Captain America #1
Writer: Rick Remender
Artists: John Romita, Jr. & Klaus Janson
Colorist: Dean White
Review by Bob Reyer
Over the more than 70 years since the character’s creation by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America has had his share of the limelight, perhaps never more so than through his demise and resurrection under the pen of writer Ed Brubaker in his recent multi-year run. If only by virtue of the absence during his “death”, the important theme of Cap as the moral center of and avatar for true heroism for the Marvel Universe has been re-established, so any creative team following Mr. Brubaker must balance that restored dynamic with their own story-telling needs, as for many readers (writers and artists, too!), Captain America‘s position as a symbol of “what’s right” is as important as the super-villain struggles he engages in.
It’s a complicated juggling act, and many fine creators ( Stan Lee included, during the later 60s) have found it difficult to be other than pedantic, jingoistic, or otherwise preachy, or on the other end, treat Cap as simply another super-hero: perhaps Steve Englehart’s 1972-75 run best exemplifies the wonderful friction created when the personal, political and adventurous aspects are all working in concert.
In an issue-closing essay, new writer Rick Remender speaks eloquently of the qualities that define Captain America, and more importantly Steve Rogers, as well as his own long-standing passion for the character, giving his history with Cap and some of his favorite creative teams. He mentions that following Ed Brubaker “It seemed like a big change was the only way to outrun the long shadow he cast”.
Captain America #1 does contain some changes, most particularly in a new/retro sci-fi angle, but what is evident from the outset is that despite the setting or wardrobe, the focus of this Now edition of Cap is, as it should be, on the core values of Steve Rogers. In a book that, excepting two-plus pages of lovely banter with Sharon Carter, is virtually dialogue-free, Mr. Remender provides us with a running commentary via Steve’s internal monologue that speaks volumes about the purposeful man behind the mask of the Star-Spangled Avenger. In what seems a small trend in the Now books, we are presented with a narrative in multiple time periods, in this case, opening on a lower East Side tenement apartment in 1926 that is the site of a raging argument between Joseph and Sarah Rogers, which closes on a line from mother to son that may come to define Mr. Remender’s take on Captain America. We then flash-forward to a modern-day terrorist attack on Manhattan, and it’s these very qualities that Steve’s mother instilled in him as a child that continue to drive him. Later in the story, when confronted with a dire situation at the hands of the fiendishly evil Jack Kirby creation Arnim Zola, these values cause Steve to make a decision that will bring him to a place, both literally and figuratively, that he’s never been.
These new vistas will be illustrated by the team of penciller John Romita, Jr., inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Dean White, and their work here is stellar, and will certainly be the highlight of the book for many people. As a matter of personal taste, for “Cap” I prefer a “heftier” style (Jack Kirby, Sal Buscema, John Byrne), although Mr. Romita’s more “weightless” line serves the story’s intimate moments quite well, so perhaps it will grow to seem a good fit as did other artists whose styles did not seem right for the character, Gene Colan (#116-#137) and Frank Robbins (#182-#192).
As the “Marvel Now” initiative continues, it will be a fascinating parlor game to see which of the creator/property pairings work. In this instance, it does, although Mr. Remender will have to bring his “A” game to keep a mixture of a realistic 1920’s era New York City and the sci-fi craziness of the “loved-or-loathed” late-70s Jack Kirby era viable. Based on Captain America #1, he’s off to a good start!
This book is recommended! All-in-all, Cap #1 is a satisfying package, if not a “pure” jumping-on point for the uninitiated. However, I’m beginning to feel that the Now books, admittedly based on a small sample, is not meant to be that, but is merely a re-branding intended to reclaim some of the lapsed readers back from the brink..or DC!
For some background, please check an earlier piece that I wrote for Talking Comics, “Ten Essential Captain America Stories”