Essential Captain America 6
Martin Skidmore — 06-Apr-11
My god the slump in standards some way into this is painful. I’m not sure I can think of another Essential volume where it’s so precipitous.
It starts off wonderfully, with a run of exceptional 1977 Kirby issues. A fine story involving a German commandant in South America, known as the Swine, a fabulously nasty and rather pathetic character, is followed by an extraordinarily imaginative, even by Kirby’s astounding standards, sequence against Arnim Zola the Bio-Fanatic, accompanied by the absurd Doughboy and a living castle, climaxing with the appearance of the Red Skull. The events of this blind Cap, and then he comes up against a super-assassin while still sightless. Finally, we get a lively Annual, featuring a genuinely original mutant and Magneto, admittedly accompanied by a pretty uninteresting new throwaway Brotherhood.
This is all terrific, immensely inventive and exciting. Then it goes badly wrong. Roy Thomas and George Tuska recap Cap’s well-known history for one issue. The next issue is a fill-in reprint, of the fake Cap in an early Human Torch strip. Then we get Don Glut taking over on scripting, with a desperately lame new SHIELD super-team, which Cap declines to join. Glut then shows he is the poor man’s Roy Thomas, giving a lengthy answer to an ancient continuity question no one was asking: how did Cap get from falling into the English Channel to where he was found? A sane person’s answer is many years of floating, of course, but no: instead we are told that was NOT the end of his early career, but that he was rescued from there and then there was another adventure that some gas made him forget until now, and the feeble villain is still around to menace him again. This is an incomparably worse narrative than the original, so I’m not surprised that no one (as far as I know) has brought it up since.
It flounders around after that: writers David Kraft, Steve Gerber, Peter Gillis, Roger McKenzie, Roger Stern and David Michelinie swim in and out in 11 issues, with Sal Buscema providing some stability on art. Gerber’s issues are reasonably interesting, but not amongst his best or strangest. I kind of like Sal, as he is always efficient at telling the story, but none of this is among his better work. Too much reliance on standard poses and moves, and largely fifth-rate inking from Esposito, Tarataglione and Perlin.
Who writes the blurbs on these things (see also my Showcase Witching Hour review)? As well as missing the key selling point here (it should just say INCLUDES NINE ISSUES AND AN ANNUAL BY JACK KIRBY), they tell us breathlessly that this includes “the debuts of the Constrictor and the Super-Agents of SHIELD!” Since the latter team fell apart instantly and were forgotten about a week after these issues came out, and the Constrictor made his debut in the Hulk, not here, and no one cares anyway, this is exceptionally lame.
Anyway, see the boldly capitalised line above for why this is so worth buying – around 250 pages of genuinely great superhero comics by perhaps their greatest ever creator, for the price of half a dozen new Marvel comics.