Captain America’s terrific new movie The Winter Soldier has been released to worldwide acclaim, so we will keep the spotlight shining brightly on Cap for this edition of Arcs & Runs. Many elements of Captain America’s first two movies are touched on in this run.
This eleven issue run has two strong story arcs, and features Rogues gallery of Marvel artists. Early Daredevil and late Original X-Men runs also feature a stellar group of artists in them, however I think they fall just a little short of this one. Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, John Romita, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Gene Colan all get a crack at Captain America here. All of the stories are written by Stan Lee. This edition of Arcs and Runs will be as much about the artists as the stories themselves, and will be in two parts.
Arcs & Runs #5 Part One: Captain America #109-113 – Cap’s Artist Alley
The Hero that was
We begin with an origin re-telling illustrated by Jack Kirby and inked by Syd Shores. Origin stories are usually always good places to start or end a run of books. This one sets the mood and tone for where Captain America is right now, and where the next story arcs will take us.
Nick Fury pops into Cap’s apartment for visit and they begin swapping a yarn or two about their Second World War adventures. Cap talks about losing his young sidekick Bucky Barnes and the guilt he still feels, and then drifts into a re-telling of how a young Steve Rogers became Captain America. I won’t go into all the details here, it is very close to the origin presented in the first Captain America movie and Tales of Suspense #63. More to the point we see a very lonely Cap /Steve Rogers pouring his feelings out to Nick Fury, who does see this and listens. When you think about it Nick Fury is Captain America’s oldest known associate (not including the Red Skull of course). More war buddies than friends; there is a strong bond here that will never be broken. When Cap finishes his story, Nick Fury puts on his coat and as he is leaving offers Cap some advice – ease up, live a little, go out and have some fun. Cap laments that perhaps he has forgotten how to do that.
This is not Jack Kirby’s last work on Captain America; however he is in the process of leaving Marvel around this time. Doesn’t matter – he is still delivering the goods. I do love those covers with newspaper backgrounds and this one maybe most of all.
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No longer alone
Our new arc begins with legendary artist Jim Steranko putting his talents to work on Captain America with the inking chores going to Joe Sinnott. This is Steranko’s first work on the Captain America title but not his first work on Cap himself. This took place in part of Steranko’s run of Nick Fury agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the split book (with Doctor Strange) Strange Tales #151-168.
Steve Rogers is taking a stroll downtown still feeling sorry for his lot in life and smoking his pipe (no wonder he is alone – dullsville) when his former Avenger buddy the Incredible Hulk smashes through a brick wall right in front of him. A group of soldiers and teen brigade Rick Jones in right behind him. Faster than a speeding bullet Steve Rogers changes into Captain America and he tries to calm the situation down, and prevent the unintended damage and injuries that often occur when the Hulk runs amok. There is a brief tussle and the Hulk gets away and Rick Jones is hurt in the process. Cap takes Rick to Avengers HQ where he quickly recovers. Rick Jones finds Bucky Barnes old costume and puts it on. Rick Jones wants to be Cap’s new partner and has for some time. He to is alone and looking for a place to belong. Cap is having none of it. He lost Bucky and doesn’t want to lose someone else. The argument meets an end when the Avengers alarm goes off. It’s Hydra! They are burrowing beneath Avengers HQ and Bucky is pressed into service with Cap to stop the attack. Cap and Rick find Hydra and their new leader Madame Hydra (seen here for the first time) a battle ensues with Cap trying to keep an eye out for Rick’s safety. It is getting too hairy – Cap orders Rick to get out. A Hydra agent with a power suit attacks Cap and appears to kill him. In fact he is beaten by Cap, and Cap dons the suit as a disguise to get close to this new Madame Hydra. Unfortunately Rick doesn’t see this and races bravely back to attack Hydra once more. Cap has to give up his ruse to save Rick and the Hydra agents and Madame Hydra escape. Although risky, Cap is pleased with Rick’s first foray and he allows him to keep Bucky’s suit and continue as a partner in training. This story continues next issue…
The contrast in style between Kirby and Steranko is striking. The change worked in Strange Tales and it works here, albeit briefly.
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Tomorrow You Live – Tonight I Die
Steranko and Sinnott remain the creative team for the second instalment in this arc. Although there are a lot of great classic covers to like in this run, this is my favourite. Perhaps it’s the bone white background like Nick Fury #4 & 5 that push my buttons.
We start this issue at a carnival. Is Cap finally out trying to have some fun? No he is there to meet Nick Fury for some yet unknown purpose. The fortune telling machine produces an apt fortune the title of this book and then Steve Rogers is attacked by the assassins of Hydra. After a quick battle the Hydra agents escape and return to their HQ and Madame Hydra. Bad idea – they should have kept running as Madame Hydra dispatches one of them with a lethal hallucinogenic drug.
We switch scenes to Avengers HQ, where Rick Jones and Cap are working out, and watching film of Bucky Barnes. Rick is doing OK but his confidence is shaky and additional suggestions from Cap seem like criticism that he finds hard to accept. Later, while Cap is out a letter arrives at Avengers HQ, an urgent letter marked for Captain America. Rick opens it anyway and gets punished for opening other people’s mail – a non fatal hallucinogenic drug knocks him out, but not before a hallucinogenic nightmare of his own. Hydra agent’s race in and not finding Captain America, decide to take Rick Jones as hostage back to Hydra headquarters and Madame Hydra. Cap arrives just as they are leaving and though he tries cannot prevent them from taking Rick. Upon his arrival at Hydra HQ, Rick is scanned by Hydra. They determine he is no threat. Madame Hydra deduces that Captain America will return to the “amusement arcade” to look for clues as to Rick’s whereabouts, and she plans a trap for him there. She then sends Rick to the disposal room. Rick breaks away from the Hydra agents and heads to the carnival himself to warn Cap.
