Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers


By Reginald Hudlin, Denys Cowan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4401-4

Everybody loves a solid sensibly sensational team-up and, if you’re a comicbook fan, “discovering” a slice of previously unrevealed secret history about your preferred fictive universe is an indescribable thrill. So, what better than if you can combine both guilty pleasures with enjoying a rollicking four-fisted action rollercoaster ride, well written and superbly rendered?

Just one such concatenation of good things in one basket is Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers by Reginald Hudlin & Denys Cowan. Comic continuity is ultimately fluid and this yarn – originally released as a 4-issue miniseries between June and September 2010 – reveals the secret and tumultuous first meeting between the patriotic symbols of two embattled nations, but only nit-picking, devoted fans-boys need quibble over which (of at least three) “first contacts” this riotous romp describes.

The rest of us can simply hang on as a fabulous all-action clash unfolds before our very eyes…

The Black Panther rules over a fantastic African paradise which isolated itself from the rest of the world millennia ago. Blessed with unimaginable resources – both natural and not so much – the nation of Wakanda developed uninterrupted and unmolested by European imperialism into the most technologically advanced human nation on Earth.

The country has also never been conquered. The main reason for this is an unbroken line of divinely-sponsored warrior kings who safeguard the nation. The other is a certain miraculous super-mineral found nowhere else on Earth…

In contemporary times that chieftain is T’Challa: an unbeatable, feline-empowered, strategic genius who divides his time between ruling at home and serving abroad in superhero teams such as The Avengers, beside costumed champions such as Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Thor and Captain America

However, long ago as World War II engulfed the world, another Black Panther – the grandfather of the one we know best – met a far younger and more impulsive Sentinel of Liberty…

With the first two chapters inked by Klaus Janson the action kicks off in the middle of a furious as Gabe Jones – the black guy in Sgt. Fury’s Howling Commandos – is just as startled as his white buddies to find a masked maniac dressed like an American flag pounding the crap out of the Nazis they’re being swamped by…

Although they initially think he’s a clown, the Howlers soon take to the naïve Star-Spangled Captain America. They have to, as the Top Brass think they complement each other and have ordered soldiers and superhero to work together from now on.

Meanwhile in Germany, Adolf Hitler orders his most elite warriors to invade a barely known African kingdom to secure supplies of a vibration-absorbing mineral crucial to the development of the Wehrmacht’s V-weapons. Arch-supremacist Baron von Strucker and his cronies expect no trouble from the primitive, sub-human non-Aryans, but the malign Red Skull has reservations…

When the Allies get word of the expedition, they quickly send their top team to stop the Nazis, but they are too late. The fabled Wakandans have already despatched the German expeditionary force with the ruthless silent efficiency that has kept their homeland unconquered for thousands of years…

As a shocked Captain America surveys the bloody handiwork, he is challenged by a warrior in a sleek black outfit, looking like a human panther…

Soon his amazement increases exponentially. Although seemingly barbaric and uncivilised, the Wakandans are technologically more advanced than America, capable enough to capture the Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos without a fight, and with a spy network that encompasses the world and has even gleaned his top secret civilian identity. Worst of all, the Black Panther kicks his butt when they inevitably clash…

Soon, however, the Americans are “guests” of the Wakandans, forced to watch as the next wave of Nazi conquerors attempt to overwhelm the nation. However, what nobody realises is that the Red Skull is in command now and the sacrifice of an entire tank division is part of his overall strategy to conquer the upstart Africans defying the might of the Third Reich…

Soon, the Howlers are on tricky ground: acting as unschooled diplomats and emissaries of their country and ideology. But Black Panther King Azzuri knows what they really want is a sample of precious, sacred Vibranium…

Until now Gabe has felt that he’s allied with the only non-racists in the US armed forces, but now Fury orders to get close to the Africans and secure some of the miracle metal at all costs. Stunned by the casual, unthinking racism of his superior and his white comrades, Gabe is torn by conflicting emotions. Especially as Azzuri has shown him great favour and a black-only promised land any negro living in America would die to live in…

The Nazis’ intent is also plain and the Skull’s true attack is not long in coming. As well as troops and planes, the Germans employ their own secret weapons – robotic war-suits and metahuman super-soldiers Master Man, Krieger Frau (Warrior Woman) and merciless sadist Armless Tiger Man. They are assisted by a traitor from Wakanda’s own dissident region: the mercilessly savage, cruelly ambitious Man-Ape

With issues #3 and 4 inked by Tom Palmer & Sandu Florea, the action roars into high gear as the German offensive achieves its goal of penetrating Wakanda’s defences and even sees the king’s sons T’Chaka and S’Yan (both future Black Panthers) attacked in the palace by a murderous assassin before being saved by the deeply conflicted Gabe…

And then it’s nothing but all-out war, picking up the pieces and adjusting to a new normal in a world that doesn’t know the meaning of the word…

Confronting head-on historical and contemporary issues of racism whilst telling a stunning tale of action and adventure is no mean feat, but Hudlin and Cowan pull it off here with staggering success. Flags of Our Fathers brilliantly contrasts the result of two national symbols in conflict and united in mutual benefit with style and wit, and still manages to tell a tale of breathtaking power and fun. Read it now and see for yourself.
© 2010, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Golden Age All Winners Marvel Masterworks: Volume 1


By Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Carl Burgos, Bill Everett, Al Avison & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6635-1

Unlike their Distinguished Competition, Marvel Comics took quite a while to get into producing expensive archival tomes such as this one reprinting some of their earliest comic adventures. In the cold hard light of day, it’s often fairly clear why.

The sad truth is that much Golden Age Marvel material is not only pretty offensive by modern standards, but is also of rather poor writing and art quality. Something of a welcome exception, however, is this venerable collection of quarterly super-hero anthology All Winners Comics #1-4 – available in hardback, paperback and digital formats.

Over the course of the first year’s publication (from Summer 1941 to Spring 1942) the stories and art varied incredibly (thanks to poor pay rates and the constant call-up of creators to serve overseas), but at least in terms of sheer variety the tales and characters excelled in exploring every avenue of patriotic thrill that might enthral ten-year old boys of all ages.

As well as Simon & Kirby, Lee, Burgos and Everett, the early work of Mike Sekowsky, Jack Binder, George Klein, Paul Gustavson, Harry Sahle, Paul Reinman, Al Avison, Al Gabrielle and many others can be found as they dashed out the adventures of Captain America, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Black Marvel, The Angel, The Mighty Destroyer, and The Whizzer.

This spectacular deluxe full-colour compendium opens with a fulsome and informative introduction from Roy Thomas – architect of Marvel’s Golden Age revival – ably abetted by Greg Theakston, detailing the strife and exigencies of churning out fun-fodder under wartime restrictions, after which All Winners Comics #1 commences with Human Torch and flaming kid Toro hunting insidious Japanese agent Matsu as the spy terrorises the peaceful pro-American Orientals of New York’s Chinatown in ‘Carnival of Fiends’ (by Carl Burgos), whilst Stan Lee, Al Avison & Al Gabriele set Indian-reared perfect specimen Black Marvel on the trail of ‘The Order of the Hood’: a well-connected gang of West Coast bandits…

Joe Simon & Jack Kirby then contribute a magnificent Captain America thriller-chiller in ‘The Case of the Hollow Men’: battling a plague of beggars turned into marauding zombies by Nazi super-science.

