Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2063-6 (HB)                    978-0-7851-8803-2 (TPB)

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. 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 20-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 (from #59, cover-dated November 1964).

Marvel’s inexorable rise to dominance in 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, Marvel developed titles with two series per publication, such as Tales of Suspense where original star Iron Man shared honours with Cap. When the division came, Shellhead started afresh with a First Issue, and Cap retained the numbering of the original title; thereby premiering with #100.

This resoundingly resolute full-colour collection – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – gathers Captain America #101-#113, spanning May 1968 to May 1969, and also includes a fervent Introductory reminiscence from John Morrow plus a fascinating Afterword by Steranko wherein he meticulously deconstructs the landmark epic that fills the end of this titanic tome…

Crafted by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & 1940s Cap illustrator Syd Shores, Captain America #101-102 sees the return of fascist revenant the Red Skull and another appalling Nazi revenge-weapon in ‘When Wakes the Sleeper!’ and furious finale ‘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 is quashed, the instigator is still at large and #103 reveals ‘The Weakest Link!’ as a budding romance with S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13 (finally revealed after two years as Sharon Carter) is interrupted by the nefarious Nazi.

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

That issue and following super-villain team-up – wherein Living Laser and the Swordsman ally with another old Cap foe to attack ‘In the Name of Batroc!’ – feature the loose, flowing inking of Dan Adkins, whilst Frank Giacoia embellished the all-action, spies-&-evil-doppelgangers romp ‘Cap goes Wild!’ in issue #106, before Shores returned in #107.

Sinister mystery ‘If the Past Be Not Dead…’ is an action-packed psycho-thriller introducing malevolent, mind-bending psychiatrist Doctor Faustus

The Star-Spangled Avenger is rescuing Agent 13 again – at least he thinks he is – in breakneck thriller ‘The Snares of the Trapster!’ before Captain America #109 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 direction with #110 for a too-brief stint that became everybody’s favourite Cap epic for decades to come.

After a swift and brutal skirmish with the Incredible Hulk, teen appendage Rick Jones becomes the patriotic paladin’s new sidekick in ‘No Longer Alone!’, just in time for the pair to tackle the memorably 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 inspired and galvanised a generation of would-be comics artists.

With the Avenger seemingly killed at the issue’s close, the next month saw a bombastic account of Captain America’s career by fill-in superstars Kirby & George Tuska, before Lee, Steranko & Tom Palmer concluded the Hydra epic with ‘The Strange Death of Captain America’ in #113. This yarn reset the hero’s character for years to come…

Also on offer are a selection of Kirby’s original art pages and covers, including rejected and unseen pencil versions prior to editing and the draconian interference of the Comics Code Authority…

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 Human Torch and Sub-Mariner never regained. They are pure escapist magic: glorious treats for the eternally young at heart, and episodes of sheer visual dynamite that cannot be slighted and should not be missed.

© 1968, 1969, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.