Essential Captain America volume 3

By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, John Romita, Gil Kane, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2166-8

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 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 brave American kid’s bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s.

By the time of this third Essential chronicle, gathering issues #127-156 of his monthly comicbook and reprinting the covers to the first two Annuals, the Star-Spangled Avenger had become a uncomfortable symbol of a troubled, divided society, split along age lines and with many of the hero’s fans apparently rooting for the wrong side…

Nevertheless the action begins here with the Sentinel of Liberty still working for super-scientific government spy-agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (which back then stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division) in ‘Who Calls Me Traitor?’ (#127, July 1970, by Stan Lee, Gene Colan & Wally Wood), which saw 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 dropped out and decided 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) saw him barely clear the city limits before encountering a nasty gang of bikers terrorising a small-town rock festival, after which his oldest enemy resurfaced to exact ‘The Vengeance of… the Red Skull’ as a by-product of attempting to begin a Middle East war.

Issue #130 found Cap ‘Up Against the Wall!’ as old foe Batroc the Leaper led Porcupine and Whirlwind in an fully paid-for ambush whilst the Sentinel of Liberty was busy defusing a college riot. The mysterious contractor then resorted to a far subtler tactic: launching a psychological assault in ‘Bucky Reborn!’

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

Back in New York Advanced Idea Mechanics promptly returned in #133 as Modok attempted to stir 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 in the title from the next issue.

Now a full-fledged partnership Captain America and the Falcon #134 found the pair battling ghetto gangsters in ‘They Call Him… Stone-Face!’, before the Avenger introduced his new main man to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the chilling ‘More Monster than Man!’ (inked by Tom Palmer) wherein a love-struck scientist turned 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 battle with Cap.

With the Falcon coming to the rescue the Star-Spangled Avenger was on hand when his new partner opted ‘To Stalk the Spider-Man’ – a typical all-action Marvel misunderstanding that was forestalled just in time for Stone-Face to return in #138’s ‘It Happens in Harlem!’ as John Romita the elder returned to the art chores for the beginning of a lengthy and direction-changing saga…

For years Captain America had been the only expression of Steve Rogers’ life, but with this issue the man went undercover as a police officer to solve a series of disappearances and subsequently regained a personal life which would have long-term repercussions. After Spidey, Falcon and Cap trounced Stone-Face, the Red, White and Blue was subsumed by plain Rookie Blues in ‘The Badge and the Betrayal!’ as Steve found himself on a Manhattan beat as the latest raw recruit to be bawled out by veteran cop Sergeant Muldoon…

Meanwhile police officers were still disappearing and Rogers was getting into more fights on the beat than in costume… Issue #140 revealed the plot’s perpetrator ‘In the Grip of Gargoyle!’ as the tale took a frankly bizarre turn with moody urban mystery inexplicably becoming super-spy fantasy as the Grey Gargoyle stole a mega-explosive from S.H.I.E.L.D. in ‘The Unholy Alliance!’ (with Joe Sinnott inks).

Spectacular but painfully confusing until now, the epic was dumped on new writer Gary Friedrich to wrap up, beginning with ‘And in the End…’ (Captain America and the Falcon #142) wherein Cap, renewed love interest Sharon Carter, Falcon and Nick Fury attempted to save the world from the Gargoyle and ultimate explosive Element X…

All this time the Falcon, in his civilian identity of social worker Sam Wilson, had been trying to get friendly with “Black Power” activist Leila Taylor and, with the sci fi shenanigans over, a long-running subplot about racial tensions in Harlem boiled over…

‘Power to the People’ and ‘Burn, Whitey, Burn!’ (both from giant-sized #143 with Romita inking his own pencils) saw the riots finally erupt with Cap and Falcon caught in the middle, but copped out with the final chapter by taking a painfully parochial and patronising stance and revealing that the unrest amongst the ghetto underclass was instigated by a rabble-rousing super-villain in ‘Red Skull in the Morning… Cap Take Warning!’