Stripling Stan Lee & Ed Winiarski contribute a thinly disguised infomercial text tale of ‘All Winners’ after which an untitled Bill Everett Sub-Mariner yarn sees the errant Prince of Atlantis uncover and promptly scupper a nest of saboteurs on the Virginia coastline whilst the inexplicably ubiquitous Angel travels to the deep dark Central American jungle to solve ‘The Case of the Mad Gargoyle’ with typical ruthless efficiency in an engaging end-piece by Alan Mandel

All-Winners #2 was cover-dated Fall 1941 and began with Harry Sahle’s Human Torch thriller ‘Carnival of Death!’ wherein the incendiary android and his mutant sidekick tackle a madly murderous knife-thrower running amok in a winter playground for the wealthy, after which ‘The Strange Case of the Malay Idol’ (Simon & Kirby) finds the Sentinel of Liberty and his youthful aide on a tropical island battling a sinister native death-cult secretly sponsored by the Nazis…

Lee graduates to full comic strips in ‘Bombs of Doom!’ as Jack Binder illustrates the All Winners debut of charismatic, behind-enemy-lines hero The Mighty Destroyer; followed by text feature ‘Winners All’: another Lee puff-piece embellished with a Kirby group-shot of the anthology’s cast before second new guy The Whizzer kicks off a long run with a Lee/Paul Reinman tale of spies and society murderers on the home-front.

After a page of believe-it-or-not ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ a ghost artist illuminates ‘The Ghost Fleet’ to end the issue with another Sub-Mariner versus Nazi submariners all-action romp…

All Winners #3 pits the Torch against Japanese terrorists in ‘The Case of the Black Dragon Society’, a rather over-the-top slice of cartoon jingoism credited to Burgos but scripted by Sahle and drawn by another anonymous ghost squad.

Simon and Kirby had moved to National Comics by this issue and Al Avison was drawing Captain America now – with background inking from George Klein – and scripts by the mysterious S.T. Anley (geddit?), but ‘The Canvas of Doom!’ still rockets along with plenty of dynamite punch in a manic yarn about an artist who predicts murders in his paintings, before The Whizzer busts up corruption and slaughter at ‘Terror Prison’ in a rip-roarer from Lee, Mike Sekowsky & George Klein.

‘Jungle Drums’ is standard genre text filler-fare after which Everett triumphs once more with a spectacular maritime mystery as ‘Sub-Mariner visits the Ship of Horrors’ and The Destroyer turns the Fatherland upside down by wrecking ‘The Secret Tunnel of Death!’ in a blistering epic limned by Chad Grothkopf.

The final issue in this compendium was cover-dated Spring 1942 and – with enough lead time following the attack on Pearl Harbor – the patriotic frenzy mill was clearly in full swing.

A word of warning: though modern readers might well blanch at the racial and sexual stereotyping of the (presumably) well-intentioned propaganda machines which generated tales such as ‘Death to the Nazi Scourge’ and ‘The Terror of the Slimy Japs’, please try to remember the tone of those times and recall that these contents obviously need to be read in an historical rather than purely entertainment context.

The aforementioned ‘Terror of the Slimy Japs’ by Burgos & Sahle has Human Torch and Toro routing Moppino, High Priest of the Rising Sun Temple (and saboteur extraordinaire) from his lair beneath New York, whilst Cap and Bucky content themselves with solving ‘The Sorcerer’s Sinister Secret!’ (Avison & Klein) and foiling another Japanese sneak attack before The Whizzer stamps out ‘Crime on the Rampage’ in a breakneck campaign illustrated by Howard “Johns” nee James.

‘Miser’s Gold’ is just one more genre text tale followed by an Everett inspired-&-guided but ultimately unknown creative team’s take on the other war as ‘Sub-Mariner Combats the Sinister Horde!’ …of Nazis, this time… after which the Destroyer brings down the final curtain by hunting down sadistic Gestapo chief torturer Heinrich Bungler in and declaring ‘Death to the Nazi Scourge!’.

Augmented by covers by Alex Schomburg, Jack Binder & Avison, a string of rousing house ads and other original ephemera, this is a collection of patriotic populist publishing from the dawn of a new and cut-throat industry, working under war-time conditions in a much less enlightened time. That these nascent efforts grew into the legendary characters and brands of today attests to their intrinsic attraction and fundamental appeal, but this is a book of much more than simple historical interest. Make no mistake, there’s still much here that any modern fan can and will enjoy.
© 1941, 1942, 2013, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Epic Collection volume 3: Bucky Reborn


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia, Wally Wood, Dick Ayers, Tom Palmer, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0419-7

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tried the same tactic that had worked so tellingly for DC Comics, but with mixed results. After all, Julie Schwartz had scored incredible successes with his revised versions of National’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed natural to try and revive the characters that had dominated the Timely/Atlas stable in those halcyon days.

A new youthful Human Torch premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a twenty-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 on and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. With reader-reaction strong, the real deal returned in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage hogging run in that title, was granted his own series as half of the “split-book” Tales of Suspense with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). From there on, the only way was up…

This resoundingly resolute full-colour Epic Collection re-presents Captain America #120-#139 spanning December 1969 to June 1971 and opens after the Sentinel of Liberty thwarts the Red Skull’s greatest vengeance scheme: having just trained a future partner in the form of Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon

As 1970 dawned Marvel imposed a moratorium on continued stories for most of their titles, and Cap – having returned to his hectic twin lives as SHIELD Agent and mighty Avenger – here hops on the disaffected youth/teen revolt bandwagon for a series of slight but highly readable puff-pieces promising nothing but delivering much.

Kicking off is ‘Crack-up on Campus!’ by Stan Lee, Gene Colan & Joe Sinnott; an odd mélange of student radicalism and espionage that sees itinerant Steve Rogers become a Physical Education teacher to foil a scheme by the sinister Modok and his AIM cohorts.

A demented bio-chemist then rediscovers the Super Soldier serum that had originally created Captain America in ‘The Coming of the Man-Brute!’ Sadly, the demented boffin picks the wrong candidate to become his Blockbuster stooge…

Spider-Man’s old sparring partner mugs the wrong guy in #122’s ‘The Sting of the Scorpion!’ and falls before Cap’s bludgeoning fists before issue #123 taps into the seemingly eternal “battle of the sexes” zeitgeist with ‘Suprema, The Deadliest of the Species!’ turning her espionage-tinged attentions to the Star-Spangled Avenger…

AIM returns with their latest hi-tech human weapon in ‘Mission: Stop the Cyborg!’ before Captain America #125 dips into more sensational contemporary headline fare when the Sentinel of Liberty is ‘Captured… in Viet Nam!’… although the mystery villain du jour is anything but politically motivated…

Frank Giacoia returned to ink the Avenger’s long-anticipated reunion with his erstwhile associate and partner in #126’s ‘The Fate of… the Falcon!’: gleefully tapping into the blossoming “blaxsploitation” trend to recount an entertaining (although, sadly, not always intentionally) caper of gangsters and radicals in funky old Harlem that still has a kick to it. Just play the (original) theme from Shaft whilst reading it…

Still working off-the-books for super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) Cap demands ‘Who Calls Me Traitor?’ (#127, July 1970, by Lee, Colan & Wally Wood), which finds the veteran hero framed and manipulated by friend and foe alike in the search for a double agent in the ranks, after which the embittered Avenger drops out and decides to “discover America” – as so many kids were doing – on the back of a freewheeling motorcycle.

