"...A Cascade Of Wasps Attacked the Furry Monster!" COMICS! Sometimes You Worry About The Men Who Made Them!

That's right I read some comics. Some of them were old and some of them were new and one of them wasn't really a comic at all. But only one of them made me think it was a miracle anyone was actually conceived in the '50s. Photobucket

Yes, paging Dr. Subtext! Outbreak of '50s gynophobia! But then to nostalgic old fools like me '50s gynophobia is arguably the finest gynophobia of all! Anyway, this... THE SHAOLIN COWBOY ADVENTURE MAGAZINE #1 The Shaolin Cowboy in "The Way of No Way!" by Andrew Vachss and Geoff Darrow Time Factor by Michael A. Black Illustrations by Geoff Darrow and Gary Gianni Designed by Peter Doherty Cover by Scott Gustafson Dark Horse Books, $15.99 (2012) Shaolin Cowboy created by Geoff Darrow


This isn't a comic book, best get that straight right from the off. What it is is a loving evocation of the pulp magazines of the past. Peter Doherty has designed the book, and every page within it, to wilfully evoke those deceased progenitors of the super hero comic. He draws short at leaving the page edges untrimmed but other than that it's a splendid piece of design work. The contents are very reminiscent of the old pulps too. I haven't read a lot of those but what I have read of them they were largely shaggy dog stories told in very wordy way with the main draw being the charisma of the central character and the outlandish inventions deployed by the (often uncredited) authors to delay the ending.  Pulps were largely exercises in covering as much ground with as little material as possible (very much like certain comics from The Big Two. Ha ha! You Crazy!) but fought hard to be entertaining while doing so (unlike certain...Ha ha! Me passive aggressive!).


So what you get here consists of pages of words punctuated by  a plenitude of Darrow's hypnotically precise spot illustrations and a smattering of full page "Helpful Hints" where Shaolin Cowboy helpfully shows you how to switch on a toaster before e.g. tearing off someone's nutsack with it. That's the joke there and it's the same joke every time but as with certain jokes the accumulative repetition somehow keeps it funny. Because that's the thing about Shaolin Cowboy isn't it? There aren't a lot of jokes but what there are are good jokes. The best joke in the comics is appreciating the density of illustration used to enliven such meagre plots. The trick here is that Vachss and Darrow make the language serve the illustrative function but the joke remains, in essence because whole pages dense with text  are spent describing a scene only to have the scene change suddenly. More space is spent describing how the people Shaolin Cowboy is about to dispatch look than there is spent describing how they are dispatched. As with the comic the emphasis is on appearance rather than action. You will have to like words to like this one.

Darrow and Vachss have worked together before (Darrow did the covers for Vachss' 1995 CROSS series at Dark Horse and worked on the 1993 ANOTHER CHANCE TO GET THINGS RIGHT g/n along with many other artists) but it's surprising how well it works here given that change of emphasis from art to text. Vachss is a perfect choice for a pulp project like this. He's an accomplished writer of fiction whose work tends to read like nothing so much as pulp filtered through a dark adapted eye. His Burke novels are pretty much What If  Doc Savage and his crew had all had terrible childhoods and now hunted sexual predators with absolutely no intention of rehabilitating them. Vachss is an imposing figure what with his designer suits, eye-patch and general stance that seems to declare that he has just dealt with something and it will never hurt anyone else again. He isn't a dilettante either, just paddling in the waters of human atrocity for profit. This is from his bio in the back:

"Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, and a labour organiser, and has directed a maximum-security prison for "aggressive-violent youth". Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youth exclusively."

This explains the references to the organisation PROTECT which crop up in the book and the no-nonsense message about kids and violence. Andrew Vachss makes Steve Ditko look indecisive is what I'm saying. I'm glad there is someone out there like Andrew Vachss, almost as glad as I am sorry that there is a need for people like him. But I can assure you that my rating is based entirely on the fact that I really enjoyed the book. It certainly isn't fear of having my legs broken that makes me say it was VERY GOOD! Also, the Michael A. Black time travelling/dinosaurs short that brings up the rear of the book is pretty neat and will take you back to Sundays reading Ray Bradbury on the rug in front of the fire before you even knew the world contained kids less fortunate than you who needed things like PROTECT.


