Saturday, July 4, 2015

An American Odyssey!


1976 proved to be a propitious time for Jack "King" Kirby's return to Marvel and to Captain America in particular. It allowed him the luxury of creating a mammoth tale in one of the then popular treasury editions. Kirby excused the Falcon from this iconic journey which took Captain America into the past, the present and even the future for tantalizing glimpses of moments from America's story.

(Note some differences between this pencil version and the final cover.)
Serving as Cap's spirit guide of sorts was a new character called Mister Buda (revealed many years later to be Tath-Ki of the Elders of the Universe). Buda puts a mystical triangle on Cap's palm which lights up when a transition is about to occur.


Cap then begins an odyssey across the years first landing in Nazi-controlled Germany where he finds his then-dead partner Bucky being interrogated by no less than Adolph Hitler himself. After sharing a brief moment with Bucky Cap is shifted away again to Buda's home but finds himself lost, confronted by an expansive mural similar to one at Gettysburg.


Walking into the street, he is then transported to the days of the American Revolution where he meets Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross who find inspiration in his costume for a new flag. This paradox accounted for Cap then Depression Era NYC where he finds a young boy selling papers who has dreams of one day creating comic books, a boy very similar of course to Jack Kirby himself.


Then it's off to find himself alongside the Native American chief Geronimo, saving trapped miners in a collapsed mine in my own state of Kentucky, and then quickly into a WWI dogfight. Buda shows up again and Cap is confronted by John L. Sullivan in a bare-knuckles boxing match before finding himself helping an escaped slave fend off the men who are bent on recapturing him, and both are helped by a young boy who turns out to be the son of John Brown.

Then on to Alamagordo to see the Atomic Bomb explode in all its horrible glory before finding the conflagration shifted to the great Chicago fire. Then under the sea where scientists work to find food for the growing world population. The future is next, when Cap ends up on a Moon which is a battleground between mysterious forces which must be at least partially American. That becomes the set of a Busby Berkley style musical which Cap leaves disdainfully for all its pagentry.


After that Cap has some control where he goes and finds a young black student working diligently to make a success of himself along with a whole kid's gang who find inspiration in Cap and in themselves as they resolve to work and find success however they choose to define it. That it seems is the thread that ties together the tapestry of the American story.

(My favorite panel.)

Kirby does a great job of telling an American story here which is far from a pagent-show, the usual folderol which passes for patriotism in this nation. While that is there, the substance of the story is about real people in real situations. Given the constraints of time, the ability to touch on all aspects of the American tapestry is limited. No mention made really of any Hispanic connections is an oversight. But then Kirby is writing as always from his own perspective which is informed to a great extent by the Great Depression, so several of the vignettes resonate from that time.


The artwork is stupendous with inking supplied not by the usual suspects. Many point to the work of Barry Windsor-Smith in this book, but for me it is the underrated work of Herb Trimpe who does the majority of the pages who wins the day. He is an ideal inker for Kirby, bringing a warmth to his lines which some miss.


This is a job which could have gone desperately wrong. It might've become a tawdry display of rank simple-minded rah-rah patriotism, but Kirby is not interested in that. He gives us a story which has some more depth than the usual celebratory effort, a story which digs a bit beneath the skin to offer up a commentary which while upbeat in the final analysis doesn't ignore completely the grimmer aspects of the American saga as it reached its two hundredth anniversary. It is instead a true American Odyssey of sorts, full of monsters and myth, but ultimately with an ending which showcases a hero transformed by his journey.


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Friday, July 3, 2015

The Nation Stands!


Marvel Comics in 1975 was losing steam, when Jack "King" Kirby agreed to return to the "House of Ideas", which had been mostly his as it turns out.


It was not as big a bombshell when Kirby returned alas as it was when he originally left, since there was a general sense of inevitability about the whole thing. Kirby was not interested by and large in returning to his old haunts such as the Fantastic Four and Thor, but wanted to do new things such as The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur.


But there was an exception made for Captain America. Cap had been under the control of writer Steve Englehart and artists Sal Buscema and Frank Robbins for several years, but Englehart had recently left creating a void. Kirby came in and largely ignored much of the topical continuity that Englehart had laid down in the preceding issues.


The Captain America and Falcon of this new way forward were not as angst ridden as they had been under previous writers, and they were very comfortable working in sync with the government, specifically SHIELD.


 They are driven to join forces with the United States government when a threat to the whole nation is revealed dramatically enough  as a wave of inexplicable hate overcomes both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson as well as a large part of New York City itself. Struggle and destruction ensued and amid that rubble they are told of the secret conspiracy to destroy the whole nation with a sonic bomb dubbed "Big Daddy", an ICBM-sized device which would throw the country into an orgy of self-destruction.



Behind this scheme is a group of self-absorbed "one percenters" who dub themselves "The Elite". Cap and the Falcon track them into the western "Badlands" and find an underground complex in which a distorted society has reared itself, built on exalted privilege for a few and fueled by greed for those left to support those at the top. It's an Orwellian world in which hate is equated with love. Cap and Falcon are discovered by a girl named Cheer Chadwick, the daughter of William Taurey, the man behind this foul scheme to rid the country of the Constitution and return it to a monarchy with Taurey and his allies at the top.


They fight in a brutal gladitorial contest and alongside the U.S. military are able to bring down the "Badlands" complex. But "Big Daddy" has been moved. By finding its creator, a man named Mason Harding, they hope to find the bomb. But Harding is motivated by the love for his daughter who is overcome by a fatal disease. He is hidden by the Elite as Cap and Falcon and SHIELD descend on their hiding place. But eventually they learn that the bomb is hidden in Philadelphia and the Falcon leads a team to stop it. Cap on the other hand goes to a rich estate to confront Taurey and his Elite colleagues. It's a desperate battle, but it is one at the end of which, as Cap says "The Nation Stands".


