iron Fist are runners up on this list, but man, damn fine books both.
Now, onto the top five.
One of the consistent ideas that is going to show on this list: Brubaker works REALLY well with Sean Phillips. There are some creators who just find a natural partner that they stick with, and we’re all the better for it. Thankfully, Brubaker and Phillips have done just that.
This book, comprised of the first self-titled mini and the follow up Bad Influences, is Brubaker and Phillips going hardcore pulp. It’s about a reformed super villain living in the witness protection program, and it exists as the inverted version of their Wildstorm book Sleeper. In many ways, this book feels the most like Brubaker completely cutting loose and making big, crazy ideas come to life out of anything he’s done. Well, at least before Fatale.
Regardless, Incognito and its lead Zack Overkill are remarkably entertaining. One thing that differentiated this from their work on Criminal, their other Icon title, is having a consistent lead, and Overkill became a larger than life and incredibly memorable part of their bevy of leads that existed in Brubaker/Phillips’ work together.
Bonus points go to the back matter, as Jess Nevins’ gave us just fantastic write-ups on the pulp hits of yesteryear. Great, great stuff.
4. Daredevil: The Devil in Cell-Block D
Brubaker’s entire run on Daredevil was damn fine work, but I want to highlight one arc in particular: his first one, titled “The Devil in Cell-Block D,” which he worked on with artist Michael Lark.
This arc was actually one of the first superhero books I read after getting back into comics full time years back, and man, it knocked me on my ass. The way Brubaker handled Matt Murdock was unforgiving, unrelenting, and completely spot on. Putting him in Ryker’s Island was an inspired move, and it allowed Brubaker to quickly put his stamp on the character and his world after Brian Michael Bendis’ highly touted run.
It also gave him the ability to run through Daredevil’s Rogues Gallery and somehow up the ante on the danger Bendis’ perpetually had the character in, raising the stakes but still keeping it based in a very organic place. Of course, any book is helped by Lark’s phenomenal visuals, but holy crap, this was one of the knock out pieces of Brubaker’s Marvel work.
This is Brubaker and Phillips longer running, arguably more acclaimed Icon book, and it’s them getting down and dirty with the world of crime.
Now, there are many reasons why I could love on this book (the incredible characters, the different slices of criminal life we get to look at, the style, the production, you name it), but there’s something that is really special that Brubaker and Phillips do in this book: they create a world.
Not in a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sort of way, or even in a traditional storytelling way, but in subtle ways that pay off big time to those who read all of the minis.
Think about it like this: each section of any given city is a Venn diagram. Brubaker and Phillips’ show us how decidedly different each part of Center City is, and the Venn diagram that they exist within, but they also show us much they overlap in subtle ways. A character here, a name there, The Undertow everywhere, you name it. Swinging through sections of the city and eras in time all of the time, each mini-series of Criminal feels entirely like its own world, yet they all have enough commonalities that it informs a greater whole. It’s remarkable work, and just goes to show how damn incredible these two are at building not just stories, but entire worlds.Continued below
2. Captain America: Winter Soldier
Let’s call a spade a spade: this is the best Captain America story ever told.
The secret, though, is this is a Captain America run in name only. It’s really the story of Bucky Barnes, which is why it’s only fitting that Brubaker’s run at Marvel is ending with a last issue of Winter Soldier.
That said, I remember thinking when I heard that Bucky was coming back, “that’s stupid.” I’m pretty sure there were many people who openly groaned (or much worse) about the very subject, but then I read it. Holy crap. No more groaning. No more skepticism. Just a lot of reading.
Brubaker’s resurrection and rehabilitation of the man known as The Winter Soldier completely revitalized this title, and drove it to higher heights than had previously been known. His work on Winter Soldier brilliantly fused super heroics with the best the spy world has to offer, and it was like a Steranko dream come true in modern times. I love the Winter Soldier arc, and I guess the last thing I have to say is how even I’m a little surprised it isn’t #1.
Some of you may be saying, “what is this?” This was actually the first Brubaker/Phillips collaboration I ever read, and man, it put me on notice about maybe, just maybe, this Brubaker guy might be able to make it in this crazy industry.
Sleeper was a Wildstorm book that connected with a lot of the other Wildstorm books throughout history but did not necessarily need knowledge of other books to enjoy (that said, knowing who TAO was ahead of time definitely helped).
It’s a remarkably simple concept: what if you went undercover, but your deep cover contact gets taken out of commission? That’s the situation that faces I/O agent Holden Carver, as this book blends noir with superpowers with pulp and god only knows how many other genres. It’s like if Criminal and Incognito had a baby, but you placed it in a pretty recognizable part of the comic galaxy with names like Grifter and John Lynch in the mix.
This was a pulse pounding, darkly funny, tremendously entertaining book, and one that I have shared with friends who don’t read comics only to be returned with “wow” as the only viable response. Sleeper is a book I hold near and dear to my heart, and one that should undoubtedly be tracked down by fans of Brubaker and Phillips collaborations. It’s not to be missed, and remains to this day my favorite work of Brubaker’s, even though it was the first I experienced.