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for Thursday, September 10, 2009

Captain America 70th

After a lifetime of reading comics and heading toward 40 years working in the industry, I rarely get too excited by the frequent special events from the big Two. I thought both Marvel's Civil War and The Initiative were terrific concepts but spotty in their execution. Secret Invasion was another great idea, but it likewise spotty and went on too long. I'm still not certain how I feel about Dark Reign, but, with the exception of what has been going on in the Superman titles, I can't think of even one DC event in recent years that was more hit than miss with me. I'm far more thrilled about the Showcase Presents books than the new stuff the company is publishing.

Enter: Marvel's series of 70th Anniversary one-shots, which combine new stories of Golden Age characters with classic and not-so-classic reprints from the dawn of publisher Martin Goodman's comic-book empire. It's a great idea and, so far, I've yet to read an issue that didn't entertain me.

The first issue out of the gate was Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 [$3.99]. The Marcos Martin cover doesn't imitate the style of the 1940s, but it's a spiffy piece of art on its own. I love the way the progression of Cap's punch makes it appear as if he's punching Hitler in the snout. It's a nice modern take on the original Captain America Comics #1 cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon wherein the Star-Spangled Avenger did, indeed, rearrange der Fuhrer's face.

Martin brings equal spiffiness to James Robinson's "What Makes The Man," a 23-page new story set during and before World War II. As Cap and a group of soldiers prepare for a mission behind enemy lines, sidekick Bucky Barnes flashbacks to that fateful day when Steve Rogers was rejected for service in the Army because of his less-than-heroic physical condition. Despite the lack of costumed action, Martin's art is nothing short of breathtaking. Looking at his art "feels" like watching one of the great "home front" movies of the 1940s.

The dejected Rogers comes into possession of an item vital to the American war effort and has to run a gauntlet of German spies to deliver it safely to the government. The several coincidences of the script, starting with Rogers getting the item and continuing with him using a trash can lid in a foreshadowing manner, and the implausibility of the frail man surviving this adventure, did give me momentary pause. But the heart of the story, the affirmation of what truly makes a hero, swept aside those minor-in-the-big-picture quibbles. This is a wonderful story that celebrates the essential optimism of the super-hero genre. I'd read a dozen like it every week and be a deliriously happy reader.

Also in this issue is "Death Loads the Bases," a Joe Simon and Jack Kirby thriller from Captain America Comics #7 [October, 1941]. A mysterious villain is murdering key players of a baseball team. Captain America and Bucky are going to solve the mystery and bring the killer to justice. That part of their plan finds them filling in for the team's pitcher and catcher just adds to the fun. The tale is a great example of the panel-busting action the Simon and Kirby team brought to comics. As a very cool bonus, this issue also reprints a "Sentinels of Liberty Secret Club News" page from the 1940s.

Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 is a terrific buy for your bucks. It earns the full five out of five Tonys and, if the fates be kind, a spot in the hoped-for sequel to my 1000 Comic Books You Must Read.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with the usual mix of news, views, and reviews.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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