Kirby’s inventiveness is on display out of the gate on a cornerstone character of the modern Marvel. In addition, some of Stan Lee’s earliest comic writing is contained here, 21 stories in all, including text stories.
Two decades before Martin Goodman decided to brand his new line of heroes as the Marvel Comics Group, the company was known as Timely.
After Timely/Marvel published Captain America Comics #1 with Cap socking Adolph Hitler in the jaw, the publisher required police protection for weeks.
WWII had broken out between the allies and the fascists forces of the Axis Powers in 1939. When this issue was published (cover date March 1941 and on shelves Dec 1940), the United States was still a year away from Pearl Harbor, the declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, and the subsequent German declaration of war against USA in December of 1941. The cover was very controversial when it came out, especially among the Bund.
The American Bund was the largest national organization in USA in the late 30s. It was founded in Buffalo, NY in 1936 to support the new German Empire, replacing the Friends of New Germany organization. During the 30s, there was a large and vocal pro-German voice among Americans. And, after Dec 1940, they weren’t fans of Timely.
Captain America Comics #1, which leads off this beautifully produced omnibus, was one of the most important comics ever produced, right up there with Action Comics #1, Marvel Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Whiz Comics #2, and Wonder Woman #1. (personally, I would add several of the crossovers between the Human Torch and Namor, as well as All-Star Comics, but that’s for another post.)
Amazing artwork by Kirby and company! As much as I liked Kirby’s early Cap artwork, I thought he was even better on “Hurricane” and “Tuk, Caveboy” (and apparently he inked and wrote the first story of each).
Oh to be a kid in the 40s and get 64 pages of high-energy art for a dime! The double-page spreads are gorgeous in the oversized volume. Marvel did a great job restoring and preserving the artwork in these stories. Kirby’s experimentation with page layout, characters exploding out of the panel confines and imaginative panel borders/gutters that flowed with the action are all on display throughout the volume.
What surprised me in reading this 848 page tome was how much Horror and Mystery Simon and Kirby wove in. I always had the impression that these early stories were war-focused. It seems that they may have used allegory about the horrors of war and the monstrous aggression reflected in the creatures that haunt these early stories.
“Case of the Black Witch” Captain America Comics 8, Nov 1941. Art by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. From pre-Marvel Timely. I love these double page spreads Kirby would do on the centerfold of the big 64-page comics. He drew three or four episodes of Cap each month, with help from folks like Al Gabriele, Al Avison, George Klein, Syd Shores and Of course Joe Simon. Stan Lee had a couple of stories published in this issue also
Just listen to these titles: “The Wax Statue That Struck Death”, “The Hunchback of Hollywood and the Movie Murder”, “The Unholy Legion”, “The Terror That Was Devil’s Island”, “Death Loads the Bases”, “Horror Plays the Scales”, “Phantom Hound of the Cardiff Moor” and “Hotel of Horror” to name just a few.
When I turned the page in Captain America Comics #3 and saw the Return of the Red Skull with Captain America and Bucky being hung! How would they get out of this? They sure looked dead to me. I wanted to race to the end to see what happened.
The Red Skull appears in three stories in this omnibus. Clearly, he’s a unique villain right off the bat. The Black Toad, the Black Talon, Gorro, the Ringmaster, the Fang, the White Death, the Hangman, the Black Witch, Nick Pinto – the Man Who Couldn’t Die, Mephisto (the actor), and Doctor Crime (silly name but he had a cool look).
There’s also the ridiculous villains (hey, not every bad guy can be the Red Skull), such as “The Camera Fiend”, “Netman”, “the Mad Musician”, and the Hillbilly “Wildman” armed with a pitchfork. We also get to see a lot of Betty Ross, Steve Rogers first flame.
One note on Black Talon: he was an artist that had the hand of a “ferocious-looking African” named Strangler Burns, who was electrocuted. After he died, his hand was implanted on the artist, causing the artist to commit murder. Instead of crossing over into racism, I wish that the hand was from a demon from hell or something like that. The story could’ve been quite good with that change.
The biggest highlight of this story for me was on page 9 where a magazine stand has “Mystic Comics“, “The Human Torch“, and “Marvel Mystery Comics” for sale! The Human Torch was a great reproduction of #4(3), spring 1941. Marvel Mystery says #24 on the cover, but it’s red logotype on yellow header, whereas the real #24 (Oct 41) was white logotype on red header. Mystic Comics #6 had a cover date of Oct 1941 and had yellow logotype on red header. This issue of Captain America Comics (#9) had a cover date of December 1941. I love this nod and wink easter egg. It makes the comic world feel more real. Shades of the Marvel Age on display in the 40s!
Another interesting point of this volume is that the last two issues are done by Al Avison. It’s interesting to compare the two as Avison tried to mimic Kirby’s storytelling. Though he can’t quite match Kirby’s energy and purposefulness of page layout, the Kirby heritage is apparent. Avison also inked Kirby through several of the early stories.
Though Marvel’s tweaked Cap’s origin a few times over the years, the core is essentially the same as what Simon and Kirby dreamt up back in 1941. It’s amazing how transcendent that origin still is.
The only negatives that I found: I’ve never liked sidekicks and I had a bit of a struggle believing in Bucky. There are also a few artifacts of the era contained within, but these seems less pronounced than other titles during the 40s.
While I was rereading this omnibus, I noticed “Lee” on the bottom right corner of the in-house ad for Marvel Mystery #27 (though the issue number doesn’t appear on the cover illustration). Also, Lee is credited with 18 stories on the credits pages, but oddly enough, he’s not credited with three stories that he signed in #11 and #12. He signed #11’s Hurricane and Father Time (as Neel Nats, Stan Lee backwards) as well as Headline Hunter from #12. Headline Hunter in #5 is Stan Lee’s first comic script credit, and Father Time is one of the earliest heroes he created (in Captain America Comics #7, Oct 41. The first character he created was the Destroyer in Mystic #6, Aug 41.)
After the second read-through of these stories, I’m even more struck by the wasted opportunity for Hurricane, Master of Speed, Son of Thor. Hurricane was shown by Kirby to possess super-speed and the powers of the storm, including throwing lightning bolts and calling down a thunderstorm. I’ve never seen Red Raven Comics #1, but it sounds like Hurricane was derived from Kirby-Simon Mercury in that issue. Hurricane had a lot of potential in these early issues and could’ve joined the big three before the Whizzer got going. Being descendant from a god sounds a lot cooler than getting an infusion of mongoose blood as a way to get your superspeed.
Besides getting the first 12 issues of Captain America Comics (back when comics were a titanic 72 or 64 pages), we also get Introductions from Roy Thomas, Gerard Jones and Michael Uslan, as well as an Afterward from Joe Simon. We also get 18 pages of full-size house ads for Captain America Comics from other Timely books. There are photos of the Sentinels of Liberty membership cards and badges (copper and bras versions). We also get ten covers from Fantasy Masterpieces that reprinted Golden Age stories in the Silver Age, quarter-sized, and the Classic Years covers by Kevin Maguire and Scott Hanna as well as the softcover Masterworks cover art by Richard Isanove on Jack Kirby’s scintillating cover for #1. Within each issue, in-house ads are printed, including the ones for the Sentinels of Liberty.