Sunday, November 7, 2010
But there were hints of better days ahead. Issues 258 and 259 were drawn by Mike Zeck, who would soon be teaming with writer J. M. DeMatteis to get the series back on track.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
One of the things that's most memorable about this run to me is the manner in which they swept away the background on Steve Rogers that Steve Gerber had provided. It's explained as false memories, planted to confuse the Germans during World War II.
Oddly enough, they never seemed to plant any false memories about the important stuff, like how Steve gained his powers. I guess they figured the Germans already knew that. But they managed to cover up the fact that Steve Rogers was an orphan from Manhattan, because God knows what the Germans could have done with that information!
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Never have I heard somebody praise the "Roger McKenzie era".
Actually it would be more accurate to refer to Captain America 215-246 as the "Roy Thomas/Don Glut/Steve Gerber/Peter Gillis/Roger McKenzie era", with writers Roger Stern, Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Alan & Paul Kupperberg, Mike Barr and Steve Grant also helping out. But Roger McKenzie wrote more issues in this period than any other writer.
What united this 32 issue span was the deliberate dismantling of the book's previous status quo. The Falcon was dropped from the book. Sharon Carter was killed, along with the 1950s Captain America and Bucky (all of them would eventually get better). Steve Rogers got a new job as a commercial artist, and a new supporting cast at his new apartment building. An attempt was also made to downplay Nick Fury and SHIELD.
What also defined this era was a rapidly rotating series of writers and artists, some of whom delivered less than stellar work.
It's not that most of these comics are terrible. But most of them aren't great either. And prior to these issues, I wasn't too happy with what writers John Warner, Tony Isabella, Marv Wolfman and Jack Kirby were delivering either. So despite being a Captain America fan (I still followed his adventures in The Avengers) I finally gave up on Cap's solo series. Which is too bad, because by most accounts it was just about to get good.
Well, that's why I'm reading them now. I'm finally going to get to enjoy the good stuff. (I hope.)
Friday, October 1, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
A year after this letter appeared in Captain America 206, the Falcon was gone. Jack Kirby's last issue as writer/artist was 214. The Falcon was written out of the main storyline in issue 217 by Roy Thomas. He made a cameo in 218 by Don Glut. He appeared in a filler short story in the back of 220. In issue 223 (written by Steve Gerber) the Falcon was dropped from the title of the series without explanation. I was reading the book at the time as a kid, and I was not a happy camper.
Who made the call and why? I don't know. There may have been a hint in the letters page of issue 222:
Steve [Gerber] feels that most of the supporting players in earlier issues of CA&F-- Sharon Carter, the Agents of Shield, etc.-- have about had their day. He would like to endow the magazine with a new cast of characters, a different type of plotline, and, generally, a whole new look to see it gracefully into the 1980s. Do you agree?
The next issue the Falcon was gone, though Gerber never did get around to giving the series a whole new cast of characters. Roger McKenzie took over the series with issue 227, as the merry-go-round of post-Kirby writers continued.
Later writer Stan Lee hated kid sidekicks though. He killed off Bucky in issue 66 in 1948, replacing him with a new hero named Golden Girl. Bucky's death was ignored when Cap's series was resurrected in the 50s, but Stan killed Bucky off again in Avengers #4 in 1964. After experimenting with teaming up Cap with Rick Jones (the Marvel universe's all purpose sidekick, who also teamed with the Hulk, Captain Marvel and ROM: Spaceknight), Stan created the Falcon, and eventually included him in the title of Cap's new series. The Falcon did a lot to ground the series in present day New York City, and provided Cap with a capable partner who had reason to be a bit more skeptical of America than Steve Rogers. I sorely missed the Falcon's presence in the book when he was dropped.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Captain America did this more often than any other ongoing Marvel series, I think. A dramatically revamped volume 2 was launched in 1996, and when it didn't take hold with buyers the previous status quo was restored with a new volume 3 in 1997. When new editor Joe Quesada tried to make Captain America more modern and relevant, the series was relaunched in 2002 with volume 4. That didn't work out so well, so in 2004 Volume 5 was launched with writer Ed Brubaker offering an extremely successful combination of classic characters and modern storytelling.
Relaunching the series with volume 5 garnered a certain amount of online derision when it was announced, and I was certainly one of the folks who wondered if Marvel's renumbering had gotten a bit out of hand. Now that I'm actually reading volume 4, I better understand why Marvel wanted to put volume 4 behind it.
