Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fail Hydra!

With only twelve issues under his belt in his own series, an "album issue" for Captain America would seem to be premature for readers who might have begun buying the book for its contemporary take on the character rather than his wartime exploits--but writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby pull out all the stops to provide him with one, whether it's warranted or not.

This would be Kirby's last issue as artist on the mag (until he'd step back aboard in 1976 as artist and writer)--so in light of the theme of this issue, and the dearth of a substantive history for Cap beyond his World War II activities, this issue is made up of one oversized panel after another of Cap in action and only minimal narrative to overlap Kirby's work. The panel size was perhaps a decision meant to accommodate Cap's limited exposure to date (in this case, mid-1969). In Captain America, the character has only thus far fought four villains (with the Exiles and the Sleeper included under the Red Skull's wing); and in his time in the pages of Tales of Suspense, he was featured in just forty issues and limited to 11-12 pages per issue, with several of his plots needing to be spread out over multiple issues as a result. With Cap still at loose ends in regard to the direction of his life, an album issue would have little to offer in terms of his personal history or evolution as a character; until now, he has been a creature of duty, a man of action. Most if not all of his stories have had one impetus: to point Cap in the direction of a deadly foe or mission. Had his life and career been uninterrupted by the destruction of Zemo's drone plane, the material for an album issue might have been much more than just the virtual newsreel we're provided with here.

All of that said, Kirby and writer Stan Lee provide in this issue exactly what's billed: a "tribute to the glory-studded career of Captain America." And if that were all there was to base this story on, it would have been better suited to an annual; but Lee gets us there by using the dramatic events of the prior issue to open the story with a startling announcement by law enforcement officers who have discovered Cap's bullet-ridden costume:

It's not like the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. to just throw in the towel when they receive reports on the death of one of their own--especially when no body has been recovered, as is the case with Cap. But Lee will narrate this story through Iron Man, and so further investigation is side-stepped in order to provide Tony Stark with a reason for taking us through Cap's file.

Kirby doesn't spend much time on the issue's collage of retrospective scenes, given that he has just over twenty pages to condense Cap's adventures from both Tales of Suspense and the first few issues of Captain America. Yet he also makes a point of touching on Cap's Golden Age adventures. Many of Cap's opponents in those pages arguably belong in the dust bin of the past--but you can't help but be curious about how in the world a villain called the Butterfly could be "bludgeoning."

With the Invaders and their adventures still years away from appearing on the comics racks, Kirby must make do with a few panels of the Red Skull and a general battlefield scene to depict Cap's overseas wartime participation. But generous space and narrative are given to the events of Cap's encounter with Zemo, which, in this story, includes a curious twist.

Here, Lee paints the drone plane as a much more sinister element of Cap's past. In prior accounts of this scene by both Lee and Roy Thomas, it was clear that the drone was an allied weapon that Zemo plotted to steal and turn over to Hitler:

Avengers #4, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Avengers #56, Roy Thomas and John Buscema

Yet in Lee's newer version, the drone is an enemy plane which Cap and Bucky have been assigned to destroy--a plane which Zemo seems to have booby-trapped with the intention of killing Cap. The different approach Lee's taken might simply be a lapse of memory on his part--or he may have changed his mind about Cap being killed by what would essentially be "friendly fire" when there was really no reason for it. After all, the key word in "booby trap" is "trap"--and with the plane already rigged with explosives in order to use against an enemy target, there's no evidence to suggest that the U.S. army built the drone with the purpose of luring enemy agents who wanted to steal it and then have it explode in their midst.

Thomas, however, disregards Lee's revision here (assuming he even acknowledged it) and sticks with the original version of Cap's story, while seemingly attempting to reconcile the two versions as best he can:

Either way, Cap's fate is sealed--and Lee and Kirby move on to the next phase of Cap's history.

Lee's penchant for flourish and grandeur in his narrative is a bit over the top, in light of the fact that it's Stark who's actually narrating the panels in this issue--and Stark, while having a grudging respect for Namor, would never put him on a pedestal to the extent that Lee does here. ("Nameless rage soon filled his regal breast"? Not likely.)

Interestingly, the one scene you'd think would figure prominently in this issue--the discovery of Cap by the Avengers--is elbowed aside entirely, in favor of a one-size-fits-all display of Cap now alive in the 20th century.

From there, we have a fusion of Tales of Suspense stories meeting those of Cap's solo title, as this album issue exhausts the rundown of Cap's battles nears its end.

"The tantalizing Tumbler"? Really, Tony?

To spoil things for you a bit, it's actually Cap who does the avenging against Hydra, with his death a ruse in order to make it appear that "Steve Rogers" was a facade and thus regain a secret identity for himself. But I know what you're really dying to find out: Did Iron Man ever admit to Cap that he saluted his framed picture??

Come on, say it with me: "Not likely."

The Fantastic Four break up! (Thanks to their movie bombing!) 
Can even their album issue keep them together?

Captain America #112

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Tuska
Letterer: Artie Simek

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This was the issue that Jack Kirby drew over the course of a weekend, and I'm pretty sure that's what accounts for the large panels and frequent splash pages, more than anything else. This issue was sandwiched between Jim Steranko's famous issues, and I'm also reasonably sure it was done to help with a deadline issue. George Tuska inked the issue in about as lightning fast a manner as Kirby did drawing it. It's definitely one of my favorites.