ALL STAR WESTERN#13 Jonah Hex: Art by Moritat, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, coloured by Mike Atiyeh and lettered by Rob Leigh. Tomahawk!: Art and colour by Phil Winslade, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and lettered by Rob Leigh. DC Comics, $3.99 (2012) Jonah Hex created by Tony DeZuniga and John Albano Tomahawk created by Edmund Good and Joe Samachson


This book gets worse and worse and it still sells more than it did when it was called JONAH HEX. But then it isn't about Jonah Hex anymore is it? No,  it's more like Jonah Hex And His Amazing Friends. Except they are far from amazing and, as he's Jonah, they aren't really his friends, so it's more Jonah Hex And Some People Tolerating Each Other. Whatever I say about this book (and I'll be saying some stuff alright) all that needs be done to refute me is to chuck back its sales figures in my angry biased jealous fan boy face. The guy doing the most work here is clearly Moritat and he does a far better job than the material requires. Look, this isn't about Jonah Hex being "my" character and how I don't like what they've done to him. It's about bad comics. This one starts off with a clown killing a priest. He is killing the priest because he does not like priests because they fiddled with him when he was a kid. Jonah and his crew show up and notice the dead priest has had his face painted like a clown and someone says there's a circus in town and, oh God, oh Jesus....it's not exactly a fucking "two pipe problem" is it, Watson?


And I've gone Holmes on you there because what this comic is also doing is bringing in fictional literary characters from the period the book is set in (at the minute we have Edward Hyde, y'know, from Little Dorrit.) I can only guess they are doing this because the constant shout-outs to DC super hero continuity aren't stupid enough. I've got no beef with either man (I'm certainly not jealous(!)) but Palmiotti and Gray's work comes down heavily on the commercial rather than the creative end of the see-saw. It beggars my mind why on earth they would seek to go toe to toe in the shared-world arena with Kim Newman, Philip Jose Farmer and that elderly Englishman we've all decided we hate (because although less than he was he still makes everyone else look bad).  In comparison this is just pantomime and Palmiotti and Gray look like they'be both not only turned up as the horse, but they've miscalculated further and they both came as the horses' ass.  C'mon, the clock is ticking until Spring Heeled Jack shows up. After all some claim the murders ended because he sailed to The New World, how can they resist. Look forward to "It's Saucy Jack, sir! He's struck agin! Right under our very noses!" That should show FROM HELL up good and proper. Yeah, I know; but it sells more than ever - so I lose. I looOOooooOOOOOOooOOse! Look, something can be successful but still CRAP! It isn't a critic's job to tell you what's selling - it's their task to tell you whether something is any good or not and why. Sometimes elliptically. Sometimes irritatingly.


UNTOLD TALES OF THE PUNISHER MAX#5 Art by Mirko Colak (p) and Norman Lee & Rick Ketcham (i) Written by Skottie Young Coloured by Michele Rosenberg Lettered by VC's Cory Petit Marvel, $3.99 (2012) The Punisher created by John romita Snr, Ross Andru and Gerry Conway


There are many audacious things aout this comic written by the man who will, on this evidence, remain better known for his art on Marvel's wonderful Oz books. First up is the fact that Young attempts to position FrankMax as some kind of homicidal homilist dispensing murder and maxims. That would be okay(ish) if this were FrankNorm but in the MAX (So uncompromising! So complex! (i.e. violent and cruel)) world it seems a bit...off. Like FrankMax's taken one too many blows to the head and suddenly become simple minded or something. Don't get me wrong it's a good moral but I don't know if the guy who (spoiler!) killed your Dad is the guy you're going to listen to. No, put the phone down! Not your Dad; the Dad in the book. The Punisher didn't kill your Dad! He isn't real! No, The Punisher isn't real, your Dad is. Look, you're just doing it on purpose now.