Nevertheless Friedrich had made some telling and relevant points – and continued to do so in #144’s first story ‘Hydra Over All!’ (illustrated by Romita) with the creation of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s all-woman attack squad Femme Force One (stop squirming – at least they were trying to be egalitarian and inclusive…).

The issue also featured a solo back-up tale ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (drawn by the great Gray Morrow) wherein the street vigilante got a new uniform and rededicated himself to tackling the real problems on his turf; drug-dealers and thugs endangering the weakest, poorest members of society…

Captain America and the Falcon #145 continued the hydra storyline with ‘Skyjacked’ (stunningly illustrated by Gil Kane & Romita) as the terrorists kidnapped Cap’s new team in mid-air, after which Sal Buscema began his long tenure on the series with ‘Mission: Destroy the Femme Force!’ and ‘Holocaust in the Halls of Hydra!’ (inked by John Verpoorten) wherein the devious dealings are uncovered before Falcon comes to the rescue of the severely embattled and outgunned heroes, culminating in the unmasking of the power behind the villainous throne in #147’s ‘And Behind the Hordes of Hydra…’ and a staggering battle royale in Las Vegas as the power behind the power reveals himself in Friedrich’s swansong ‘The Big Sleep!’

Gerry Conway assumed the writing chores for issues #149-152, an uncharacteristically uninspired run that began with ‘All the Colors… of Evil!’ (inked by Jim Mooney) wherein Gallic mercenary Batroc resurfaced, kidnapping ghetto kids for an unidentified client who turned out to be the alien Stranger (or at least his parallel universe incarnation) who intervened personally in ‘Mirror, Mirror…!’ (Verpoorten inks) but was still defeated far too easily.

‘Panic on Park Avenue’ (Buscema & Vince Colletta) pitted Cap against pale imitations of Cobra, Mr. Hyde and the Scorpion as Conway sought to retroactively include Captain America in his ambitious Mr. Kline Saga (for which see Essential Iron Man and Essential Daredevil volumes 4) climaxing with ‘Terror in the Night!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) featuring  bombastic battles and new plot-complications for officer Steve Rogers and Sgt. Muldoon…

Captain America and the Falcon #153 heralded a renaissance and magical return to form for the Star-Spangled Avenger as writer Steve Englehart came aboard and hit the ground running with a landmark epic which rewrote Marvel history and captivated the die-hard fans simultaneously.

The wonderment began with ‘Captain America… Hero or Hoax?’ (inked by Mooney) as Falcon, Sharon and Cap had an acrimonious confrontation with Nick Fury and decided to take a break from S.H.I.E.L.D.

Sam Wilson went back to Harlem whilst Steve and Sharon booked a holiday in the Bahamas, but it wasn’t long before the Falcon caught Captain America committing racist attacks in New York. Enraged, Falcon tracked him down but was easily beaten since the Sentinel of Liberty had somehow acquired super-strength and a resurrected Bucky Barnes…

In ‘The Falcon Fights Alone!’ (Verpoorten inks) the maniac impostors claimed to be “real” American heroes and revealed what they wanted – a confrontation with the lily-livered, pinko wannabe who had replaced and disgraced them. Even after torturing their captive they were frustrated in their plans until the faux Cap tricked the information out of the Avengers.

Battered and bruised, Falcon headed to the holiday refuge but was too late to prevent an ambush wherein Steve Rogers learned ‘The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America!’ (Frank McLaughlin inks) – a brilliant piece of literary sleight-of-hand that tied up the Golden Age, fifties revival and Silver Age iterations of the character in a clear, simple, devilishly clever manner and led to an unbelievably affecting conclusion, which perfectly wraps up this glorious black and white compendium in the fabulously gratifying ‘Two into One Won’t Go!’

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. 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, 1972, 2006, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Captain America: the Man with No Face

By Ed Brubaker, Luke Ross, Steve Epting, Butch Guice & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3163-2

Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby at the end of 1940, and launched in his own title (Captain America Comics, #1 cover-dated March 1941) with overwhelming success. He was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely (Marvel’s early predecessor) Comics’ “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner – and one of the first to fall from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated the American psyche in the early 1950s he was briefly revived – as were the Torch and Sub-Mariner – in 1953 before sinking once more into obscurity until a resurgent Marvel Comics once more brought him back in Avengers #4.

