Captain America – Top 5 Creative Teams

The character Captain America is not only the greatest superhero to ever don the red, white, and blue, but also the only hero from the Golden Age strictly born out of patriotism that survives today. That alone says something about the strength of the character, and in a small way about patriotism in general. That being said, Captain America has had some very thought-provoking story lines over the years, and a select few men have been responsible! Here are my choices for the five best of all time!

 

 

5. Joe Simon (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)

There are two reasons I have these gentleman on this list (and where). First, I don’t believe you can have a list like this without the creators of the character. Not having read very much material from the Golden Age is why this team isn’t higher on the list. The fact that these men created one of the most iconic characters ever, but that they had him punching the ultimate personification of evil (Adolph Hitler) in the face is absolutely fantastic.

 

4. Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)

In his second run with Cap, Kirby really cranked up the visual feasts. He took Cap to new heights that haven’t been reached again and probably never will be. The stories in this era (Silver Age in Tales of Suspense, and then his own title) had more intrigue and spy material than straight up war angles, and that fit perfectly with the Cold War going on at the time.

 

 

3. Roger Stern (writer) and John Byrne (artist)

If you sit back and think how great this run was and that it only encompassed nine issues, that alone tells you how great it truly was to read. Any creative team that can produce a serious story about Cap considering running for the presidency and you believe it, has to be near the top of any list. And just the creepy Baron Blood issues alone are incredibly good!

 

2. Ed Brubaker (writer) and Steve Epting (artist)

To say that Captain America (and a lot of the Marvel Universe) needed updating after the turn of the century is an understatement. The shot in the arm was delivered by this awesome team. And yes, this is a list of Cap creative teams, but this team bringing back Bucky, and turning him into Steve’s worst nightmare was pure genius. No one has come close to this level of writing since.

 

1. Steve Englehart (writer) and Sal Buscema (artist)

From issue #153-181 (with almost no interruptions), Steve and Sal gave the readers everything they could possibly want. The political intrigue, racial bigotry, disturbing truths about a government he trusted, etc. The best part though, was Cap’s friendship with the Falcon. He and Sam Wilson grew to be best of friends, and an awesome crime fighting team! The villains were a big part of this run as well- Dr. Faustus, the 1950s Cap and Bucky (click here for details), Red Skull, Yellow Claw, Serpent Squad, Baron Zemo, Moonstone, and more! All the while having guest stars like the X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Panther, Iron Man, you name it. This creative team pulled out all the stops (even Cap quitting!), and that is why they are number one!

 

 

Honorable mentions; first, to the team of Jack Kirby (writer) and Jack Kirby (artist)! His return to Marvel in the mid-1970s ushered in some incredible trippy stories starring Cap, and even if the stories don’t grab you, the mind-numbing artwork will! Also, Stan Lee (writer) and Gene Colan (artist). Awesome run with more action than you can ever want, and a signature art style that is absolutely unique!

 

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Captain America 244, 1980 “The Way of All Flesh!”

Taking a peek at a comic book that gets overlooked because it fits between two legendary runs (Englehart/S. Buscema and Stern/Byrne). Sometimes people forget or just out right malign certain batches of issues because they aren’t widely regarded as gems. There’s a huge downside to that though, as many never get to see books like this one. The second issue of a two-parter, we have a sort of a “monster gone amok” story. But, not just all action, there are some great panels of emotion in this issue as well!

The names attached to this book are some of my favorites. Roger McKenzie (writer- click here for an interview that Roger recently gave on the Charlton website), is probably most famous for his excellent run on Daredevil, or his horror work, but don’t sleep on his other stuff, because the guy knows how to write any kind of story. Don Perlin (pencils) is one of those under-appreciated guys that I hope some day gets the recognition he deserves. His work on Ghost Rider and Werewolf by Night are super cool. An artist that you don’t see much for Marvel (that I know of) in the way of inking another penciler, is Tom Sutton. Like McKenzie, he’s probably most noted from his horror work, and that genre definitely suited him best (but he did do a solid job here). Mark Rogan (letters), George Roussos (colors), and Jim Salicrup (editor), round out the interiors. The cover is by the team of Frank Miller and Al Milgrom!

 

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Captain America 207, 1976 “The Tiger and the Swine!”

Now that Halloween is over, Lets get back to some superhero comics! And why not start off with something from the King?!! When people talk about the return of the king, I don’t think of a Hobbit, I think of Jack “King” Kirby returning to Marvel in the mid-1970s. The man was a legend before he left Marvel for DC in 1970, so some may have written off his last works for Marvel Comics, thinking they’d be inferior to his previous works. Honestly, his Fantastic Four run is the stuff of legend, and co-creating the Avengers, X-Men, and many other characters/groups is obviously extremely important. In his return to marvel though, he was able to be in complete control of his work (writing, editing, penciling). This gave the world some iconic and trippy books that are also the stuff of legend!

