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The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe

on Mon, 12/01/2014 - 00:00

For decades, there was a golden rule within the realm of comic books—“The only people who stay dead are Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben”—referring to characters that had died within the pages of Captain America, Batman and Spider-Man. That changed in 2005 when not only Jason Todd was resurrected in Batman but James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes turned out to be alive in the world of Captain America as well.

According to the storyline written by Ed Brubaker, Bucky had been rescued from an icy watery tomb by the Soviet Union during World War II. Although he was revived, Barnes had experienced considerable brain damage that erased all memory of his previous life. His brain was thus rewritten, programmed to be a Cold War assassin for the Russians who was kept in suspended animation between missions. Known as the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes faced off against his former colleague Captain America in 2005, a battle that left an indelible mark on the Marvel Universe.

Every rebirth brings death as well, and within the Captain America: Winter Soldier narrative, that unhappiest of endings befell former crime fighter Jack Monroe. In many ways, Monroe’s life had already been tragic, and death brought the roller-coaster spiral of his life full circle.

The seventh issue of the comic book series, subtitled “The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe,” was labelled an “Interlude” installment and focused on Monroe’s final year. His death had already been revealed in the last pages of issue three when Jack Monroe was seen leaving a bar, being hailed in a parking lot by an unknown assailant, then shot dead and placed in the trunk of a car.

As for the location of that bar and fatal shooting, the caption simply states, “Just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”

Jack Monroe was born on December 7, 1941—the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor—and it was a journey of superhero feats and mental instability that led to his ultimate demise in the Steel City. Monroe’s parents were Nazi sympathizers, leading to the young Jack being placed in various foster homes where he grew up idolizing the adventures of Captain America and Bucky Barnes.

In school, Jack Monroe had a history instructor who legally changed his name to Steve Rogers, the same as Captain America. The US government, believing that both the original Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes had been casualties of World War II, briefly considered resurrecting the duo with the faux Steve Rogers and Jack Monroe serving in their place. The plan was eventually dropped, but “Steve Rogers” injected himself, as well as Monroe, with a variant super-soldier serum nonetheless.

Although their time as Captain America and Bucky Barnes led to the defeat of numerous communists within the borders of the United States, “Steve Rogers” and Jack Monroe’s sanity soon began to deteriorate from defects in the variant serum that they had taken. When their vigilante actions were subsequently directed at innocent Americans merely “suspected” of being communists, they were apprehended by FBI agents and placed in suspended animation until a cure for their condition could be found.

“Steve Rogers” and Jack Monroe were later released by a disgruntled government employee and faced off against the original Captain America in the 1970s, believing him to be the fake.

Defeated, their fates took an even more sinister turn when a mad scientist decided to use them as guinea pigs for a mind-controlling gas he had invented. This time it took both Captain America and Daredevil to apprehend the duo, but Jack Monroe was given a second chance by the Star-Spangled superhero.

“S.H.I.E.L.D was able to cure him and put him back into society,” Nick Fury explains of Monroe in Captain America: Winter Soldier. “Cap helped him make the transition and took him on as a partner for a while. He even took up Cap’s one-time identity, Nomad. But Jack didn’t have a smooth road. He’s got a temper, and he’s been pushed over the edge more than once. At one point, he was even brainwashed into becoming some character called Scourge—killed a few costume criminals. We haven’t heard from him for a few years, though. Until now, when his fingerprints turn up on our murder weapon.”

The “murder weapon” in question is a sniper rifle used to kill the Red Skull in the first installment of Captain America: Winter Soldier that was later found by S.H.I.E.L.D in issue four of the series. The fingerprints are a plant, however, part of a set-up to frame Jack Monroe for actions taken by the Winter Soldier.

Although Nick Fury may not have heard from Monroe in years, another member of the Marvel Universe—Thor love-interest Jane Foster—was arguably the last confidant that Jack Monroe would ever have in his life. During the opening pages of “The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe,” Monroe is at the Greendale Medical Research Clinic in New York City with Foster, who informs him that he is dying.

“Your blood panel shows that the super-solder variant you were injected with is degrading, and as a result, your immune system is going haywire,” she tells Monroe. Foster then suggests that he should make peace with his friends and family, but given his past, that is easier said than done.

“Sad to realize this now, but what has Jack Monroe been if not just a shadow of other men?” he reflects to himself. “There I am as a kid, trying to take the place of Bucky—Cap’s partner, a war hero, a guy who saw more combat than any twenty soldiers combined. What’d I think gave me that right? Because I looked like him? And there I am running around the end of the Twentieth Century as the second Nomad. Like I really could step into Captain America’s shoes. Hell, I couldn’t even be the first Scourge. Face it, Jack, you’re a nobody. And you’ve just been trying to fill the emptiness that you really are by playing at being other people.”

The only fond memory that Jack Monroe can remember was when, as Nomad, he rescued an infant child from her drug-addicted prostitute mother. He named the girl Bucky and was determined to raise her himself, but she ended up placed for adoption instead. Now, with less than a year left in his life, Jack Monroe becomes determined to find her again.

His search takes him to Washington DC, where he again dons the mask of Nomad and fights criminals as the deterioration of his immune system—and mind—continues. Somehow in his haze he discovers that Bucky now resides in Pittsburgh, a happy young girl named Julia Winter. Content that he can now die knowing that she is being looked after, Monroe goes to a Steel City bar to drink away his remaining days. What he overhears, however, will not only bring about the end of Jack Monroe’s life but make it even more tragic as well.

“Right outside the parking lot at the elementary school,” a bar patron tells a friend. “Kids’re just monsters for the stuff. Makin’ serious bank.” Convinced the man is a drug dealer pedaling at Julia Winter’s school, Monroe decides to protect the girl by bringing down the entire illegal organization behind the dealer.

He starts at the bottom, working his way up the chain, taking on anyone connected with the drug ring. After each victory, however, the panels of the comic book pages change as Monroe walks away—instead of the dealers he believes that they were, in actuality his victims are nothing more than innocent bystanders. Even the man he overheard at the bar has no connections to the criminal underworld but turns out to be nothing more than an ice cream truck driver.

Jack Monroe’s life has come full circle, from the mental instability of a defective super-solder serum that caused him and his faux Captain America partner to target innocent Americans in the 1950s, to attacking random Pittsburgh residents that Monroe believes to be part of a criminal underworld in the Steel City because his mind is deteriorating yet again. Monroe never has to face the truth of his actions, however, as he is shot coming out of an undisclosed Pittsburgh bar shortly thereafter.

As for the person who pulled the trigger on the gun that ended the lonesome and tragic life of Jack Monroe? None other than the Winter Solider himself, the hero that Monroe worshipped as a child and tried to emulate as an adult— James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes.

Anthony Letizia

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