By Roger Stern & John Byrne, with Joe Rubinstein & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785126935 (TPB)
Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in a previous era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a bombastic, 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 to briefly reappear during the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel, ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every brave American kid’s bed. He quickly vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s. He’s been with us – in one form or another – ever since…
Although not the USA’s original patriotic superhero, the Star-Spangled Avenger was the first to truly dominate public attention, and over the years a vast number of talented artists and writers have crafted his adventures. It is therefore quite odd to realise just how few of those exploits are truly memorable.
I’ll leave you to compile your own top ten, but I’ll wager that this all-too-brief run by Roger Stern, John Byrne & Joe Rubinstein will provide at least one of them.
This slim volume – available in all the usual physical and digital formats – collects Captain America #247-255 (cover-dated July 1980-March 1981) seamlessly blending epic adventure with spectacular superhero art: a fans’ delight that is also readily accessible to the newcomer or casual reader.
Following fond reminiscence ‘Remembering Cap’ from author Stern, the action explosively opens with ‘By the Dawn’s Early Light’, offering insight into the hero’s World War II career and uncovering a mystery apparently involving leftover Nazi mastermind and sworn foe Baron Wolfgang von Strucker.
The episode leads Cap to uncover secrets from his past whilst setting up a new threat from deadly robotic villain Machinesmith, leading directly into extended saga ‘Dragon Man’ and ‘Death, Where is Thy Sting?’.
This complex and convoluted yarn explains many seeming inconsistencies in Marvel continuity: combining all-out action with a genuine moral dilemma that perfectly illuminates the character of this American Dream. Cap is always at his best when overcoming overwhelming opposition and ethical enigmas…
These stories were first released in an election year and the truly uplifting ‘Cap for President!’ is still a wonderful antidote for sleaze and politicking whilst confirming the honesty and idealism of the decent person within us all. This tale of honour, duty and worthiness was developed from an abandoned idea conceived by Roger McKenzie & Don Perlin, and is all the more poignant in today’s febrile world of political expediency, Fake News and raw self-promotion…
It’s back to basics after that as Cap unexpectedly teams up with long-time foe Batroc the Leaper to save New York City from flaming Armageddon in ‘The Mercenary and the Madman’ and concluding chapter ‘Cold Fire’: a classic thriller that returned Mr. Hyde to the first rank of Marvel villains.
A short infomercial bonus feature follows, sharing ‘The Life and Times of Captain America’, and revealing ‘The Apartment of Steve Rogers, Esq.’ as well as ‘Steve Rogers’ Friends and Neighbors’ and highlighting ‘Captain America’s Partners Against Crime’ in a breezy, accessible manner before the drama resumes with ‘Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot’.
Captain America is called to England and the deathbed of WWII comrade Lord Montgomery Falsworth who battled Nazis as the legendary Union Jack, and finds brooding menace, family turmoil and a returned supernatural horror. The menace escalates in the concluding ‘Blood on the Moors’, which even now is still one of the best-handled Heroic Death/“Passing of the Torch” sagas in comics history…
The story portion of the book concludes with a brilliant new version of Captain America’s origin: a stripped down, rationalised retelling designed to celebrate the Sentinel of Liberty’s 40th Anniversary: drawn and inked by Byrne and which became the definitive history for decades to come.
It’s also where the creative team, for unspecified reasons, called it a day.
Supplementing the narrative wonderment is ‘Remembering “Remembrance”’: an illustrated interview and commentary with Stern & Byrne conducted by Dugan Trodglen, augmented by numerous illustrations. Following is the six pages of Byrne’s art from the never-completed tenth issue, a tantalising glimpse of missed magic. Their collaboration was inexplicably curtailed and the creators abruptly left the series for reasons still largely unknown…
The thrills conclude with a selection of Byrne’s covers from various earlier collected editions.
This tome is a sheer escapist thrill-ride, endlessly gratifying and tremendously satisfying. After Jack Kirby, these are probably the purest evocation of this American Icon that you could ever read, so you really should.
© 1980, 1990 Marvel Entertainment Group. © 2008, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.