Saturday, June 6, 2009

1980 – Captain America

"War and Remembrance"
America #247-255
July 1980 - March 1981
Reprinted in “War and Remembrance” Trade Paperback.
Writers: Roger Stern (script/co-plot) and John Byrne (co-plot)
Artists: John Byrne (pencils) and Joe Rubinstein (inks)

In March 1964, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the living legend of Captain America for a whole new generation in The Avengers #4. They established him as the Avengers’ foremost leader, and as the personification of American ideals. However, there was little room for the characterization of his alter ego, Steve Rogers. Lee shaped the Captain America character using his famous angst formula. Captain America was haunted by the death of his W.W.II sidekick, Bucky. He also found himself, a 1940s man, now living in the 1960s and had difficulties adjusting.

Steve Englehart’s run on Captain America in the 1970s also focused on Captain America’s character, identity, and beliefs, but failed to provide any insight on who Steve Rogers is. Roger Stern and John Byrne, wishing to take the title in a different direction in issue #247, succeeded in bring the man behind the mask, Steve Rogers, to life. Their work on Steve Rogers’ character would be carried on by J.M. DeMatteis well into the 1980s. They established and developed Rogers’ supporting cast of characters, especially Bernadette Rosenthal who would become a serious love interest. They also filled in Rogers’ personal life and had him make a serious attempt at a career as a commercial artist.
The initial issues were typical super-hero fare featuring the Dragon Man, the Machinesmith, Batroc, and Mr. Hyde, and they are enjoyable. Issue #250 had Captain America seriously thinking about a political career, but decides that he can’t run for president. The idea was originally tossed around when Stern was editor for the title and it resurfaced again and was approved by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. Stern told Newsarama’s Matt Brady that "John and I were just trying to come up with a different kind of story for issue #250 ... and maybe say something about the importance of symbols and idealism."

Issues #253-253 had Captain America fly to England where he was reunited with his old Invaders teammates and becomes embroiled in a battle against their oldest foe, Baron Blood. Roger Stern told Matt Brady:
"That grew out of a story idea that John had originally floated when he was drawing Avengers, We never got around to using it there, and I think it really worked better as a Cap story. There was a lot of neat stuff in the old Invaders series. John and I were both big Frank Robbins fans."
The final issue of this run is a nice end piece that retells Cap’s origin and his first run-in with Nazi forces within America. The issue’s art is printed directly from Byrne’s pencils, bypassing the inking process and giving it a golden age look and feel.
Throughout these issues, Stern reveals the pieces of Rogers’ past that have helped shape his identity. Rogers’ true memories surface through the false memories that were implanted as a W.W. II security precautions. Rogers’ youth is playfully relived, and his war time memories with the Invaders are fondly remembered. Together, Stern and Byrne accomplish a lot of characterization within an aggressively action packed story arc. Stern did his homework well, rereading issues of Captain America, Tales of Suspense, The Invaders, and The Avengers, as well as studying American society of the 1920s and 30s.
I first encountered this run in grade school and had read the black and white French reprints. The art captivated me and its impression lingered in my mind in such a way that I hunted down these issues years later. Rereading these issues now, the story is just as impressive as the art. The only thing I disliked (I use dislike rather mildly) was the use of a lot of narrative that accompanied the panel-by-panel action sequences. I felt that they were mostly unnecessary and countered the action sequence.
Byrne, as a visual storyteller, shows in this run how versatile he can be. He draws fast-paced action that pulls the reader further into the story, and then slows it down with a series of evocative, contemplative panels. Joe Rubinstein’s inks can’t be underestimated either; as they truly embellish Byrne’s pencils. Also, keep in mind that Byrne was also busy supplying the penciled art for the X- Men.

Why was their run only nine issues? Roger Stern told George Khoury of
That gets a little complicated. Marvel was starting to crack the whip on deadlines, and all the editors were under pressure to get their books on time. I’d had some stomach trouble midway through our run on Cap, and John was about to get married, and Jim Salicrup was understandably worried that we would fall further behind. I thought we could pull ahead in just a matter of weeks – my digestion was already back to normal, and I knew that John’s work ethic was as strong as mine – and to prove it, I sat down and plotted the next three issues straight through. Jim was still uneasy about the deadlines, and so he decided to schedule a fill-in by another writer. I pointed out that we already had a fill-in underway; Frank Miller was drawing a stand-alone Cap story that I was going to script. (It eventually saw print in Marvel Fanfare.)
"By the Dawn’s Early Light!" featured in Captain America #247 by Stern, John Byrne, and Joe Rubinstein. The first issue with Rog and his collaborators in their short-lived classic Captain America run. In those days before royalties, Marvel had what was called a "continuity bonus." If you wrote or drew six consecutive issues, you got a bonus. And so on for the next six, and the next. A fill-in before issue #258 would set all of our bonuses back.
But beyond that, I was worried about losing sales momentum on the series. We’d been working hard to build up the readership, and I knew from my days as an editor that fill-ins usually cost you readers. Back during those early days of the Direct Market, when the greatest percentage of sales still came from the newsstand, it was a given that sales would dip after each fill-in. It could take a book’s regular creative team as much as three issues to get the readership back up to the pre-fill-in level.
Well, I couldn’t persuade Jim not to schedule a fill-in. And, looking back, if I had been in his shoes, I might have done the same thing. But I wasn’t in his shoes. I was the freelancer, and I didn’t like the way we were being treated. I’d worked with Jim a long time and I really didn’t want to come to loggerheads with him. So, I took back all three plots, tore up the vouchers, and stepped away from the book. I figured, better to leave Cap on an up note with the 40th anniversary issue.
And about the storyline that would have been after #255:
“That was going to be our Red Skull trilogy. After we left Cap, I toyed with the idea of turning the story into a graphic novel. But later writers did some things with the Skull that would have invalidated the story. A couple of years ago, there was some talk of having John and me revisit the story as a special project – sort of "What if Roger and John hadn’t left Captain America?" But then John started having major creative differences with Marvel. I guess the story will have to remain "The One that Got Away." For now, at least. I never say never.”

1 comment:

  1. I remember buying and reading the issue in which Cap faces off with Baron Blood. At the time, it just blew me away that Cap would do that to anyone: even to a monster like Blood! It didn't seem "out of character", just shocking, and since Cap didn't then start dismembering bad guys left and right, it stood out as a "special moment" with some impact.



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