Captain America: White is the latest in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s color-themed series spotlighting Marvel’s iconic characters. The collected edition is now available.
Captain America: White focuses on the World War II bond of Cap and his sidekick, Bucky. After briefly touching on the origin of the partnership, the story sends the duo behind the lines of occupied France. They team up with Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos and work with French resistance fighters. It culminates with a Paris-set showdown with key villains Red Skull and Baron Von Strucker. The action is framed by narration from Cap shortly after he’d come out of his deep freeze in the modern world and believed Bucky to be dead.
That Captain America: White actually was completed is something of a miracle. It was notoriously delayed for years after only a single issue had appeared. That lag probably sapped some of its thematic weight. The story itself is a fairly standard “secret mission behind enemy lines” story. Loeb scripts some nice interaction among Cap, Bucky, Nick and the Howlers and does a decent job of sketching out Cap and Bucky’s personalities and fraternal bond. There just never seem to be huge stakes at play. The story takes place in Winter 1941 and fans know full well that all the characters are emerging from this intact, so suspense is somewhat lacking. Future Cap’s narration can, at times, be a bit of drag, slipping into a maudlin tone that’s at odds with the “selfless soldier” image Marvel has worked for Steve Rogers in recent years. In the end it’s a decent, but not essential, war story.
A book like Captain America: White really lives and dies by its art. And right off the bat its hobbled by a thematic flaw. It’s called White but most of the story unfolds at night and in shadows. The closest the action comes to “white” is an interval in bluish-gray fog. That’s not the fault of ace colorist Dave Stewart, who does his usual lush color work. But it makes one question the labeling of the series. The closest to “white” the story gets is the theme of innocence, but that’s not developed especially well.
Sale can be a divisive artist. You either love his hyper-stylized take on the genre or you don’t. He does some rather lovely design work in Captain America: White. The action often takes place against a woozy fever dream, punctuated by bursts of art deco realism. Some of Sale’s figure work is quite striking. He does a memorable Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan, while his Strucker has a vulpine quality that’s quite appropriate. He assays Bucky with a nimble quality that communicates his acrobatic nature quite effectively and his Red Skull is as grotesque and monstrous as you’d want.
Sale’s biggest drawback is the inconsistency with which he presents the title character. At points we get a Cap who is bold and heroic, standing out against the smaller personalities around him. At other times, Cap is oddly angular and distended. At its best, Sale’s idiosyncratic approach produces some stunning images. Highlights include: a two-page splash of a recently revived Cap bursting to life against a backdrop of founding Avengers; a hazy panorama of a North African bar; Cap and company tumbling out of a plane that’s going down; the cast dwarfed by a fog-enshrouded mountain; a two-page stunner featuring Cap and his allies strategizing in corner boxes, while the Skull and Strucker address soldiers in a captive Paris; and the Skull with a captive Bucky dangling from a rope ladder with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Captain America: White isn’t quite the timeless story it’s intended to be. But it has enough to recommend it to be worth reading at some point.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on February 19, 2016.