Friday, August 12, 2016

Captain America # 109 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

There are numerous landmark Marvel Comics from the 1960s that historians and fans alike applaud as groundbreaking publications. Fantastic Four # 1, Amazing Fantasy # 15, Avengers # 4, and so many others. For me that landmark moment came with this one from January, 1969. By this point I was reading The Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, and The Fantastic Four regularly, dependent on what money I could make mowing lawns. Captain America # 109 blew me away. This re-telling of Captain America’s World War II origin is a powerhouse story. This is the type of storytelling and artwork that distinguished Marvel from all other comic book companies. Cap has been visited by Nick Fury and reminisces about the war, how he was transformed from being a scrawny kid from the Bronx to a Super-Soldier. Most telling here is the emotional impact when he talks about losing his partner, Bucky Barnes, in combat. Page 8 is a full panel, with Cap reminiscing and Nick Fury thinking to himself: “Man! Is he carryin’ a king size chunk of memories inside’a him!Ya can almost see the past comin’ back – wrappin’ itself around ‘Im – trapping him like it always does…” This is the depth of characterization that Stan Lee and the other writers were able to create, and for Cap it was tied directly to the fact that he’s a man out of time, a relic of a bygone age and fading ideology, plunged headlong into a frightening new world of swinging 60s cultural upheaval and wildly dangerous new adversaries. Captain America # 109 bridges the generation gap. Even though Cap represented the establishment, his angst and turmoil struck a chord with readers. Cap is the unlikeliest of heroes for the anti-establishment 60s. The artwork by Jack Kirby, inked here by Syd Shores, is truly masterful. This is Jack Kirby and sequential comic book art at its very best. Captain America may have been trapped in an ice-flow for several decades, but he’s still a Super-Soldier. Look at these panels carefully, and you’ll believe that Cap can kick Superman's and Batman’s ass at the same time. It almost reads like a filler issue, something they put together simply to bring readers up to date on Cap’s origin while Lee and Kirby plotted additional adventures. This is my favorite Captain America comic book. The flashbacks to the war are stunning, and Cap is poised on the brink of adventures in a terrifying new world. Over the years, other writers and editors tweaked Cap’s origin, revised it, brought Bucky back, and in so doing diminished the carefully wrought characterization that gave Steve Rogers such complexity. See my missive in “Letters to a Living Legend” in Captain America # 221 (May, 1978) where I ranted against revisionist history. They should have left well enough alone. Still, comic books are like soap operas, and the twisted plots and dramatic changes all make for some entertaining reading. The characterization and visually stunning artwork that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created for Captain America # 109 stands as a masterpiece among many Marvel masterpieces.

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