The other bold move is to have the issue basically centre around a high-stakes cat and mouse game revolving entirely around the making of cheese macaroni and, specifically, whether there is some cheese in the fridge! I won't spoil it for you. No, not the cheese that's okay it's in the fridge. Or! Is! It!? I kind of liked that actually; it amused me. Young really stretches my credence to cracking point though when he suggests someone's favourite movie could be Appollo 13. Hey, it's a decent movie and it documents a thoroughly remarkable instance of insanely laudable human bravery and ingenuity no doubt, no doubt. But...favourite movie? Ever? Of all the movies you have ever seen? Okay, it might be crew members Lovell and Hise's favourite movie (Swigert died before it was made but he'd probably have been mad keen on it too.) but this comic isn't about them. I know all kids think their Dad's taste in movies suck but c'mon. Even my Dad likes Reservoir Dogs (altho', "There's no real need for all that language, John.", so spaketh he.) All this together with the unspectacular art makes the comic EH! And in the end the brassiest thing about the comic is that Marvel charged $3.99 for it. (You don't even get a Free Digital Code!)

HAUNTED HORROR #1 Art by C.A. Winter, Bernard Baily, Mike Sekowsky & Bill Walton (attrib.), Jack Kirby & Joe Simon, Jack Cole and Jay Disbrow. Reprints tales from WEIRD TERROR#1 (1952), THIS MAGAZINE IS HAUNTED#4 (1952), BAFFLING MYSTERIES#6 (1952), BLACK MAGIC#31 (1954), INTRIGUE #1 (1955) and CRIME DETECTOR #5 (1954) Cover by Warren Kramer and Lee Elias IDW/YOE Comics, $3.99 (2012)


If you don't think that that fine as wine cover is some kind of awesome then you best look away now because that's the smoothest thing in this package. And what a package this is! A splatter of pre-Code horror comics from various sources and various artists that shores up the case for art being the decisive factor in a comic's appeal. Because these sure ain't some well written comics. Apart from the Simon & Kirby (S&K) tale none of the other contents even get a writer credit. I'm not really surprised either. These things are entertaining allright but probably not in the way the authors intended. If the authors even intended anything because back then people just wrote this stuff to eat and they had to write a lot of it and they had to write it fast. Intentions are a very modern affectation for comics writers, tha ken. The more sedate of these tales are written like the writer’s got his cock in a mangle and he’s just learned he's late for a plane.They aren't exactly coherent is what I'm saying there. But the best one is "Black Magic In A Slinky Gown" because it has an almost palpable revulsion for women and the dirty, dirty things they make men do with them. The author of this one is only saved from almost certain Sectioning by the addled and unfocused nature of the storytelling. Or maybe it makes it seem worse than it is; either way it's hilarious. The kind of story you imagine being written by the kind of man who silently props up the bar surrounded by a circle of silence and goes home and the next time you hear about him it's in the paper and it isn't for winning the lottery.


In a more commonly accepted sense of "best" it's "Slaughter-House" which takes the prize. This is by S&K and is a real shocker. It's f-in' brutal!  A couple of battered Joes resist after the Earth has been conquered by '50s style aliens and it's all really unsettling. It's as though limited as to what they could depict visually S&K snuck through the real horror in the text. Seriously, it's basically got humanity being herded into killing pens and "...SLAUGHTERED like beef on the hoof!" With the wire and the guards and the mechanised death and the resistance and the Quislings and...you don't need letters after your name to know what S&K are on about (World War 2, darlings. World War 2). It also contains the word "noggin" which automatically makes my day. The ending is uncharacteristically downbeat for Kirby (maybe it's more Simon) but it's weird to reflect that The King's work appears more pessimistic before Marvel fucked him over than it does after. Because while this story apparently refutes it Jack Kirby, and I may have mentioned this before, never gave up on us.


