Captain America and Bucky
I reread two volumes of this and they demonstrate a sharp decline in quality on two fronts.
First is the stories. Volume 1 is credited to Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko as co-writers and it feels suitably like the rest of Brubaker’s Cap material, keeping the high standard of quality and feeling authentic to his take on Bucky. The story is essentially Bucky narrating the cliff notes of his life pre-modern day revival and it hangs together a lot better than it sounds. What really helps it along is Chris Samnee’s art, which is retro yet modern and full of vitality and character (Bettie Breitweiser colours too, which really makes it sing).
Volume 2 though sees Brubaker teamed with James Asmus and here Bru is credited only for story, while Asmus handles the script and boy does it show. The dialogue is pedestrian at best, over-wrought at its worst. Brubaker’s plot hits his usual interests of revisiting Golden Age(ish) material, by acting as a sequel to an Invaders What If story (included in the back) about a robot called Adam II trying to replace humanity. But it’s pretty standard stuff with obvious twists and hackneyed villains, the only up-point being the use of Fred Davis, the second Bucky.
The art here is by Francesco Francavilla, who, on paper (so to speak) is of the same pseudo-retro ilk as Samnee. But his work is quite different and doesn’t really fit the story well. He treats the entire thing as a horror story, particularly in his use of lurid, limited palettes, and it doesn’t quite work. Adam looks terribly uninteresting, especially.
The other front on which this is a downgrade in quality is the physical nature of the books. Volume 2 is from when Marvel really started skimping on production values. Despite having as many issues as volume 1, it’s thinner, with much flimsier paper (volume 1’s feels practically stout by comparison). It’s not as cheap as more recent Marvel trades have been, but you can really see the difference.