Brubaker's first work in comics was as a cartoonist, writing and drawing Pajama Chronicles and penciling a "Gumby 3D" issue for Blackthorne Comics, Purgatory U.S.A. for Slave Labor Graphics, and the semi-autobiographical series Lowlife for Caliber Comics and later Aeon Press. At Caliber, he briefly edited the anthology series Monkey Wrench.
In 1991, he began contributing crime stories to the Dark Horse Comics anthology series Dark Horse Presents, a comic he would continue to contribute to intermittently throughout the decade. Among those contributions was the three part serial "An Accidental Death" (Dark Horse Presents #65–67), a collaboration with artist Eric Shanower, which garnered the two a 1993 Eisner Award nomination.
In 1997, he began to publish his cartoonist work through the small press publisher Alternative Comics. In the one-off At the Seams, a romantic triangle is explored through three stories which each depict a different participant's point-of-view. The comic was a 1997 Ignatz Award nominee for Outstanding Graphic Novel or Collection. His other work for Alternative Comics, the humorous and experimental Detour No. 1, was to be the first issue of a series, though only one issue was published. Detour was nominated for the "Best New Series" Harvey Award in 1998.
The Fall, a graphic novel that was written by Brubaker and illustrated by Berlin creator Jason Lutes was published by Drawn and Quarterly in 2001. This work had previously been anthologized in five parts in Dark Horse Presents in 1998. The story involved a convenience store clerk who gets involved in a ten-year-old murder mystery after he uses a stolen credit card. In 2004 IDW Publishing announced that Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips would collaborate on a creator owned pirate series titled Black Sails for them. That series has not yet been published and The Fall remained the last independent comic book work by Brubaker until his work for Image Comics, which began in 2012.
Predating Brubaker's Alternative Comics work by two years, Vertigo Visions: Prez, Smells Like Teen President (1995) was Brubaker's first work for one of the two major American comic book publishers. Published by DC Comics' "mature readers" imprint Vertigo, the comic was a broad political satire which revamped an obscure 1970s Joe Simon creation. Brubaker worked with his "An Accidental Death" collaborator, artist Eric Shanower, again on the comic.
Brubaker's next major work for Vertigo was the Scene of the Crime four issue limited series in 1999, which marked his first collaboration with both Michael Lark and Sean Phillips, two artists who would frequently work with the writer in later years. A slacker detective story set in San Francisco, the series was critically acclaimed and the first to gain Brubaker attention from Hollywood producers.
In late 2000, Brubaker signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics. That same year, he began to do his first mainstream super-hero work, on the series Batman starting with issue #582 (Oct. 2000). He would continue to work on various series starring the Batman character until late 2003 including such story arcs as "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" and "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive".
Returning to Vertigo in 2000, Brubaker and artist Warren Pleece produced the science fiction series Deadenders. The series lasted 16 issues before being canceled in 2001. Staying with Vertigo in 2001, Brubaker wrote the four issue Sandman Presents: Dead Boy Detectives, which was drawn by artist Bryan Talbot.
Also in 2001, Brubaker and artist Darwyn Cooke teamed up to revamp the Catwoman character. They started with the four issue serial "Trail of the Catwoman" which ran in Detective Comics #759–762. In the serial, private detective Slam Bradley attempts to investigate the death of Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). The story led into a new Catwoman title in late 2001 by Brubaker and Cooke in which the character's costume, supporting cast and modus operandi were all redesigned and redeveloped. Brubaker stayed on the series until No. 37 (January 2004).
Brubaker and Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis discussed co-writing a story which would team up DC's Batman with Marvel's Daredevil. The two writers were enthusiastic about their ideas, which included a fight between Batman and Marvel villain Bullseye as well as another between Catwoman and Elektra. DC editors Matt Idelson and Bob Schreck were also enthusiastic, but DC Publisher Paul Levitz objected to the project due to a prior disagreement with Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada.