‘Mission: Stamp Out Satan’s Angels!’ (inked by Dick Ayers) finds the Red, White and Blue wanderer barely clear the city limits before encountering a nasty gang of bikers terrorising a small-town rock festival, before his oldest enemy resurfaces to exact ‘The Vengeance of… the Red Skull’ as a simple by-product of his plane to start a Middle East war…

Issue #130 finds Cap ‘Up Against the Wall!’ as old foe Batroc the Leaper leads the Porcupine and Whirlwind in a fully paid-for ambush by villain unknown just as the Sentinel of the establishment is attempting to defuse an imminent college riot. The mysterious contractor then resorts to a far subtler tactic: launching a psychological assault in ‘Bucky Reborn!’

With the mystery manipulator exposed, the tragic true story behind the resurrected sidekick comes out in ‘The Fearful Secret of Bucky Barnes!’– a powerful, complex drama involving ruthless science terrorists A.I.M., their murderous master Modok and even Doctor Doom

Back in New York, Advanced Idea Mechanics again feature prominently in #133 as Modok foments racial unrest by sending a killer cyborg to create ‘Madness in the Slums!’, allowing Cap to reunite with his protégé the Falcon – whose name even began appearing on the cover from the next issue.

Operating as full-fledged official partners, the dynamic duo battle ghetto gangsters in ‘They Call Him… Stone-Face!’ (Captain America and the Falcon #134, with Ayers inking), before the Avenger introduces his new main man to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the chilling ‘More Monster than Man!’ (inked by Tom Palmer). Here a love-struck scientist turns himself into an awesome anthropoid to steal riches, only to end up in ‘The World Below’ (with the legendary Bill Everett applying his brilliant inks to Colan’s moody pencils) as a collateral casualty of the Mole Man’s latest battle with Cap.

With the Falcon coming to the rescue, the Star-Spangled Avenger is back on the surface when his new partner vaingloriously opts ‘To Stalk the Spider-Man’ – a typical all-action Marvel misunderstanding that is forestalled just in time for Stone-Face to return in #138’s ‘It Happens in Harlem!’ as John Romita the elder resumed his illustrative association with Captain America for the beginning of a lengthy and direction-changing saga…

Which will have to wait for the next volume to continue…

Rounding out the riotous adventure, bonus extras include the cover to the all-reprint Captain America Annual #1, assorted house ads, a selection of Colan’s original art pages and covers, rejected covers and sketches by Marie Severin…

Any retrospective or historical re-reading is going to turn up a few cringe-worthy moments, but these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed and illustrated by some of the greatest artists and storytellers American comics has ever produced.

As the nation changed Captain America was finally discovering his proper place in a new era and would once more become unmissable, controversial comicbook reading, as we shall see when I get around to reviewing the next volume…
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jack Kirby’s Captain America: Bicentennial Battles


By Jack Kirby with Herb Trimpe, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Romita Sr., Bob Smith, Frank Giacoia, John Verpoorten & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1726-1)

These days Captain America is as much a global symbol of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave as Uncle Sam or Apple Pie ever were so I’m enjoying a lazy and rather obvious way to celebrate Independence Day by recommending this bombastic blockbuster featuring material first seen in 1976 as the nation commemorated its first 200 years.

The immortal Sentinel of Liberty was dreamed up by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby at a time of increasing national tension in an era of fervent patriotic fervour: Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Republic’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

After nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had become increasingly burdened by Marvel’s growing success and unwillingness to let him experiment, so he had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon.

Eventually he accepted that editors made the same promises everywhere, and that even he could never win against any short-sighted publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce and constant interfering g micro-managing.

Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a promise of free rein, concocting a stunning wave of iconic creations (2001: A Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur). Simultaneously he was handed control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established superhero characters Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity as Jack went explosively his own way.

Whilst his new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base. Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on any strip as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This titanic trade paperback/eBook collection reprints Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles and Captain America #201-205 (September 1976 – January1977) with Kirby as writer, artist and editor, exploring his own notions of the American Dream as seen through the lens of the nation’s premiere comicbook patriotic symbol in the year of the nation’s 200th anniversary…

Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles was originally released as part of the nationwide celebration of the USA’s two hundredth year in Marvel’s tabloid-sized Treasury Format (80+ pages of 338 x 258mm dimensions) and took the Star-Spangled Avenger on an incredible excursion through the key eras and areas of American history.

A vast, expansive, panoramic and iconic celebration of the memory and the myth of the nation, this almost abstracted and heavily symbolic 84-page extravaganza perfectly survives the surrender of colour and reduction to standard comic dimensions, following Captain America when cosmic savant (and retrofitted Elder of the Universe The Contemplator) Mister Buda propelled the querulous hero into successively significant segments of history.

Enduring a blistering pace of constant change, Captain America encounters lost partner Bucky during WWII, meets Benjamin Franklin in Revolutionary Philadelphia and revisits the mobster-ridden depression era of Steve Roger’s childhood as ‘The Lost Super-Hero!’.

In ‘My Fellow Americans’ Cap confronts Geronimo during the Indian Wars and suffers the horrors of a mine cave-in, before ‘Stop Here for Glory!’ finds him surviving a dogfight with a German WWI fighter ace, battling bare-knuckle boxer John L. Sullivan, resisting slavers with abolitionist John Brown, and observing both the detonation of the first Atom Bomb and the Great Chicago Fire…

‘The Face of the Future!’ even sees him slipping into the space colonies of America’s inevitable tomorrows before segueing into pure emotional fantasy by experiencing the glory days of Hollywood, the simple joys of rural homesteading and the harshest modern ghetto, before drawing strength from the nation’s hopeful children…

Inked by such luminaries as Barry Windsor-Smith, John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe, the book-length bonanza is peppered with a glorious selection of pulsating pin-ups.

After thus exotically absorbing the worth of a nation, the Star-Spangled Avenger reunites with his partner for Captain America and the Falcon #201, set in the aftermath of their struggle to stop a deranged aristocrat rolling back the American Revolution…

The pace then shifts to malevolent moodiness and uncanny mystery with the introduction of ‘The Night People!’: a street-full of mutants and maniacs who periodically phase into and out of New York City, creating terror and chaos with every sunset. When Falcon Sam Wilson and girlfriend Leila are abducted by the eerie encroachers, they are quickly converted to their crazed cause by exposure to the ‘Mad, Mad Dimension!’ the vile visitors inhabit during daylight hours. This leaves Captain America and folksy new colleague Texas Jack Muldoon hopelessly outgunned when their last-ditch rescue attempt results in them all battling an invasion of brutally berserk beasts in ‘Alamo II!’

