Reprinting Captain America #193-200
Writer/Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inkers: Frank Giacoia and D. Bruce Barry
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $16.99 USD
Man this is some crazy shit!
In 1975, Jack Kirby returned to Marvel Comics after a brief stint at DC. One of Kirby’s first projects back at Marvel was ‘Captain America’. In this multipart epic, Cap and the Falcon discover a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government, create chaos, and establish a “ruling elite”. To achieve this, the conspirators have constructed devices that drive people into an insane, murderous rage. These “madbombs” have already been tested around the country. One bomb drove a city full of people to destroy themselves. S.H.I.E.L.D. has recruited Cap and the Falcon to uncover the conspiracy and discover the largest of these madbombs: “Big Daddy”. If Big Daddy goes off, the entire nation will be driven insane.
The sales clerk described this as “Kirby on drugs”. That’s about right. This book is Jack Kirby in full effect. We’ve got your basic square-jawed, two-fisted he-man action! Captain America, the Falcon, and the U.S. Army charging forward to root out the evil in the heart of the USA. Pow! Sock! There’s a secret society hidden beneath the deserts in the west where Orwell’s worst visions have come to life. There’s the Kill-Derby, armored teams on rocket skateboards fight to the death for the crowd’s amusement. Big guns, mind bombs, hovercrafts, sonic weapons, and other stuff too bizarre for fantasy or reality. And somehow it all adds up to the end of democracy. In short, it’s a lot of exciting amazing things thrown together and running at top speed.
And that, sadly, was Kirby’s biggest flaw. His imagination ran away with him. This story is a series of fight scenes, interrupted by dramatic dialogue. The story runs too fast for anything to leave a lasting impact. That was Stan Lee’s contribution to the Lee/Kirby team. Lee provided a plot, a framework for Kirby’s imagination. Kirby created incredible creatures. Lee made them into characters. Without Lee, without a collaborator, Kirby’s work looks exciting but lacks any depth or lasting impact. He throws a lot of ideas and concepts at the reader, but doesn’t take the time to explore them.
That’s not to say his solo work isn’t good. “Madbomb” has more excitement, danger, thrills, and just plain fun than most comic books or movies. Kirby does throw in small moments to show Cap and Falcon as more than just action heroes. One issue is spent with Cap falling in love with the sick daughter of a conspirator. It’s a rare glimpse at the loneliness and longing felt by Steve Rogers. The courtship is as swift and grandiose as anything else in the comic, but it’s a nice change of pace.
The Falcon comes off as just another “angry black man” character. He grouses about how African-Americans aren’t really free and never have been. Early on, while Cap is talking about an ancestor from the Revolutionary War, Falcon says, “Chances are that he owned a farm with a lot of singing black slaves.” When Cap says he doesn’t recall reading anything in his ancestor’ diary about slaves, and how the country’s grown up, Falcon says, “Jive! It’s still trying, friend! I’ll stake my life on that!” For the record: Falcon destroys the giant Madbomb, while Cap raids the conspirators’ headquarters. Guess who had a harder time of it?
Some things in the book are just plain silly. Like the “rover”, the hovercraft used by the Army to search the desert. Somehow I can’t see the Army use a silver, egg-shaped one-man flying machine in their work. In fact, a lot of the “Kirby-tech” seen here seems out of place alongside the conventional weapons. Hell, it looks out of place for planet Earth! And believe it or not, Cap and Falcon are recruited by Henry “War Criminal” Kissinger. He likes them so much, they can call him “Henny”. Thank God they don’t.
And let’s not forget Cheer Chadwick, daughter of a conspirator, (not the one Cap falls for). She’s been raised to believe she was born better than other people. The masses should serve her every whim. I was looking for Cheer to get some comeuppance. Maybe she gets trampled by the crowds escaping the complex, or gets thrown in jail with “common” criminals. Maybe with her father arrested, she loses her fortune and lives on the street where others look down on her. The lack of an ironic end for Chadwick surprised me.
In the final analysis, this is fun, easy book to read. On first look, the action and visuals blow you away. The impact is greater thanks to modern re-coloring and the glossy paper. It gives the art a 3-D effect. Upon deeper thought, you realize the flaws and how implausible the whole story is. But you don’t care. It’s damn good, weird fun that only comics can give. I’m actually curious to read the next in the series: “The Night People”!
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