Comics Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1 - Where It All Began

To prepare us for Captain America: The First Avenger, we review the first ever Captain America issue from 1941 thanks to the wonderful Marvel Digital Comics archive!

rating: 5

Written by Joe Simon, Pencils by Jack KirbyPublished by Timely ComicsInMarvel Digital ComicsNOW! Is this a little strange? To be doing a review of a comic book that was released in 1941 and was the beginning of the iconic success of one of Marvel's foremost characters? It would be if I were talking about the wonderfully textural and olfactory paper edition (what I wouldn't give to have a copy in my hands... scratch that. In my chemically-treated, scientific looking white-gloved hands in a vacuum-sealed bunker). Instead I am re-reading and reliving the thrill of this piece of artistic history through my subscription to Marvel's Digital Comics archive. With over 10,000 back issues already available, and more being added each week, Digital Comics is a wonderful, affordable and realistic way of getting to read all of those keystone issues that were published decades before most of us were even born. And what better way to get myself properly psyched for the soon-to-be-released Captain America: The First Avenger than to go back to where it all began? Conceived during a time when Americans were against their nation's involvement in, as they saw it, Europe's World War II, Captain America Comics #1 was a direct call-to-arms. Joe Simon created Cap as his response to the atrocities that he perceived were being committed by the Nazi regime. A year before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour would change the minds of many, Simon was using the comic book medium to debate an alternate argument as to why America was also at risk and should fight alongside the Allies. Although Simon had originally planned to split the art workload between three artists to meet a very tight deadline for Captain America's first issue release, Jack Kirby fought for the right to pencil it alone. And we are all thankful that he won the argument. Would Captain America have become as renowned without the artwork of the man who is now recognised as the Godfather of Comic Art? But that's enough history. It's time to live in the now and see if a comic that is valued around US$100,000 still holds its own in this modern era; 70 years after it's publication. The most noticeable element of Captain America Comics #1 is the artwork. It has a dated look but bears resemblance to Kirby's iconic artwork that would become the Marvel mainstay during the Silver Age period almost 20 years later. There is the same focus on movement and action that gives the fight sequences such a dynamic energy. Visually I found myself caught between two conflicting perspectives. After years of saturation from modern comic art, my expectations are very high when I look to the page. And to these standards the original Captain America fails. But of course I should not be judging something that was the foundation of what we have today by today's standards. And so the second perspective of pure nostalgia joins the conflict as I view a direct link between history and now. In terms of story I really enjoyed the different approach that this classic takes (although a standard approach for the time) with four independent stories that all have a finite ending. First off is "Case No 1: Meet Captain America" with Cap's origin story. I almost cried. This is a tale told so often throughout the Marvel franchise and has been added to, expanded, reworked, reinterpreted and modernised. To see it in its original and simple state is almost cathartic. For the first time I noticed how little this origin story is about Cap, and how much it is used to set up the evil of the Nazi regime and their never ending murderous plot to infiltrate the U.S. In fact Cap is really a subsidiary character in his own origin. Bucky's origin is explained in a mere 6 panels. And 'explained' is a loose term. The young boy walks in on Steve Rogers changing into his Captain America uniform, and upon discovering this secret is given his own uniform and sent out to face certain-death. Politically correct? Not by today's standards. The subsequent stories set Cap and Bucky against more Nazi plotters scheming to take over America. In each Bucky ends up facing death, and even though it often makes little sense, Cap turns up just in time to save him and give the bad guys a good beating. I was very aware of the overuse of cliched phrases that at times did not fit the moment but were used because they sounded good. The very last story contains the first appearance of the Red Skull. I don't want to ruin it for anyone who has not read it, but it is not the origin story you are probably used to. Definitely a must-read for any Cap fanatic. If you want an extra treat, then check out Human Torch #3 (also from 1941) and view the ACTUAL first appearance of Captain America in two full page adverts that herald the upcoming comic release, and offer readers the chance to join the fan club 'The Sentinels Of Liberty' (Quite funny when you think about the fact that Chris Evans who is playing Cap in the upcoming film was also Johnny Storm, a later Human Torch, in the Fantastic Four movies). I really loved stepping back in time and rediscovering why comics became the industry that they are now. When political issues outweighed profits and the P.C police didn't yet exist. Although I had to fight my own superiority complex and ignore the snide comments that popped into my mind throughout, this was such a great read and the perfect starting place before settling down into a cinema seat and seeing how Hollywood alters a comic book icon.
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A director & cinematographer by trade, but a Geek by choice. David grew up on the beaches of Sydney, Australia where he spent most sunny days indoors organsing his ever-expanding comic collection. Snubbed by the world at large, he wrapped himself in the sweet, sweet tales of the Marvel Universe and only resurfaces for Cheezels.