On bludgeoning, bombastic top-form, the Star-Spangled Avenger saves the day once more, but no sooner are the erstwhile inhabitants of Zero Street safely ensconced on Earth than ‘The Unburied One!’ has the indefatigable champions battling against a corpse who won’t play dead. The concluding chapter and last tale in this thrilling tome reveal the cadaver has become home to an energy-being from the far future as ‘Agron Walks the Earth!’ Thankfully, not even its pulsating power and rage can long baulk the indomitable spirit and ability of America’s Ultimate Fighting Man…

The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is as good as anything Jack crafted over his decades of creative brilliance.

Fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights masterpieces no fan should ignore and, above all else, fabulously fun tales of a true American Dream…
© 1976, 1977, 2005, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America and the Falcon: Madbomb


By Jack Kirby with Frank Giacoia, D. Bruce Berry & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1557-1

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He quickly lost focus and popularity after hostilities ceased: fading during post-war reconstruction to briefly reappear after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era.

He quickly became a mainstay of the Marvel Revolution during the Swinging Sixties but lost his way somewhat after that, except for a glittering period under scripter Steve Englehart. Eventually however he too moved on and out in the middle of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, after nearly a decade drafting almost all of Marvel’s successes, Jack Kirby had jumped ship to arch-rival DC in 1971, creating a whole new mythology and dynamically inspiring pantheon. Eventually he accepted that even he could never win against any publishing company’s excessive pressure to produce whilst enduring micro-managing editorial interference.

Seeing which way the winds were blowing, Kirby exploded back into the Marvel Universe in 1976 with a promise of free rein, concocting a stunning wave of iconic creations (2001: a Space Odyssey, Machine Man, The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur). Simultaneously he was handed control of two of his previous co-creations – firmly established characters the Black Panther and Captain America – to do with as he wished…

His return was much hyped at the time but swiftly became controversial as his intensely personal visions paid little lip service to company continuity as Jack went explosively his own way.

Whilst those new works quickly found many friends, his tenure on those earlier inventions drastically divided the fan base.

Kirby was never slavishly wedded to tight continuity and preferred, in many ways, to treat his stints on Cap and the Panther as creative “Day Ones”. This was never more apparent than in the pages of the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty…

This sterling collection reprints Captain America #193-200 (January-August 1976) and when Kirby came aboard as writer, artist and editor, he had big plans for the nation’s premiere comicbook patriotic symbol in the year of the nation’s 200th anniversary…

Some of them materialised in Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles (a companion volume to this trade paperback/eBook collection I’ll get around to in the fullness of time) but the regular title was reserved for the really Big Show…

After finally accepting the worth of a nation Captain America and the Falcon #193 concentrated on saving it with the opening salvo in an epic storyline leading up the immortal super-soldier’s own 200th issue. Gone now was all the soul-searching and breastbeating about what the country was or symbolised: America was in peril and its sentinel was ready to roar into action…

Inked by fellow veteran Frank Giacoia ‘The Madbomb’ opened by revealing a ‘Screamer in the Brain!’ as a miniscule new weapon is triggered by unknown terrorists, reducing an entire city block to rubble by driving the populace into a mass psychotic frenzy. Experiencing the madness at close hand Cap and the Falcon are swiftly seconded by the US government to ferret out the culprits and find a full-scale device hidden somewhere in the vast melting pot of America…

‘The Trojan Horde’ introduces plutocratic mastermind William Taurey who intends to correct history, unmake the American Revolution and restore an aristocracy. Using inestimable wealth, a cabal of similarly disgruntled millionaire elitists, an army of mercenaries, slaves cruelly transformed into genetic freaks and other cutting edge super-science atrocities, the maniac intends to forever eradicate the Republic.

Moreover, when he was finally ascended to what he considered his rightful place in charge, the first thing Taurey intends is to hunt down the last descendent of Colonial hero Steven Rogers, who rebel who had killed Taurey’s Monarchist ancestor and allowed Washington to win the War of Independence…

Little did he suspect the subject of his wrath had already infiltrated his secret army…

In ‘It’s 1984!’ (inked by D. Bruce Berry), Cap and Falcon get a first-hand look at the kind of world Taurey advocates, battling their way through monsters, mercenaries and a mob fuelled by modern mind-control and pacified by Bread and Circuses, before ultra-spoiled elitist Cheer Chadwick takes the undercover heroes under her bored, privileged and patronising wing…

Sadly, even she can’t keep her new pets from being sucked into the bloody, brutal Circus section of the New Society and American loyalists are forced to fight for their lives in ultra-modern gladiatorial mode in the ‘Kill-Derby’ even as the US army raids the secret base in ‘The Rocks are Burning!’ (with Giacoia inks).

Soon, Cap and Falcon realise it has all been for nought since the colossal full-sized Mad-Bomb is still active but hidden somewhere else in their vast Home of the Brave…

The offbeat ‘Captain America’s Love Story’ then takes a decidedly different and desperate track as the Bastion of Freedom must romance a sick woman to get to her father – the inventor of the deadly mind-shatter device – after which ‘The Man Who Sold the United States’ accelerates to full speed for all-out action as the hard-pressed heroes race a countdown to national disaster with the Bomb finally triggering by ‘Dawn’s Early Light!’ in a spectacular showdown climax which surpasses every expectation.

This supremely thrilling collection also has room for a selection of Kirby cover roughs and un-inked pencils that will delight art fans and aficionados. The King’s commitment to wholesome adventure, breakneck action and breathless wonderment, combined with his absolute mastery of the comic page and unceasing quest for the Next Big Thrill, always make for a captivating read and this stuff is amongst the most bombastic and captivating material he ever produced.

A fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing Fights ‘n’ Tights Masterpieces no fan should ignore and – above all else – a furiously fabulously fun fable of a true American Dream…
© 1975, 1976, 2004, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire


By Steve Englehart, Mike Friedrich, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0422-7

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss. He faded away during the post-war reconstruction and briefly reappeared after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel, ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every American bed.

Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time to experience the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s. Perhaps it’s just coincidence but at the time the USA were just getting heavily involved in a conflict in Southeast Asia…

This sterling collection reprints issues #169-186 (January-August 1974) of his monthly comicbook and shows the once convinced and confirmed Sentinel of Liberty as the troubled man: unhappy and uncomfortable as a symbol of a divided nation, but looking to make the best of things and carve himself a new place in the Land of the Free. Real world events were about to put paid to that American dream…

In response to a subtle vengeance ploy by advertising exec and part-time supervillain Viper, one of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s most durable enemies sort-of resurfaced in the tense opening gambit of a certified Conspiracy thriller as ‘…When a Legend Dies!’ (written by Steve Englehart and Mike Friedrich with art by Sal Buscema & Frank McLaughlin).

Those long-laid plans began to finally bear bitter fruit as anti-Captain America TV spots made people doubt the honesty and sanity of the nation’s greatest hero. As Sam Wilson – AKA The Falcon – and his “Black Power” activist girlfriend Leila Taylor left for the super-scientific African nation of Wakanda in search of increased powers and enhanced effectiveness, Cap battled third-rate villain the Tumbler who very publicly ambushed the hero for no discernible reason.