This time he stuck around, first taking over the Avengers, then winning his own series and title. He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history but always struggled to find an ideological place and stable footing in the modern world, plagued by the trauma of his greatest failure: the death of his boy partner Bucky.

Eventually, whilst another morally suspect war raged in the real world, during the publishing event Civil War became a rebel and was assassinated on the steps of a Federal Courthouse.

He was replaced by that dead sidekick. Bucky had been captured by the Soviets and used as their own super-soldier assassin – The Winter Soldier. There’s no truer maxim than “nobody stays dead in comics”…

This thoroughly readable and exceedingly pretty romp explores the shady past of the Winter Soldier as well as the World War II experiences of James Buchanan Barnes as one of the troubled hero’s worst enemies and biggest mistakes comes back to haunt him…

Collecting issues #43-48 of Captain America volume 5 (from 2008 if you’re as confused as I usually am… are, is) and written by Ed Brubaker the action kicks off with the three part ‘Time’s Arrow’ (drawn by Luke Ross with inks from Fabio Laguna, Rick Magyar, Mark Pennington & Butch Guice) as the substitute Star Spangled Avenger battles Batroc the Leaper and fails to prevent the theft of a highly contentious package from the United Nations. His face exposed during the fracas, Bucky had inadvertently drawn the attention of someone with a long-standing grudge against his previous persona…

Interspersed with revelatory flashbacks to his wartime career in the Invaders and his Russian Black-Ops missions the story of Chinese mad scientist Professor Zhang Chin and his monstrous associate “The Man with No Face” grimly unfolds and the new Cap is forced to finally confront the atrocities he committed in his previous life…

The drama and horror intensifies with ‘Old Friends and Enemies’ (illustrated by Steve Epting and Guice) as Zhang Chins’s plans are revealed.

The mysterious package contained the remains of the original Human Torch which the aged scientist has now weaponized into an incendiary virus, and it takes the combined might of the new Captain America, Black Widow and old Invaders comrade the Sub-Mariner to overcome the professor’s invincible faceless man, save the world from flaming contagion and rescue their dead ally’s remains from even greater desecration…

This is a dark, gripping extravaganza that depends far too much upon a working knowledge of Marvel continuity but, for those willing to eschew subtext or able to ignore seeming incongruities and go with the flow, this sinister super-spy saga is genuinely enthralling and well worth the effort. This tale leads into the long-awaited return of the original Sentinel of Liberty (see Captain America Reborn) and if you a full-on fan of the fights ‘n’ tights crowd you’re assured of a thoroughly grand time.

© 2008, 2009 Marvel Characters Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Captain America Reborn

By Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch, Alex Ross, Paul Dini & various (Marvel/Panini UK)

ISBN: 978-1-84653-440-9
Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby at the end of 1940, and launched in his own title (Captain America Comics, #1 cover-dated March 1941) with overwhelming success. He was the absolute and undisputed star of Timely (Marvel’s early predecessor) Comics’ “Big Three” – the other two being the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner – and one of the first to fall from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

When the Korean War and Communist aggression dominated the American psyche in the early 1950s he was briefly revived – as were the Torch and Sub-Mariner – in 1953 before sinking once more into obscurity until a resurgent Marvel Comics once more brought him back in Avengers #4. It was March 1964 and the Vietnam conflict was just beginning to pervade the minds of the American public…

This time he stuck around, first taking over the Avengers, then winning his own series and title. He waxed and waned through the most turbulent period of social change in US history but always struggled to find an ideological place and stable footing in the modern world. Eventually, whilst another morally suspect war raged in the real world, during the Marvel event known as Civil War he became a rebel and was assassinated on the steps of a Federal Courthouse.

Nobody really believed he was dead.

Marvel’s extended publicity stunt came to a dramatic close with the inevitable return of the original Star-Spangled Avenger in an impressive and highly readable – if necessarily convoluted – tale from Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice, released as the six-issue miniseries Captain America Reborn, but before that, years of cross-company plot threads and side-stories came to a formidable close in the anniversary issue Captain America #600. All those wide-ranging, far-flung bits and bobs are gathered together for your convenience in this classy tome.

