Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Review - Essential Captain America Vol.1 TPB

This book collects the Captain America strips from Tales of Suspense issues 59 to 99, Captain America issues 100-102, and a Golden Age Captain America strip from Captain America Comics #10. All of the stories in this book are written by Stan Lee and the vast majority are drawn by Jack Kirby, although we also get art by ‘Jazzy’ John Romita, Gil Kane, Dick Ayers, George Tuska, Jack Sparling, and Joe Simon.

I had never read most of the stories in this book before, which always seemed like a bit of an oversight, as I have read most of Lee and Kirby’s other silver age output – either in Marvel Masterworks, other Essentials books, or Marvel UK reprints from the ‘70s / ‘80s – and Captain America is one of my favourite Marvel characters. My favourite Stan Lee-penned comics are the Amazing Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, particularly the first dozen or so issues of each title, as these comics displayed a great sense of humour, as well as a sense of drama. That sense of humour seemed to be somewhat lacking in other Marvel comics from that era, which makes books like the Avengers and the X-Men seem a bit dull by comparison, and unfortunately the same thing is true of most of the stories in this book. The first couple of strips are quite playful, with Cap having fun taking on legions of hired goons, but then we get a whole load of stories set in World War II, which are a bit dull. Things pick up a bit once the stories return to the present day (well, the 1960s) around the middle of the book but it wasn’t really until near the end of the book that I actually started to enjoy this, and I’m not sure if that’s because the stories got better or because I knew I’d nearly finished it. A bit of both, I think. Mostly, considering they were so ridiculous, these stories took themselves a bit too seriously, were way too wordy, and the book as a whole was quite a struggle to get through. Still, I got to read the first appearances of Batroc the Leaper (I love Batroc!), Agent 13 / Sharon Carter, Modok, and the Cosmic Cube (which I still don’t really understand) and most of the art was great – some of Kirby’s best work, I think, especially once Joe Sinnott takes over the inking chores for TOS issues 87 and 90-98.

Indeed, the most notable thing about this particular volume, for me, is that it contains what is perhaps my single favourite Jack Kirby image – the splash page to the Captain America strip from Tales of Suspense #93 (above). I’m not quite sure what it is I like so much about this page, but the first time I saw it my eyes nearly popped out of my head (a slight exaggeration, perhaps) and I have still got a copy of TOS #93 that I kept back from a collection I bought to sell about 10 years ago – the only issue of that particular title I own. Like most of the art in this volume, this page even looks great printed on crappy paper in black and white.

Despite struggling a bit with this book, I am looking forward to reading future volumes in this series, particularly those reprinting issues drawn by Gene Colan, Frank Robbins and Sal Buscema, and written by writers other than Stan Lee. I love Stan Lee, but these days I can only take ‘the man’ in small doses and 500+ pages was a bit much for me.

As for the cost, well, I got this, along with Essential Captain America volumes 2, 3 and 4 and a couple of other books I wanted, in a set of 28 graphic novels I bought on eBay a year or so for £80. I sold off all the stuff I didn’t want for a little over £80, which means that this effectively cost me nothing. Yay!


  1. I've got all 4 volumes of Essential Cap, but unlike many of the other Essential volumes I've ploughed through in recent years, I can't get started on them. Something about the old Lee/Kirby TOS strips turns me off. I really want to read / re-read the later Colan, Romita, Buscema stuff... but I'm not allowing myself to do that until I've first forced myself to endure the Kirby.

    FF aside, I wish I had the stomach for Kirby that most longtime Marvel fans have.

  2. I must have had these hanging around for nearly two years now (maybe longer) and have avoided reading them for more or less the same reason - i.e. I couldn't quite face slogging my way through all the TOS stuff. Now that I have got all the TOS stuff out of the way and am on to the Captain America series proper, I feel quite relieved. The bad news is that Volume 2 seems to be entirely written by Stan lee, too, but at least it's got lots of Steranko and Colan art in it (and lots more nice-looking Kirby stuff). Plus... the Falcon!

    With the exception of the Lee / Ditko Spider-Mans and the Lee / Kirby FFs (particularly the early issues), I am generally more keen on Bronze Age comics than I am Silver Age comics.

  3. I read this a couple of years back and I loved the WWII stories... But probably because I remember them from the Titans back in the 70s. Nazi robots rule, obviously. And what is this challenging The King, Rol? I am speechless!

  4. I may have enjoyed these issues more if they had been nearer the end of the book. Knowing I still had hundreds of pages to go probably made them seem worse.

  5. I never have a problem with Stan's writing... I just never got into Kirby. It's not a challenge so much as a disappointment (in myself). I respect his place in the comics kingdom, and all he gave us, but I was always more of a Ditko or Romita kid. I always thought maybe when I grew up I'd grow to appreciate Kirby more (as I have with certain other artists who turned me off as a kid - like Colan) but sadly it just never happened.