In the heat of battle the Sentinel of Liberty seemed to go too far and the thug died…

‘J’Accuse!’ (with Englehart solo-scripting and Vince Colletta inking) saw Cap beaten and arrested by too-good-to-be-true neophyte crusader Moonstone, whilst in Africa Leila is kidnapped by former Harlem hoodlum Stone-Face: far from home and hungry for some familiar foxy friendship…

The enigma expanded in #171 as ‘Bust-Out!’ found Cap forcibly sprung from jail by a mysterious pack of “supporters” even as Black Panther and the newly-flying Falcon crushed Stone-Face preparatory to a quick dash back to America and a reunion with Cap.

‘Believe it or Not: The Banshee!’ began with Cap and the Falcon reuniting to be beaten by Moonstone. Narrowly escaping detention by his obscurely occluded masters, the hard-luck heroes follow a lead to Nashville, encounter the fugitive mutant Master of Sound, and stumble into a secret pogrom against Homo Superior citizens.

For long months mutants had been disappearing unnoticed, but now the last remaining X-Men – Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor Charles Xavier – had tracked them down only to realise that Captain America’s problems also stemmed from ‘The Sins of the Secret Empire!’ whose ultimate goal was the conquest of the USA.

Eluding capture by S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve and Sam infiltrate the clandestine Empire, only to be exposed and confined in ‘It’s Always Darkest!’ before turning the tables and saving the day in #175’s ‘…Before the Dawn!’ wherein a horrific grand plan is revealed, all mutants liberated and the true culprits captured.

In a shocking final scene, the ultimate instigator is unmasked and shockingly dispatched deep within the sacrosanct White House itself…

At this time, America was a nation reeling from a loss of idealism caused by the daily-televised horror of the Vietnam War, the ever-unfolding Watergate scandal and the partial exposure of President Nixon’s many crimes and misdemeanours.

The painful waking-up to smell some pretty rancid coffee and stomaching the nauseating public revelation that politicians are generally unpleasant – and even possibly ruthless, wicked exploiters – kicked the props out of most Americans who had an incomprehensibly rosy view of their leaders, so a conspiracy that reached into the halls and backrooms of government was extremely controversial yet oddly attractive in those distant, simpler days…

In the days that follow shocked, stunned Steve Rogers searches his soul and realises he cannot be the symbol of such a country. Despite arguments and advice from his Avenging allies he decides that ‘Captain America Must Die!’

Unable to convince him otherwise Sam Wilson carries on alone…

And on that staggering cliffhanger note this controversial collection concludes…

Despite the odd cringeworthy moment (if you’ve already lived through the dialogue of this era of “blaxsploitation” and painfully-growing ethnic awareness once, you’ll know what I mean, Ma-aan) this saga of matchless courage and indomitable heroism is a fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights yarn no comics fan will care to miss, and joking aside, the cultural significance of this story was crucial in informing the political consciences of the youngest members of the post-Watergate generation…

Above all else though, Secret Empire is a fabulously fun tale of a true American Dreamer, still painfully relevant for a new generation who may not be aware of the power and perils of electioneering and the people who beg us to trust them…
© 1974, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Epic Collection volume 2: The Coming of… the Falcon


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., John Buscema, Tom Sutton, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0007-6

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tried the same tactic that had worked so tellingly for DC Comics, but with mixed results. Julie Schwartz had scored an incredible success with his revised versions of the company’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed natural to try and revive the characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days.

A new Human Torch had premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a twenty-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 on and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. With reader-reaction strong, the real thing promptly resurfaced in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage hogging run in that title, was granted his own series as half of the “split-book” Tales of Suspense with #59 (cover-dated November 1964).

This resoundingly resolute full-colour Epic Collection gather the last few issues of that run – ToS #97-99 – and the freshly re-titled Captain America #100-#119 spanning January 1968 to November 1968 and also includes a contemporaneous brace of Star-Spangled Spoofs from Not Brand Echh #3 and 12 to lighten the fervently patriotic load.

As this volume opens the Sentinel of Liberty has just retired from superhero service and revealed his secret identity to the world only to jump straight back into the saddle with S.H.I.E.L.D. for #97’s ‘And So It Begins…’: a four-part tale that spectacularly concludes in issue #100, with which number Tales of Suspense became simply Captain America. Guest starring the Black Panther, it tells of the return of long-dead Baron Zemo and an orbiting Death Ray. Scripted by Lee and bombastically drawn by King Kirby, ‘The Claws of the Panther!’ was inked by both Joe Sinnott and the great Syd Shores, who became regular embellisher with ‘The Man Who Lived Twice!’, whilst that premier hundredth first issue (how weird is that?) used the extra page length to retell Cap’s origin before climactically closing the superb thriller with ‘This Monster Unmasked!’

Marvel’s inexorable rise to dominance of the American comicbook industry really took hold in 1968 when a number of their characters finally got their own titles. Prior to that and due to a highly restrictive distribution deal the company was tied to a limit of 16 publications per month.

To circumvent this limitation, Marvel developed split-books with two series per publication, such as Tales of Suspense where original star Iron Man was joined by Cap. When the division came Shellhead started afresh with a First Issue, but Cap retained the numbering of the original title; thus premiering at #100.

Captain America#101-102 saw the return of fascist revenant Red Skull and another awesome Nazi revenge-weapon in ‘When Wakes the Sleeper!’ and ‘The Sleeper Strikes!’ as our hero and his support crew Agent 13 and Nick Fury hunt a murderous mechanoid capable of ghosting through solid Earth and blowing up the planet.

Although the immediate threat was quashed the instigator was still at large and #103 saw ‘The Weakest Link!’ as a budding romance with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13 (finally revealed after two years as Sharon Carter) interrupted by the nefarious Red Skull.

The über-fascist’s new scheme of nuclear blackmail extended to a second issue, wherein his band of war-criminal assassins, The Exiles, tested Cap nigh to destruction on the hidden isle where he became the ‘Slave of the Skull!’

That issue and the following super-villain team-up wherein Living Laser and the Swordsman united with another old Cap foe to attack ‘In the Name of Batroc!’ featured the loose flowing inking of Dan Adkins whilst Frank Giacoia embellished the spies-and-evil-doppelgangers romp ‘Cap goes Wild!’ in issue #106, before Shores returned in #107 for the sinister ‘If the Past Be Not Dead…’: an action-packed psycho-thriller introducing malevolent, mind-bending psychiatrist Doctor Faustus.

The Star-Spangled Avenger was rescuing Agent 13 again in breakneck thriller ‘The Snares of the Trapster!’ before Captain America #109 (January 1970) redefined his origin with ‘The Hero That Was!’: a spectacular wrap-up to Kirby’s run on the Sentinel of Liberty – at least for the moment…

Comics phenomenon and one-man sensation Jim Steranko then took over the art chores with #110, for a brief stint that became everybody’s favourite Cap epic for decades to come. After a swift and brutal skirmish with the Incredible Hulk, Rick Jones became the patriotic paladin’s new sidekick in ‘No Longer Alone!’, just in time for the pair to tackle the iconically lascivious Madame Hydra and her obedient hordes in #111’s ‘Tomorrow You Live, Tonight I Die!’ – both inked by Joe Sinnott in a landmark saga that galvanised a generation of would-be comics artists.

