Face Front New Believers! Andy Larson, back again to deliver some comics knowledge to hopefully provide a welcome respite in your working day as you chug along to the inevitable 3 day holiday weekend! I will fully admit that the 4th of July holiday is one of my favorites, the real highlight of the entire summer time season.
Like Thanksgiving, there’s no expectations of presents or stress filled planning. It’s just an opportunity to get together with friends and family, have some family cookouts, drink a couple beers, and get lost in the colorful awe inspiring wonder that is a good fireworks display. Of course, this year the local fireworks display was cancelled due to COVID which is a bit of a bummer. Perhaps a trip to a local pool for some fun in the sun instead? No, those are still also currently closed due to COVID, that’s out of the cards too.
So what is still available? Beer of course. And great comic books. Especially great Captain America comic books which around this time my mind seems to wander back to with good reason. I’m a good ol’ American farmboy at heart, so the ideals about freedom and liberty that Captain America tends to embody still appeal to me at a very deep level despite the current political and socio economic climate. He’s a character that I can’t say that I’ve read a ton of outside his adventures along side the Avengers, but every time I do, I can’t help but enjoy.
So with that in mind, I started to browse through my comics collection for decent Captain America runs that I might not have taken a look at yet. That’s when I came across the trade paperback “War & Remembrance”, a loose collection of stories that make up the well regarded 9 issue pairing of writer Roger Stern and artist John Byrne in the mid 80s. Originally I was thinking that it would be a great book to review on the podcast for our annual 4th of July show, but on second thought, I felt it wasn’t cohesive enough of a story arc, again being more or less a collection of one shots.
However, I still think this run is worth highlighting for our fans that might not as familiar with it, so I decided to do today’s Read Pile about it instead. So hang on to your red, white, and blue chain mail tights and let’s dive into this collection highlighting issues #247-255 of Captain America!
10 Cent Synopsis:
From battling Machinesmith’s robotic duplicates of the Thing and Spiderman, to racing off to England to battle the undead foe from his Invaders years in Baron Blood, to foiling the latest schemes of Batroc the Leaper, to running for friggin’ president, Captain America definitely has a full plate in this particular run of issues.
With guest appearances by the Avengers, Spitfire and Union Jack, Nick Fury, Dum Dum Duggan and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve Rogers tries to balance his secret identity as a freelance artist with the demands of being one of the most well respected superheroes in the world. But when his new next door neighbor, Bernadette, starts eyeing the star spangled crusader with hopes of romance, will Cap’s responsibilities as a superhero start getting in the way of his civilian life?
This volume also includes Cap’s 40th Anniversary issue which is a more modern retelling of the 1960s Captain America origin story which was in turn updated retelling of his original 1941 origin story. Confusing, right?
I gotta say I’m a pretty huge fan of the talents that came together on this particular set of issues. Roger Stern’s run on both Spider-man with his Juggernaut, Boy who collected Spider-man, and original Hobgoblin saga and his epic Avengers run with the Under Siege event are some of the very best those series has to offer. You couple that with the legendary John Byrne who is on a short list of a my all time favorite artists thanks to his runs on X-men and Fantastic Four, and it’s pretty much a dream team for any comic book fan.
But, honestly this series really doesn’t offer anything super new or exciting unlike the ground breaking work that both of them did not other books in terms of modernizing or bringing new concepts to the forefront like for example the updating of Sue Richards on the Fantastic Four into more of the competent, independent force we know today. In fact, you could say that really what Stern & Byrne were trying to do with their Captain America run was bring the character backwards a bit to be more in line with his roots.
I mean with their very first issue they tackled was a weird subplot that ran from issues 215 through 225 in which it was “revealed” that Steve was not a simple kid from Brooklyn, but the son of a wealthy diplomat from Maryland who had been made to forget his original upbringing. This obviously didn’t sit well with any of the creative team, so they immediately had Cap find “lost records” showing that he had false memories implanted in him during WWII so that he wouldn’t reveal his secret identity even under Nazi mind control. So the diplomat son stuff was all an illusion, and we get the first of many reset buttons to be pushed.
Same thing goes with the fact that the series “killed” off long time love interest, Sharon Carter, in issue #233, Stern & Byrne immediately give Mr. Rogers a new object of possible romance with the introduction of Bernie Rosenthal who could appeal to Cap’s alter ego more than the former agent of SHIELD could. Again, I view this as a step to “normalize” the character and get him “back on track” as it were in terms of traditional comic conventions.
Then there’s the development of a new Union Jack character with Joey Chapman becoming the third person to claim to title. I feel this was also a reset button in order to give Cap more of a peer and colleague in which he could have international adventures with which had been sorely missing from the title for a while. In that regard, it was a rousing success given Joey is still the current Union Jack to this day 40 years after his appearance in the role.
