It was 70 years ago that Marvel Comics No. 1 hit the newsstands of America, so all year long we’ll be celebrating that publishing landmark with special features. Today it’s the second installment of "Fred Hembeck’s Hero Complex," where Fred Hembeck, the comics-fandom parodist, lovingly revisits classic Marvel covers…
Fred Hembeck here again! Some of you may remember me as the guy who destroyed the entire Marvel Universe but today I come to praise the House of Ideas, not to bury it!
Last week I went back to the genesis of Marvel’s patriotic icon Captain America (you can read Part 1 here) and today we Super-Soldier on with Part 2!
Hmmmm. Cap seems to have tumbled into a strange parallel dimension where everyone has squiggles on their knees…
Inheriting the numbering from Tales of Suspense, his erstwhile (and now discontinued) home, Cap had himself an entire book to move around in (not to worry armor lovers — Iron Man received the full length treatment as well). In this debut issue, we get a quick retelling of the events of The Avengers No. 4, as well as more of his then ongoing adventures alongside another Stan Lee/Jack Kirby stalwart, the Black Panther. Believe me when I tell you I was just totally thrilled that my fave good guy finally got his own ongoing book — drawn by Kirby, happily!!
"The Avengers" #56
Kirby was King … but that’s not to say OTHER folks couldn’t draw an effective Cap — or write one, either, as proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the above issue of Avengers. Roy Thomas crafted a memorably poignant time-travel tale that found the present day Cap face to face with the 1940s-era Bucky, the partner whose untimely demise he’d long felt responsible for. Buscema’s artwork ably displayed all-out action when called for, as well as heartrending emotion when necessary. This, gang, was one of the first truly great Marvel Comics that Stan Lee DIDN’T write.
"Captain America" No. 107
Kirby and Giacoia, original artists
Truth is, the hallucinatory events that account for Cap’s decades of regression in this issue’s story ("The Past Be Not Dead") didn’t make for all that memorable a story. The evidence? Well, how about the fact that I can’t, um, remember any of it? But hey, it sure made for one heckuva striking cover!!
"Captain America" No. 113
Jim Steranko, original artist
STERANKO!! In 1969, I was 16 years old, and to me, this multi-talented cartoonist was nigh unto a god — or even a Beatle! THAT, my friends, was the Steranko effect!! So when he took over the penciling chores of Captain America from The King himself, I could not have been happier! Well, maybe I could’ve been a wee bit happier if he had written his own scripts, like he did on the "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." series — and especially if he had stayed around for more than an all-too-short tenure of three measly issues!! But oh, WHAT issues!! This was his swan song, the first — and best — "Captain America is dead" story. No, this particular issue never made national headlines — after all, Cap came back to life in time to explode across Steranko’s double-page centerspread — but it’s since gone down in comics history as one of highlights of the good Captain’s illustrious career.
"Giant-Size Invaders" No. 1
Roy Thomas, a fan of the Golden Age era Cap growing up, finally figured out a way to get him back fighting World War II on a regular basis by teaming him up with the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch (along with boy wonders, Bucky and Toro) as the Invaders. With Frank Robbins
supplying the feature with a suitably retro flavor, the book had a decent run — and alongside present day adventures with the Avengers and solo escapades in his own book, lucky mid- to late ’70s readers like myself received a triple dose of Cap each and every month!! Now THAT’S
something worth saluting, lemme tell ya!
"The Uncanny X-Men" No. 268
Sooner or later, Captain America showed up EVERYWHERE!! Witness the above X-Men cover. Frankly, by the time this particular issue hit the stands, the not-so-merry mutants were no longer my cup of tea. Chances are, I probably never even READ this issue (but before you ask, I have it in my collection because I was working for Marvel at the time and got comp copies of their books), but c’mon people, that is one fabulous illo (um, not mine — the Jim Lee original, I mean, though mine ain’t bad). Grandeur, thy name is Steve Rogers!! And Black Widow? Gotta say YOU’RE looking mighty fine as well, gal pal.
OK, that’s it for today! There’s a LOT more to come, keep checking back and please do visit my website if you get a chance, it’s right here.
– Fred Hembeck
READ MORE OF FRED HEMBECK’S HERO COMPLEX
CREDITS: All artwork by Fred Hembeck, characters are trademarks of Marvel Comics. Photo of Mark Valley by Getty Images.
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