Lee & Kirby: The First New Captain America Story – From The Original Art

The original artwork for classic stories is always of interest to me. There’s a bunch of information that we can discover from it. And even apart from that, it’s often fun just to see how these stories were originally drawn, without the added intermediary step of them having to be reproduced and printed in a comic book. There’s no color as well, so the specific lines can be studied in depth. As it so happens, Heritage Auctions is offering the entirety of the original artwork to the inaugural Captain America story from TALES OF SUSPENSE #59 from 1964, which represents the first Captain America solo story produced since 1954, and the first one that the character’s co-creator Jack Kirby had drawn since 1941. This was the beginning of Captain America becoming a hallmark character of the Silver Age of Comics. so let’s take a look at it and see what we can see.

Well, first off, this story was inked by Chic Stone, who had become editor Stan Lee’s preferred inker for Kirby’s work during the course of this year. Stone was a cartoonist himself, and he wanted to be penciling his own stories rather than just inking Kirby’s. so after about a year, he jumped ship from marvel to ACG, where they would let him do that. Stone’s broad, powerful and simple inks brought out the strength of Kirby’s compositions, especially during this period when the King was drawing a myriad of features, and so was leaving a lot of areas open for the inker and colorist to fill in. Stone gave Kirby’s work a sense of completeness and consistency that had been missing up to this point. As this first page makes evident, the inking assignment likely hadn’t been made by the time this story was lettered, and so Stone’s name needed to be added into the credits afterwards (as did, strangely, letterer Sam Rosen’s.) By this time, Kirby’s style had grown and refined itself over the years–his super heroes were thicker, sturdier, more massive. He had also become a master of foreshortening, of making a static figure appear to be in dynamic motion, coming directly at the viewer as on this splash page. It’s an absolutely iconic image.

The story in this initial outing is relatively basic. It’s really just an excuse to let Kirby go wind in an extended action sequence and showcase Captain America’s fighting prowess. Kirby would have plotted this story almost entirely by himself, with Lee adding in the dialogue and copy after he was done. At this point, Kirby isn’t yet adding border notes to his pages to let Lee know what was meant to be going on in each panel, indicating that at the time this story was produced, Jack was still coming into the office every week or two to go over the artwork directly with Lee in person. These trips cost Kirby production and therefore money, and so the process of him writing out his panel descriptions was adopted soon after this. This is also the very first appearance of Jarvis, the Avengers’ butler. He was created for this story as essentially a throw-away, but Lee and Kirby seemingly liked him, and wound up using him again in later adventures.

Kirby is excellent in being able to imply backgrounds with very little drawing, a necessity given his output in these years. It also no doubt helps that Lee took full advantage of the earlier twice-up size of the artwork to fill almost every panel with gab. It was likely a Comics Code concern that had Lee write the balloon in Panel 5 indicating that the goons let Jarvis go. In Panel 8, Bucky is missing his mask in this photograph. Kirby wasn’t terribly detail-oriented when it came to his pencils. He was interested in getting the story down, and producing the quantity of work needed every day in order to keep his family fed. So Jack’s costumed tended to simplify down to the bare essences over the course of time, and little details such as this one were sometimes missed. Lee missed it to, as did Stone (though there’s no reason why he would change such a thing unilaterally if he had been aware of it.)

This story was produced during a brief period of time in which Lee and Kirby looked to update the character and his capabilities by having Iron Man install a magnetic apparatus inside his shield, controlled by magnets on the Star-Spangled Avenger’s glove. We see them in action here, but this idea didn’t last long. In just a few stories, Cap would reveal that he had discarded Iron man’s improvements, preferring his shield in its unaltered condition. It’s worth remembering that, at this point of time, Cap’s shield wasn’t anything special–it hadn’t yet gained its reputation for being indestructible. In fact, there is a later story in which the shield is completely disintegrated, and Cap replaces it with a spare picked up at Avengers Mansion. Lee and Kirby and their collaborators were experimenting on the fly with these characters, trying different things and seeing what worked and what stuck. The early Marvel period is littered with throwaway developments such as this one.