The action starts with an impressive potted biography ‘Origin’ by Alex Ross, Paul Dini and Todd Klein (which first appeared in Captain America: Red, White and Blue, September 2002) after which Brubaker, scripts ‘One Year Later’ (Captain America #600) for Guice, Howard Chaykin, Rafael Albuquerque, David Aja and Mitch Breitweiser to illustrate, summing up the heroes origins, career and impact on the world up to his “death”, whereupon his long-dead sidekick Bucky (surprise, surprise!) took over the role…

With all the dominoes in place the moment is ripe for the true hero’s return – and since his mind and body have been lost in time all the while there’s a glorious opportunity to examine some key moments in the old soldier’s decades-long history as the Avengers, Nick Fury, Dr. Doom, Sub-Mariner, Norman (Green Goblin) Osborn and the undying Red Skull all seek to manipulate his return for their own ends. Incisive, clever, all-encompassing and beautifully realised by Hitch and Guice Captain America Reborn is a grand example of the Deus ex Machina revival as only comics can produce it.

Overcoming all odds Cap is back: but now that he is what’s to become of him?

This impressive and entertaining book also includes a fan’s dream of added value inducements: an article by surviving original creator Joe Simon, a “Reborn” variant cover gallery (20 different covers for six issues!) and a far-too small but incredibly impressive complete reproduction of every Cap cover since March 1941, as well as a few surprise extras.

If you are a fan of the superhero genre this is a thoroughly enjoyable recap and reboot that proves that new and old can work together; let’s hope the new old Captain America can find enough of an audience to keep him occupied…
™ and © 2010 Marvel Entertainment LCC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition released by Panini UK Ltd.

Captain America: the Great Gold Steal

By Ted White (Bantam Books)
ISBN: F3780

One thing you could never accuse Stan Lee of was reticence, especially in promoting his burgeoning line of superstars. In the 1960s most adults, including the people who worked in the field, considered comic-books a ghetto. Some disguised their identities whilst others were “just there until they caught a break.” Stan and Jack had another idea – change the perception.

Whilst Jack pursued his imagination waiting for the quality of the work to be noticed, Stan pursued every opportunity to break down the ghetto walls, college lecture tours, animated shows (of frankly dubious quality at the start, but always improving), and of course getting their product onto “real” bookshelves in real book shops.

In the 1960s on the back of the “Batmania” craze, many comics publishers repackaged their old comics stories in cheap and cheerful paperbacks, but to my knowledge only monolithic DC and brash upstart Marvel went to the next level and commissioned all-new prose novels starring their costumed superstars.

The iconic Captain America was given the solo prose treatment following on from his starring role in Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker with relative newcomer and devoted fanboy Ted White given the assignment of a lifetime.

Ted White won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer, and had been a dedicated music, science-fiction and comic-book devotee for most of his young life, winning much acclaim as an amateur author. He had published fanzines since 1953, written for many others and organized the 1967 World Science Fiction convention in New York City.

Beginning professional life as a music critic in 1959 he soon broke into another beloved field when he collaborated with Marion Zimmer Bradley on ‘Phoenix’ which eventually became his novel Phoenix Prime. Other novels followed and he became a respected SF editor too. In 1970 he contributed the opening article to the landmark paperback All in Color for a Dime, often credited with establishing the legitimacy of comicbook criticism.

The Great Gold Steal is a delightful blend of James Bond and Doc Savage, with the Sentinel of Liberty tracking three nefarious villains – the Eagle, the Starling and the Raven – as they instigate a bold plan to steal America’s entire bullion reserves. But behind their bold scheme is another villain, one who has a far longer history with the Star-Spangled Avenger…

Fast-paced, exuberant and deftly plotted, this tale is a huge amount of fun, written by a man clearly in love with his job and possessed by a deep love of the parent material (I certainly can’t think of another novelisation that footnotes specific issues of the parent comicbook as a source and encourages book readers to read comics). This is a terrific little read that deserves another release…
© 1968 Marvel Comics Group. All rights reserved.

