First Published: June 2010
Contents: Captain America and the Falcon #187 (July 1975) to #205 (January 1977); Captain America Annual #3 (1976); and Marvel Treasury Special Featuring Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles #1 (1976)
Key Creator Credits: John Warner, Frank Robbins, Sal Buscema, Tony Isabella, Jack Kirby, and others
Key First Appearances: Moonstone, Threkker, Contemplator, General Argyle Fist, Brother Inquisitor
Story Continues From: Essential Captain America Vol. 4
Story Continues In: Essential Captain America Vol. 6
Overview: You recall the creation of Captain America, right? I’m not talking about the character’s origin story in the comics. Rather, I refer to the creation of the character in 1940. Writer Joe Simon doodled out a concept called Super American, but decided there were too many Supers in comics those days. So he gave him the title Captain, tweaked the name, and brought in artist Jack Kirby to flesh it out. Captain America Comics #1, featuring Captain America punching out Adolf Hitler, came out in late December of 1940, nearly a full year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So the history is there that Jack Kirby has been there since Day 1 with the adventures of Steve Rogers.
Flash forward to 1975, and Marvel re-signs Jack Kirby to a contract after a five-year run at DC. Part of the deal gave Kirby creative control of his books, so he did a lot of titles that fell on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, such as The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur. But he was also given the chance to write and draw Captain America. Kirby jumped in head first and turned the action level up to 11 with the start of his run in the monthly Cap book.
Kirby takes Captain America (and the Falcon) on a MAD run across the country in search of a BOMB. (Yes, that is a subtle plug to the main storyline, Madbomb.) In typical Kirby fashion, there are a lot of Nazis, a lot of 1950s monster references, and a lot of fist-fighting — maybe this is what Kirby was most comfortable drawing, or what he thought would sell best. Marvel really didn’t care, because it was still new art by the King.
What makes this Essential?: If Marvel had planned things out more in advance, they could have easily made this an Essential Captain America by Jack Kirby volume. This volume contains six issues before Kirby took over the title. This Essential ends with issue #205, and Kirby’s run ends ten issues later (including Annual #4) with issue #214. So it could have been possible to get all of the Kirby run in one Essential. Alas, it did not work out that way.
Regardless, this collection is worth a look for the Kirby issues. I will be the first to admit that this is not Kirby’s greatest work. Part of the deal to get Kirby to return to Marvel required giving him more creative freedom and less editorial supervision. I’ve contended for many years that writers and/or artists should not be their own editors. The stories could have been helped some by another voice providing input and suggestions. These are action-packed stories, but there is very little character development going on here.
Footnotes: Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles #1 was initially published as an over-sized Treasury edition. Because of the size of the treasury, the page dimensions to not scale down properly for the Essential formatting, which leads to extra white space on the bottom of each page.
If you like this volume, try: the Captain America volume from 2013 by Rick Remender and John Romita, Jr. This was another re-launch with the All-New Marvel event. In this storyline, Captain America is thrown into Dimension Z, a post-apocalyptic world ruled by Arnim Zola. There is no United States or no American Dream to defend. Steve Rogers just has to be a man standing up for what is right. While this storyline ran over the course of 1 year in publishing time, the events of the story cover 10 years in Captain America’s life. Along the way, Cap gains a son, but is he the father? The story as well as the art echoes back to the frenzied approach that Jack Kirby took in the stories in this Essential. And much like the 1970s Kirby run on Captain America, this run by Remender & Romita, Jr. is either really loved or really hated. This isn’t your typical Captain America storyline, so you have to be willing to accept the character in this different environment.