Seemingly killed at the issue’s close, the next month saw a bombastic account of Captain America’s career by fill-in superstars Kirby and George Tuska, before Lee, Steranko and Tom Palmer concluded the Hydra epic with ‘The Strange Death of Captain America’ in #113.

A period of artistic instability then kicked off with John Romita the Elder illustrating a tense spy-caper inked by Sal Buscema. ‘The Man Behind the Mask!‘ in CA #114 was merely prologue to an extended war against the Red Skull. Issue #115 – ‘Now Begins the Nightmare!’ – was drawn by John Buscema and inked by his brother Sal, wherein the arch-villain uses the reality-warping Cosmic Cube to switch bodies with the shield-slinger, whilst ‘Far Worse than Death!’ followed Cap’s frantic attempts to escape his own friends and allies. This issue saw the start of Gene Colan’s impressive run on the character, here accompanied by the smooth inks of Joe Sinnott.

The third instalment returned him to the Isle – and clutches – of the Exiles in a tale that introduced Marvel’s second black superhero. ‘The Coming of … the Falcon!’ was a terse, taut build-up to issue #118 with the neophyte hero taking centre-stage in ‘The Falcon Fights On!’ before all the ducks fall neatly into place for a spectacular finale in ‘Now Falls the Skull!’ in #119.

Supplementing and counterpointing the drama are two daft doses of period silliness from spoof comic Not Brand Echh. First up, Lee, Roy Thomas & Tom Sutton describe ‘The Honest-to-Irving, True-Blue Top Secret Original Origin of Charlie America!’ (#3, October 1967) before the irrepressible Marie Severin delves into ‘Charlie America’s Family Album!’ (#12 February 1969).

Also on offer are a selection of Kirby’s and Colan’s original art pages and covers, rejected covers, unseen pencil and colour roughs by Romita (from stories in this volume) and a gallery of classic Kirby and Steranko covers modified by painters Dean White and Richard Isanove, originally seen on assorted Marvel Masterworks editions…

These are tales of dauntless courage and unmatchable adventure, fast-paced and superbly illustrated, which rightly returned Captain America to the heights that his Golden Age compatriots the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner never regained. They are pure escapist magic. Glorious treats for the eternally young at heart, these are episodes of sheer visual dynamite that cannot be slighted and should not be missed.
© 1968, 1969, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr., Gil Kane, Jack Sparling & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1785-8 (HB)        978-0-7851-5931-5(TPB)

After his resurrection in Avengers #4 (March 1964), Captain America grew in popularity and quickly won his own solo feature, sharing Tales of Suspense with former teammate Iron Man (beginning with #59, cover-dated November 1964).

Scripted by Stan Lee and with the astoundingly prolific Jack Kirby either pencilling or laying out each action-packed episode, the series grew in standing and stature until it became must-read entertainment for most comics fans.

This second Masterworks compilation re-presents ToS #82-99 (October 1966 to March 1969) and concludes with Captain America #100 as the Star-Spangled Stalwart took the next big step and returned to solo stardom in the April cover-dated first issue.

The dynamic dramas contained herein signalled closer links with parallel tales in other titles. Thus, with subversive science scoundrels Advanced Idea Mechanics defeated by S.H.I.E.L.D. in Strange Tales ‘The Maddening Mystery of the Inconceivable Adaptoid!’ pitted Cap against one last unsupervised experiment as A.I.M.’s artificial life-form – capable of becoming an exact duplicate of its victim – stalked Cap in a tale of vicious psychological warfare. Sadly, even masterfully manufactured mechanoids are apt to err and ‘Enter… The Tumbler!’ (inked by Dick Ayers) saw a presumptuous wannabe attack the robot after it assumed the identity of our hero before ‘The Super-Adaptoid!’ completed an epic of breathtaking suspense and drama as the real McCoy fought back and overcame everybody…

Such eccentric cross-continuity capers would carry the company to market dominance in a few short years and become not the exception but the norm…

‘The Blitzkrieg of Batroc!’ and ‘The Secret!’ returned to the early minimum-plot, all-action, overwhelming-odds yarns whilst ‘Wanted: Captain America’ (by Roy Thomas, Jack Sparling & Joe Sinnott) offered a lacklustre interval involving a frame-up before Gil Kane took his first run on the character with ‘If Bucky Lives…!’, ‘Back from the Dead!’, ‘…And Men Shall Call Him Traitor!’ and ‘The Last Defeat!’ (TOS #88-91, with the last two inked by Sinnott): a superb thriller of blackmail and betrayal starring the Red Skull. The fascist felon had baited a trap with a robotic facsimile of Cap’s dead partner, triggered it with super-hirelings Power Man and the Swordsman and then blackmailed the Star-Spangled Sentinel into betraying his country and stealing an atomic submarine…

Kirby & Sinnott were back for ‘Before My Eyes Nick Fury Died!’, ‘Into the Jaws of… AIM!’ and ‘If This Be… Modok!’ as the Champion of Liberty fought a giant brain-being manufactured purely for killing…

In rapid succession ‘A Time to Die… A Time to Live’ and ‘To Be Reborn!’ see the hero retire and reveal his secret identity, only to jump straight back into the saddle with S.H.I.E.L.D. for #97’s ‘And So It Begins…’ a four-part epic which concluded in the aforementioned issue #100, with which number Tales of Suspense became simply Captain America. Guest starring the Black Panther, it described the apparent return of long-dead Baron Zemo utilising an orbiting Death Ray to scourge Africa and threaten the world.

‘The Claws of the Panther!’ was inked by both Sinnott and the great Syd Shores – who would continue for the next year as regular inker – beginning with ‘The Man Who Lived Twice!’, whilst the hundredth issue used the extra page-length to retell the origin before concluding a superb thriller with ‘This Monster Unmasked!’

Rounding out this patriotic bonanza is a gallery of original art pages by Kirby and Kane plus uncorrected proofs showing last-minute editorial alterations to the priceless published pearls of wonder.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, George Tuska, John Romita Sr. & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1176-X (HB)                   978-0-7851-4298-0 (TBP)

During the natal years of Marvel Comics in the early 1960’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby opted to mimic the game-plan which had paid off so successfully for National/DC Comics, albeit with mixed results.

From 1956 to 1960, Julie Schwartz had scored incredible, industry-altering hits by re-inventing the company’s Golden Age greats, so it seemed sensible to try and revive the characters that had dominated Timely/Atlas in those halcyon days two decades previously.

A new Human Torch had premiered as part of the revolutionary Fantastic Four, and in the fourth issue of that title the Sub-Mariner resurfaced after a twenty-year amnesiac hiatus (everyone concerned had apparently forgotten the first abortive attempt to revive an “Atlas” superhero line in the mid-1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo lead-feature in Strange Tales (from issue #101 on) and in #114 the flaming teen fought a larcenous acrobat pretending to be Captain America.