This is a VERY GOOD! package overall. Not just for nostalgia (because don't you have to have experienced them first time round for that?) but also out of interest in what comics used to be like. Turns out they were the kind of thing that, had it been produced yesterday by people under thirty, would tickle the 'nads of VICE readers as much as the sight of a pretty girl reading Infinite Jest opposite them on the subway. (Honestly, there's some real Charles Burns/Dan Clowes look-a-likey stuff in here.) Also, for people who like their reprints just the way they were this book is for you, Brian Hibbs! It looks like someone just scanned the comics in and adjusted the contrast and so all you need is a Police Action in Korea, a corn dog and a cop on every corner for it be just like the good old days again!

Make Brian Hibbs smile like a child again by buying HAUNTED HORROR #1 from HERE.

And like the good old days - I'm gone!

Hope y'all had a good Thanksgiving and remembered to give thanks for COMICS!!!

"Nobody Messes With The USA And Gets Away With It!" COMICS! Sometimes They Are Liberal-Leaning!

Hello! If you were at Comic-Con on Friday 13th then I’m sure you did the decent thing and spent the hours of 2 to 4 at the Hermes Press booth where Howard Victor Chaykin was due to manifest in physical form, to enrich all who gathered to hear about his forthcoming BUCK ROGERS project. I wasn't there due to restraining orders and such legal trifles that need not concern us here, but I did read a HVC book so I didn't feel too bereft. So, without any further ado lets dunk the silky biscuits of our attention in the hot and steaming coffee of HVC comics! Cawfee! Photobucket

"I Like Ike!"(1)

Oh yeah, this one’s for all the patriots out there!

In fact so star spangled is this post that the casual reader might spring to the conclusion that it was supposed to go up on the 4th July. However, there is a growing feeling over here that after 236 consecutive years of setting off fireworks and spitting in the direction of the Atlantic that you’re just plain rubbing it in now, so I didn't want to be seen to be encouraging you. It certainly wasn't anything to do with my innate failures of organisation I can assure you all. Anyway, Howard Victor Chaykin…

CAPTAIN AMERICA THEATRE OF WAR: AMERICA FIRST! #1 Story & Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Colours by Edgar Delgado Letters by Dave Lanphear (Also, two ‘5os Cap back-up strips with art by John Romita Snr) Marvel, $4.99 (2009) Collected in CAPTAIN AMERICA: AMERICA FIRST (2010, Marvel) Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby


We join our hero in 2009 when after many adventures in the worlds of publishing and Television he is called upon to produce this one shot featuring the ‘50s Commie Smasher Cap(2). This was one of a series of one-shots featuring various iterations of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s core character, in all likelihood produced with no greater aim than getting some Cap stuff out there for when the movie opened and the population of America would rise up as with one voice and demand comics again! Surprising precisely no one this didn't happen. Wasn't it Einstein who said that repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome was the definition of mainstream comics publishing strategy?(3). Luckily, I am just a reader of comics and so all that mattered to me was the fact that I got another HVC comic. Selfish? You have no idea.


"You may not like the draughtmanship but you can't deny the environmental ambience he's building."

As a comic CA:ToW -AF is GOOD! It isn't better than that because really it's just the Senator Hightower subplot from HVC's BLACKHAWK: BLOOD AND IRON plucked out and padded to become a plot in itself. And the plucking and padding are none too suave either, with a few clunky plot developments and the inevitable HVC rush to the ending. He does give it a nice symmetrical structure though and has a lot more fun with Cap boarding a plane in mid flight and punching everyone's face in than you might expect in a comic that's largely about bemoaning the fact that liberals let the side down when they gave up the flag to the Right.


"Nick Fury telling it How It Is on Old-Timey TV."

Artistically it isn't going to be winning any awards either. There's some really nice compositions in it and the layouts read clear and easy but, the basic draughtmanship's a bit less than HVC's best. While he's still struggling to get the photo-realistic environments to gel with the drawn elements it's largely successful and, once again, Delgado's indecisiveness with regard to colouring confuses the eye on more than one occasion. But balancing that; there's a real sense of period about the piece thanks to the attention paid to the environments, automobiles, televisions, phones and clothes. HVC also keeps himself awake by having another crack at the interesting problem of depicting the shadows of leaves on the people beneath them(4). What is of most interest here to me is how HVC uses the work for hire comic as a vehicle for his own concerns. Because, yes, HVC's work does have themes and thinky stuff; brain matters which have reoccurred with unarguable prominence for such a lengthy period of time that it would be daft to ignore them.


