Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Essential Captain America, Volume 7 by Roger Stern, et al.

Saved by John Byrne
Essential Captain America, Volume 7 reprints issues 231 to 257 of the classic Captain America comic book series from Marvel Comics. This run of issues, reproduced here in black and white, were originally published from March 1979 to May 1981. This book picks up where Volume 6 left off, with Roger McKenzie and Sal Buscema continuing their fine work in the roles of writer and artist, respectively. While their issues are by no means masterpieces, this duo consistently cranked out good solid work that is above average for Marvel during this era. Early in this volume they introduce the National Force, a terrorist organization that actually behaves like a real terrorist organization, frighteningly fomenting racism and violence like a latter-day, techno-savvy Klan. This seamlessly leads into an exciting three-issue story arc in which Cap teams up with Daredevil to square off against Dr. Faustus.

As entertaining as that may be, the real highlight of Volume 7 is undoubtedly the nine-issue run with John Byrne as artist. Byrne was one of Marvel’s best artists of the ‘80s, and he draws Cap probably better than any other character he’s ever covered. Byrne was also a very good writer, and from issues 247 to 255 he and Roger Stern are credited as co-plotters, while Stern pens the script. As is often the case with Byrne’s work, these stories are a great mix of nostalgia for Marvel’s glory days and innovative changes for the future. Stern and Byrne also develop the supporting cast of non-super civilian characters so Cap has more going on in his life than just throwing his shield at people. Issue 249, where Cap faces Machinesmith and Dragon Man, is an absolute masterpiece. This is followed by a famous but overrated issue (#250) in which Cap is encouraged to run for President of the United States. After appearances by Batroc and Mr. Hyde, Stern and Byrne then deliver a great two-issue story that delves into the history of Cap’s World War II superteam The Invaders. Cap journeys to England at the request of some of his aged former teammates and ends up tangling with the Nazi vampire Baron Blood.

Unfortunately, in between the McKenzie/Buscema and Stern/Byrne runs, this volume contains a lot of filler in the form of one-issue stories by a miscellaneous assortment of journeyman writers and artists. Some of the art is good—Gene Colan and even Carmine Infantino each draw an issue—but the stories are mediocre Marvel fare at best. As is often the case with such fill-in issues, Cap fights a number of forgettable D-list villains and even the occasional non-super threat, such as garden-variety muggers or your average motorcycle gang. It is as if the editors tell these fill-in writers, you can do whatever you want as long as your story is inconsequential and doesn’t mess with the continuity of any major characters.

Overall, however, the goods outweigh the bads in Volume 7. It is certainly worth a read for fans of John Byrne. Compared to the rest of the Essential Captain America series, this is not as good as Volume 5, which was mostly written and drawn by Jack Kirby, but it is right up there as one of the better volumes in the series, along with Volume 3. Though it has had a lot of ups and downs in terms of quality, the Essential Captain America series has been a fun read, and this was a good way to end it on a high note.
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