"Captain America Memories"A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Daniel Elkin, Paul Brian McCoy, Chris Power & Dave Wallace
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you must know that the highly anticipated Captain America: The First Avenger film opens nationwide (in the US) today. To commemorate the arrival of America's Hero to the big screen – at least in a film with the budget and talent behind it to make it a worthwhile experience to more than just the hardest of hard core fans – we at Comics Bulletin would like to share some of our favorite Captain America memories!
Forgive me if I dominate this discussion, but Cap is one of my all-time favorite characters and I've been reading and enjoying his adventures since I was a tiny child.
My first real memory of Captain America is the cover of Captain America #193. The year was 1975 and I was seven years old. I'm pretty sure I'd read one or two issues before that, and I'd been reading The Avengers so I was well aware of Cap by that time.
But what the hell was a Madbomb? I had to know!
This was King Kirby's triumphant return to Marvel and Captain America. There's just something genius about giving Kirby full control over both the writing and art on Captain America as we headed into the Bicentennial Year.
And how did he kick it off? By having Falcon call Cap "Whitey" just before a full-fledged riot breaks out, destroying most of the neighborhood! Then, Cap and Falcon get recruited by SHIELD to go track down a massive Madbomb called Big Daddy!
Oh yeah. And Henry Kissinger gives them their orders.
My tiny child-mind was blown.
And I didn’t even know who Kissinger was.
I don’t know. I’m 10 years old or something (so many years ago) and somebody knew I loved comics so they handed me a reprint of some old Marvel tales and I stumbled across this and was entralled. For me, Captain America has always been about this (from Joe Simon and Jack Kirby):
Every sentence on this page ends in an exclamation point! Everyone is shouting! Everyone is excited! It’s absolutely infectious! And there’s the mood ring environment pulsing from blue to brown to yellow to red, throbbing with excitement as well – the Pathetic Fallacy! Oh, and Steve Rodgers was so scrawny, so puny, so sickly (just look at the size of his waist), so ME – and then boom to buff, he glows, he glows!
“Daddy, why doesn’t Captain America have nipples like everyone else?” “Because he is America, son… AMERICA!”
Yes sir, this is truly America, isn’t it by golly, by gum – he’s our Captain America – created through science; he’s a Walking Testament to the Greatness of our Pharmaceutical Corporations Snuggled and Spooning in Bed with the Military Industrial Complex; he’s the first in what is to be an Army of Unstoppable Super Soldiers. How noble, how American! Damn right he doesn’t need no nipples!
But whatever -- we live in cynical times now and it’s so easy to be cynical in them. This Simon/Kirby Cap was a symbol of whom we once thought ourselves to be. The one we could have been. The one we should have been. The one we, perhaps, still can be. This is Captain America and to a prepubescent boy trying to understand the world’s complexities he was a clear hero. He may have had no nipples, but he had no gray areas either.
Every single issue of the Roger Stern and John Byrne run, short though it may be, is damn near perfect. You could probably pick a favorite moment from any single issue. But when I was in Junior High and read Captain America #254 I fell in love.
You have to understand, though. For me, love was being thrilled by a generational passing of the torch for Union Jack, and watching Cap finally do what every right-thinking person knows has to be done with vampires.
When Baron Blood is finally knocked back on his heels, Cap does the right thing and CHOPS HIS FREAKING HEAD OFF!!
How could you not love that?
I didn't know at the time that Byrne was only going to be around for one more issue, but I knew then and there, that this was a special moment. That run was one of the best in the history of Captain America comics, and this final story brought the UK equivalent, Union Jack, back to the Marvel Universe.
I'll let you in on a little-known fact. When my Junior High art class did mirror etching, I etched the cover of this issue onto a mirror and it hung on the wall of my bedroom for many years after. Yes, I was that kid. But damn if it didn't look cool.
I wonder where that mirror is now?
I have no idea.