From AMERICAN FLAGG! #3 (First! Comics, 1983) by Howard Victor Chaykin and Ken Bruzenak.

It did not escape my attention that Dynamite recently published THE ART OF HOWARD CHAYKIN, I also noted I couldn't afford it but I did look at a preview. In this preview a popular comics shaker-maker when given the singular honour of contributing to a book celebrating The Man, The Myth and The Mai-Tais of Howard Victor Chaykin found the most interesting aspect of some four decades of the HVC’s work to be the presence of blow jobs in a couple of his stories(5). I don’t know, maybe I’m biased(6) but I think HVC’s work deserves a little more credit.


"HVC doesn't insult your intelligence. He assumes you know what period specific references his characters make and if you don't, there's always The Internet!"

While I no longer go through his bins or steam open his mail HVC seems to be in an okay position now; able to sustain his twilight addictions to bingo and bespoke suits by producing a steady stream of work on a regular basis, some of which he seems to do just for shits and giggles(7). Some of it he seems to imbue with some of the Bolshevik bullishness of old. Because while HVC is in a comfortable place now, he wasn't born into one. He has characterised his childhood as being a "welfare childhood" and his parents as "popular front". Given the historical position of HVC's parents I guess here the term refers more to a left-leaning coalition of interests with a primary focus on combating fascism(8) than Robert Lyndsey goofing amiably about to no real political effect(9), which is what it means to most British people of a certain age. Old people, I'm talking about there. Old people, like me. Old people with their fondnesses.


"Howard Victor Chaykin enjoying himself here, I'd guess."

HVC is an old person(10) but his fondnesses do not include poverty or fascism. Here though he isn't mistaking fascism for Communism, although until I came back and typed this bit you could be forgiven for thinking he was. No, but nor is he unaware that the fight against Communism allowed elements of fascism to creep in under the guise of patriotism. HVC seems like the kind of man who's hard scrabbled his way up and appreciates where he's ended up but isn't the kind to kick the ladder away after him. That's conjecture of course; what isn't conjecture is his concern for patriotism and how The Right has hijacked it. Hey, don't be getting all up in my business about it either, he's said as much in interviews. The '50s Commie Smasher Cap is a great fit for HVC here ,because he gets to air all his concerns in a way that allows his audience to believe he is sending the whole thing up, when in fact I don't believe he is. The dialogue below might be a bit rich for the modern palette but I bet HVC means it.


"Black lines or darker base colour lines, Edgar Delgado, one or the other - not both!"

And why wouldn't he? What exactly is wrong with that. Sure, Lincoln doing a peek-a-boo over Cap's shoulder is a bit of humorous over-egging, but it doesn't mean HVC isn't serious. The set up of the comic with patriotic Cap being undermined as a Red by a Senator who is in fact a Red posing as a patriot allows HVC a lot of leeway. HVC gets to baldly state all the things he thinks are great about America and all the while his audience probably think he's taking the piss. (Memo: Never play poker with HVC; he'll take the shirt off your back.) It's also kind of great that Commie Smasher Cap is a teacher in civilian life, as liberalism of this period is often denounced as a top-down imposition of elitist ideals spread through such mechanisms as education. Which is one way of looking at it but, I feel, probably not the most constructive. So, HVC serving up another slice of entertaining comics that refuses to believe that you have to be dull to make a point and proving once again that his heart's in the right place; behind the breastbone in the chest cavity. (B'dum!)


"America! F***, YEAH!!"

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, so Samuel Johnson(11) is famously recorded as opining on April 7th 1775 just before lifting his leg and letting off a fruity tribute to the chef, probably. Having read much of Howard Victor Chaykin’s work I’d have to say he is of the same opinion; regarding patriotism anyway, as for trumping I’m sure he’s a pretty liberal guy too. I guess it would be important to clarify that Johnson is not saying that all patriots are scoundrels, rather that there’s little more scoundrelly than a false patriot. Howard Victor Chaykin is no false patriot, my friends, Howard Victor Chaykin is the real deal. He might be a tiny bit of a scoundrel(12) too, I guess that's why he's so lovable!

