Captain America 70th Anniversary Special #1

A comic review article by: Dan Hill, Charles Webb, Thom Young

Dan Hill  

We've all seen the ads by now- the familiar star logo on a black background with the word "July" in the centre. Some predict the return of Steve Rogers, the 70th anniversary of the character obviously being a prime opportunity to do so. Until then we have Bucky in the main title, and stories like the one reviewed here.

Recently Marvel put out a series of one shots under the Captain America: Theater of War banner. These stories dealt with the Captain America of old (be it World War II or the Commie bashing 1950s). This issue covers similar ground with its World War II setting but is a lot more keyed into the character than the aforementioned Theater one shots. As good as they were, those stories were more about the idea of Captain America, the symbol, what he meant, why there needs to be a Captain America. What Robinson and Martin craft here is a story more about Steve Rogers, and the notion that he was a hero before he took on the suit and shield.

Those who know Robinson's work will know he has a great affinity and talent for writing stories that use Golden Age settings or characters, and this is a story firmly planted in that era, both in its setting and execution. The story is book ended by Cap, Bucky and some soldiers preparing for an air drop over enemy territory with the rest told via the use of flashback. Robinson then gives us a story set just before Steve Rogers swallowed that serum, becoming the symbol of a country. The story is pure Kirby and Simon, with Nazi spy rings and chases over the tops of trains, all taking place in New York. Robinson has a good handle on Steve Rogers. Throughout the story you get the impression that even without that serum he would have served his country the best he could, doing whatever it takes. 

The setting for the most part is Brooklyn and it is brought to life by one of my new favourite artists, Marcos Martin. I first discovered his work on a recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and I've been following his work ever since. He doesn't disappoint here either. His presentation of the period setting really helps sell the story. There's a two page spread of a dejected Steve Rogers walking the street that is a joy to behold. The action scenes are dynamic and flow effortlessly, recalling the work of Kirby without aping it wholesale. Martin also shows us the frailty of Steve Rogers, making his subsequent escapades even more heroic and remarkable. 

Javier Rodriguez (who worked with Martin on his issues of ASM) does a similar thing. His colours are bright and really leap off the page but somehow manage to remain somewhat muted, not succumbing to the easy road of ripping off Kirby. 

Overall, I would say that this is what I liked about the issue. It was a celebration of the character and what came before but at the same time gave us something fresh, another insight into the character and another aspect of his origin. Something old fused with something new. If that isn't enough there's also a reprint of a classic Kirby/Simon tale from Captain America Comics #7 from 1941 entitled "Death loads the bases." Yes, it involves Cap and baseball. It's great and goofy in equal measures and a nice companion to the main story.

If you read the main title and you're missing Steve Rogers, pick this up. It'll remind you why, despite everything, he IS Captain America, and why after 70 years the character still endures.

Charles Webb:  

Plot: It's the origin of Cap's… origin as WWII-era Bucky considers what it takes to be the man behind the mask and shield.

Comments: You know in comedies about time travel where the main guy goes back and somehow becomes the inspiration for Nike or something like that - a weird anachronism that becomes taken as fact in the world of the story, no matter how corny it seems? That's how it felt to see pre-super-soldier serum Steve Rogers outrunning and out-fighting Nazi spies in 1940 Brooklyn.

Flying over Axis Europe in 1942, Bucky contemplates the strength of character it takes for Steve Rogers to be Captain America. The story then segues into an extended flashback sequence occurring between Steve's initial rejection by the Army and his later recruitment into the Super Soldier Program.

Walking the streets of Brooklyn, lamenting his failure to physically make the grade, Rogers stumbles into a dying scientist who entrusts him to deliver an amulet out of the hands of Fifth Columnists. The subsequent pages follow the soon-to-be Cap as he makes his escape through the city pursued by Nazi-sympathizing toughs. Where the story loses me (both in terms of veracity and theme) is how Steve Rogers, the quintessential 90-pound weakling, is able to expertly evade his pursuers, at one point even executing his signature shield toss with a nearby trashcan.

