BHOC: CAPTAIN AMERICA #216

On that same weekly trip to the 7-11 I came across and was delighted by this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA, a title that I didn’t normally read. And it had everything to do with this cover, where, rather than Cap’s usual masthead partner the Falcon, the co-star in this particular issue was the Human Torch. Since the Torch had been my entry into the world of Marvel (and at this point was the hub around which it revolved–I was only really following FANTASTIC FOUR, MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS and INVADERS at this point) his presence made it an easy decision to purchase the issue.

As I’ve mentioned previously, a number of Marvel titles suffered from scheduling difficulties all during this time period, and here, after a generic introduction page to help contextualize what was to follow, instead of a new story we are treated to a classic Human Torch tale originally published in STRANGE TALES #114 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I don’t think I realized yet that the Torch had headlined a solo series in the Marvel era before this. This is also the story that Editor In Chief Jim Shooter would use in his lecture on visual storytelling, as it evidenced all of the principles that he wanted to get across to new incoming creators. I myself have used it as a teaching tool about visual storytelling, though in a different manner than Jim. I’m sure I’ll touch on some of these points as we go.

The story opens at the Glenville home of Johnny and Sue Storm, where a bunch of the Torch’s buddies race up while he’s doing flame drills to tell him that the famous super hero of World War II, Captain America, is going to be making a personal appearance at the local Auto Show. Now, talk about a comedown for a living legend! But Johnny, an avid fan, decides to go. At the show, criminals attempt to make off with a classic car and Johnny flames on to give pursuit, but before he can get too far, he’s cut off by the dramatic red, white and blue figure of Captain America!

The Torch tries to help Cap by melting the tarmac in front of the speeding car, but this just pisses off the star-spangled hero, and he tells the Torch off. This page, above, is a good example of the kind of instinctive storytelling Jack Kirby brought to his stories. He was churning out between 3-5 pages a day when this story was done, so there wasn’t a lot of time to think about composition. But look at how all of the crucial story information in these panels creates a large Z-shape to guide the eye through the page (the tilted crane-rope being the most obvious bit–look at how it aims directly where Johnny’s head is in the next panel, and how it lines up with the foreground cop in the previous one.)

The local news write-ups praise Cap and excoriate the Torch, which has Johnny fuming–especially when his girlfriend Dorrie Evans expresses her admiration and, let’s face it, lust for Cap. Meanwhile, Cap himself makes his way to the jail cell where the crooks he caught are temporarily imprisoned. Tis is another magnificent page of storytelling–that fourth panel is about as perfect a depiction of a man leaping off a building towards a flagpole that has ever been done. Everything about it–the angle, the use of silhouette, the achievement of foreground-mid-ground-background is beautiful.

Cap, that rat, breaks the two crooks out of stir, gives them a getaway car and sends them on their way. The Torch’s attention is drawn by the police pursuit of the escaping felons and he sets upon them, melting their car out from under them and giving them a dunking in the river. Meanwhile, with everybody’s attention diverted, Cap himself is on a crime spree. What’s up with that?

But the Torch catches up with Cap where he’s looting a bank from a flying autogyro-missile ship–which, of course,he has. The Torch makes short work of the ship, but Cap acrobatically makes his way to the ground, and their duel continues. This page is another primer in guiding the eye, as every move Cap makes leads to the next panel expertly. That bottom frame evidences a technique that Kirby would use often, where the right side of the panel is taking place a few seconds later than the left side of the panel–so you register him zipping past the janitor and stealing is mop and then catch up with Cap and he figures out his next move.

In a poor showing for the Torch, Cap is able to douse his flame with the stolen mop and get away. The helpful janitor provides space heaters for Johnny s that he can dry off and get his flame back more quickly, and he catches up with Cap making his escape in a big truck. Cap’s able to outmaneuver the Torch once again, this time into the back of the vehicle, which is covered wall-to-wall with asbestos, which will not burn. But the Torch increases his flame, causing the air in the truck to rapidly expand in an explosion that frees him.

Cap’s out of moves at this point, and the Torch easily subdues him–and unmasks him not as Steve Rogers but rather the Torch’s old enemy the Acrobat, who was using Cap’s name and costume for his own profit. This story had originally been created before the real Captain America was brought back in AVENGERS, and it served as a kind of try-out to see if readers would be interested in seeing Cap return for real. Obviously, they were. Myself, I was lukewarm. I really did enjoy this issue, but not enough to come back for more of Cap the following month–mainly because I enjoyed it as a Torch story, and I knew that he wouldn’t be around for the follow-up. It’d be a few more months before I started reading CAPTAIN AMERICA regularly.

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