Vaya (Comic-)Con Dios, muchachos!

(1) Dwight D. Eisenhower 34th President of The United states of America. Largely notable for his campaign slogan "I Like Ike!". Later Presidents attempted to ape this with varying degrees of success: "Kennedy’s The Remedy!", "Johnson’s Not Wrong, son!","Nixon’s a Dick, son!","Ford Works Hard!","Carter’s Smarter!" and "Reagan’s Not Something I Really Want To Get Into On The Internet But He Was Good in Don Siegel’s The Killers, I’ll Give You That My Free Market Friends!"

(2) Understandably perhaps, HVC's original pitch for the comic : Captain America: Commie Cock Toucher never got further than this panel:


(3) No.


(5) I mean, I try not to swear because in a man of my age it's unbecoming, but sometimes when it comes to modern comic creators words just fucking fail me.

(6) Being biased has been much on my mind lately, after Gentle Jeff Lester’s wise words about declaring them so that everyone knows where they stand. Upon examination I found myself totally without any biases whatsoever but I appreciated the sentiment.

(7) When HVC does his mainstream gigs these days they tend to come in one of three flavours: he writes for someone else, he draws for someone else or he writes and draws. The success of the first approach depends on whether the artist is actually awake during the process; if not the result will be something like that bloody terrible SUPREME POWER stuff circa 2009. But that was okay as it was the wrap up to the terrible JMS series that was basically MARVELMAN BOOK3, but at the speed of frozen treacle and with none of the wit or intelligence. The success of the second option depends on whose words are defacing his magical illuminations. So his TOM STRONG story is fine, but that NEW AVENGERS arc he did actually resulted in my LCS mysteriously failing to send the final issues so strong was my puling about the piss-poor writing. Yes, NEW AVENGERS is so inept my LCS actually staged an intervention. So, thank Kirby for the third option where HVC gets to write and draw. This is one such comic I'm on about here.

(8) I may be mistaken here and corrections and clarifications here, as anywhere in the piece, are welcomed.

(9) Citizen Smith. Ask Glamorous Graeme McMillan.

(10) I bet he could still take you down, pal. He goes for the eyes, I hear. No quarter.

(11) He wasn't the biggest fan of American Independence, though, I'll give you that.

(12) It's okay, Beatific Brian Hibbs just loves talking to HVC's lawyer; it keeps him out of mischief!

That's the end of the awful meandering prose and the difficult to navigate footnotes but not the end of my creepy love of HVC or, indeed, my love of COMICS!!!

Vaya (Comic-)Con Dios indeed, muchachos!


"...It's not for free and it doesn't come easy. It's AMERICA!" Comics? I'm still reading 'em!

For pretty obvious reasons we don't celebrate Independence Day over here but you guys sure seem to. Just to show you that there are no hard feelings I read some nationalistic comics and wrote some words about them for y'all. Be nice if you picked up the phone sometime, America. I know you moved out but we still worry about you. Anyway it’s into the fray while the walls ran red, white and blue around me in a patriotic spray:

CAPTAIN AMERICA 70th ANNIVERSARY MAGAZINE: This is a magazine sized doohickey that’s big and floppy like my English teeth, the contents of which provoked the following responses which I am going to share with you despite your flagrant disinterest but it’s either this or I go spend some time with my family. And they don’t like it when I do that. So…


“Meet Captain America” by Joe Simon/JACK KIRBY(w) and (a)

America may be praying for peace but she's also preparing for war! In dark days like these every man and woman will be called upon to do their bit and Steve Rogers is about to find out he's going to be able to do more than most! It all starts here, Effendi!