But obviously, the biggest example of the resetting of expectations comes in the 40th anniversary issue which is again just a more modern retelling of the same origin story tale that Stan Lee & Jack Kirby originally provided in Captain America #109 decades earlier. But more than just giving an opportunity to add some important new ties into the extended Cap continuity that had been built up since that point, it serves as a reminder of where Captain America comes from and why readers should care.
Sure none of these “resets” are in themselves game changers like what Byrne would later do with another fiercely patriotic superhero in Superman some years later. But together, they do represent a concerted effort on behalf of this creative team to tear down some unnecessarily complex and rather silly story line walls that had been built up around Cap over the years, and return him to more a status quo from which future teams could then continue uninhibited by some of these previous aspects of his continuity that really didn’t fit with the character.
So from that perspective, this 9 issue run does serve a particular important purpose in the grand scheme of things, in that every character once in a while needs to be brought back to the basics for the fans in order for new stories to develop from there. This was just Cap’s turn!
As I mentioned above, Captain America isn’t really a super hero who’s book I’ve read with any sort of regularity other than his appearances in the Avengers. However, I will say that every time I do, I end up really liking what I’m reading. Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to just cherry pick the best from the countless decades of his comics, and unlike say Spider-man, I don’t have bad memories being forced to sit through a terrible run, like One More Day or the Clone Saga.
As such, I’ve had an opportunity to cover a lot of decent Captain America stories on past episodes of our podcast. Now I can harp on you to death that most of our podcasts are evergreen because we review mostly past books on them hence it doesn’t matter when you listen to them. But I feel like once in a while I have to stress to those that are newcomers to Ghosts of the Stratosphere, get out there and listen to our old episodes!
I mean you have a big holiday weekend coming up. I’m sure you’ll be driving somewhere or lounging in the backyard or doing something where some past episodes of our podcast would be a beneficial distraction. So here’s some great episodes that you can download or stream today feature The First Avenger in a starring role:
As a bonus, if you like Roger Stern’s version of Captain America as showcased in today’s read pile, check out his insanely great story line from the Avengers featuring Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil nearly defeating the Avengers once and for all!
It’s easy to dismiss this collection has having one really great issue and a bunch of mediocre ones. Like everyone is going to remember issue #250 where Captain America is asked to run for President. It’s just such an iconic cover with the classic campaign pin sporting Cap’s likeness. I’m surprised there haven’t been tons of t shirts with that same image being shopped around at Old Navy stores every 4th of July holiday as it certainly would be a hot seller.
Additionally, the entire notion of Captain America being our president is such a universally interesting topic for a story, that I’m surprised it took nearly 250 issue for Marvel to get around to actually telling it.
Plus the moments when he turns down the nomination in order to best serve the ideal American dream as opposed to ideal American political dream is a sobering reminder that being president isn’t like some sort of prize that should be coveted by everyone, and that politics can eventually lead to compromising one’s true self for the sake of governing. And that’s something Cap was very wise to foresee long before it was an issue. I think in our currently politically charged climate, it’s something we should all remember.
But more than just that story, I feel this 9 issue stretch has a good deal to offer fans of Captain America despite there not being any other “headline” stories like the one I just mentioned. You get an extremely interesting villain in the Machinesmith, whose tragic origin seems like something ripped from an episode of the Twilight Zone and who has a look that makes him seem like the quintessential “John Byrne” type baddie. Seriously, like pages of the X-men type villain.
There are some great issues with Baron Blood and the new Union Jack, again hearkening back to the Roy Thomas’ Invaders comics of the mid 70s. I’ve mentioned in the past that I fond memories of that series ever since I picked up a ton of those old comics in a 50 cent box back in my teenage years, so having a revisit with some of those classic characters with the added pleasure of that terrific art was very welcome indeed.
Even the Batroc/Mister Hyde two parter which was the weakest link in this chain of stories was still enjoyable from the perspective that Batroc can be quite the charming scoundrel when in the correct writer’s hands. Plus, boy did Roger Stern like making Mister Hyde out to be a monster! Between what he did to Hercules in the Avengers: Under Siege story to his willingness to ram an oil tanker into New York Harbor just out of spite, Stern really made this relatively “C” list Thor villain out to be a real bastard.
Overall, I think the worst part about this run is that it ended too soon. I would have liked to see what this team could have put together with a 25 issue run instead of the meager 9, as there’s a lot of promise here. But ultimately, what you end up getting is some what of teasing glance at what could have been for Captain America in the mid 80s, which although pretty wonderful, can leave you wanting just a bit more.