Robinson's thesis – essayed by Bucky – is that the most important thing that goes into being Captain America is the quality of the man Steve Rogers. If then it's not the physicality, why doesn't Robinson spend the majority of the issue showing a test of the man's character? For whatever reason, Robinson chooses to task the soon-to-be Cap in the least interesting way. The future hero evades the villains because of a simple choice (he either lets the Nazis get their way or he doesn't), and it does nothing to explain why this makes him better than other men.

On art, Marco Martin proves yet again that he needs to be on a high-profile ongoing. His characters are distinct and emotive, and his action and layouts are reminders of why some of us read comics: to see the impossible visualized. I think he's on his way to being one of the modern masters of his craft.

Final Word: I would read Marcos Martin's illustration of the phone book but this particular story by the usually reliable Robinson adds nothing to Cap's legacy.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins

Thom Young:  

The title of this comic is strange in a few ways:

  1. It's called Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1--as if there's a chance that there will be a Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #2 or #3, et cetera.

  2. It's dated June 2009, which is not the date of the 70th anniversary of the first issue of Captain America ComicsCaptain America Comics #1 had a cover date of March 1941, which means this current comic marks the 68th anniversary (plus two months) of Captain America Comics--and, naturally, of the title character. 

    Why would Marvel commemorate the 68th anniversary of Captain America? Moreover, why would they call the 68th anniversary (plus two months) the "70th anniversary"?

  3. Finally, even if this was the 70th anniversary of Captain America, why would Marvel choose to celebrate it?

I saw a recent question posed to the president of DC Comics, Dan Didio, in which a fan wondered why DC hadn't marked the 70th anniversary of Superman last year (and it really was Superman's 70th anniversary in 2008). Didio's answer was that those types of decisions aren't his to make.

However, it struck me as odd that a fan would want to have a 70th anniversary commemorated. I would have liked to have seen Didio say something like, "Who really cares about a character's 70th anniversary?"

Why not commemorate the 69th or the 71st year of a character's publication instead? What's so special about "70"? In fact, I would prefer to mark a character's 69th or 71st anniversary--but, then, I have to think of sexual positions and prime numbers that aren't necessarily shared by the general public.

Obviously, the "diamond anniversary" of Captain America will occur in another five years . . . er, make that another seven years since this year is actually his 68th year of existence, not his 70th. Anyway, once I got past the oddity of marking Captain America's 68th anniversary, while claiming it's his 70th, I enjoyed the main story in this issue and appreciated the reprint of the Golden Age story in the back-up slot.

However, the main story not a very notable "anniversary tale" in that it doesn't give us a retrospective of the character's "career." Instead, it is an internal monologue set in 1942 during a military mission in which Bucky Barnes narrates (or thinks to himself) "the secret origin of Captain America" that sprang to his mind as he considered the question "What makes Captain America so special?"

I suppose since this tale is narrated by Bucky, who did not view this element of Captain America's origin in person, the tale might be considered unreliable--i.e., that this story is a myth that Bucky has created for his hero. Through Bucky's narration, we learn that, before he ever was injected with the Super-Soldier Serum, Steve Rogers was able to do all sorts of incredible athletic stunts that were essentially identical to those that he would eventually do as Captain America even though he was a skin-and-bones, 98-pound-weakling.

Thus, Bucky's internal answer to the question of what makes Captain America so special is . . . Steve Rogers. Of course, since Bucky Barnes is Captain America in 2009, his answer from 1942 is a bit ironic--intentionally, no doubt.

Bucky's answer is also probably setting up the eventual return of Steve Rogers as Captain America (yet another character "back from the dead")--perhaps when the actual 70th anniversary of Captain America comes around in two more years (minus two months).

Anyway, if the story is taken literally rather than as a myth created by Bucky about his hero, then it is a little ridiculous as it makes you wonder why Steve Rogers needed the Super-Soldier Serum to begin with. Bucky's view of pre-serum Steve makes it appear that the serum is actually nothing more than some anabolic steroids as the only real difference between the skinny pre-serum Steve and the muscular post-serum Captain America is a noticeable increase in muscle mass.

