Sunday, June 26, 2011

Essential Captain America Volume One

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 Essential Captain America Volume One (Marvel, 1995).

I don't think that I'll be able to give a better short review of this book than the one that my son provided. See, his mother gave him a copy of it several months ago, and it sat unread for an awfully long time. The boy's fourteen; he really has to be in the right mood to tackle something as big as this 520-page book. I don't know about your fourteen year-old, but mine spends his life in a constant state of restless boredom, and never wants to take on a project as big as this without the stars being lined up just right. Then, it's damn the torpedoes because he's going to read the entire book from cover to cover if he can. He gets along great with some friends that I have in Nashville, who would sleep for 48 straight hours in the buildup to the release of a new Harry Potter book, and then read the thing in one big marathon session starting at about 12.03 in the morning of its release.

So it was that I noticed my son crack this book not long after supper one evening, and he continued working through the book, changing from one couch to another for several hours. Lord knows how he did it. The first 160 pages of this book are very repetitive and episodic, featuring simple ten-page action stories without depth or feeling, just the remarkable artwork of Jack Kirby driving them. Other artists, including George Tuska in a really silly story about "sleeper" Nazi super-robots, will occasionally pencil over Kirby's layouts. In time, Kirby and scriptwriter Stan Lee begin introducing more subplot and structure to the stories, which start driving through a maze of grandiose villains and wild technology, but the first chunk of this book really was not meant to be read in a single sitting.

Captain America was not a character that I enjoyed as a kid, but he became one of my favorites when I grew up and began to appreciate Kirby. This is because he has the singular super-power of being able to beat the living daylights out of everybody. Not one at a time. Cap is a marvel when he's confronted by ten suited mob thugs, or twelve Nazi soldiers, or fourteen Hydra operatives, or sixteen oddly-helmeted agents of A.I.M. When that happens, Cap beats the tar out of everybody in a whirlwind of kinetic energy, blurring from one foe into the next in a dazzle of fists and boots and his mighty shield knocking bad guys down like tenpins.

My son's conclusion, when he finally emerged from the spectacle: "I did not know that Captain America was such a beast."

I can't do better than that. Recommended at the rate of one chapter a night for two weeks, and then the remainder of it in one mind-bending, jaw-breaking, skull-splitting session, but definitely recommended.


Bruce said...

Wait till he gets to the point where Kirby came back in the 70's.

And Cap was my go to hero as a kid, and still as an adult.

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

I have shown him that I have those three books. I hope that he'll look into those when he comes back home next month!