Monday, March 16, 2009

Captain America and the Falcon: Madbomb

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, a review of Captain America and the Falcon: Madbomb (Marvel, 2004).

Written correctly, there's no superhero more fun than Captain America, who basically has the power to beat the heck out of everybody. His co-creator Jack Kirby understood this better than just about any other writer or artist, and when he returned to Marvel in 1975, following a five-year stint at DC, the company put him back to work on the book. At the time, the comic was struggling for an audience, despite some well-remembered work by Steve Englehart, and the character was sharing his title with a partner, the high-flying Harlem-based hero the Falcon, who brought some period relevancy to the narrative with some very unsubtle dialogue about race relations in the early seventies.

"Unsubtle" is a pretty accurate word for this stuff; bricks to the head have been delivered with more subtlety than Kirby's Crazy Cap Comix. This book reprints the first eight issues of his run, a lengthy story about an underground army of mercenaries led by (get this) 18th Century Tory loyalists, who are planning to detonate a bomb on America's bicentennial that will drive everybody in the country into a gibbering, violent lunatic. It's exactly what anybody would want in a Kirby Captain America comic: giant, bizarre machinery, garishly-costumed villains sneering at everybody, and the hero jumping into a mob of enemy henchmen and punching the daylights out of about nine at a time while choking another goon between his ankles and dodging a hail of bullets. If this book doesn't make you want to draw, then I don't know what to tell you.

Structurally, it is certainly a dated book, and the story feels awkward read in one sitting. Kirby did a great job making every issue understandable for any reader who'd never picked it up before, but in collected form, the characters' constant restating and re-explaining their positions does feel a little long-winded. This is perhaps not the best introduction to Kirby for somebody wanting to see what all the fuss is about, but for those who love him already, it's a terrific read.

(All of Kirby's material from the period is available in three collections. Each, eyebrow-raisingly, is pricier than the previous book, but I will probably be picking up the second, Bicentennial Battles, pretty soon.)

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