MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL. 5 (Marvel, 2011; Hardcover)
Collects Captain America Comics Nos. 17-20 (cover dates August- November, 1942)
Writers: Otto Binder, Herbert W. “Red” Holmdale, Mortimer Breen, Stan Lee, and other unidentified writers.
Artists: Al Avison, Herbert W. “Red” Holmdale, Don Rico, Syd Shores, George Klein, Guy Blythe, Mike Sekowsky, Carl Pfeufer, John Jordan, and Lou Paige, and other unidentified inkers.
Golden Age comic books are absolutely fascinating to me. The fact that the original comics are obscure and expensive coupled with the historical significance makes the curiosity factor high. Combine that with my Roy Thomas-level quest for continuity completism with Captain America and you have a winner!
Al Avison does the art on the Captain America stories here, and he has really come into his own. Stan Lee is credited with two stories. Given the jingoistic and hyperbolic nature of the dialogue it wouldn't surprise me if he wrote more. Stan has a notoriously bad memory and doesn't remember what he had for breakfast let alone which comics he worked on, so unless work orders ever surface we may never know who worked on these comic books. There are comic historians who work on identifying the artists. Many of those guys left clues throughout their work, and those familiar with the material can sometimes ascertain inkers. Writers...not so much.
In #17's Sub-Earthmen's Revenge! we find future I, Robot/ Adam Link writer Otto Binder doing one of the most bizarre stories...ever. The Sub-Earthmen are giant worm riding neanderthal types who are led by their surface world-looking leader, Queen Medusa. Much of this stuff doesn't make sense but there is an air of fun to it. Then you get The Spook, a red hooded and garbed villain who is actually a Fifth Columnist trying to get the Sub-Humans to battle the US Army. He succeeds, and proceeds in getting appropriate battle garb for his army.
Yup, he dresses them like members of the Ku Klux Klan. No, this doesn't make any sense to me, either. Yes, I can see how this is offensive to folks today. No, I don't think that The Spook is going to be part of any upcoming Marvel crossover or brought back to fight Captain America again any time soon.
While many Golden Age comics are rife with racist caricatures, it must be stressed that these were different times. We were at war, and the Germans and the Japanese were very real threats to to the way of life of everyone alive back then. To look back at these comics and be offended by the caricatures is disingenuous. If you are not aware of the values and societal mores of this era then you need to read up on your history before you go posting some douchebag PC Millennial fanboy dreck found on message boards and social media. There is simply way too much butthurt going on these days.
To be fair, all non-white folks are stereotyped here. French, Indian (not Native American), Chinese, Australian...all are written with their thick dialect phonetically spelled out. Can you imagine if comics portrayed minorities like this today? The fanboy butthurt would light up Twitter like a Christmas tree. This stuff is unintentionally funny. Of course it is ridiculous to stereotype ethnicity here in the 21st century. That's what makes this so shocking and unintentionally funny. I found myself chuckling and thinking to myself Oh my God, I can't believe that this stuff was ever published. Anyone who thinks that we have made no progress in race relations as a society needs to sit down and read some of this stuff. You will soon realize that things are much better today than they were in 1942.
In #18's The Mikado's Super-Shell! we see the myth that Cap never used a gun or shot anyone cut to ribbons...literally. While on a covert mission to dismantle the Japs' gun that can shell the US, Cap and Bucky are overwhelmed by superior numbers. Captain America not only handles a machine gun, but uses it to cut down a ton of soldiers. He states “I hate to do this, Bucky, but this is war!” No ret-cons, kids, it really happened. End of discussion.
This was a 64 page anthology series, and it had many back-up strips. One of these, The Secret Stamp, is a lot of fun. It's about Roddy Colt, a kid who delivers newspapers and sells war stamps. He always seems to get into trouble and fights criminals. It's silly and outdated but quaint and charming all the same.
This is interesting. Notice how in there is no “Under God” while they say the Pledge Of Allegiance in this Secret Stamp story. That would be because it wasn't added until the 1950s as a piece of Cold War propaganda. These comics are fascinating as historical documents.
Golden Age Captain America rules. Marvel has seemingly moved away from doing Masterworks of Golden Age ('30s/40s) and Atlas Era ('50s/early 60s) material in favor of lower hanging fruit. I really wish that they would reconsider this. There are lots of great vintage comics that need to be reintroduced to the world.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 4.5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- Marvel Masterworks are my poison of choice. While the line has certainly had some missteps and mistakes over the years, it has been pretty much perfect since 2007-2008. When it comes to earlier printings I would advise folks to avoid them for the most part and buy the softcovers. For Masterworks of this book's vintage, rest assured that this is the definitive Blu-Ray edition of this material.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Introduction by Michael Uslan. (3 pages)
Linework and Color restoration rating: 5 out of 5. Think of the post-2007 Masterworks as definitive Blu-Ray editions, with painstakingly restored linework and a color palette that is 100% faithful to the source material.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Thick coated stock with a slight sheen that has that sweet, sweet smell that all Chinese manufactured books have.
I theorize that this delectable aroma is caused by the toxic stew of broken asbestos tiles, lead paint chips, heavy metal industrial waste, and mercury from recalled thermometers combined with the blood, sweat, and tears of the Chinese children working the sweatshop printing presses. The frosting on this delicious cake scent is the paper which is likely sourced from virgin Amazon rainforests.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. Rounded book casing and Smyth sewn binding (six stitches per signature) allow this book to lay completely flat in one hand as Godzilla intended.