Yes, this is the savage and mental solid Gold classic that started it all! Like most Golden Age comics reading it is like having your mind hijacked by the hallucinatory visions of an angry man who has drunk too much cough syrup. It’s rough and tumble stuff, obviously taking most of its storytelling cues from the still novel phenomenon of the cinema. If we take the birth of super comics to be June 1938 (Action Comics#1) this places Simon & Kirby’s creation at roughly the third year of the genre’s existence and so it’s unsurprising that this is pretty much like any other comic of the period but there’s clearly something special going on here as 70 years later someone’s spent the GDP of Ireland bringing the character to the very silver screen which so obviously inspired his creators: Joe Simon & JACK KIRBY. Oh, yeah, it’s: EXCELLENT!

“Captain America’s Tales of Suspense”: Being one of those text pieces I can’t actually wade through that are all like: “…But in issue 160 Cap almost met his match in the form of Terry “Eggs” Benedict who, when subjected to a concerted burst of ennui, became The Unsteady Hand Dangler. Jack Kirby left the day after. Pay no attention to that last sentence. There is no deeper meaning. There never was a Jack Kirby. We certainly don’t owe him or his heirs any money. We have lawyers. People disappear all the time. With issue 161 Cap found romance in the form of a peach from another dimension…” Some people like that sort of thing.

AVENGERS (Vol.1) #4 (1964)

“Captain America Joins The Avengers!” by Stan Lee/JACK KIRBY(w), JACK KIRBY/George Roussos(a) and Artie Simek(l)

Freshly thrust from his frozen tomb Captain America is bucking for a ruckus! The strange and swinging new world into which he has been chucked is only too happy to provide! Bonus: Namor’s oddly sexual noggin!

Sure, everyone remembers the tale of Cap’s astonishingly unbelievable resurrection but few people remember the same tale’s revelation that the gorgon of myth and legend was in fact a dressing gown sporting sentient stick of celery from beyond the stars. Funny that. It’s a pretty rocky ride from the modern perspective but on the plus side more happens in its pages than 96 years of NEW AVENGERS and the characters don’t all talk like secure unit patients.

My favourite panel this time through, for I and this tale are friends of old, was on page 10 on the top right. Steve Rogers sits on his hotel bed removing his boots while staring raptly at the TV and uttering: “I wonder if the youngsters of today, who’ve grown up with it, realise what a truly wonderful thing television is…” Judging by the state of the Marvel Architects output I think you can rest assured, Cap, that that is entirely the case. If TVs were made of meat it’s hard not to believe certain people wouldn’t be humping theirs as we speak. Let your mind rest easy on that score, Cap.

At this point JACK KIRBY is pretty much the master of every comic technique existent. He has been at it so long he is growing staples in his midriff but he isn’t about to rest though, no, he’s about to start pushing the form into whole new areas of hyperbolic bombast. That’s later though, so this is just (just!) another fine JACK KIRBY comic of the period which makes it VERY GOOD!

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol.1) #250 (1980)

“Cap For President!” by Roger Stern(w), John Byrne/Josef Rubinstein(a), George Roussos(c) and Jim Novak(l)

Will Cap give up being the Star Spangled Avenger in order to become the first kickboxing President of America?

Now say what you like about John Byrne (I’ll wait…okay? Feel better now?) but the guy can draw a perfectly entertaining comic. This is the one where someone suggests that Cap stand for President but he says (**SPOILER!**) “No”. It's very '80s because the characters spend a lot of time flapping their gums (so much so that one may be forgiven for wondering if they haven't been rubbing an illegal substance into them). I like the Stern/Rubinstein run on Cap (what was it #247-255?) a great deal but this is hardly representative of it. It’s only a brief run but it’s littered with Very Special Cap Moments like the one in #253 where an armed robber is cowed into handing over his gun to Cap solely via a stern talking to and a hard stare. It’s Cap-tatstic! Where as this one is just GOOD!

“Red, White and BRU” I REALLY like the title to this interview with Ed Brubaker. (Hey, if he wrote Iron Man we could have “Iron Bru!” That joke probably doesn’t travel well.) He claims to write the current Cap series. I’ve never heard of him but he sounds like the type who wears his hat indoors. I just glossed his interview but it seems like he lived on an army base like Bucky (Do you SEE! It was his DESTINY! He NEVER HAD A CHOICE!), enjoys TV shows, working for Marvel and is really looking forward to the movie. However, if little Ed Brubaker ever burst into the tent of a half-naked GI with life changing results he declines to say.  It’s good to be Ed Brubaker, I guess.