This is a nice, full page from Kirby and Stone, with a good sense of energy and kineticism to it. I do wonder, looking at this sequence, whether the notion that Cap’s boots had a razor-sharp edge was something that Kirby plotted into the story, or was rather than idea that Lee added while scripting in an attempt to explain how Cap is able to slice his way out of his bonds here. It’s entirely likely that Kirby had him do it by sheer muscle power alone.

Back in the 1940s, one of the hallmarks of Simon and Kirby’s work on their various adventure strips, including Captain America, was the fact that their characters would extend beyond the confines of the panels, overlapping out of them in all directions in order to give the action an expansive, uncontainable feeling. By 1964, however, Kirby had refined his approach. He would only rarely break the confines of the panel borders, instead creating dynamic compositions within an arrangement of very basic rectilinear panels. While he’d later begin to use 4 panel pages with some regularity, at this time, Kirby was typically composing across three tiers on each page, with usually one tier taking up the width of the page. Within those panels, however, Kirby was masterful at creating diagonal spaces to imply speed and movement, and in guiding the eye perfectly from the center of one image to the next. The movement of Captain America and the reversal of the position of the camera is one such technique that he would employ. One of Kirby’s subtle tricks is that he often drew figures moving in time as well as space, so that effectively the right side of his image was happening a split second after the left side, in the time it takes the viewer’s eye to process it all.

The details here are sparse and the anatomy often stretching the outer bounds of what might be plausible, but Kirby is a master at implying a completeness that isn’t on the page, as though events are happening so quickly that your eye doesn’t have the time to take in the fine details. It’s an impressionistic approach, where it doesn’t matter that the guns these goons are carrying often look like nothing more than a bunch of shapes–they convey the idea of a gun, and that’s all that’s required here. That vertical panel in the center is a good example of the way Kirby would convey time in a single image. This panel isn’t entirely happening in the same moment–it’s actually three actions in sequence, though shown in a single image. The goon on the left swings at Cap and misses as the Avenger darts rightward, dodging fire from the rest of the gang. And as he does so, he magnetically summons his shield back to him, and it responds on the right. Kirby manages to get all of these actions across in this single image, which frankly ought to be impossible. It looks like stone or somebody in the office may have repositioned one of the armored guys’ legs in that first panel, possibly to get it out of the way of that caption. That lower right leg looks a bit short and un-Kirbylike.

Kirby often liked to have some fun in his action choreography, and Cap imitating a bullfighter here while battling a foe named Bull is a good example of that. The fireplace that he tricks Bull into colliding with comes out of nowhere, another example of Jack establishing details as he needs them and eliminating them when they aren’t necessary for the moment at hand. I would bet that Kirby didn’t intend for the bazooka at the end of this page to be firing a gas projectile at all, but rather a live shell. Lee would often soft-peddle the lethality of what was going on in Kirby action sequences for fear of pushback from the Comics Code.

A few proofing notes at the top of this page, about removing a comma from a balloon. Apart from that, this is an immaculate 6-panel sequence, with the first 3 panels functioning as a repeated image with the characters captured in motion before the camera can reframe the shot.

And that’s the wrap-up! Again, there wasn’t much of a plot to this story, but it was chock-a-block full of action, and captain America got to give a good and full accounting of his abilities in it, something that the Silver Age audience had really only glimpsed up until this time. It’s also a good example of how Lee added personality and nuance through his copy. The name of teh game was fun, and that’s what was delivered in spades.

14 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: The First New Captain America Story – From The Original Art

  1. Cap’s constant references to a lifetime of training in those early stories feel very odd reading as an adult — he became Cap in his late teens, went into the ice at around 23 so that’s hardly a “lifetime.” For that matter, Bucky couldn’t have been much younger than Cap.

