Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Shield! Nooooooo!

In Captain America #196, in the midst of writer/artist Jack Kirby's run on the title, there's a scene where Cap is taken prisoner by an underground group bent on bringing down the U.S. government and creating a new society built on its ashes. And we see one of the men relieving the unconscious Cap of his shield:

Normally, we wouldn't give this scene a second thought. I mean, this isn't the first idiot who's made off with Cap's shield and didn't end up keeping it when Cap finally caught up with him:

As we can see, it seems no big deal here to Cap to reclaim his shield. After all, this guy's Captain America, not Captain Shield. All he's done is retrieve a valuable offensive/defensive weapon that's served him well. Another scene we didn't read more into than necessary.

However, allow me to introduce you to Jack Kirby's Captain America, who practically becomes a crazed animal when the Falcon--also in apparent shock--points out that his shield isn't in the same room with him:

Good grief--you'd think his captors had made off with Sharon Carter intead of a disc of metal.

But, Cap just lost it here for a second, you're thinking. We can cut him some slack for that, right? Once he gets a grip, he'll calmly assess the situation, make plans with the Falcon for escaping, and go from there. He's not the type of man to become more despondent about this, is he? Certainly not defeatist over a shield, right? Well, let's just be thankful that the Falcon was there to dry his tears:

Letter writer Mark Zutkoff had some harsh words for Kirby a few issues later, touching on this strange shift in character for Cap: "...we get a Captain America who's driven to the brink of madness, despair, and breakdown by, of all things, the loss of his shield! ... his reaction went a bit too far." However, the response to the letter differed:

"No matter what, Cap is and always will remain a patriot. No, not a half-blind extremist, but rather a man who loves his country. And we feel that such a man, who has for so long been a living symbol both of and to his country, will rise to the occasion when an inanimate symbol, such as the flag or his shield, is degraded. So, it's not as out of character as you think."

I don't know if the responder actually read the issue in question--but when Cap makes his escape and goes looking for his shield, his near-hysteria goes a bit beyond rising to the occasion:

Thankfully, Cap indeed does get his shield back and calms down, once again the voice of reason (at least for the moment) as he works to foil the Madbomb scheme. Though heaven help Jarvis if he should misplace the darn thing at Avengers Mansion.


Karen said...

Ugh. This display of sheer lunacy from Cap was a huge letdown after the Englehart years. I remember dropping the book pretty quickly. It was also just sad to see Kirby come back and churn out stuff like this.

Comicsfan said...

It's certainly surprising to see that, of the writers who have had runs scripting Captain America, Kirby stands out as being the one who doesn't "get" Cap--at least, not the Cap who was thawed by the Avengers. For one thing, Kirby's Cap seems highly reactionary, not necessarily looking before he leaps--far from the reasoned, experienced fighter we've come to know. For instance, here, Cap is horrified at the thought of his shield becoming "part of a degrading spectacle"--yet Cap himself becomes part of that spectacle in order to retrieve it. Where is the difference? He's certainly at least as much of a symbol as his shield, isn't he? The Cap who was revived by the Avengers would have put the mission first, rather than become so fixated on an object which he could have retrieved when he had the opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Well, I gotta agree with Karen in part...that "Madbomb" arc wasn't great. In, fact, it was lousy. But I might take issue with her about the quality of the subsequent issues during Kirby's run. I just disagree... There was a lotta wild stuff going on there, Arnim Zola and the Red Skull, and I thought it was pretty great. (although, I must admit I was only seven years old at the time.)
Kirby took a fierce drubbing from readers because he wasn't Englehart.
But guys, Englehart was not Kirby. Different skill set.
Kirby wasn't a reactionary, heck, I suspect he disliked Nixon more than Englehart did. Jeez, I know my grandfather from the same generation sure detested Nixon and his cronies. It just didn't come out in the work. Kirby didn't do politics in comics.
Funny thing is, compared to what we're seeing now, Nixon seems like a cartoon character.
I'm almost starting to miss the guy.

Comicsfan said...

Quite correct, Anon, I had a slip of the keyboard--the term I'd meant to use was "reactive" rather than "reactionary." Mea culpa. :)

Longbox Graveyard said...

Kirby's 70s return to Cap was at best an acquired taste ... I reviewed the whole run at my blog a couple months ago and was sorry to see it didn't hold up, although the supremely weird Arnim Zola made up for many sins. I didn't notice Cap's strange shield sensitivity on my read-through, but Kirby's style so amped up the emotional wattage that it may have been easy to overlook.

Overall, this is no better than second-rate Kirby, but you know what they say about comparing second-rate Kirby to first-rate something else ...

(And forgive this sidetracking, Comicsfan, but I'd like to contact you directly about a blog panel project ... can you email me: longboxgraveyard (at) gmail (dot) com for details? Sorry to use this forum for backchannel business but I didn't see a contact link on your excellent site!)

Comicsfan said...

That's a good point, LG. I think Kirby's standing out among his peers continues and will continue to be the case for some time to come, given the large body of work he contributed as well as the incredible level of talent of the man, even if his style may no longer set the standard as it once did. His writing evidently wasn't everyone's cup of tea, and IMO it helped to make for a rather unceremonious second exit from Marvel; but, that said, I must add (as you have) that there were still some things to appreciate.

HellRazor said...

This is a perfect example of how Kirby did his best work when he was partnered with a good scripter and/or co-plotter.

Kirby brought to the table his awesome, innovative artwork, as well as a seemingly endless number of wild, wonderful ideas and concepts. But left to his own devices, his plots were often rambling and disjointed, and his dialogue was extremely stilted and unnatural. You can read virtually any comic book that Kirby wrote to me, and I can identify it as his work immediately, sight unseen.

His dialogue in particular is almost completely interchangeable with any character he wrote. Kirby's Captain America talks just like Kirby's Superman, Kirby's Ikaris, Kirby's Etrigan, Kirby's Kamandi, etc. Kirby was a genius, but scripting, dialogue and characterization were not his strong points.

It's fashionable these days to sell Stan Lee short, but Stan Lee is the difference between Kirby's work on Fantastic Four and Thor in the 60's, and Kirby's work from the 70's forward. Lee brought balance to Kirby. Lee COMPLETED Kirby. Kirby was never as good as he was with Lee because he needed Lee to temper and forge the hot steel of Kirby's marvelous artwork, concepts, and ideas.

HellRazor said...

As bad as "Madbomb" was, it was the best arc from Kirby's run.

But we did get Arnim Zola from this run, so at least it wasn't a total loss.