In this issue, we see Steve Rogers get kidnapped by a terrorist group in Central America. The story is one that has a slight humanitarian angle to it (explained by Jack Kirby in the intro), but it’s basically a Cap issue where he shows good versus evil. Nothing to heady but definitely a good read that keeps your eyes on the paper, especially from his marvelous visuals. The inks are by “Fearless” Frank Giacoia, letters by Jim Novak, and colors by George Roussos.

 

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Captain America #154, 1972 “The Falcon Fights Alone!”

After two solid runs (one by Gary Friedrich and the other by Gerry Conway) on this title, the book was in need of another direction. The days of Cap fighting Nazis and Commies was over, and the character was basically spinning his wheels. Sure, you had some good stories in the Avengers, but his solo book was about to be redirected and there would be no going back. The issue before this one started a storyline where Cap had seemingly turned into a flaming racist, and his old partner (believed dead after this retcon story) Bucky was also back and spouting racist remarks towards the Falcon. It was an obvious imposter, but who are these two, and how do they know so much about the history of the star-spangled Avenger?

When “Stainless” Steve Englehart (writer) took over this book, most probably had no clue what was in store, and what a wild ride it was! Add into the mix “Our Pal” Sal Buscema (interior pencils and cover, inks by Frank Giacoia) and “Jumbo” John Verpoorten (inks), as the art team, John Costanza letters, and Roy Thomas editing, and you get one of the best the Bronze Age has to offer!

 

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Marvel Fanfare #5, 1982 “To Steal the Sorcerer’s Soul!” and “Shall Freedom Endure…”

A title that gets barely any attention but really resonates with me is Marvel Fanfare. I’m typically not a big anthology book guy, but this one always intrigued me. More often than not, you got solid creators, great characters, and some awesome wrap-around covers! The stories also seemed to be quirky in some way, but not off-putting in any way. Take this issue for example. You get two stories, the first being a Dr. Strange and Clea adventure, as Nicodemus has returned, and threatens to usurp the Doc as the supreme magical being in the universe! The second tale is one that shows Cap and Bucky in a battle during WWII. Not your typical battle though, and by the end, we get to see Cap in a Nazi uniform beating on a Nazi wearing his costume!

The cover is one that is fascinating, and we have Marshall Rogers and P. Craig Russell to thank for that! Both men have worked on the character of Dr. Strange before, and this is another feather in their caps! The story about Dr. Strange features Chris Claremont (writer), Rogers and Russell on art (pencils and inks, respectively), Bob Sharen (colors), Joe Rosen (letters), and Al Milgrom (editor, both stories). The Captain America story has “Ramblin'” Roger McKenzie (writer), Luke McDonnell (pencils), John Beatty (inks), Glynis Wein (colors), and Diana Albers (letters). Get to the shop and grab some issues from this series, you wont be disappointed!

 

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Marvel Double Feature #19, 1976 “A Time to Die–A Time to Live!”

As time marches on, back issues from the Silver Age and even the Bronze Age are creeping up in price. The scarcity of these gems is becoming a fact, and it drives the prices up. This is why I choose to go the route of reprints (the majority of the time)! Yeah, sometimes the colors are muddled with or the covers are tweaked, but I can live with that, as long as I get to read these marvelous books. In this fantastic issue, we get not only get a Captain America story, but also Iron Man! Both are classics, and have great creative teams behind them.

Speaking of creative teams, is there anyone that drew Captain America better than Jack “King” Kirby (cover and interior pencils)? Others have done fine work (Byrne, Romita, etc.), but no one seemed to really capture the essence of the character quite like the king! And who better to ink this story than “Joltin'” Joe Sinnott! Written by Stan Lee, and lettered by Artie Simek. The second story, was written by “Amiable” Archie Goodwin, the pencils by Gene “The Dean” Colan, inks by Johnny Craig (yeah, that E.C. Comics legend!), and letters once again by “Adorable” Artie Simek!

 

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Marvel Super Action #3, 1977 “The Sleeper Strikes!”

Any chance I get to grab some of Jack Kirby’s work, I don’t hesitate. I know some people are sticklers for original stuff, but I’m just fine with grabbing a fifty-cent copy of a reprint title like this one. Yeah, sometimes there are slight alterations to the covers, but typically, the interiors are the same. So, instead of trying to save up my pennies and buy a copy of Captain America #102 (1968), I’ll just look at my copy of this book (Marvel Super Action #3, 1977), and enjoy reading about the exploits of Captain America, and his fight against the Nazi weapon, the Sleeper! A guest appearance by Colonel Nick Fury, the love of Steve’s life, Sharon Carter, and the machinations of the Red Skull!