But Rieber's "all symbolism, all of the time" approach to Captain America likely wouldn't have worked for long. The comic tends to work best when it remembers that there's an actual human being under that mask, with very human concerns. Sure, Rieber's Cap was out of costume a lot, but he was still "Captain America" full time. Instead of working as an artist, Steve Rogers now worked at a New York dock, likely for no reason other than it sounded more "American". Editor Joe Quesada began asking Rieber for more and more rewrites, and eventually it became clear that Reiber wasn't delivering what Marvel wanted, and he left the book. Chuck Austen was given the unenviable task of finishing two Reiber stories that were already partly written and illustrated.
It's not fair to judge Austen's work entirely on the basis of stories that he didn't start. Reading them for the first time though, it felt to me like Austen was focused more on introducing plot twists than he was on delivering a strong story. Austen also introduced the dreadful idea that Cap was put into suspended animation by his own government, because they feared he would oppose dropping the bomb on Japan (an idea that I believe has since been rightly ignored).
After Austen left, Dave Gibbons wrote what is essentially a four part imaginary story (issues 17-20), in which Cap is unfrozen in 1964, the Nazis rule the world, and Cap must team up with a resistance populated with non-powered versions of Marvel's most popular heroes.
In general, Captain America volume 4 can be ignored, or regarded as a series of alternate universe stories. Little of it is canon. By the end of Morales' run, Cap has restored the twin towers! Austen's suggestion that the government froze Captain America is unlikely to be referenced again, in part because it hinges on Cap's refusal to kill during WWII, a notion that's since been disavowed. (It also seems to contradict Captain America 220. And... oh yeah... it's also really really stupid.) Only the first story by Rieber and the final story by Kirkman are unlikely to be completely disregarded.
Why did I learn from reading Captain America volume 4? That keeping Captain America fresh and relevant in the 21st century is hard. He is, under any circumstances, a difficult character to make work. The character does work best though when the symbolism isn't front and center. Captain America the Super Solider is an exciting character. Captain America the Human Flag doesn't work so well.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
I guess you can't blame the Skull. After all, he's on a parallel world where the nazis won the war and Cap never hooked up with Sharon Carter.
And he's hardly the first to question the teen sidekick. "I always felt if I were a superhero, there's no way in the world that I'd go around with some teenager," Stan Lee once said. "At the very least, people would talk."
Saturday, August 7, 2010
So I had asked myself "Who is Captain America?", and had found an answer for the man. Thing was, America was moving from the overarching Vietnam War toward the specific crimes of Watergate.
I was writing a man who believed in America's highest ideals at a time when America's President was a crook. I could not ignore that. And so, in the Marvel Universe, which so closely resembled our own, Cap followed a criminal conspiracy into the White House and saw the President commit suicide.-Captain America writer Steve Englehart
Cap didn't tell anybody, even the Falcon, what happened in the White House, and "the authorities put a lid on it, too." Does that mean Nick Fury had a Life Model Decoy running the country (at least until they could engineer Nixon's resignation)? And yes, that was intended to be Nixon, though we never saw his face. Steve Englehart, the writer of the book, explained:
People often ask if Marvel hassled me for the political vibe in this series and others, and the honest answer is that they almost never did. It was a wonderful place to be creative. Here, I intended to say the President was Nixon, but wasn't sure if Marvel would allow it and so censored myself - probably unnecessarily.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
As a kid, I knew that the Falcon's wings had been built by the Black Panther, and wondered why Cap wasn't given a similar set of wings, to maintain power parity. The answer is that a fluke interaction between Cap's super soldier serum and a poison antidote gave Cap super-strength in issue 158, leaving the Falcon feeling like the weaker half of the team. He got the wings to make himself equal to Cap once again.
Writer Steve Englehart explained on his blog:
Much like the idea of turning the Beast's fur darker, Marvel decided Cap should become stronger. I did it but stopped talking about it after a while, and the whole concept simply faded away over time.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Gotta love that acronym.
Due to the miracle of the internet, the whole comic and record is available for free viewing on youtube. The voices aren't really what I imagine Cap and the Falcon to sound like, and some dialog was stripped out to simplify the story (all references to Bucky Barnes were removed). Still, it's a pretty faithful version of the comic.
I've linked to it below, to savor the weirdness.
Friday, July 23, 2010
For a long time it was part of Captain America's character that he NEVER killed anyone (and, believe it or not, for a LONG time this INCLUDED World War 2)! There's even an issue in the Mark Gruenwald run that deals with this, when Cap finally has to take a life (an Ultimatum agent). Later, future writers, [like Ed Brubaker, writer of Captain America Volume 5], chucked that right out the window (or rather swept it under the rug) and pretended that those issues happened ANOTHER WAY [...] because in their minds there was no way a soldier like Cap went through all of WW2 without killing some Nazis.