In early 2003, Brubaker and writer Greg Rucka created and co-wrote the Gotham Central series. Focusing on the activities of the Gotham City Police Department, the two writers either co-wrote storylines or wrote alternate arcs separately throughout the series, which featured artwork from Brubaker's Scene of the Crime collaborator Michael Lark. The title was cancelled in 2006, shortly after Brubaker's last issue.
In 2002 Brubaker did his first work for Wildstorm, another DC imprint, with the series Point Blank which featured the artwork of New Zealand artist Colin Wilson. The series took existing concepts from the Wildstorm universe, such as Grifter (the star of the series), John Lynch and Tao and used them to set up his Sleeper series which debuted later that year.
A collaboration between artist Sean Phillips and Brubaker, Sleeper, featured a secret agent protagonist ("Holden Carver") who goes undercover in a super villain's powerful organisation, only to have the only contact he has in law enforcement fall into a coma. With the authorities believing him a dangerous criminal, Carver is caught between the two warring sides with unclear allegiances.
In December 2003, in a unique publicity stunt conceived to help promote the first trade paperback collection of Sleeper, Brubaker organized an "arm-wrestling competition" at San Francisco's "Isotope – the comic book lounge" comic book shop. If participants were able to beat Brubaker at arm wrestling they were awarded free signed comic books. According to Brubaker, the writer wrestled 40–50 people and won most of the time, losing only eight or nine times.
Although Sleeper was a success with critics and fans on the Internet, the series underperformed commercially, and so it was canceled after its twelfth issue. It was relaunched in 2004 with the same creators as Sleeper: Season Two but also ended with its twelfth issue.
Brubaker's other work for Wildstorm during this period was the third volume of The Authority. Brubaker first tackled the characters with artist Jim Lee on the one issue special Coup D'état: Sleeper which showed how a series of events led the Authority (a powerful team of super-humans) to take over the United States. Later that year and throughout 2005 Brubaker and artist Dustin Nguyen produced the 12 issue The Authority: Revolution which explored the ramifications of the team's actions.
In late 2004 Brubaker, no longer exclusive to DC, began to work for their main competitor Marvel Comics. His first major work for the publisher was volume five of the Captain America series. Paired with artist Steve Epting, Brubaker's Captain America introduced new villains and resurrected the long dead character Bucky Barnes as "The Winter Soldier". The series was a sales and critical success from its first issue. Brubaker continued on this series for eight full years, from November 2004 to October 2012, alongside sister titles and limited series based around the character.
In February 2005 Brubaker signed his first exclusive contract with Marvel, the deal allowing the writer to finish out his prior commitments for DC on Gotham Central and Sleeper.
In early 2006 Brubaker wrote two limited series for Marvel; with artist Pablo Raimondi, he wrote Books of Doom, which retold and expanded on the origin of Doctor Doom; and with artist Trevor Hairsine, he wrote X-Men: Deadly Genesis, ret-conning information about the origins of the "All New, All-Different X-Men" who debuted in 1975.
In addition, that year Brubaker started on Daredevil, having already planned his run with Brian Michael Bendis. Once again teamed with artist Michael Lark, Brubaker followed Bendis' stint on the title, exploring the ramifications of the character's imprisonment, which occurred at the close of Bendis' run.
He became the regular writer of Uncanny X-Men, working with artist Billy Tan and Clayton Henry, in July 2006. Brubaker, together with Matt Fraction, co-wrote a new Iron Fist ongoing series, The Immortal Iron Fist, which started in November 2006.
During his run on Captain America, Brubaker wrote issues #25–30, the 2007 story in which Steve Rogers was assassinated. He later wrote the 2009 miniseries Captain America: Reborn, in which Rogers returned. He subsequently wrote an eight issue limited series titled The Marvels Project, as well as a new title Secret Avengers following the end of the "Siege" storyline.