“Home Fires.” by Roger Stern/Frank Miller(w), Frank Miller/Josef Rubinstein(a), Glynis Wein(c) and Jim Novak(l)

No, you can’t say what you like about The Tank. My house, my rules. Love it or leave it, pal! Do you remember "Home Fires"? It’s the one where Cap discovers the hidden Evil in the heart of America: independent retailers. I kid you not. It can totally be read as Captain America versus a deranged Mr. Brian Hibbs.

It’s hilarious of course. But in the weird way of being totally hokey yet oddly persuasive that only The Tank can pull off. It left me laughing and yet profoundly moved by its strange message. Y’know If this guy ever does a propaganda comic the earth will shake and the Heavens will quail. It has to be noted that The Tank delivers a master class in narrative storytelling with page design and visual iconography that fair makes the pages hum with life and emotion. It is a beautiful and wondrous performance. In fact the final page is possibly my favourite Cap moment ever. Cap has entered a burning building to retrieve “her”. “LOOK!” cries a man with a pointing arm directing the readers’ eye to a panel which appears to be a pregnant woman carrying a burning piano. This is then revealed, via the magic of being able to effectively convey information to another human mind via the mechanism of marks on paper, to be the form of Cap himself bursting out of the panel borders triumphantly bearing Old Glory herself.

Every time I read this I find myself halfway to the recruiting office before I realise that due to my myopia I’m more of a danger to myself than any enemy, I am not that keen on killing, even less keen on being killed and I am also in fact not American before returning humbled but entertained to my life of sedentary nitpicking. It is a truly incredible comic by a truly incredible talent. He’s The Tank, deal with it, babycakes! Although later developments within the mind of The Tank lend this tale of Cap vs. libertarians a decidedly ironic cast the issue in and of itself can truly be said to be EXCELLENT!

“Flagbearers” is an illustrated text parade of those who have taken the role of Cap through the ages. It is by Sean T Collins, a living colossus who will be familiar to anyone whose brain has not been so sponged by alcohol and soft drugs that they can look at the list of Savage Critics contributors and recognise the letters of the alphabet when they are used to form names. It is therefore the best thing here not by JACK KIRBY or The Tank. I was particularly taken by the puntastic “Patriot Names”. The piece also contains a rare Frank Robbins picture of a man not sweating.

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol.3) #22 (1999)

“Sacrifice Play” by Mark Waid(w),Andy Kubert/Jesse Delperdang(a), Gregory Wright(c) and Todd Klein(l)

Captain America is the only thing standing between the utter destruction of Wakanda’s adamantium! Can he stop touching his shattered shield long enough to save the day?

Being the culmination of Mark Waid’s nigh interminable exploration of Cap’s surely unhealthy obsession with his shield. After several pages of Andy Kubert’s very nice but also very big pictures the two are reunited at last. It is very '90s in a '90s comic way but since Waid and Kubert are dependable chaps it still ends up being OKAY!

Both I, having read this magazine, and you, having read my insightful and coherent thoughts concerning said magazine, have, I think it would be fair to say reached some very definite conclusions about the nature of America,  the psycho geographical landscape of its people and the importance of The Dream to both. Thus there seems little need to make them explicit as this would serve only to cheapen the profundity of the conclusions we have reached.

Throughout the contents of this magazine though creators change and decades pass two things remain constant: Captain America and his devotion to The Dream. The Dream changes over time but always at its heart is Decency, the kind of decency perhaps embodied by fairly rewarding an old man for fashioning the dream life of millions and enriching the bank balance of all who followed in his footsteps. Yeah, well if nations can dream so can I, right?

Note: JACK KIRBY (Jacob Kurtzberg) was Comics made Flesh. He entered the world on August 28, 1917 and joined The Infinite on February 6, 1994. We dream his dreams still.