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    1. If Cap went through four year of constant wartime combat, that could _feel_ like a lifetime, even if objectively it wasn’t. I’d give that phrase a pass as a figure of speech, rather than technical precision. For Bucky, kid sidekicks in the Golden Age were typically disturbing young by modern standards. Robin started at *8 years old* ( quora.com/How-old-was-Dick-Grayson-when-he-first-became-Robin ). Bucky originally looked like a pre-teen, so at first meeting he could have been around 12 versus Steve being 19. Notably, Bucky is the one case where a young kid sidekick is even halfway reasonable, since it’s the middle of a war and child soldiers really do exist.

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  2. That S. Rosen credit is very odd — those are X-acto lines around it, indicating it was cut out. So either whatever was there was removed, or the credit was moved from somewhere else. But there’s so much white-out on it, you wonder why it wasn’t just re-done.

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  3. I’m not sure if I read these early Caps as a kid (this was the first of several Cap Fights Generic Thugs) but I doubt they’d have connected with me. Dynamic as Kirby’s art was, art never made up for a weak plot, and this was close to plotless (I would have loved Cap’s quips at the end, though). As an adult I can admire Kirby’s art more.

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  4. I had that early trade published by Simon & Schuster with the painted Cockrum cover and this story was in it. So, I read this story over and over and over again. I loved it! I’m surprised that all the original art could be found.

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  5. Both in the Avengers and in his solo series, Lee’s dialogue makes it appear that he’s forgotten Cap spent about 20 years iced up and as mentioned above would have been roughly in his mid-20s as far as aging, and, hence younger than Tony Stark, Henry Pym and Donald Blake, who by their professions and appearance looked to be in their early 30s, and he wouldn’t have been all that much older than Hawkeye, Wanda & Pietro. Another oddity, IMO, is that I don’t recall Lee or any other Silver or Bronze age writer having Steve Rogers make references to the popular culture he would have grown up with in the 1930s or even during the war years or drawing a complete blank when someone references aspects of culture from 1945 through 1964, or otherwise emphasizing his man-out-of-time aspect. Rogers also was written as a man without a family or any close friend from before he became Captain America, as if his entire history before he took the super-soldier formula was a blank. Might’ve been fun if it turned out Rogers had known Ben Grimm and Nick Fury when they were all kids in the rough parts of New York City in the 1920s or ’30s. Maybe too much coincidence even for funny books but might’ve also somewhat more humanized Cap, at least a bit more than his moaning about the loss of Bucky or mooning over Sharon Carter and wanting her to give up her career for him.

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    1. In this story, for example, he refers to Bucky as an old memory when the kid’s death is still recent from Cap’s perspective. A later story shows Cap somehow has a clue to the nature of the Sleepers that he’s carried ever since the war. And when he first thinks of Peggy Carter (not named as such yet) he concludes she must be dead — otherwise she’d surely have found him sometime in the past twenty years, right? Um, no.
      I’ve read fans make fun of Wanda’s crush on Cap as a May/December thing when actually they’d have been roughly the same age, as you say.

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      1. Yep, and as if anyone who’s over 40 is just plain ancient and must be dead! Actually, it would have been interesting if Steve Rogers had found Peggy already working as an agent of SHIELD and without a much younger sister and if they had restarted their romance despite her essentially being 20 years older than him. Of course, that might’ve been a bit too daring for even Lee & Kirby in the Silver Age. Readers of the 1960s could accept Reed Richard’s and Henry Pym’s romances with and eventual marriages to much younger women but might’ve found something a bit creepy about a woman old enough to have been a World War II having a romance with a man who was likewise a WWII vet but looked much more like someone born during that war.

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      2. Cary Bates used that twist at the end of his Silverblade miniseries — hero’s regained his youth, reunited with his ex-wife (Well, one of them) who’s now physicallly a couple of decades older. But older woman/younger man would have been a tougher sell in the early 1960s.

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    2. Say Rogers was 20 when he became Cap. He then spent the next 5 years in heavy combat. I/5th of his life. From his POV, it has been many years, both in terms of how much of his life it took up and the intensity of the experience.. It is not likely that someone like Grimm or Fury would know (or remember) Rogers, a poor, sickly kid

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