Captain America – Operation: Rebirth

By Mark Waid, Ron Garney & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-7851-0219-1             ISBN13: 978-0-7851-3126-7

The Sentinel of Liberty has been with us in one incarnation or another since the comic-book’s earliest light, a genuine icon of the wider public, but despite the noblest endeavours of many very talented creators has more often than not been a rather unsuccessful series for Marvel, and regularly one of the company’s poorest sellers.

In 1995 after a truly heroic and generally under-appreciated run, scripter Mark Gruenwald surrendered his post, going out on a high note by actually killing Captain America, as the super-serum that made him the world’s most perfect physical specimen degraded in his bloodstream, causing a total bodily collapse. This cleared the decks for a spectacular relaunch from Mark Waid and Ron Garney, (assisted by inkers Scott Koblish, Mike Manley and Denis Rodier) in issues #445-448.

Snatched from the jaws of death by his greatest enemy and his murdered true love, the Star-Spangled Avenger exploded back into action against the foes he was literally created to defeat when a Nazi cult attempted to resurrect Adolf Hitler and reconfigure the entire world using the reality bending Cosmic Cube.

With only the self-serving Red Skull and embittered, abandoned Sharon Carter beside him the hero was reborn in a dynamic thriller that instantly recaptured the vast energy of the character and perfectly displayed the mythic magical quality of Captain America, triggering a mini-renaissance that was thrown away when Marvel sublet him to the unreliable and inexplicably popular Rob Liefeld a year later.

Fast, pretty and utterly compelling Operation: Rebirth is a perfect superhero adventure and possibly the Last Hurrah of Silver Age Marvel’s most enthralling hero.
© 1995, 1996, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Captain Britain and MI13 volume 2: Hell Comes to Birmingham

By Paul Cornell, Patrick Olliffe, Leonard Kirk & various (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-423-2

Diving straight into the business of saving our Green and Pleasant Land from the magical nasties released in volume 1 (Captain Britain and MI13: Secret Invasion, ISBN: 978-1-84653-407-2) the multiracial, multi-species, multi-purpose super-team promptly head out to the Black Country to tackle an invasion of wish-granting demons and their uniquely unpleasant boss.

The regular team of mutant spymaster Peter Wisdom, Black Knight, Spitfire, Dr. Faiza Hussain and the good Captain, supplemented by local hero Captain Midlands and the spooky “Big Gun” Blade the Vampire Slayer, unite here to save the day in a brilliantly traditional adventure that we just don’t see enough of these days, but with enough twists and turns to keep the most jaded professional fan fully occupied.

Collecting issues #5-9 of the superbly satisfying hit comic, illustrated with captivating skill by Patrick Olliffe and Leonard Kirk with inks from Paul Neary, Jesse Delperdang, Michael Bair, Jay Leisten, Craig Yeung and Cam Smith and seductively scripted by Cornell, this is a thoroughly entertaining and satisfying yarn, balancing drama with wit and tragedy with triumph that will have you hungry for more long before the shock “big reveal” on the final page…

© 2008, 2009 Marvel Entertainment, Inc. and its subsidiaries. English Edition © 2009 Panini UK Ltd, Marvel Entertainment, Inc. and its subsidiaries Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. All Rights Reserved.


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN13: 978-1-9041-5949-0

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 Captain America with #59 (cover-dated November 1964). When the division came Iron Man started afresh with a First Issue, but Cap retained the numbering of the original title; thus he premiered in number #100.

This second Essential black and white compilation of those early classics begins from Captain America #103 with Stan Lee scripting and original co-creator Jack Kirby (the other being Joe Simon) still firing on all-action cylinders, ably assisted by inker Syd Shores, a superb draughtsman in his own right and another golden-ager who had worked on the original Star-Spangled Avenger.

‘The Weakest Link!’ sees 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 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 ‘Slave of the Skull!’

That issue and the following super-villain team-up wherein the Living Laser and the Swordsman joined 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 that introduced the malevolent, mind-bending psychiatrist Doctor Faustus.