I always figured the serum not only increased Steve Rogers's muscle mass but that it also sharpened his senses, increased his coordination, escalated his reflexes, et cetera, et cetera. It appears I was wrong. With the exception of large muscles, Steve Rogers seems to have had all of those attributes going for him before being injected with long-lasting anabolic steroids.

The story also seems to hint that the entire plot was conceived by the U.S. government to put Steve Rogers through his paces to see if he should be the man to receive the long-lasting anabolic steroids. In other words, the man who seemed to die in Steve's arms wouldn't actually be dead. Of course, that would also mean that one of the men who would have only been pretending to be a Nazi agent actually was run over by the elevated train--or, maybe not since we didn't actually see the body or any blood and guts spray up from the tracks.

I enjoyed the story, but it's not clear how we should interpret it: As an authentic tale of Cap's origin as told to Bucky by Cap or as a myth created in Bucky's mind, and/or as a plot by the U.S. government to test Steve before injecting him with the serum. There's nothing wrong with the story being ambiguous in this area, though, as it allows the readers to interpret for themselves.

What I really enjoyed about the story, though, were the illustrations by Marcos Martin. There were a couple of places where I didn't care for the choices he made--such as the last panel on page 2 (the first page of the story) in which we get a close up of Captain America's right eye and right ear separated by Captain America's crotch (you have to see it to know what I mean).

Of course, the separation of the eye and the ear by Cap's crotch was just poor planning in the layout of the page. The real problem is that there isn't a valid storytelling reason for that panel to be a close up of Cap's right eye and ear--made worse by having it appear that a word balloon is emanating from the corner of Cap's eye.

The other rough spot in the illustrations is on page 3 in which panels 5-9 are to be read from right to left rather than left to right. However, there isn't a clear storytelling reason for this reversed reading order. It's possible that we are meant to take the reverse-ordered panels as an indication that Bucky's thoughts are "going back to that earlier time before Steve Rogers was injected with the Super-Soldier Serum." However, since the panels then start going forward again at the end of the page--leading up to the first "flashback panel," that gimmick (if even intended) doesn't work.

Regardless, I didn't even read the reverse panels in the intended order initially. I tried reading them from left to right and suddenly realized they didn't make sense in that order. I then realized that the only visual clue to the reversed order were the "puffy dots" that lead from one thought balloon to the next.

I guess those puffy dots just aren't a strong enough visual signal for my brain.

However, that problem may not have been Martin's fault as there is nothing in the panels themselves to indicate a reason for the reversed order. The panels are a sequence of more odd close-up shots: The right half of Cap's torso, the "A" on his forehead, his right shoulder, the star on his chest, and Bucky's face. It could be that the reversed order of the panels was created by the letterer, "VC's Cory Petit," as a way of trying to make those static close-up shots more dynamic by stringing the thought balloons through them in a backwards fashion.

Beyond those problems, though, I really enjoyed Martin's work. There are several places where I thought I was looking at pages illustrated by Marshall Rogers--one of my all-time favorite comic book illustrators. Martin's buildings in his cityscapes reminded me of Marshall Rogers's work a lot. Martin also incorporates the sound effects into the illustrations in the same way that Rogers did (a technique that Marshall Rogers said he learned from looking at Walt Simonson's work in the 1970s).

There were also several action sequences that seem to indicate a Marshall Rogers influence. After reading this story, I was convinced that DC should look into the possibility of having Martin complete the Dark Detectiveseries that Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers were working on at the time of the illustrator's death. With Terry Austin's inks, I believe Martin could pick up the story from the pages that Rogers had completed.

Finally, the back-up story, a reprint of a 15-page story from Captain America Comics #7 from October 1941, isn't one of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's best efforts. However, it was fun to see their quirky take on some notable figures in baseball at the time. 

The villain of the story is a parody of the then-owner of the Chicago Cubs, William Wrigley Jr., who dressed up in a bad Batman costume to murder players on his team (the Brooklyn Badgers)--including an analog of Joe DiMaggio. I wonder what the real Wrigley and DiMaggio thought about this story (if they were ever made aware of it).

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