BHOC: CAPTAIN AMERICA #215

Here’s another book that came to me out of a 3-Bag purchased at a toy store or a department store. It was the first issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA following the departure of the character’s co-creator Jack Kirby as writer, artist and editor, and it gives every indication of having been something of a rush job. Certainly the fact that the issue released next month, which contained a reprint, furthers that notion. But I haven’t ever heard that Kirby’d departure from the series caught anybody by surprise, so it could have been that everybody involved was just busy with their own stuff right then. All that being said, this issue bridged from Kirby’s last adventure, providing readers with an Album Issue recounting the history of the Star-Spangled Avenger.

The Album Issue is a conceit that’s today largely absent from super hero comic books, and was primarily an innovation of Marvel. Because all of the stories in a given character’s run were intended to represent a continuous saga, it was advantageous in those days before collected editions and trade paperbacks and so forth to recap the important events for newer readers every so often. These issues weren’t stories so much as history reports, citing earlier issues and recounting past adventures. As a collector who was interested in what had come before, these issues were like catnip to me, as they directed my attention to specific back issues for developments I was interested in. In the case of Captain America, writer Roy Thomas had been working for a while behind the scenes to straighten out the character’s chronology, since Cap was said to have been frozen in ice at the close of WWII but was still published to the end of the 1940s and briefly in the 1950s. This issue was the first place where Roy was able to line up all of the pieces he’d assembled into a single timeline.

From a story point of view, the conceit of this tale follows up on the fact that, in Kirby’s last story, Cap had been temporarily blinded during a fight with the Red Skull. So with his vision restored, he and the Falcon head out to the Empire State Building, where Cap will take in the sights of New York City and spin into reminiscences of his own career–as well as those of the other men who had worn the uniform of Captain America. An album issue was also advantageous for a creative team in a pinch in that it didn’t require much of a story, just reinterpreting sequences from other issues, and that’s what George Tuska is given to do here, though he doesn’t swipe anything straight up but rather reinterprets the events in his own idiom.

Roy also used this issue to cement the stories he had been writing over in INVADERS concretely into Captain America’s timeline, as a way to make certain that they weren’t discarded in years to come. I tended to love this sort of continuity-wrangling as a young reader–the insane gyrations that creators would go through in order to explain a discrepancy, a variance, in stories that weren’t ever created to exist in a unified canon. As an older reader, this sort of thing feels a bit more maturbatory to me–there isn’t a story to speak of in this comic book apart from the history of Captain America (and apart from the revelation at the very end that Roy intends to use to drive his storytelling for the next few months), so if that information is something that you already know, it’s a bit of an empty reading experience.

Getting back to stories specifically designed to straighten out Captain America’s publishing history, Roy had recently penned an issue of WHAT IF that revealed that, after Captain America had disappeared when he was frozen, two other heroes in sequence had taken up his mantle: the Spirit of ’76, whom Roy had invented during the INVADERS run, and after that, the Patriot, who had been a genuine 1940s hero. But that story was in WHAT IF, and so by definition, its conanity was suspect–so Roy recounts all of those events here, in order to make it clear that he (and by extension, Marvel) consider them genuine part of the character’s history.

Roy had earlier tasked then-new CAPTAIN AMERICA writer Steve Englehart with revealing the story of the replacement Cap, but Englehart focused his efforts solely on the 1950s version, whom he brought back (along with his version of Bucky) as villains for an arc. Roy clearly had intended for there to only have been one Captain America replacement, but Englehart’s choice eventually led him to fill in the other gaps with two more. Anyway, here again, Roy lines up all of the pieces of this disparate history into a single narrative.

And so it goes, until the end of the issue, where we segue back to the present and Cap makes a pronouncement to his partner, the Falcon: he has no recollection of his life before he became Captain America–he doesn’t know who Steve Rogers really is. This is really because, up to this point in the character’s history, nobody had bothered to explore Steve’s background, but it made for a good narrative hook for the next run of issues, as Steve attempted to dig up his own past and work out why he didn’t recall any of it. So I liked this issue and referred to it often, but more as reference, more like what you might have used the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe for in later years. As an actual issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA, it’s a bit flawed.

12 thoughts on “BHOC: CAPTAIN AMERICA #215

  1. I don’t have a problem with these “album” issues, particularly when they have so many disparate elements to draw on.
    I have more of a problem with Steve’s sudden amnesia — sure, his past hasn’t been explored, but it’s never been suggested he has a memory gap. IIRC, the resolution was either missing or unsatisfactory.

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  2. I’ve always had a fondness for Tuska’s art, and seeing your posts just strengthen it. I get all warm & fuzzy, but maybe that’s more because of what I’ve been drinking. There’s a real energy in his figures’ poses, & his characters’ expressions. I see some similarities to Don Heck’s work, & Dick Ayers’, but I see more of Gene Colan’s in Tuska’s. The 1 weirdo element is how low George places Cap’s head wings. Just above his ears. I remember liking his art in comics I had as a kid in the late 70’s, into my teens in the 80’s. It still had appeal. Unlike Heck, Novick, Trimpe, Perlin, & others whose style seemed too static for me by then, especially compared to the newer, more dynamic approaches of the newer times. I’d honestly buy it today if he were still drawing.

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  3. Roy had a habit of taking over series with “quick” ideas that would get an artist started — his first issue as ongoing FF writer was an origin flashback, his first THOR after the Len Wein run amounted to “Here, John, adapt this Norse legend.” I think he did it simply to get an artist started right away, and then, while they’re working, figure out what last-page twist he might add to start off the ongoing story direction, thus getting a jump on the schedule while allowing himself time to figure out the future.

    That kind of issue also seemed to get done for schedule reasons — there were a couple of others after Len Wein’s abrupt 1978 departure from Marvel — but Roy seems to have liked them whether the schedule was tight or not, either for stage-setting reasons or because they just allowed him to create more lead time (which would inevitably get eaten up) while he thought about what to do with the series.

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  4. I’ve alwasy preferred the title being Cqaptain Americand the Falcon over Cap solo. Probably because that’s what I read first and hiw generally awesome I found Englehart back then. Sam Wilson has usually been portrayed as just a great hero and good person that his presence and friendship with Cap was oh so additive.

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  5. Also, I love that classic cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott! I remember this comic well and it was interesting that a What If story became cannon.

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    1. Um, I should have noted that you don’t trash the issue, just find it wanting which is fair enough! It is what it is given its temporal context.

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  6. While I wouldn’t necessarily TOTALLY disagree with this particular example being masturbatory (and the Invaders aren’t such a *great*concept) it’s worth remembering that plenty of readers at the time WOULDN’T have know all these details it would all/much have been *new* to *them*, it’s the over-the-top continuity-welding (not the continuity-welding per se) that’s at fault. Reading even an issue like this is an improvement on, say, a Wikipedia entry.

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    1. The album issues worked then for sure. The stories I didn’t like were when Thomas would waste a whole issue explaining a continuit gaffe no one else cared about from decades prior.

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      1. Depends on the gaffe. His explanation for Dr. Fate’s half-helmet from the later part of his Golden Age run — getting rid of the original helmet to free himself from Nabu’s control — was inspired.

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      2. I reread JLA 37 recently, in which the Earth-One Johnny Thunder has the Thunderbolt erase the JLA from history. I’d forgotten until that rereading how incredibly cool it had been to learn the origins of Atom, GL, Superman and Flash in the course of the T-bolt erasing them.

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