Sunday, July 25, 2010

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor (Captain America vol 1, #69)

The Viper pits the power of Madison Avenue against Cap (at a time when Cap was on the outs with SHIELD)...

Gotta love that acronym.

Captain America on Power Records (Volume 1, #168)

I was about to read Captain America #168 (a one-shot by guest writer Roy Thomas) when I remembered that this issue was made available as a comic and record set when I was a kid. (They had it at the local mall, though I don't remember if I ever bought it.

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

Stories Best Ignored: Cap Was Put on Ice by the US Gov't (Captain America Vol. 4, 7-16)

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

Another Funeral for Captain America (Vol 3, #50)

Every once in a while, the gang would get together and throw a funeral for Steve Rogers, aka Captain America.

Captain America #113 was one of the most fondly remembered instances of this, since it was illustrated by Jim Steranko. Cap threw an inflatable rubber doll he just happened to have (cough) off a roof in his clothes, let it get shot by bad guys, and let everybody assume he was dead when the shot-up non-bloody clothes washed up on shore. There was a very touching funeral, but Cap resurfaced immediately thereafter to fight the hordes of Hydra.

One of Cap's strangest funerals was in the final issue of Captain America Volume 3. In order to give the series a little closure before a more realistic incarnation of the comic was launched with volume 4, the final issue ended with Cap's seeming death in an explosion. National news covered Cap's death, the President gave a speech, and again there was a big funeral.

Of course, only a fool would believe Captain America dead when neither his body nor his shield were found:

So why was Cap immediately declared dead without a shred of evidence? Beats me.

Shortly after this issue was published, Cap began appearing in other comics, without any explanation whatsover. As far as I know, this issue was never referenced ever again. I guess he just showed up and said he was fine, everybody shrugged their shoulders, and that was that.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nick Fury, Agent of THUNDARR (Volume 1, 164)

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

Cap's Plain Metal Shield (Tales of Suspense 83)

Captain America's indestructible shield has been part of his mythos for so long, that it was jarring for me to read this letters column from late 1966, wherein Marvel insisted that Cap's shield was not indestructible. The idea only emerged a few years later, and reportedly various writers for years tried to think of a cool story to explain the shield, before they finally gave up and called it the result of a mysterious accident.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Heartbreak: When Good Comics Turn Bad (Volume 1, 185-192)

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 on Captain America (Volume 1, 153-167)

Right now I'm reading/rereading the Steve Englehart/Sal Buscema Captain America comics from the early 70s. This was the creative team that was writing and drawing the series when I first discovered it (and comics in general). Steve was wise enough to give the book a good supporting cast, lure readers in with some high concept ideas and keep changing things up without losing focus on what was important to the book.

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

Days of Bad Logos (Volume 1, 143-151)

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

Cap Gets Hip with Gary Friedrich (Volume 1, 143-148)

Stan Lee gave up writing the Captain America and the Falcon comic in mid-1971. Stan hadn't created Captain America, but he pretty much defined the modern day Cap. Stan killed off Cap's original sidekick Bucky, turned Cap into a melancholy man out of time, co-created Cap's love interest Sharon Carter, co-created his uneasy superspy ally Nick Fury, and co-created his new African-American sidekick, the Falcon. 40 years later Ed Brubaker is writing the comic to much acclaim, relying on the same core elements, though written for modern sensibilities.

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".

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Red Skull "Returns" (Tales of Suspense 79)

Stan Lee brought Cap's WWII enemy the Red Skull into the present in Tales of Suspense 79 (the comic that would be renamed Captain America with issue 100). But... er... anybody else get the impression reading this that the real Red Skull died in the 40s, and that the scientists in the beekeeper outfits just whipped up a new one in the lab and told him he'd been "miraculously recovered"?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Glory Days (Volume 1, 109-119)

It's too bad this run wasn't the basis of one of those fancy dancy hardcover Marvel Masterworks volumes. In 11 issues you have the origin of Captain America, Rick Jones' brief career as Cap's sidekick, the "death" of Steve Rogers, the Red Skull, Nick Fury, Sharon Carter, Hydra, the cosmic cube and the origin of his new sidekick, the Falcon. Plus art by the Bullpen's greatest talents-- Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, John Romita, John Buscema, and Gene Colan, and scripting by Stan Lee. Steranko only drew three issues, but they were classics. (This run was reprinted in Marvel Masterworks, but was split up among two volumes. It's also online on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Origin of the Blog

When I decided to read/reread every issue of Marvel's Captain America comic book series before seeing the upcoming film version, I had no intent of blogging it. But with Cap's saga stretching out over more than 500 issues, I soon found myself taking notes to keep it all straight (especially since I'm reading some of it out of order).

For a while, I just entered my notes in a word processor. Eventually though I decided that given the current state of technology, blogging would be simpler and would make my notes more accessible to myself, and perhaps to another oddball Captain America fan or two out there.