Monday, September 22, 2014

Who Lived Before The Legend?

If you're looking for something a little more interesting in a Captain America origin, you might want to give Captain America #215 a whirl. While you'd be correct in assuming that another retelling of Cap's origin wasn't likely to yield anything new, it's really how writer Roy Thomas uses the origin to set in motion a new storyline for Cap that makes this story a little different than the others.

With Jack Kirby's departure from the book in late 1977 (shortly before his exit from Marvel Comics itself), Thomas had the somewhat thankless task of picking up the pieces of the Captain America title from where Kirby left it. From appearances, the situation was in disarray, with Thomas seeming to have been given little lead time for crafting "a new direction" (as the final banner of the Kirby-written story put it) for the character and the book. Instead of a full-fledged story seamlessly transitioning from Kirby's, another version of Cap's origin is plugged into the following issue, with artist George Tuska providing new work for it--and in the issue after that, a reprint from Strange Tales #114 of the Human Torch's battle with a Captain America impersonator. Both issues written in a style that would preface the new material and open the door to the story that would now be focused on: Cap's search for his past as Steve Rogers.

Since Kirby's version of Cap essentially discarded the continuity and characterization of both the book and its characters in favor of the writer/artist's vision of who and what Captain America should be, another origin issue at least serves to help get the character back on track, as well as to re-energize the book's readers. And it's Cap's initial recollections of his impressions of New York City that would set the tone for what follows:

Captain America in the Empire State Building is bound to draw the attention of the tourist crowds--but even they have their use in this story, by giving Thomas the excuse to draw the Falcon's attention and leave Cap alone with his thoughts:

The dialog here and at the end would be the only references that we would see to Kirby's prior story--but it's Steve Rogers' thoughts of his childhood which would now veer us in that new direction. The question is: why do such thoughts begin with the origin of Captain America?

Practically anyone could recite how Steve Rogers volunteered for an experiment designed to create a new breed of "super-soldier"--and how chaos erupted when a spy opened fire after the experiment was proven successful. At that moment, Steve Rogers dedicated himself to the fight ahead:

Tuska does a fine job of covering all the bases in this story, considering the many things an origin tale must make a point of including and not having the luxury of taking for granted when there's the chance the reader might be new to the character. One scene in particular was unexpected--that of PFC Rogers being a thorn in the side to his irascible sergeant:

But then, the more familiar scenes--including the memorable point in time when Cap would take aboard a kid partner, one who would share the danger and be much more than a sidekick:

During the Winter Soldier storyline, this scene would be revised to show Bucky being more of a selected candidate for partnership--which would let Cap off the hook as far as green-lighting an inexperienced teenager for deadly field missions, but perhaps deprive comics history of one of its best-remembered classic moments:

Tuska follows with further wartime "snapshots," featuring Cap's deadliest enemy as well as his closest allies:

And then, a segment of the "replacement" Caps, who assumed the identity of Captain America after he was presumed dead following an engagement with Baron Zemo. The first of these, William Naslund, makes a good beginning but is tragically killed in action in 1946:

Naslund's torch is then passed to the Patriot, who discovers his body and swears to continue the fight:

And then, a brief mention of the Captain America of the 1950s, who came to operate irresponsibly and thereby bringing his career to an abrupt end:

And then, the segments that most readers would be familiar with: Cap being found alive by the Avengers, as well as scenes of the new partners who would fight at his side.

It's a reasonably satisfying origin issue, with some additional narrative and dialog by Thomas to provide some context--though, again, you could make a fair argument that there's really no new material here. True enough; but the issue does serve to reset the clock with Cap, with respect to putting him back into mainstream Marvel and opening the door again to all the characters and organizations he's established relationships with. And after the following two issues, we'd also see the return of longtime Cap artist Sal Buscema for a 20-issue run on the book, providing a little further incentive to invest in future stories.

If this issue's purpose, then, was to buy time for this new direction to be put into place, perhaps it's been time well spent. And speaking of that direction, the final page gives us a teaser of where we're heading:

Despite Thomas's credit in this issue as "new writer," however, he'd only be aboard for this storyline's first two issues before passing the writing reins of the book to fellow scribe Don Glut, who would eventually be replaced by others. As to discovering the mystery behind Steve Rogers' past "soon," that depends on how you define the word. It would be close to a year before readers would discover the answers this story would finally reveal--and at the end of ten months, Thomas's preface here isn't really going to apply to those answers.

On the bright side, if you stay tuned, you're not going to have to wait nearly that long.

Captain America #215

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: George Tuska
Inks: Pablo Marcos
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Anonymous said...

Sorry to nit-pick but where it says "and later with Britishers Union Jack and his sister Spitfire" - well, the proper word is Britons not Britishers. But even most British people don't seem to know that - even though "Britons" appears in "Rule Britannia" (most people think it says "Britain" not "Britons" in that song). Enough of that - George Tuska's art was the first I ever saw in a Marvel comic - he drew Marvel's adaptation of the Planet of the Apes movie and Marvel UK's POTA weekly was the first Marvel comic I ever read.

Anonymous said...

"At first, he was just a skilled acrobat"!?! Falcon's origin was as a skilled acrobat!?! Was his family killed in some circus act leaving Sam "Snap" Wilson an orphan, a young ward in need of a father figure to mentor him? Why does this seem strangely familiar? As though I've read this some where before? Falcon? Falcon? A bird named character who started as just a skilled acrobat? Making my head hurt, must lie some cheese.

The Prowler (waiting with cheese baited breath the final installment of the X-Men saga).

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I'd never even heard the term "Britisher" before now, so I'm not likely to doubt your opinion on the matter. Well met, sir.

Prowler, that's a fair point about the Falcon being pretty raw in the acrobatic department when Cap met him. Perhaps by "skilled," Cap was simply referring to his early training of Falc, and the potential he saw in him.