First Published: January 2002
Contents: Captain America #103 (July 1968) to #126 (June 1970)
Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, and Gene Colan
Key First Appearances: Dr. Faustus, Madame Hydra, Sam Wilson/Falcon, Redwing
Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 1
Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 3
Overview: Captain America bounces back in this second Essential volume from Marvel. We see the transition of the character in this book, as Lee & Kirby take their final run together with Steve Rogers, before handing him over to next wave of creators in the Marvel Bullpen.
While these stories feature a healthy dose of classic villains like the Red Skull and Batroc the Leaper, new villains are added to the mix that expands Cap’s rogues gallery. First up is Doctor Faustus, who uses drugs and mind-control techniques to fight Captain America in psychological battles. The other addition is Madame Hydra, the new leader of the criminal Hydra organization. Complete with her Hydra-green lipstick, Madame Hydra (later known as the Viper) becomes the female antagonist that can tempt Steve Rogers with her body, or lead Hydra in an attempt to take over the world.
Rick Jones tries donning the Bucky costume and serves as Cap’s partner for a few issues. While it does not work for either one, it does show that Cap excels with a partner. Enter Sam Wilson, Harlem social worker and the high-flying Falcon. Captain America and Falcon would partner for many years going forth, and their strong friendship continues to this day.
What makes this Essential?: Captain America starts to expand as a character in this volume, as new creators move in to take over for Lee and Kirby. While Steve Rogers still pines for the world he left behind, he starts to accept living in the (then) modern world of the late-1960s. The creative teams start realizing the possibilities of the character, whether serving as an agent for the government or S.H.I.E.L.D., or as the leader of the Avengers. The creative art advances by Steranko and Colan make this a worthwhile edition to pick up.
Footnotes: While the Black Panther is considered to be the first black superhero, he is a prince from the African nation of Wakanda. The Falcon, who debuts in this Essential, is considered to be the first African-American superhero, created by Lee and Colan.
If you like this volume, try: the Jim Steranko run on Nick Fury, which ran in Strange Tales and in the early issues of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. These stories have been collected numerous times (but not in an Essential) so it should not be difficult to track these down. Steranko came in and took over the art duties from Kirby, and then the writing duties from Roy Thomas. Steranko’s run was part James Bond, part Andy Warhol’s pop art, and pushed the limits of the Comics Code Authority numerous times. Our perception of what S.H.I.E.L.D. should be came from these issues. Truthfully, this is a story better read in color, so pick it up any way you can.