I well remember being disappointed by this storyline when I first read it, since it seemed to lack the topicality which had dominated Cap stories of the recent past. But now I see a more subtle symbolism in this yarn which escaped my literal-oriented noggin at that time.


 The "Madbomb" in its shape and function at once stands for the nuclear might which both the U.S. and some other few countries wield, and the effect that awesome power might inflict on the psyche of the public. The concept of "M.A.D." (Mutually Assured Destruction) was a sword of Damocles which hung over the world for decades (and still does actually though we don't confront it nearly as much as we once did in those old "Cold War" times). That fear could easily be manipulated into self-destructive fury.


The world of the "Elites" is remarkable in that they hate democracy, the empowering of the masses. The desire to concentrate power into the hands of a few is a constant struggle in this country, in the world. For those few, currently dubbed "The One Percent", have goals and motivations which do not comport with what is best for the greater whole of humanity.


The story is somewhat simple-minded in that United States military might is offered as a solution to the problem, which while not implausible does offer up a somewhat troubling image. That the Falcon is so easily co-opted into this mindset does run counter to much of his character development which had been the focus of so many previous issues (one of the things which I was annoyed with when I first read the story in its original run).


But one thing I did notice is that the Falcon is often key in much of the story for the success of the effort to stop the Elite. Captain America seems confounded sometimes by the clash of reality and his ideals and the Falcon is able to cut through the philosophy with a no-nonsense attitude.



 The story is clearly meant to give us insights into what makes America a successful nation, and in a reverse mirror sort of way it does just that.


Be here tomorrow for more "Bicentennial Battles" of a somewhat different kind.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Star-Spangled Gamesmanship!


Love this Tales of Suspense cover showcasing an iconic Jack Kirby and Sol Brodsky Captain America figure. This story is the climax of the Sleeper trilogy  which served as a kind of bridge story moving Cap's adventures from the  World War II era into the modern. It was one of those outstanding Marvel Comics heroes cartoons. Get a look at it here.


This ad from Milton Bradley for a Captain America game makes good use of that classic Cap pose. Sprinkled around are images of game cards featuring Goliath, Wasp, Bucky, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, and Marvel Girl. There's also a drawing of the box for the game, an approximate image with a Kirby feel to it.


Here's the actual box, showing a Captain America who seems smooth and slick and not much like Kirby's cap. I'm guessing Joe Sinnott might've had something to do with  it.


And here is the gameboard, a vivid yellow play space.


This game board, despite it lively color is filled with some rather random elements. In addition to valid Cap characters such as Bucky and Baron Zemo, we are given some Avengers such as Wasp, Giant-Man and Thor. Spidey is included for no particular reason, as well as X-Men baddie Lucifer and Thor's Loki and Cobra. The odd parts are the inclusion prominently of Iron Man foe The Mandarin and the Thor enemy The Destroyer. And I don't know what the "Sky Spider" is.

Clearly it appears that the makers of the game had been given access to some Marvel comics, but not necessarily just Cap comics. But it all seems in good fun.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Look Out Axis - Here We Come!

Alex Schomburg
"But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!"

That stanza from "To A Mouse on Turning Her Up In Her Nest On A Plough" by Robert Burns speaks to the situation we have before us today. I try to run a well-managed blog here with mostly mannerly posts about things which strike my fancy or stir my blood or both. I get big ideas about what I want to do and try to set them up in advance so that things will run mostly smoothly day-to-day as my small but loyal readership check in. 

That said, I also have never wanted to make planning posts the primary focus of the blog, but have always allowed for sudden changes to intercede. As a result I'll sometimes write a post which might get kicked around for months before it finally sees the light of day. And that's what is about to happen now...again.

I've been trying to do a series of posts on the atomic superheroes Captain Atom and Solar, Man of the Atom for several months. Originally it was scheduled for March of this year (remember Mushroom cloud cover month). Then it got bounced to April, then May, then June and finally July as other interests got in my way and circumstances didn't allow me to finish up with those posts. I've been advertising all summer how July will see both the Charlton and Gold Key heroes getting some coverage, but alas I've had a new idea. The "Nuclear Summer" as I've been dubbing it is pushed back again, this time to August. So don't despair, if you cared at all. 

The month of July has a new scheme, largely unwritten at this moment, but the focus will be The Invaders, Marvel's ret-conned World War II super team. Also there will attention paid to Captain America in particular as I take a gander at Jack "King" Kirby's return to the character in the 70's. That will start as soon as Friday when we take a close look at the bicentennial storyline produced immediately upon his return.
After that, I've not really set it up, but expect a bunch of stuff related either to Cap, the Invaders, the War, or the creators such as Roy Thomas, Frank Robbins, and other things of that sort. 

Also today kicks off "Hitler Comic Cover Month" in the Favorite Cover section. I want to assure one and all that it is not with any sense of aggrandizing the wretched Fuhrer that I give him so much attention, but merely to recognize the impact the evil dictator has had and to some extent continues to have on the comic book field we all love.

So I apologize for the false advertising, but I hope one and all will join me in the spirit in which I try to keep this blog, one of fun. If we ain't havin' fun doin' this, then what's the point. 

See ya tomorrow!

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Boxing Daze!


Here is a ring full of boxing-themed comic book covers for your viewing pleasure. While the "Sweet Science" has been reduced in our culture to a sideshow, with maybe one boxing match of any significance in any given year (if that) once upon a time boxing was a significant part of the pop culture of our society as evidenced by this wide array of comic book covers. Many have been showcased this month in the regular "Rip's Favorite Cover" section, but almost as many are new, adding up to a full fifty plus boxing covers. Enjoy and remember to keep your hands up and protect yourself at all times.



















































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