SILVER-AGE FLASHBACK: Captain America 107 (November 1968)
May 16, 2005
This week we stroll down mammary lane to dissect a classic from the late-1960s. Please put your hands together and welcome Captain America 107...
If we as a species should ever face complete and utter annihilation, if we are ever on the verge of a tragedy so devastating that it entirely wipes out our race, if an airborne virus ever rolls across the planet like a bulldozer, taking us all down like withered trees and weeds, I hope someone among us will be smart enough to include a copy of CAP 107 in a time capsule. The Lee-Kirby run of Captain America began with issue 100 (prior to that, the series was entitled Tales of Suspense and the pages were shared with stories starring the nigh invincible Iron Man). Kirby and Lee collaborated on a mere 10 issues of the Captain America series (issues 100 thru 112, with the exception of Jim Steranko's work on issues 110 and 111), but those 10 issues are pure dynamite. Seldom are gems of this magnitude produced today, but to Lee and Kirby it was all part of a day's work.
Issue 107 represents what I consider the pinnacle of Kirby's raw pencil-driven artistic powers. His characters generally exploded off the printed page; this wasn't a once-in-a-while sort of thing but was, in fact, the norm. The characters in issue 107, entitled "If the Past Be Not Dead" are dynamically drawn, fully realized individuals. These are not two-dimensional cut outs that alienate the reader; rather, Steve Rogers and the supporting cast of this issue are as real as you and me. The issue's focus is on Steve Rogers, who, having been frozen in suspended animation for approximately two decades, is still trying to cope emotionally with regard to the death of his World War II fighting partner, Bucky Barnes. Cap's turmoil is ripe with realism, from the sorrow over his friend's loss to the personal guilt that weighs on his shoulders for having been able to save so many during the war but not his own partner. Add to the mix the manipulations of a doctor who sees an opportunity to exploit Rogers and drive him over the brink of sanity, and you'll perhaps begin to understand just how intense this issue really is. It is a brilliant tale, with a twist worthy of Hitchcock and a satisfying ending that again pulls the reader in as if he or she has been walking side by side with Cap throughout the issue.
There is so much more that can be said about this issue, but I'd rather not. If you haven't read it, you owe it to yourself to track down the original (or a reprint) and give it a try. It's what super-hero comics used to be about--not just action, but also a delicate mix of adventure, emotion, and empathy. It represents Kirby at his peak, just prior to his withdrawal from Marvel. It's the sports car with a T-top and mag wheels; it's the view from Everest on a clear day; it's the twilight of the Lee/Kirby era of comics and it's worthy of the words "Marvel Milestone."
Next: Updates galore.