Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4200-3 (HB)

During the Marvel Renaissance of the early 1960’s Stan Lee & Jack Kirby tried a tactic that had reaped huge dividends for DC Comics. Although initially generating mixed results their efforts eventually changed the nature of comicbooks. 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 with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). An unmissable string of classics ensued and in 1968 the Star-Spangled Avenger won his own solo title… but not for long…

This groundbreaking full-colour compilation (available in hardback and digital editions) spans May 1970 to April 1971 and re-presents Captain America #125-#136, with the action and drama occurring at an unprecedented moment of social, political and generational upheaval in the Land of the Free, as evocatively contextualised by historian and archivist Bruce Canwell in his potent Introduction.

Captain America #125 dips into sensational contemporary headline fare as the Sentinel of Liberty seeks to rescue a kidnapped peacemaker only to become ‘Captured… in Viet Nam!’ The mystery villain du jour is anything but politically motivated and the hero’s brief visit – as recounted by Stan Lee, Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia – owes more to super-villainy than nationalistic interventionism…

The Star-Spangled Avenger’s long-anticipated reunion with his erstwhile associate and partner Sam Wilson features in #126’s ‘The Fate of… the Falcon!’: 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 & the astounding Wally Wood).

This pacy romp 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 warhorse drops out and decides to “discover America” – as so many kids were doing in the era of Easy Rider – on a freewheeling motorcycle.

Inked by Dick Ayers, ‘Mission: Stamp Out Satan’s Angels!’ 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, after which his oldest enemy resurfaces to exact ‘The Vengeance of… the Red Skull’ as a simple albeit satisfying by-product of his main plan to start a Middle East war…

Issue #130 finds Cap ‘Up Against the Wall!’ when old foe Batroc the Leaper leads the Porcupine and Whirlwind in a fully paid-for ambush by a hidden villain 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 finally 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 another killer cyborg to create ‘Madness in the Slums!’ The inner-city crisis allows Cap to reunite with his protégé the Falcon – whose name 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, this moody spin on the Jekyll and Hyde theme sees a love-struck scientist turn himself into an awesome anthropoid to steal riches, only to end up in ‘The World Below!’

With the Falcon coming to the rescue (and the legendary Bill Everett applying his brilliant inks to Colan’s eerily effective pencils) the battle of man against beast continues with the greedy technologist soon reduced to a collateral casualty of the Mole Man’s latest battle with the champions of the surface world….

With a cover gallery by Marie Severin, Jack Kirby, Herb Trimpe, John Romita and Colan plus the cover to all-reprint Captain America Annual #1 (January 1971) to round out the riotous adventure, this is a titanic tome no Fights & Tights fan could possibly do without…

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 one 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…
© 1970, 1971, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.