And most readers are fine with this, accept it, and keep reading.
Same goes for issues where Flash Thompson and the Punisher fought in Viet Nam. Same goes for a lot of the old-fashioned sexist views of many of the characters. Everything gets a gloss and the comics you read in your youth didn't happen EXACTLY that way... but they happened.
-Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott
I'm currently reading Captain America volume 4, and it appears that writer Chuck Austen not only stuck by the "Captain America didn't kill, even during the war" thing, he wrote a story about it, that was also intended to give a more "realistic" explanation for why Cap ended up frozen in ice:
Captain America volume 4, issue 16 was Chuck Austen's final issue as writer. I haven't read the rest of volume 4 yet, but I'm guessing the writers that follow ignore this whole thing or eliminate it. I sure hope so.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Alan Weiss did a pretty good job as guest artist on Captain America and the Falcon 164, I thought. But towards the end of the story when Nick Fury and the super spies of SHIELD showed up, I almost choked on my Crystal Light when I saw their outfits! (The following issue depicted the same crew in the same location wearing their standard blue tights. One could argue that blue tights for spies aren't all that realistic either, but if you do you're probably too old for superhero comics.)
Friday, July 16, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
So it's early 1975. I've only been reading Captain America and the Falcon (as the comic was then titled) a short time, but I'd been really digging it. Then Frank Robbins took over the art on the book, and it was like a punch in the gut.
I want to be careful in dissing Frank Robbins. Although he passed away in 1994, he may have family that still occasionally Googles him. And I think his art worked quite well in his syndicated newspaper strip Johnny Hazard. But as a kid I loathed his work on Captain America, and I still think his art was ill-suited for superheroes. In action scenes the characters looked to me like Spider-man having a fit. It broke my heart.
These issues also contain a major revision in the origin of Cap's sidekick, the Falcon. It's revealed that before he became the Falcon, Sam Wilson was actually a drug dealer and hood (who liked to dress as a pimp) and that his nice guy persona and link with his bird Redwing were created by the Red Skull, as part of a plan to mess with Captain America. There are some who feel that this did enormous damage to the character, and that the Falcon never really recovered from it, leading to his eventual dropping from the book. As I recall, a later writer made an attempt to mitigate the damage somewhat, but I'm not sure when. It is tough to forget that pimp suit:
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Steve Englehart wrote about his work on his blog:
CAPTAIN AMERICA was my third Marvel series. It was being considered for cancellation when I got it, because it had no reason for existence. Stan Lee had written it for years, and it was clearly his least favorite book; the stories had become not only lackluster but repetitive. Gary Friedrich had picked it up a year before and done some interesting stuff, but he hadn't stayed long; then Gerry Conway did two issues as a stopgap; and then I got it. The problem across the board at Marvel was that this was the 70s - prime anti-war years - and here was a guy with a flag on his chest who was supposed to represent what most people distrusted. No one knew what to do with him.
Me, I had been honorably discharged from the Army two years earlier as a conscientious objector - but I was supposed to also be a writer. So I did something for the first time that marked everything I've written since. I said, "Okay, if this guy existed, who would he be?" Not "Who am I?", but "Who is Captain America?"
Six months later, the wayward book slouching toward cancellation was Marvel's Number One title, and I seemed to have found my career. I'd also found an artist, Sal Buscema, who could draw exactly what I envisioned, so it was all good.
I don't know if Captain America was really Stan's least favorite book. (I'm saving his final run on the book to read later, so I have something special to look forward to.) It's possible. Iconic characters that represent our ideals can present signifcant creative challenges. Look at how DC has struggled to get people to buy Wonder Woman, a character who has to represent feminist ideals, and who therefore can't struggle with all the character defects and mistakes in judgement that make a character feel real. Stan solved this problem to a degree by making Captain America a man out of time, out of touch with the very nation he represented. As the years rolled on though, Cap naturally adjusted to the present era, and keeping him interesting while still being an idealized American soldier had to be a challenge for those who wrote the comic.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
I must say, Marvel experimented with some pretty crappy logos on issues 143-151, before returning to what I consider to be the definitive logo:
(PS, it's not the real Captain America that the Avengers were chasing in issue 154. Wouldn't want you losing sleep over that.)
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The first writer to take over the comic after Stan departed was Gary Friedrich. Gary strived to created a more timely, relevant comic, which means his issues are now wincingly dated. Sharon Carter heads the Nixon-approved Femme Force! Fury's gal pal Val-- falls love with Captain America! The Red Skull heads a black liberation movement! The Falcon struggles with being an Uncle Tom!
It's pretty much best to forget any of this stuff "happened".