Everybody knows that the regular MU Captain America is secretly a bit boring, really. For me, the most compelling take on the character has come in the first two volumes of Ultimates, by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch.
Their take on Steve Rogers retained all of the key aspects of his MU counterpart's personality: his heroism (check out that assault on the Nazi fortress in the very first issue of Ultimates); his strategic flair (he makes taking down Giant Man with his bare hands look like a walk in the park); the man-out-of-time gaps in his knowledge of the modern world (someone, please tell him who Brad Pitt is); and his patriotism to the point of near-blindness (how else could he happily salute George W. Bush in front of the world's media like that?).
But what Millar and Hitch also added was the kind of attributes that you might expect of a career soldier whose task is, above all, to get the job done and achieve his objective. How else to explain his cold, calculated approach to being deployed as a "person of mass destruction" to handle a hostage crisis in the Middle East?
Or his willingness to turn on perceived traitor Thor so quickly when he thinks that the country's interests are being compromised by the thunder god?
Or his down-and-dirty fighting when he takes out the Hulk in the middle of New York in Ultimates #5 (followed by the even dirtier move of kicking a transformed Bruce Banner square in the jaw afterwards, just for good measure)?
Ultimate Cap is nonetheless the heart of the Ultimates team. It's particularly telling that he's the character who's targeted by Loki in Ultimates volume 2, with his downfall becoming the catalyst that fractures the team--and his return being the only thing that can save the group (and the country) from being overthrown by foreign invaders.
Just don't ask him what the letter on his head stands for.
It's really only recently that I've gotten a look at what Stan and Jack were doing with Cap just after they brought him back to the Marvel Universe. Sure, they had him revived in The Avengers #4 and he'd been pulling in the readers in that title, but in August of 1964, Cap premiered in solo adventures with the release of Tales of Suspense #59, and boy did he premiere with a bang!
This isn't the greatest story. In fact, there's not much of a story at all. But what it is, is breathtaking! I mean, just look at that splash page!
That sums up what Captain America was to Sixties Marvel: Non-stop action. This issue tells the tale of Cap's night manning the phones at Avengers Mansion. A group of villains think that since Cap doesn’t have any powers, he's their weak link.
But Cap is anything but a weak link.
Essentially, the story is just an excuse for Jack Kirby to draw seven full pages of Captain America kicking ass. This adventure was the distillation of Kirby's Captain America in the Sixties. It's non-stop action as Cap uses his brawn and his brain to take down a gang of thugs (including a hulking guy in a suit of armor) as they try to invade the mansion.
It's poetry in motion, is what it is.
And that opening splash page, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual story, is the perfect encapsulation of what Lee and Kirby were doing with Cap. It was all about action, movement, and excitement. That picture is so freaking perfect I've got it hanging on the wall of my office. I'm looking at it as I type this, and it's just amazing.
This is the perfect visual representation of Captain America.
I am not a huge Captain America fan, so I do not have a lot of favourite moments from comics for him, but I have one from my favourite game Heroclix. It is the story of the "Smokey Feet Captain America".
The story goes that one of the big wigs at Wizkids Games, when it was owned by Topps, had a figure commissioned for one of the Heroclix sets. It was a Captain America figure at a time when there were very few Captain America figures in the game. That piece had the following image leaked:
The big wig then decided that the piece would not be made, and the prototype would simply be on his desk as some kind of trophy. Eventually that version of Wizkids died (perhaps for obvious reasons) and was sold off to NECA.
Smokey Feet Cap as he is termed finally made an appearance in the set Hammer of Thor. People went bonkers over it! A great sculpt and really playable piece! Since its release it commands about $30 on ebay for a tiny piece of plastic.
As of last week a new Captain America set was released. I know that the Heroclix community is clamouring for it. I am happy for all the Cap fans that they received, now, many great pieces of their favourite character.
Now with that out of the way, take this opportunity to settle back and enjoy a nice, cool beverage on this hottest of summer days.
And whatever else you do is your own business.