Friday, 13 April 2012

Captain America - Death of the Red Skull

I can't begin to understand Marvel's publishing wiles, but this is a strange book to release. Granted, its got a story from the Shooter era that spans a lot of issues before this was the done thing, so it makes a natural book length collection, but the tone of it is all over the place, for reasons that I will come to shortly. In addition, its the tail end of writer JM DeMatteis run on the title. He worked for around three years with Mike Zeck in an under-appreciated run of quality and intelligence, before the penciller left for fame and glory and Secret Wars.

Zeck was replaced by Paul Neary, and DeMatteis left under a cloud around issue after issue 300, collected in this volume. Neary would eventually become a great Cap artist, but the reason for the shifting tone in this volume is because he goes through a series of inkers, and the finished art changes hugely each time. It's not until the last couple of issues when he is paired with Dennis Janke that the artwork finds any form of consistency, which is a shame. I'm especially surprised at how badly his pencils clash with the inks of Josef Rubinstein.

Equally strange is the decision to include issue 291. This is an obvious fill-in issue by Bill Mantlo and Herb Trimpe, that features none of the supporting cast and Cap on his motorcycle. It does nothing to the story other than get in the way, even if the art is lovely.

But I still loved it. DeMatteis had built up a strong supporting cast by now, and by having the Red Skull threaten all of these, it becomes a real ensemble piece with a true sense of jeopardy. And obviously, by featuring the 'death' of Cap's arch-enemy, it was trying to get rid of some of the baggage, and tell a story of real import.

Sadly, its not to be - politicking and the variable quality stop it from being as good as it could be, but as a piece of 80s nostalgia, I really enjoyed it.

Cost : It's got a cover price of $29.99. It's around 15 pounds from the usual online retailers, some of whom probably even pay Corporation Tax in the UK. At that price, it's worthy of your attention.


  1. I have yet to read any of these big Captain America TPBs, but it's awesome that Marvel is doing them -- this material has gone uncollected for far too long. Personally, I like the idea of them collecting the fill-ins alongside everything else, since there's little hope they would ever be reprinted otherwise.

    It's also interesting to hear that the inks were so all over the place in this book...especially given that Neary himself is best known as an inker today. You think he picked up some do's and don'ts from these guys?

  2. I have this on my To Read pile, though I cannot understand why Marvel released this before / instead of the far superior Zeck issues. I kind of like that they included the Mantlo issue, not because it's any good but a) because it features Batroc b) because it's got a great Byrne cover and c) because I hate it when they don't collect entire runs: the completist in me even wants the duff fill-in issues. (I still remember that ridiculous Spidey trade they released a few years back featuring a six part McFarlane illustrated story in which one episode was drawn by Erik Larsen... and they left that issue out of the reprint. Idiots.)

  3. I know what you're saying - I like the idea of them reprinting the fill-ins, but if they're picking and choosing specific storylines, I think it's a bit silly. That said, it's no big deal, and the fill-in isn't a clunker by any means.

    Marc - with regards to Neary, it's an interesting question. Bearing in mind how much the pages here change depending on the inker, maybe his pencils are a bit too loose. If you think of where he's done a lot of inking, he's spent a lot of time as part of a specific team (I'm thinking Davis or Hitch) and he doesn't overwhelm either of them. There are parts of this book where you probably wouldn't be able to tell it's Neary.

  4. Can I borrow this please Steve? I have very fond memories of this run. The very idea that a British artist as distinctive as Neary became the regular artist on Captain AMERICA was incredible to me when this happened in the early/mid eighties.

  5. Rol, I remember those horribly done Marvel Visionaries: Todd McFarlane trades. Luckily, Marvel seems to have learned its lesson in the ten or so years since they came out -- the Amazing Spider-Man by Michelinie & McFarlane Omnibus collects all the issues from that time without skipping any. I believe the recent Bill Mantlo Hulk trades (which are about as thick as the Captain America ones have been) have also collected fill-in issues alongside the main story.

  6. Marc - yeah, I traded in my Visionaries for the Omnibus... and I'm also ordering the Mantlo Hulk trades... despite having NO money whatsoever these days! ;-)