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

Comics phenomenon and one-man sensation Jim Steranko took over the art chores with #110, for a brief stint that was everybody’s favourite Cap epic for decades. After a swift and brutal skirmish with the Incredible Hulk, Rick Jones became his new sidekick in ‘No Longer Alone!’, just in time for the pair to tackle the iconic Madame Hydra and her obedient hordes in #111’s ‘Tomorrow You Live, Tonight I Die!’, both inked by Joe Sinnott in an landmark tale 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. ‘The Man Behind the Mask!‘ in Captain America #114 was merely the prologue to an extended war against the Red Skull. Issue #115, ‘Now Begins the Nightmare!’, drawn by John Buscema and inked by his brother Sal, saw the villain use the reality-warping Cosmic Cube to switch bodies with the Star-Spangled Avenger, whilst ‘Far Worse than Death!’ followed his frantic attempts to escape his own friends and allies. This issue saw the start of Gene Colan’s impressive run on the character, accompanied by the smooth inks of Joe Sinnott.

The third instalment returned him 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 where the neophyte hero took centre-stage in ‘The Falcon Fights On!’ and all the ducks fell into place for a spectacular finale in ‘Now Falls the Skull!’ in Captain America #119.

As 1970 dawned the company imposed a moratorium on continued stories for most of their titles, and Cap hopped on the disaffected youth/teen revolt bandwagon at this juncture for a series of slight but highly readable puff-pieces that promised nothing but delivered much. Kicking off was ‘Crack-up on Campus!’ in #120, an odd mélange of student radicalism and espionage that saw itinerant Steve Rogers become a Physical Education teacher to foil a scheme by the sinister Modok and his AIM cohorts.

A demented bio-chemist rediscovered the Super Soldier serum that had originally created Captain America in ‘The Coming of the Man-Brute!’ and Spider-Man’s old sparring partner mugged the wrong guy in #122’s ‘The Sting of the Scorpion!’ Issue #123 tapped into the “battle of the sexes” zeitgeist with ‘Suprema, The Deadliest of the Species!’ and AIM returned with their latest hi-tech weapon in Mission: Stop the Cyborg!’ before Captain America #125 dipped into more headline fare when the hero was ‘Captured… in Viet Nam!’ although the mystery villain was anything but political…

Frank Giacoia returned to ink the last yarn in this fabulously economical monochrome compilation as did the Sentinel of Liberty’s erstwhile associate and partner. Issue #126’s ‘The Fate of… the Falcon!’ tapped into the blossoming “blacksploitation” trend to tell an entertaining (sadly not always intentionally) tale of gangsters and radicals in funky old Harlem that still has a kick to it. Just play the theme from Shaft whilst reading it…

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 Captain America struggled for a place in the new ever-changing USA the graphic magic never wavered, never faltered. This is visual dynamite and should not be slighted or missed.

© 1968, 1969, 1970, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Captain America, Vol 1

Essential Captain America, Vol 1

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, & various (Marvel)
ISBN 0-7851-0740-1

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 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 their superhero line in the mid 1950s).

The Torch was promptly given his own solo feature in Strange Tales from issue #101 (see Essential Human Torch vol.1, ISBN 0-7851-1309-6) and in #114 the flaming teen fought an acrobat pretending to be Captain America. The real thing promptly surfaced 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).

That initial outing ‘Captain America’, scripted by Stan Lee and illustrated by the staggeringly perfect team of Jack Kirby and Chic Stone is a simple fight tale as an army of thugs invades Avengers Mansion since only the one without superpowers is at home, and the next issue held more of the same, when ‘The Army of Assassins Strikes!’. ‘The Strength of the Sumo!’ was insufficient when Cap invaded Viet Nam to rescue a lost US airman and Cap 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 and Frank Ray (AKA Giacoia) recounted how physical wreck Steve Rogers was selected to be the guinea pig for a new super-soldier serum only to have the scientist responsible die in his arms, cut down by a Nazi bullet.

