Monday, June 10, 2019

Essential Captain America, Volume 6 by Jack Kirby, et al.

From classic to comical
Essential Captain America, Volume 6 reprints issues 206 to 230 of Marvel Comics’ Captain America series, which were originally published from February 1977 to February of 1979. It also includes Captain America Annual #4 and an issue of The Incredible Hulk (#232) that concludes a Cap and Hulk crossover.

The previous book, Essential Captain America, Volume 5, was written and drawn almost entirely by Jack Kirby, and is a truly excellent collection, the best in this series so far. Kirby’s run continues for almost the first half of Volume 6, ending with issue 214. Again, his bizarre stories and bombastic art are truly a treat to behold. Issue 208 features the debut of one of Kirby’s most inventive creations, Arnim Zola, the half-man, half-robot Nazi scientist with his face in his chest. Zola is a master of biological engineering, which gives Kirby the opportunity to indulge in all kinds of freaky creatures to torment Cap and the Falcon. Kirby also handles Annual #4, in which Cap encounters Magneto. Whether Cap is facing sci-fi monsters from space or spies, assassins, and terrorists threatening democracy, his adventures are always exceptional in the hands of Kirby.

After Kirby’s departure from the title, Sal Buscema takes over the art and does his usual admirably decent job. Authorial duties are taken over by a succession of short-term writers, including Roy Thomas, Don Glut, and Steve Gerber. In most cases, they really don’t do justice to the character, and the stories often get rather ridiculous. Cap goes on a search for his past, because apparently he underwent memory loss when he took the super soldier serum, and doesn’t remember anything about his life as Steve Rogers. Since when? That was never mentioned before in the previous 150 issues, but the writers wanted an excuse to mess with Cap’s back story. One particularly silly plot involves a mad Nazi scientist who transfers his own consciousness into a 12-foot-tall Captain America robot, and then, not surprisingly, regrets the decision when he realizes what a freak he is. After issue 217 the Falcon disappears, meaning the writers just stop including him in the stories. Several issues goes by before Cap notices he’s gone, and then a kidnapping is drummed up to explain his absence. By that time, with issue 223, the title of the comic has already changed from Captain America and the Falcon to just plain Captain America.

The quality of the stories in this volume vary widely in quality from the superb (Kirby’s work) to the dismal. Towards the end of the volume things perk up a bit with a multi-issue arc from writer Roger McKenzie. Cap and SHIELD face a mysterious organized crime ring called the Corporation. Both sides have their share of assorted super-powered agents, which culminates in a big battle royale. Things get really exciting when the Hulk joins in for the final two-issue crossover. After some of the poorer stories, it is good to see this inconsistent volume wrapped up on a high note. Volume 6 has some pretty good issues in it, but it is clearly inferior to Volume 5. I am looking forward to Volume 7 and the coming of John Byrne.
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