When Captain America arrives at the carnival he is quickly attacked by the Hydra robot called Man-Killer. The protracted fight is taken to the roof of a building where Cap dispatches the robot by using his shield to re-direct the Man –Killers own missiles back into himself. Madame Hydra and the Hydra agents ambush are in place, and Rick arrives just in time to yell a warning to Cap. Cap see’s this and determines Rick is made of the right stuff. Now Captain America must prove himself to be of the “right stuff” once more and leaps off the building to a river below. He seems to be hit by a hail (hydra) of bullets on his way down and does not re-surface. The police arrive and Hydra retreat in triumph. While searching the river for Captain America the police find a bullet riddled costume and a “Steve Rogers” type mask. This leaves the police convinced that Steve Rogers was a false identity and real identity of Captain America unknown. The story continues next issue.
Jim Steranko really likes to draw hallucinogenic pages and he is very good at them. Ditto for two page spreads. I also learned in this book it is OK to write about hallucinogenic drugs if you are using them to kill or kidnap people. It’s not OK to write about them when you are having fun with them. (See Undervalued Spotlight #197.)
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Lest We Forget
In a bit of a twist we change creative teams in the middle of a story arc back to Jack Kirby with George Tuska as inker.
At Avengers HQ we have Iron Man/Tony Stark lamenting the death of his friend and fellow avenger Captain America. He reads into the Avengers records the details of Captain America’s life. He begins in the Second World War and his litany of foes, The Red Skull, White Death, many others, and my favourite The Unholy Legion of Beggars.
He moves on to Baron Zemo and the drone missile attack that killed his partner Bucky Barnes.
Next is Captain America’s recovery from the arctic ice by the Avengers. Another group of new enemies, AIM, Hydra, The Trapster, Batroc, Modok, others, and a few old ones including the Red Skull and a new Baron Zemo or two.
Iron Man closes the recording by vowing to avenge Captain America’s death.
This book always seemed to me to be a hastily put together book or a filler issue to cover a missed deadline. I have no proof of this it is only an opinion. It works OK but I do see it as one of the weaker entries in the run.
That said it is always fun to see a Captain America review done by Jack Kirby and he does get to draw all those cool villains. This is the last book of note that Jack Kirby does on this title for awhile until he returns in issue #193 Jan. 1976 as Artist, Writer, and Editor for Captain America.
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The Strange Death Of Captain America
Jim Steranko is back as the artist and Tom Palmer is our new inker for this issue, which picks up where issue #111 left off.
The media is reporting on Captain America’s demise. There is joy in Hydra land. Madame Hydra burns the Captain America dossier and then gives a brief overview of her own origins with Hydra, beginning with her time in strife torn Europe as a child, the disfigurement of half of her face (move over Two-Face), to her rising up the ranks of Hydra by process of elimination.
We switch scenes to the Avengers mansion where an inconsolable Rick Jones tries to come to terms with the death of his partner Captain America. The gathered Avengers, Iron Man, The Black Panther, The Vision, Hawkeye, and Thor know they need to prepare for a funeral for their downed comrade, and they also need to know just what happened. Rick is still too grief stricken to speak only to say that they should get a hold of Nick Fury to help with the tribute service at the funeral parlor.
At the funeral parlor, Nick Fury and the Avengers gather with a packed house to honor Cap. There is no body, just a dummy as Cap’s body was not recovered. While paying tribute to Cap, Nick Fury notices a card inside Cap’s casket. He stops briefly and as he reaches and touches the card it turns into more of that damn hallucinogenic gas, knocking out all of the Avengers. Members of the visitation crowd turn out to be Madame Hydra and her team. They now have all of the Avengers and Nick Fury captive and they load them into caskets for burial. Rick Jones has finally made it to the funeral parlor in time to see them loading the caskets in one big hearse. He jumps on the back and follows them to a cemetery. Hydra unloads the caskets and takes them to their waiting grave sites.
Suddenly there is the roar of a motorcycle engine, and flying through the moonlit night come’s CAPTAIN AMERICA! He lives – and on a beautiful two page spread in the middle of the book to boot! Cap tears into the stunned Hydra. Rick Jones join’s in the fighting and after another full one page patriotic spread, Cap hatches his plan. He yells to Rick to grab a gun and point it in the direction of Caps battle with the Hydra agents. Cap breaks and runs to rick telling him to shoot the motorcycle which is loaded with explosive fuel. Rick does it and BOOM – no more Hydra agents, except one Madame Hydra. She knows the score; failure means death (your own). As Cap and Rick work on freeing Nick fury and the Avengers, Madame Hydra fires a group of small heat seeking missiles at Cap and Rick. They dive into an empty grave and the missiles ricochet off headstones back at Madame Hydra BOOM II. We presume this is the end of Madame Hydra (she does return in CA #180).
The battle is over for now. One more two page spread and Cap explains to Rick what and why he did it. Knowing that his Steve Rogers identity would always make him and whoever he was with a sitting duck for Captain America’s many enemies, he decided to kill off the Steve Rogers identity. He made a rubber inflated Captain America with a Steve Rogers mask and through it into the line of Hydra’s fire. Now no one knows who Captain America really is. It also explains why he wanted to get to the roof so badly in his battle with the robot Man-Killer. It might have been easier if he just asked Reed Richards how he does it, but then we wouldn’t have had all this fun!
This is the final book that Jim Steranko contributes to the Captain America title. I love his work, and I know it will not be the last time we spotlight it in Arcs and Runs.
Part 2 of this run continues next week with a new storyline and a slew of new artists. See you then!