It's an auspicious but decidedly bittersweet day for fans of writers Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman, all of whose most popular Marvel Comics series come to a close with today's final issues of Captain America, Invincible Iron Man and FF. In a superhero comics business where creators frequently seem like hired guns dispatched to fulfill brief and arbitrary editorial missions, these writers have remained with their respective characters for uncommonly long and notably authoritative runs.Brubaker started on Captain America in 2004, and in the years since he and collaborators (including Steve Epting, Butch Guice, Mike Perkins and Bryan Hitch) revitalized the aging "Sentinel of Liberty" as the eminently credible and unashamedly patriotic hero who would later manifest to brilliant effect in the Captain America and Avengers films. Most crucially, Brubaker and Epting completely reimagined Cap's fallen kid sidekick Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier, an American casualty of World War II who was rescued and corrupted by Soviet scientists, and who would emerge from the dark past on a quest to redeem himself in the model of his former mentor. This new Bucky is perhaps the most substantial character introduced into the Marvel canon in more than a decade, and his story will directly inform the next of Marvel Studios' Captain America films.

For his final issue (confusingly, it's Captain America #19, since the series was renumbered from issue #1 not long ago), Brubaker reunites with Steve Epting and colorist Frank D'Armata for a done-in-one story that recalls the event's of their very first issue. Brubaker's entire run is available in a variety of hardcover or paperback editions you can find at better comics shops and bookstores (I recommend the massive omnibus editions).

Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca began work on The Invincible Iron Man in 2008, when they made it their business to deconstruct and reassemble (literally, in some issues) the billionaire/genius/playboy/superhero Tony Stark after the controversial events of Marvel's Civil War, a story in which Iron Man took on what many fans felt was a villainous role in a conflict with Captain America. The focus of Fraction and Larroca's run split deftly between personal introspection and high-flying futurism. The pair defied recent serialized comics tradition by creating nearly every single issue together, rather than with the aid of numerous fill-in writers or artists, so as to leave loyal readers with an aesthetically consistent long-form work.

Today's issue #527 concludes their run. The entire thing is available in various hardcovers and paperbacks, but I recommend the omnibus editions, the third and final of which will be on sale in the near future.

Collaborating with a host of artists including Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Dale Eaglesham and Nick Dragotta, Jonathan Hickman wrote what are certainly the best Fantastic Four stories since Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's classic work almost a decade earlier, and arguably the most epic in the title's long history since the work of creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Beginning in 2009, Hickman's run, which eventually necessitated two titles -- Fantastic Four and FF (for the Future Foundation) -- was characterized by densely plotted, large-scale and often cosmic conflicts between multiple warring factions, all anchored in the consistent theme of family. In the final issue, FF #23, Franklin Richards from the future teaches his younger self how to be a god.

The whole Hickman run is available in various hardcover and paperback editions, but because the titles were very tragically not collected in sequential order -- FF and Fantastic Four are reprinted as distinct series despite the fact that events from one continue in the other -- I recommend catching up on this excellent series digitally or waiting for an omnibus series that collects everything properly. It's a long read that rewards those who pay attention, as our own David Uzumeri demonstrates in his series of annotations.

Well done, gentlemen.

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