Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review- CAPTAIN AMERICA OMNIBUS VOL. 1

CAPTAIN AMERICA OMNIBUS VOL. 1 (Marvel, 2011; Hardcover)
Collects Captain America Nos. 100-113 and the Captain America stories from Tales of Suspense Nos. 59-99 and Not Brand Echh No. 3 (cover dates November, 1964- May, 1969)
Writer: Stan Lee and Roy Thomas (issue 87 only)
Artist: Jack Kirby (59-75, 77-86, 92-109, 112), Dick Ayers (69, 75, 83), George Tuska (70-74, 112), John Romita, Sr. (76, 77), Jack Sparling (87), Gil Kane (88-91), Jim Steranko (110, 111, 113), and various inkers.

Aside from the Sternako penciled issues and issue 93 (via the reprint in Marvel Double Feature No. 17), I had never read any of these comic books prior to now. It sounds almost criminal in retrospect. How could I have skipped this Silver Age goodness by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby all of this time? It's impossible to be everywhere at once. I read constantly and still have barely scratched the surface of this medium. It's a wonderful problem to have, truth be told. I have yet to experience who knows how many great classics.
The book starts out with Cap co-headlining the title Tales of Suspense with Iron Man. The distribution agreement that Marvel had with DC at the time kept their stable of titles at 8 per month until the Marvel expansion of 1968, which allowed Marvel to increase the number of titles published each month. Iron Man was given his own series, and Tales of Suspense was retitled Captain America with issue 100. 
Artwork by Jim Steranko.
How can anyone not love Stan Lee's hyperbole charged writing? I love how his villains are all megalomaniacs who spout off long-winded expositions. Things start off fast and furious, with Kirby drawing Cap in action sequences far more explosive than in any other title on the stands at the time. I like Kirby but am not one of those people who put his every brushstroke on a pedestal. Kirby was a workhorse and was extremely prolific. Sometimes he just punched the clock and cashed a check, other times he was brilliant. He is both on this run.
Issue 63 is the first of countless times that Cap's origin is re-told. Only Spider-Man's origin seems to have been retold and reinterpreted as many times as Cap's has. The Red Skull is a recurring foe, and I love the Sleeper robot arc. World War II was still very real to Americans, being only 20 years in the past at the time of publication. It's likely that many of the kids reading this were the children of veterans. Pretty much everyone knew someone who served. So while the abundance of WWII flashbacks and Nazi sleeper agent stories might seem tedious on the surface, once one considers how severe the impact that the war had on the national psyche all should be forgiven. 
Batroc the Leaper debuts in issue 75, and he becomes a staple of Cap's rogues gallery. Kirby's original take on the character shows a burly brawler. Over time, he will be portrayed as a more, shall we say, svelte opponent. Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers' love interest, also debuts during this time period. While Jack Kirby co-created Captain America in 1941 with Joe Simon, it was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who brought Cap kicking and screaming into the Marvel Age of Comics. The foundations of the character that we know and love lay in the Golden Age, but all of the characters that we identify with Cap come from the Silver Age. Bucky and the Red Skull are the only real holdovers from the original Golden Age series. 
Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. are basically co-headliners of the strip as this run progresses. Fury manipulates Cap into doing his bidding whether Cap realizes it or not. Them, who morph into A.I.M., follow Nick Fury here from his title, Strange Tales. Stan Lee was like a spider weaving a web, connecting all of these titles together into a shared universe. The Cosmic Cube (or Tesseract as you new-jack Avengers movies fans know it) debuts here, ditto the Super Adaptoid. It's actually quite stunning to think about how many characters were created in so short a time span, never mind the fact that most of these characters and concepts have stood the test of time.
Gil Kane's brief run on the title was great, especially issues 90 and 91 where Joe Sinnott inked his work. Kane really lived and died by his inker. Left to his own devices, his inking is too faint, like he traced each line once and said “that'll do it.” With a strong handed inker like Sinnott (or later Romita, Sr. on Spider-Man), Kane's genius was fully realized. 
Artwork by Jack Kirby.
The Black Panther, Baron Zemo, Hydra, the Trapster, the Hulk, Madame Hydra (later Viper), and Dr. Faustus are also found in this book. I have always been fascinated by Dr. Faustus, as he would fight heroes on a psychological (and chemical) level.
There is nothing I can say about the genius of Jim Steranko that hasn't already been said elsewhere, and said better. Suffice it to say his work is brilliant. He and Neal Adams were the most innovative mainstream comic book artists of the 1960s, with Steve Ditko being a close third. Steranko and Adams played with panel layouts, and Steranko's “camera pans” gave his work a cinematic feel which was groundbreaking at the time. People robbed his style but not the thoughts or intentions behind it, and this is why so many modern comic artists come up short when compared to Steranko and Adams. I dunno, maybe I'm just a dinosaur who is full of shit. You decide.
Steranko. Pure genius.
Steranko's splash page to issue 111 is incredible. I love the “camera angle changes” which then fade into the scene on page 2. I can almost here some jazzy music, like an opening sequence in a movie from that era. Brilliant stuff.
A story from the vastly overrated humor mag Not Brand Echh is included as a bonus in the back of the book. I found it to be unreadable. I find it puzzling that this series tops so many people's wishlists for series that they want to see collected in Masterworks. You couldn't pay me to read that crap. One man's treasure, right?
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.25 out of 5.

The OCD zone- I adore the Marvel Omnibus line of hardcovers.
This book boasts superior linework and color restoration over the existing hardcover Masterworks. The softcovers use the same files found in this book, so if you can't find a copy of this long out of print book and want the best possible reproduction, the softcover Masterworks from the last few years are the way to go.
Linework restoration rating: 5 out of 5. Some of the restoration in earlier Masterworks printings of this material was, shall we say, more rustic than what Marvel has done in recent years. Most reviews that I read that bash the line are from uninformed and uneducated fans who buy a 20 year old printing and then proceed to criticize the restoration and color palette of the line as a whole. Marvel should have a buy back program for old printings. They could throw them in wood chippers or burn them.
Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. The color palette is 100% faithful to the source material. Again, every review that I read that bashes this line are from the same folks who own crappy old printings. It would be like getting a VHS copy of 2001 and bashing MGM's restoration techniques in the here and now.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. I love the sweet smell of the thick coated stock Chinese paper, likely sourced from virgin Amazon rainforests. It has a slight sheen which I like but some folks hate. Your mileage may vary.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. Marvel's sewn binding is the one to beat in this market segment. The casing has room to flex, allowing the book to lay perfectly flat from the first page to the last.

This book is currently out of print, but you can buy the same material in the first three Marvel Masterworks at InStockTrades!


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