With reader-reaction strong, the real McCoy was promptly decanted in Avengers #4 and, after a captivating and centre-stage hogging run in that title, won his own series as half of a “split-book” with fellow Avenger and patriotic barnstormer Iron Man.

Gathered in this star-spangled celebration – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – are the stunning all-action adventures from Tales of Suspense #59-81 (cover-dates November 1964 to September 1966), which following the customary retrospective Introduction by author/Editor Stan Lee beginning with the eponymously initial outing ‘Captain America’.

Illustrated by the staggeringly perfect team of Jack Kirby & Chic Stone, the plot is non-existent, but what you do get is a phenomenal fight tale as an army of thugs invades Avengers Mansion because “only the one without superpowers” is at home. They soon learn the folly of that misapprehension…

The next issue held more of the same, as ‘The Army of Assassins Strikes!’ on behalf of evil arch enemy Zemo before ‘The Strength of the Sumo!’ proves insufficient after Cap invades Viet Nam to rescue a lost US airman. The Star-Spangled Swashbuckler then took on an entire prison to thwart a ‘Break-out in Cell Block 10!’

After these gloriously simplistic romps the series took an abrupt turn and began telling tales set in World War II. ‘The Origin of Captain America’, by Lee, Kirby & Frank Ray (AKA Giacoia) recounts how frail physical wreck Steve Rogers is selected to be the guinea pig for an experimental super-soldier serum, only to have the scientist responsible die in his arms, cut down by a Nazi bullet.

Now forever unique, he is given the task of becoming the fighting symbol and guardian of America, based as a regular soldier in a boot camp. It was there he is accidentally unmasked by Camp Mascot Bucky Barnes, who then blackmails the hero into making the kid his sidekick.

The next issue (Tales of Suspense #64) kicked off a string of spectacular episodic thrillers adapted from Golden Age classics as the heroes defeat Nazi spies Sando and Omar in ‘Among Us, Wreckers Dwell!’ and Chic Stone returned – as did Cap’s greatest foe – for the next tale ‘The Red Skull Strikes!’

‘The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull!’ found the series swinging into high gear – and original material – as sub-plots and characterisation were added to the all-out action and spectacle.

‘Lest Tyranny Triumph!’ and ‘The Sentinel and the Spy!’ (both inked by Giacoia) combined espionage and mad science with a plot to murder the head of Allied Command, and the heroic American duo stayed in England for moody gothic suspense shocker ‘Midnight in Greymoor Castle!’ (with art by Dick Ayers over Kirby’s layouts – which in case you ever wondered are very simple pencils that break down the story elements on a page).

The second chapter ‘If This be Treason!’ had Golden Age and Buck Rogers newspaper strip artist George Tuska perform the same function before the final part (and last wartime adventure) revealed ‘When You Lie Down with Dogs…!’ – the result is fantastic entertainment. Joe Sinnott inked that rousing conclusion to this frantic tale of traitors, madmen and terror-weapons.

It was back to the present for ToS #72 where Lee, Kirby & Tuska revealed that Cap had been telling war stories to his fellow Avengers for the last nine months. The reverie then triggered a long dormant memory as ‘The Sleeper Shall Awake!’ began a classic catastrophe romp with a Nazi super-robot activating twenty years after Germany’s defeat to exact a world-shattering vengeance.

Continuing in ‘Where Walks the Sleeper!’ and concluding in ‘The Final Sleep!’, this masterpiece of tense suspense perfectly demonstrates the indomitable nature of the perfect American hero.

Dick Ayers returned with John Tartaglione inking ‘30 Minutes to Live!’ which introduced both Gallic mercenary Batroc the Leaper and a mysterious girl who would eventually become Cap’s long-term girl-friend: S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter.

The taut 2-part countdown to disaster ends with ‘The Gladiator, The Girl and the Glory’, illustrated by John Romita: the first tale which had no artistic input from Kirby, although he did lay out the next issue (TOS #77) for Romita & Giacoia. ‘If a Hostage Should Die!’ again returned to WWII and hinted at both a lost romance and tragedy to come.

‘Them!’ saw Kirby return to full pencils and Giacoia to a regular inking spot as the Sentinel of liberty teamed with Nick Fury in the first of many missions as a (more-or-less) Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was followed by ‘The Red Skull Lives!’ as his arch nemesis escapes from the grave to menace the Free World again. He is initially aided by the subversive technology group AIM, but promptly steals their ultimate weapon in ‘He Who Holds the Cosmic Cube!’ (inked by Don Heck) and sets himself up as Emperor of Earth before his grip on omnipotence finally falters in ‘The Red Skull Supreme!’ (Giacoia inks).

This volume then concludes with mouth-watering extras in the form of original Kirby cover art and creator biographies.

These are tales of dauntless courage and unmatchable adventure, fast paced and superbly illustrated, which rightly returned Captain America to the heights his Golden Age compatriots the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner never regained. They are pure escapist magic. Unmissable reading for the eternally young at heart.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Captain America volume 1 – Revised Review


By Joe Simon & Jack Kirby and various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 0-7851-1619-2 (HC);  978-0785157939 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Evergreen Hit… 8/10

The success of DC’s Archive imprint – luxury hardback chronological collections of rare, expensive and just plain old items out of their mammoth back-catalogue – gradually resulted in a shelf-buckling array of Golden and Silver Age volumes which paid worthy tribute to the company’s grand past and still serves a genuine need amongst fans of old comics who don’t own their own software company or Money Bin. Even if production of the series seems to have been generally sidelined in recent months…

From DC’s tentative beginnings in the 1990’s Marvel, Dark Horse and other publishers have since pursued this (presumably) lucrative avenue, perhaps as much a sop to their most faithful fans as an exercise in expansion marketing.

DC’s electing to spotlight not simply their World Branded “Big Guns” but also those idiosyncratic yet well-beloved collector nuggets – such as Doom Patrol, Sugar and Spike or Kamandi – was originally at odds with Marvel’s policy of only releasing equally expensive editions of major characters from “the Marvel Age of Comics”, but eventually their Timely and Atlas era material joined the procession…

A part of me understands Marvel’s initial reluctance: sacrilegious as it may sound to my fellow fan-boys, the simple truth is that no matter how venerable and beloved those early stories are, no matter how their very existence may have lead to true classics in a later age, in and of themselves, most early Marvel tales – and other “Golden Age Greats” – just aren’t that good by today’s standards.

This Marvel Masterworks Captain America – now also available as an ebook – volume  reprints more or less the complete contents of the first four issues of his original title (spanning March to June 1941) and I stress this because all the leading man’s adventures have often been reprinted before, most notably in a shoddy, infamous yet expensive 2-volume anniversary boxed set issued in 1991.

However, the groundbreaking and exceptionally high quality material by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby seen here is not really the lure … the real gold nuggets for us old sods are those rare back-up features from the star duo and their small team of talented youngsters. Reed Crandall, Syd Shores, Alex Schomburg and the rest worked on main course and filler features such as Hurricane, the God of Speed and Tuk, Caveboy; strips barely remembered yet still brimming with the first enthusiastic efforts of creative legends in waiting.