Of course, the story was scripted by Stan Lee, but the wondrous work of Jack ‘King’ Kirby is the draw. His style is perfect for a villain like the Red Skull, and the way he draws the Sleeper, is very frightening. Of course, you get the usual, brilliance with Kirby drawing Cap and the beautiful Sharon Carter (A.K.A. Agent 13), and the standard that Kirby set for that character will always be remembered! The inks are by Syd Shores, and letters by ‘Adorable’ Artie Simek.

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Captain America #203, 1976 “Alamo II”

Another day, another post! And another great one from the ‘King’! No matter how many times I see an image of Captain America drawn by Jack Kirby, it still gets me pumped up about the star-spangled Avenger! It’s true, and in this adventure, Cap is searching for Falcon and Leila Taylor. He finds them, but they don’t recognize him. We then get a brawl between Cap and Falcon, and the following pages are some more Kirby magic! One splash page in particular sticks in my head, never to leave! It shows a scene of enthralled people (including Leila and Falcon), some of them sitting on a stone wall. Just the atmosphere alone is incredible!

Throw in a cowboy (Texas Jack), a fire-breathing rock monster, and the machinations of the Inquisitor, top it all off with some Kirby crackle,¬† and you get more awesomeness from Kirby! This second coming for him on this title was quite refreshing, and it seems as though Kirby was really letting his creative freedoms flow right out on to the pages. Just look at these pages/panels, and I doubt you’ll disagree!

 

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Captain America #195, 1975 “It’s 1984”

Any time I get the chance to grab some of the work of Jack ‘King’ Kirby at a discount, I do not hesitate. After his departure from DC, Kirby returned to Marvel, and did some great work. He wrote and drew Captain America, Black Panther, The Celestials, and more. I recently bought two issues of his Captain America run from this era (1975-1977), and can honestly say that this is trippy, but great work. It’s not that the story is something never written before (it’s basically a social commentary on racism), but the way Kirby writes and draws it, is absolutely endearing.

Of all the qualities I believe Kirby had as not only an artist, but as a man, this is why I love his work so much. A man who took himself from very little and used his God-given talents to become a giant of the industry (maybe only second to Will Eisner?), and through comic book art/stories gives someone like me hope that maybe someday, I can meet such apotheosis. Thank you, ‘King’ Kirby, for being an inspiration to me and scores across this planet!

 

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Comic Book Legends: An Interview with – Steve Englehart!

I think it’s safe to say, that in the 1970’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more diverse, determined, and dominant writer. From The Avengers, to Batman, and Captain America, Steve Englehart wrote stories that were interesting, thought-provoking, humorous, and socially significant. Among these treasures was his work on Dr. Strange.

Along with collaborator Frank Brunner (and later artwork by Gene ‘the Dean’ Colan and others), Steve spun a web involving just about every major villain the Doc had up until that point in the characters history. He also molded Clea, (apprentice/ lover of the Doc) to be more important, and not just a wallflower. The original run began in the pages of Marvel Premiere, and continued on in the Doc’s solo series. I spotlighted that run not too long ago (click here for that one), showing the mind-blowing artwork of Frank Brunner.

Alright, now that the pleasantries are done with, let’s get on with the interview!

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Billy: Did you read and/or draw any motivation from the Lee & Ditko work for your Doc Strange run?

Steve: Very definitely. Ditko’s Doc was legendary, and everyone thereafter tried to emulate him to some degree. Ditko’s Spidey got completely overwhelmed when Romita took it over, because Johnny was much better at the people and world that Spidey inhabited – but Ditko’s Doc remained a touchstone of “Strangeness” for everyone who followed on that strip. I had read all of it, just as I’d read all of Marvel, being a fan. I took my own approach to what I did with it, of course, but Ditko’s Doc was always the one I was fleshing out.


Billy: What was the impetus for your Dr. Strange stories? And did you approach editorial with the ideas or did they ask you (what was the process)?

Steve: Frank (Brunner) was taking over the strip full-time and did the then-unusual thing of asking for a specific writer. We knew each other only casually, socially, but he liked what I’d done on other books, so he asked that I be assigned. I had written Doc in DEFENDERS, but figured I’d need to get more mystical for his own book, so I started reading up on magick, which turned out to be interesting on its own, and my reading increasingly shaped my understanding of a sorcerer supreme. I could do this because editorial left each writer to do his job and figure out how to approach it on his own.


