Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cap! Bucky! The Hulk! Hydra! Steranko!

After artist Jim Steranko's 16-issue run on the "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." segment of Strange Tales, I'm sure many readers were hoping for an equally long run when he came aboard Captain America almost a year later as Jack Kirby was departing the book. But while Steranko only ended up pencilling a mere three issues, in a way they're just as memorable as when he was immersing Nick Fury deeper into the super-spy world of SHIELD and injecting both with new, vigorous life. Enhanced by Joe Sinnott's polished inking (with Tom Palmer stepping in on Part 3), his depictions of Cap in these issues are almost one-of-a-kind.

The three-issue arc only comprises one adventure--one and a half, if you count Cap's encounter with the Hulk. Looking at the first issue's cover, you'd think you were in for a battle royale between the two:

No, I don't know how the Hulk became Giant-Man here, but cut Steranko some slack. After all, Cap is being attacked by the Hulk--with apparently Bucky, of all people, running toward him, as well. You're not leaving that issue on the rack, admit it.

Let's get that conspicuous part of the cover out of the way first: is that really Bucky? Alive? No, it's just a bait-and-switch, with Rick Jones being paired up as Cap's partner for the story. After getting Rick to safety when he's caught up in the destruction of the Hulk's rampage, Cap convinces Rick to finally stop shadowing the Hulk--a change of direction for the character I practically applauded, since it had really become a broken record by this point (though other writers would give that record more spins in the future). Cap takes him to his apartment to recover--and on a whim, Rick suits up in Bucky's old uniform (which I'm still not sure how Cap would have hanging in his closet, since it would have been blasted to bits along with Bucky)--and after a heated conversation with Cap, he's given the green light to step into Bucky's role as Cap's partner:

And just like that, the two are off on a mission, investigating an underground lair where Hydra is attempting to contaminate the city's water supply. This story doesn't slow down for a second, does it? But what about that battle with the Hulk? Well, we're not kept waiting--because just a page after opening the cover, Steranko's action scenes explode:

I was curious to see how Steranko would interpret this fight, as a Hulk/Captain America battle is woefully lopsided and has never gone the distance, nor could it. I'd really like to see a clever writer at some point give this kind of fight the same treatment we saw with the Spider-Man/Firelord battle, where Spider-Man actually toughed it out against a more powerful foe. But this entire issue will turn out to be bait-and-switch, since Cap's fight with the Hulk is only a prelude to his battle with the forces of Hydra. You might say that Cap has more of an encounter with the Hulk, since the Hulk's fight is really with a group of specially-armed men who are pursuing him:

But with Rick in danger, Cap gets them to back off so that he can distract the Hulk and get the boy out of harm's way. (Yes, I know, even though Rick is the one who got himself into harm's way.) And Cap's intervention plays out as you'd think it would:

So that's pretty much it between the two. But Cap is able to save Rick, at least, after the Hulk's toss of that lamppost causes shock waves that threaten to bring down a building on them:

As nicely as Steranko handles even a brief Hulk/Cap fight, it's the story's focus on Cap's fight with Hydra where the artist truly shines. And from this point on, Cap comes on like gangbusters:

I have to credit the story with not overlooking the fact that Rick suiting up as Bucky is a flaw both on Rick's part and on Cap's. I'm assuming that, during his time hanging with Cap and the Avengers, Rick received minimal self-defense pointers from Cap--but nothing on the scale of training that the real Bucky picked up at Cap's side on the battlefield (as well as what we saw of that training during Ed Brubaker's flashbacks of the character). Realistically, Rick throwing himself into the midst of well-armed and well-trained Hydra goons would be a disaster waiting to happen. As for Cap, he isn't swayed so much by Rick's words, but by memories of his lost partner, and the thought of fighting at his side again. Fortunately, a free-for-all with Hydra has a way of shattering illusions:

At any rate, Steranko's handling of both Cap and the entire arc is dazzling, and Steranko takes over scripting from Stan Lee for the final issue. You can catch the entire story (along with some other Steranko work) in a Marvel Visionaries TPB.


Anonymous said...

Sterenko seems to me one of those artists, like Barry Windsor-Smith and Neal Adams, which would become classics. I'm not crazy about this particular story, but those guys had a talent for making a story I might not care for personally into something visually arresting and worth keeping.

Anonymous said...

I accidently deleted a line out of that statement. What I meant to say was, their brief runs on various titles would become classic to a lot of readers, and my point was that a dynamic artist could make what might be a mediocre or forgettable story into something memorable. I'm a poor typist.