Captain America was devised at the end of 1940 and boldly launched in his own monthly title from Timely – the company’s original name – with none of the customary cautious shilly-shallying.

Captain America Comics, #1 was cover-dated March 1941 and was an instant monster, blockbuster smash-hit. Cap was instantly the absolute and undisputed star of Timely’s “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner – and one of the very first to fall from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

Today, the huge 1940s popularity of the other two just doesn’t translate into a good read for modern consumers – excluding, perhaps, those far-too-few Bill Everett crafted Sub-Mariner yarns.

In comparison to their contemporaries at Quality, Fawcett, National/All American and Dell, or Will Eisner’s The Spirit newspaper strip, the standard of most Timely periodicals was woefully lacklustre in both story and most tellingly, art. That they survived and prospered is a Marvel mystery, but a clue might lie in the sheer exuberant venom of their racial stereotypes and heady fervour of jingoism at a time when America was involved in the greatest war in world history…

I suspect given the current tone of the times politically, such sentiments might be less controversial now than they have been for quite a while…

However, the first ten Captain America Comics are the most high-quality comics in the fledgling company’s history and I can’t help but wonder what might have been had National (née DC) been wise enough to hire Simon & Kirby before they were famous, instead of after that pivotal first year?

Of course we’ll never know and though they did jump to the majors after a year, their visual dynamic became the aspirational style for superhero comics at the company they left and their patriotic creation became the flagship icon for them and the entire industry.

This compelling and exceptional volume opens with ‘Case No. 1: Meet Captain America’ by Simon & Kirby (with additional inks by Al Liederman) wherein we first see how scrawny, enfeebled young patriot Steven Rogers, continually rejected by the US Army, is recruited by the Secret Service.

Desperate to counter a wave of Nazi-sympathizing espionage and sabotage, this passionate man is invited to become part of a clandestine experiment intended to create physically perfect super-soldiers. However, when a vile Nazi agent infiltrates the project and murders its key scientist, Rogers became the only successful graduate and America’s not-so-secret weapon.

Sent undercover as a simple private he soon encounters Bucky Barnes: a headstrong, orphaned Army Brat who becomes his sidekick and costumed confidante. All of that is perfectly packaged into mere seven-and-a-half pages, and the untitled ‘Case No. 2’ takes just as long to spectacularly defeat Nazi showbiz psychics Sando and Omar as they spread anxiety and fear amongst the Americans.

‘Captain America and the Soldier’s Soup’ is a rather mediocre and unattributed prose tale promptly followed by a sinister 16-page epic ‘Captain America and the Chess-board of Death’ with our heroes thrashing more macabre murdering Nazi malcontents before the groundbreaking introduction of the nation’s greatest foe…

Solving ‘The Riddle of the Red Skull’ proves to be a thrill-packed, horror-drenched master-class in comics excitement…

The first of the B-features follows next as Hurricane (Son of Thor) and the last survivor of the Greek Gods – don’t blame me; that’s what it says – sets his super-fast sights on ‘Murder Inc.’ in a rip-roaring but clearly rushed battle against fellow-immortal Pluto (so not quite the last god either; nor exclusively Norse or Greek…) who is once more using mortals to foment pain, terror and death.

Hurricane was a rapid reworking and sequel to Kirby’s ‘Mercury in the 20th Century’ from Red Raven Comics #1 (August 1940) whereas ‘Tuk, Caveboy: Stories from the Dark Ages’ is all-original excitement as a teenaged boy in 50,000 BC and raised by a beast-man determines to regain the throne of his antediluvian kingdom Attilan from the usurpers who stole it.

This is an imaginative barbarian spectacular that owes as much to Tarzan as The Land that Time Forgot but it certainly delivers the thrills we all want…

Historians believe Kirby pencilled this entire issue and although no records remain, inkers as diverse as Liederman, Crandall, Bernie Klein, Al Avison, Al Gabrielle, Syd Shores and others may have been involved in this and subsequent issues…

Captain America Comics #2 screamed onto the newsstands a month later and spectacularly opened with monster mash-up ‘The Ageless Orientals Who Wouldn’t Die’, blending elements of horror and jingoism into a terrifying thriller with a ruthless American capitalist exposed as the true source of a rampage against the nation’s banks…

‘Trapped in the Nazi Stronghold’ sees Cap and Bucky in drag and in Europe to rescue a pro-British financier kidnapped by the Nazis whilst ‘Captain America and the Wax Statue that Struck Death’ returned to movie-thriller themes in the tale of a macabre murderer with delusions of world domination.

The Patriotic Pair then deal with saboteurs in the prose piece ‘Short Circuit’ before Tuk tackles monsters and mad priests in ‘The Valley of the Mist’ (by either the King and a very heavy inker or an unnamed artist doing a passable Kirby impression) and Hurricane – now “Master of Speed” swiftly and spectacularly expunges ‘The Devil and the Green Plague’ in the fetid heart of the Amazon jungles.

17-page epic ‘The Return of the Red Skull’ led in #3 – knocking Adolf Hitler off the cover-spot he’d hogged in #1 and #2 – with Kirby opening up his layouts to utterly enhance the graphic action with a veritable production line of creators (including Ed Herron, Martin A, Burnstein, Howard Ferguson, William Clayton King, and possibly George Roussos, Bob Oksner, Max Elkan and Jerry Robinson) joining the art team.

Whilst eye-shattering scale and spectacle unite with non-stop action and eerie mood as key components of the Sentinel of Liberty’s exploits horror elements dominated in ‘The Hunchback of Hollywood and the Movie Murder’ as a patriotic film is plagued by sinister “accidents”.

Stan Lee debuts with text tale ‘Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge’ before Simon & Kirby – and friends – recount ‘The Queer Case of the Murdering Butterfly and the Ancient Mummies’; blending eerie Egyptian antiquities with a thoroughly modern costumed psychopath.

Then Tuk (drawn by either Mark Schneider – or perhaps Marcia Snyder) reaches ‘Atlantis and the False King’ after which Kirby contributes a true tale in ‘Amazing Spy Adventures’ before Hurricane confronts ‘Satan and the Subway Disasters’ with devastating and final effect…

The final issue in this fabulous chronicle opens with ‘Captain America and the Unholy Legion’ as the star-spangled brothers-in-arms crush a conspiracy of beggars terrorising the city, before taking on ‘Ivan the Terrible’ in a time-bending vignette and thereafter solving ‘The Case of the Fake Money Fiends’. The all-action extravaganzas culminate in magnificent fashion when our heroes then expose the horrendous secret of ‘Horror Hospital’

After Lee-scripted prose-piece ‘Captain America and the Bomb Sight Thieves’ young Tuk defeats ‘The Ogre of the Cave-Dwellers’ and Hurricane brings down a final curtain on ‘The Pirate and the Missing Ships’.

An added and very welcome bonus for fans is the inclusion of all the absolutely beguiling house-ads for other titles, contents pages, Sentinels of Liberty club bulletins and assorted pin-ups…

Although lagging far behind DC and despite in many ways having a much shallower vintage well to draw from, with this particular tome at least the House of Ideas has a book that will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best that the Golden Age of Comics could offer and should be on every fan’s “never-miss” bookshelf.
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