Lee & Kirby & Simon: Captain America Before and After 2

Continuing on in our compare-and-contrast between a story originally produced by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for the inaugural issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS, cover-dated March 1941, and it’s Marvel Age remake, this one in the pages of TALES OF SUSPENSE #64. The prior issue had featured Cap’s origin, and so as to cut down on the amount of thorny cross-continuity he had to work around, editor Stan Lee had decided to keep the solo Captain America series that had been launched in that split title situated in that era. In part, that made it simple to come up with stories: Lee and Kirby could simply update the original tales which current readers wouldn’t be familiar with. Whether this idea came from Lee or Kirby is debatable, and it’s one that didn’t last long–within a couple of installments, the pair began to spin their own tales, albeit still set during the days of World War II, Cap’s native time period. But because Kirby drew both stories a good 25 years apart, this gives us a nice opportunity to study his artistic growth, and to a lesser degree to ascertain what, if anything, Lee brought to these retold sagas.

Right off the bat, the 1965 splash page is a heck of a lot more dramatic and energetic than its 1941 counterpart. It’s difficult to tell for certain, given that both Joe Simon and Jack Kirby worked on all facets of their joint stories, often trading pages back and forth between them, but this splash page strikes my eye as being mostly Simon’s work. The Cap figure, while running forward, is a bit sedate for Kirby, even in this period, and the backs of those two onlookers’ heads also have a bit of a Simon flavor to them. But it’s impossible to say for certain. What we can say definitively is that even though they were adapting a story from 25 years earlier that was credited to Joe Simon, Simon’s name appears nowhere in the credits of the 1965 version–rather, it’s simply Stan Lee who is credited as writer. As far as a Marvel Age reader was concerned, Joe Simon was something of a non-person.

On Page 2, Kirby pretty well follows the broad strokes of his page from 1941 in terms of the overall events that he covers, but he sticks much more rigidly to a three-tiered grid format in 1965. Stan, for his part, writes a lot more copy than what had been used in the 40s. Admittedly, his text is a lot more evocative, creating more of a sense of a dramatic moment out of what he’s describing. There’s a bit more color and flavor to his copy, as well as just a whole lot more of it.

Page 3 shows a vast improvement on Kirby’s part in terms of drawing regular human figures. His takes on Steve Rogers and Bucky on the 1941 page look like a scarecrow with a pipe and a cherub, respectively. Additionally, Kirby takes the time to not only introduce Steve and Bucky but to include a quick gag at the expense of their long-suffering Sergeant Duffy to provide a bit of color and characterization. As previously, he works rigidly within a grid format, where as the 1941 page, while not as wild as the Simon & Kirby layouts will eventually become, doesn’t really line up any two panels, and even incorporates a bit of a semi-circular border at the bottom of Panel 3.

The same is true of the panel structure and the command of the figure on the two Page 4s. Look at that weird Captain America in the fifth panel of the 1941 story, with his truncated forehead and lantern jaw. In the retelling, Kirby dispenses with putting Steve and Bucky in the audience for another of Sando and Omar’s shows, choosing instead to have them prowl around backstage. He also brings in secret agent Betty Ross at this point, aware that she’ll be needed for the climax, which the 1941 story doesn’t bother with. For his part, Lee’s copy here is also worlds better than the very simple original.

In 1965 Kirby has more pages in which to retell this story, and he uses the space here to good effect, making the short action sequence a lot more kinetic and exciting. The 1941 page again smacks of Joe Simon to me–the action is very restrained. That punch Cap throws in Panel 6 looks like it’s being illustrated by somebody who’s never hurled or taken one himself–a product either of Kirby’s inexperience at that point or a greater involvement by Simon in this image. But the same isn’t true in 1965. Here, Kirby exaggerates the action, breaking the boundaries of what is possible in favor of what looks good and moves the quickest. In terms of the plot, in 1965 Cap and Bucky quickly learn that Omar’s predictions are actually images projected on the inside of his crystal ball through mechanical means, something that the original story zips past.

Again at this point and throughout the rest of the story, Kirby takes advantage of his inflated page count in 1965 to expand the action and to make it more frenetic and colorful than in the original. For all that it was cutting edge stuff when it first appeared in 1941, the action on this Cap page seems small and sedate–in effect, the scant copy needs to make up for the quietude of the images by describing Cap and Bucky as twin tornados. The 1965 story depicts this and leaves no doubt, for all that Lee’s colorful copy accentuates the action with similarly colorful descriptions. Lee’s not really adding anything here in terms of plot and the characterization in this story is bare bones. But he is giving the finished product a nice narrative gloss. Nobody’s ever going to mistake this for a seminal story, however. From a graphics standpoint, Lee’s use of decorative sound effects help serve to punctuate the action.

Kirby’s also got a bit more space available to him for a short denouement with Steve and Bucky back in their army uniforms, bringing the adventure full circle. The 1941 version is positively aching for more space on this page, as Simon & Kirby cram in nine tight panels. fortunately, there isn’t much to the story in the way of plot and so they’re able to make it work. Lee, though, given greater space with which to work, highlights Captain America’s personality a bit as he gives quasi-patriotic speeches even as he and Bucky do battle, and the pair also get to joke around a bit on their way out the door. These flourishes are minor, but they do help the characters to feel just a little bit more well-rounded. It’s not a great improvement, but it does represent an improvement.

4 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby & Simon: Captain America Before and After 2

  1. Frank Ray is an alias for Frank Giacoia, who was still primarily working at DC Comics during this time.

    Agent Thirteen? Is this supposed to be the character who we later knew as Peggy Carter? Or is this actually a different Agent Thirteen? I seem to recall that Lee and/or Kirby had a bit of trouble keeping the details of Peggy’s backstory straight from one installment of Tales of Suspense to the next.

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  2. Great stuff by Jack Kirby in 1965. A lot of inherent power packed in Cap’s figure & movements. The shield is different from the original story. And Bucky”s “stockings” changed from annoying red to more subdued blue (the red briefs still look silky). Good post, Tom.

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  3. Geez, Tom! Anytime there’s something you DON’T like, “It was Simon in that panel!” But if you DO like it, it must have been Holy and Sacred St. .Jack at work.

    I know you admire Kirby…but as you say yourself, we don’t really know who did what on those old issues. So tone down the negativity toward Simon, wouldja?

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