Now forever unique he was given the task of becoming a fighting symbol and guardian of America, based as a regular soldier in a boot camp. It was there he was unmasked by Camp Mascot Bucky Barnes, who blackmailed the hero into making the boy his sidekick. The next issue (Tales of Suspense #64) kicked off a string of spectacular thrillers as the heroes defeated the 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!’ saw the series swing into high gear 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 in a plot to murder Winston Churchill, and the heroic duo stayed in England for ‘Midnight in Greymoor Castle!’ (with art by Dick Ayers over Kirby’s layouts – which are very rough pencils that break down the story elements on a page) and the second part ‘If This be Treason!’ had Golden Age and Buck Rogers artist George Tuska perform the same function. The final part (and the last wartime adventure) was ‘When You Lie Down with Dogs…!’ which added Joe Sinnott inks to the mix for a rousing conclusion to this frantic tale of traitors, madmen and terror weapons.

It was back to the present for Tales of Suspense #72 and Lee, Kirby and Tuska revealed that Cap had been telling war stories to his fellow Avengers for the last nine months. ‘The Sleeper Shall Awake!’ began a classic adventure as a Nazi super-robot activates 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 tension and suspense perfectly demonstrated the indomitable nature of this perfect American hero.

Dick Ayers returned with John Tartaglione inking ‘30 Minutes to Live!’ which introduced both the 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, in a taut 2-part countdown to disaster ending with ‘The Gladiator, The Girl and the Glory’, illustrated by John Romita (Senior). This was the first tale which had no artistic input from Jack Kirby, but he laid out the next issue (TOS #77) for Romita and Giacoia. ‘If a Hostage Should Die!’ again returned to WWII and hinted a both a lost romance and a tragedy to come.

‘Them!’ returned Kirby to full pencils and Giacoia to the regular ink spot as Cap teamed with Nick Fury in the first of the Star-Spangled Avenger’s many adventures 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 returned from the grave to menace the Free World again. He was initially aided by the subversive technology group AIM, but stole their ultimate weapon in ‘He Who Holds the Cosmic Cube!’ (inked by Don Heck) and ‘The Red Skull Supreme!’

‘The Maddening Mystery of the Inconceivable Adaptoid!’ pitted Cap against AIM’s artificial life-form, capable of becoming an exact duplicate of its victim in a tale of psychological warfare. ‘Enter… The Tumbler!’ (inked by Ayers) and ‘The Super-Adaptoid!’ completed an epic of breathtaking action that further cemented the links between the various Marvel comics, building a shared continuity would carry the company to market dominance in a few short years.

‘The Blitzkrieg of Batroc!’ and ‘The Secret!’ returned to the earliest all-action, overwhelming odds yarns and ‘Wanted: Captain America’ (by Roy Thomas, Jack Sparling and Joe Sinnott) was a lacklustre interval involving a frame-up before Gil Kane had 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, these last two inked by Sinnott) in a superb drama of blackmail and betrayal starring the Red Skull.

Kirby and Sinnott were back for ‘Before My Eyes Nick Fury Died!’, ‘Into the Jaws of… Aim!’ and ‘If This Be… Modok!’ as the hero fought a giant brain-being manufactured purely for killing. ‘A Time to Die… A Time to Live’ and ‘To Be Reborn!’ has 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 tale that finished in issue #100, with which number Tales of Suspense became simply Captain America. Guest starring the Black Panther, it told of the return of long-dead Baron Zemo and an orbiting Death Ray.

‘The Claws of the Panther!’ was inked by both Sinnott and the great Syd Shores, who became the regular inker with ‘The Man Who Lived Twice!’, whilst that premier hundredth issue (how weird is that?) used the extra page length to retell the origin before concluding a superb thriller with ‘This Monster Unmasked!’

Captain America #101-102 saw the return of the Red Skull and another awesome Nazi revenge weapon in ‘When Wakes The Sleeper!’ and ‘The Sleeper Strikes!’.

This volume concludes with an extra adventure from his actual war career. ‘Captain America and the Terror That Was Devil’s Island’ is from Captain America Comics #10, 1941, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Joe Simon.

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. Great, great stuff for the eternally young at heart.

© 1941, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 2000, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.