Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Captain America: Bicentennial Battles

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Captain America: Bicentennial Battles (volume two of Jack Kirby's 1970s run on the title) (Marvel, 2005).

When I was a kid, I got one of those three-packs of Marvel Comics, and I got it many times. Some company would occasionally repackage some returned comics in a little bag together and you would see it at KMart or someplace where you didn't normally see comics. It would be three for 79 cents or something, and between my mother and well-meaning relations, I got this same package four times over the course of a year. It had an issue of Spider-Man where his car - yes, once, he had a dune buggy - tried to kill him, and an issue of Red Sonja with some crocodile men in a sewer, and Captain America & the Falcon # 201, in which the heroes exclaimed, breathlessly, on the cover, "It's them, Cap - The Night People!" "And if we don't stop them, they'll destroy the world!" I was very, very much a DC reader in the late seventies when I received this treasure - four times - and had not yet "got" Kirby, and for a good while there, unable then to throw anything away, I was completely convinced that this was the worst comic book in the world. And I had four damn copies of it.

It is reprinted in this collection. I was mistaken. But it's still nowhere near Kirby's best work. Taken as a whole as the middle chunk between the wild, fun lunacy of the Madbomb storyline of the first volume, and the ongoing, breathlessly insane fight with Arnim Zola and the Red Skull in the third, this stuff can't help but feel a little bit ordinary in comparison, yet it is still entertaining.

The issue that caused me such consternation when I was small remains a little baffling and odd, but also really mundane. It concerns a really big gang of homeless weirdos who have a teleportation device and access to other bizarre technology, but they just don't seem like a credible threat to anybody this side of the Three Stooges. Finishing up that episode, it's easy to be charmed by Kirby's pacing and amazing storytelling, but impossible to find it really compelling. Nine year-old me wasn't interested in it, and I doubt any adult would be, either, if we're completely honest.

The remainder of the storyline does ramp things up and makes it all pretty worthwhile in the end, thankfully. It turns out that the eccentric oddballs are all the former residents of an insane asylum who built a device to send their hospital into another dimension, where it's under constant attack from weird, silent monsters. Okay, now that should get your attention.

Apart from the five issues of the series reprinted here, there's also an oversized, "tabloid edition" 72-page story that Kirby somehow also found time to write and draw while doing the regular book. It's also pretty ordinary, and kind of typical of a particular 1970s Marvel trope that you sometimes saw in books like Man-Thing, where some cosmic powerhouse insists on making the hero live and relive some wild and unimaginable experience for some nebulous reason, to teach him some kind of lesson or other.

Maybe I need to reread this one, because in between all the business of Cap fighting with General Washington's army and against the Red Skull and Hitler, if I'm picking up castoff Steve Gerber vibes, either the King was desperately trying to maintain an air of relevance in the face of a younger, weirder Marvel bullpen, or I wasn't paying all that close attention. Not really recommended in the face of the two other, far superior books in the series, but a reasonable purchase for Kirby devotees.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

FYI that whole run of KIrby's from his second tenure on Cap is coming out in a month or so.