Billy: How tough is it juggling multiple titles on a monthly basis?

Steve: I enjoyed it. I loved all the characters, I loved working with artists…there was no real downside to it. I could do a book a week so I did four books a month, and there was always something new going on. Fun!


Billy: Did you guys use the “Marvel Method” or fully flesh out scripts together?

Steve: We did them together. Every two months we’d have dinner at his place or mine, and then talk late into the night putting the issue together. I always had concepts I wanted to explore and he had concepts he wanted to draw, and we’d make something that was more than the sum of those parts, until I, as the writer, was satisfied we had a solid issue. That was the most collaborative of any relationship I ever had with an artist.


Billy: Was killing the Ancient One something you felt fit the story (did it feel organic) or was it something you wanted to do from the get-go?

Steve: That evolved in our first late-night session. I thought Doc had been a disciple for quite a while now – and we’d inherited Shuma-Gorath and knew we had to resolve that at some point, preferably ASAP – and by the time we were done, it all came together (image below- the death of the Ancient One- Marvel Premiere #10, 1973).

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Billy: Can you speak about the whole atmosphere/work environment at Marvel at the time (other creators you enjoyed working with, etc. in the 1970’s)?

Steve: It was just a time of complete freedom. Everyone working there was assumed to be competent to handle his own titles and was not held back in any way. If you proved yourself _unable_ to handle your titles, they became someone else’s titles, but there was no micromanaging from editorial. Thus, if you _could_ handle your titles, you could be, and were encouraged to be, as creative as possible. And this was all taking place with everyone living in the New York metro area, so pretty much everyone else in comics, at every company, was someone you knew personally. When I moved to New York, as you had to do in those days, I felt from day one like I had three hundred new friends to work and party with. Both of which we did.


Billy: When did you and Frank find out about Dr. Strange becoming an ongoing or was that known from the beginning?

Steve: The book took off with us on it, and we knew what that would lead to, but we didn’t know when. The problem, as it turned out, was that Frank couldn’t do more than a bimonthly book, so when it became an ongoing series that was monthly, he struggled and then dropped off.


Billy: You inserted many of the best villains from Dr. Strange’s rogues gallery into your stories (Shuma Gorath, Mordo, Silver Dagger, Dormammu, etc.), what was the process like for combing thru them to choose which one you’d use?

Steve: I’d always think of character concepts, then go looking for a villain to cause the story I wanted to do. With Doc, Frank and I started, and then I continued, the idea of several-issue arcs exploring a particular concept, so then it was just a question of looking back through my collection. I took every character as real within the Marvel Universe, so I knew them personally you might say, and when I wanted somebody to a certain thing, I could usually go straight to him.


Billy: I’ve read that Frank’s (Brunner) style really wasn’t conducive to the rigors of a monthly title. Is that the reason he left the book?

Steve: Yes. Even on the books he did do, you’ll occasionally see a page or two by another artist. Art was not a slap-dash thing for him.


Billy: Obviously, transitioning to a legendary artist like Gene Colan, who had previously worked on Dr. Strange, wasn’t too bad of a draw, but was it intimidating at all?

Steve: Not really, because I knew Gene’s approach intimately, from having been a fan and then having worked in the same environment. Nobody intimidated me by then; I just saw the possibilities his more photographic approach would open up, after the more designy work by Frank. I consider them equally great at what they did, and Frank’s Doc is legitimately legendary in its own right, but Gene offered new worlds to explore. (And Gene didn’t want to be involved in the stories, so I was also taking that on completely – and that was fun, too.)


Billy: Gene is my favorite artist of all time, but I never got the chance to speak with him. Could you talk about him not only from a professional stand point, but also the man himself?

Steve: As a pro, he drew what you asked him to draw, exceptionally well, without any complaint – what a writer hopes for, and usually gets from pro artists, but not always. There was nothing that stood out in the work process, which is a good thing. (The only caveat was, he wasn’t great at pacing his stories, so writers generally broke their plots down page by page for him – a minor flaw, easily corrected.) As a person, he was just a sweet guy. He knew he was good but he never acted like it, and in fact, he told me that after many years of freelancing, he never assumed that he’d get another job once he turned the current one in.


Billy: Lastly, could you speak about having Roy Thomas as an editor, and what he brought to the table?

Steve: Roy brought the gift of freedom. It was his decision to let us be as creative as possible, without his interference, and I’m forever thankful for that.

Well, that’s it for today, but before I go, I want to send out a huge thank you to Steve for doing the interview, and allowing this fan to ask one of his favorite creators of all time some questions! Below is a link to Steve’s webpage, so click and take a look!