In February 2010, a controversy arose with Captain America No. 602, which depicted a group of anti-tax protesters, understood by some readers to be a Tea Party, which was characterized by the Falcon as exclusively white and racist group. Brubaker and Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada apologized for the matter, explaining that although the group was not intended by Brubaker to represent any particular real-life group, one of the signs depicted in the scene read, "Tea Bag The Libs Before They Tea Bag YOU!", which was not written by Brubaker, but was added by letterer Joe Caramagna, who, under deadline pressures, added messages on signs that were found to still be blank, based on signs he saw on the Internet. Quesada further assured that that error would not appear in future reprints of the issue. In an interview following the controversy Brubaker stated that "I had to shut down my public email because I started getting death threats from, y'know, peaceful protesters."
A creator-owned crime comic with Sean Phillips, Criminal, was published by Marvel's Icon Comics imprint. It has generally received positive reviews. In 2007, Criminal won the Eisner Award for Best New Series for its first arc, "Coward."
In 2008, he and Phillips began a new Icon series titled Incognito, which Brubaker says is "about a completely amoral guy with super-powers forced to pretend he's a normal law-abiding citizen, because he's in Witness Protection, and how that shapes what he becomes. It's also a brutal noir twist on the super-hero/super-villain genre that delves more into their roots in the pulps, and it's going to be pretty over-the-top and action-packed."
In March 2009 Brubaker premiered his web series Angel of Death on Crackle.
Brubaker and Sean Phillips launched their Fatale series at Image Comics in January 2012. The series was initially announced as a twelve-issue maxi-series but was upgraded to an ongoing title in November 2012. Jesse Schedeen of IGN stated that "You can't go wrong with a Brubaker/Phillips collaboration. Even so, Fatale is making a strong case for being the best of their projects."
Brubaker and Steve Epting debuted Velvet, an espionage series, in October 2013.
In October 2013, Brubaker signed a five-year contract to produce comics exclusively for Image. Under the terms of the deal, Image will publish any comic Brubaker brings to them without having to pitch it to them first. Brubaker said this arrangement is something he's always wanted. The first series released under this contract was The Fade Out, a Hollywood period piece made with Sean Phillips.
Brubaker made a cameo appearance in the 2014 film Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as the Winter Soldier's handler.
Brubaker has appeared on two episodes of the popular movie review podcast How Did This Get Made?, covering Daredevil and The Phantom.
In 2016, Brubaker joined the writing staff for HBO's Westworld. He co-wrote the episode "Dissonance Theory" with Jonathan Nolan.2003 Prism Award ("Disguises" from Catwoman #17–19)
2004 GLAAD Media Awards – Outstanding Comic Book (Catwoman by Ed Brubaker)
2006 Harvey Award Winner – Best Writer (Captain America)
2007 Eisner Award – Best Writer (Daredevil, Captain America, Criminal), Best New Series (Criminal with Sean Phillips)
2007 Harvey Award – Best Writer (Daredevil)
2008 Eisner Award – Best Writer (Captain America, Criminal, Daredevil and Immortal Iron Fist)
2010 Eisner Award – Best Writer (Captain America, Criminal, Daredevil, The Marvels Project, Incognito), Best Single Issue (Captain America No. 601, with artist Gene Colan)
2012 Eisner Award – Best Limited Series or Story Arc (Criminal: The Last of the Innocent, with artist Sean Phillips)
2015 Eisner Award – Best New Series (The Fade Out, with artist Sean Phillips)
2016 Eisner Award – Best Limited Series (The Fade Out, with artist Sean Phillips)
1993 Eisner Award nominee – Best Writer-Artist Team ("An Accidental Death")
1997 Ignatz Award nominee – Outstanding Graphic Novel or Collection (At the Seams)
1998 Harvey Award nominee – Best New Series (Detour)
2000 Eisner Award nominee – Best Writer (Scene of the Crime) and Best Mini-Series (Scene of the Crime)
2007 Eisner Award nominee – Best Continuing Series (Daredevil with Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano, Captain America with Steve Epting)
2010 Eisner Award nominee – Best Limited Series or Story Arc (Incognito, with Sean Phillips)
2013 Eisner Award nominee – Best Continuing Series (Fatale, with Sean Phillips)
2013 Eisner Award nominee – Best New Series (Fatale, with Sean Phillips)
2013 Eisner Award nominee – Best Writer (Fatale)