The best Captain America story you’ve never read.
Captain America may have three films and two more appearances in Avengers to go in the cinematic universe, but way before all that in 1991 a cinematic-style origin story took place. This story retold Cap’s origin in a way that fleshed out the experience beyond a few panels, not only adding to the characters around him, but infusing Bucky with a refreshing take that was modern and mature. These reasons and a few more are why this is a must-read for Cap fans and comic book fans alike.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Two retro-inspired, classic-style WWII Cap adventures for the price of one! First, revisit the awesome origin of Captain America – with a twist! Young Steve Rogers is determined to do his bit for the war effort, and despite his frail form, his strength of will makes him the ideal candidate for the Super-Soldier Program. Newly transformed into Captain America, the Sentinel of Liberty, Steve becomes the face of freedom – but how will this newly minted hero react when he must face the Red Skull? Plus, all-new pulp adventures told in the classic newspaper strip format! Cap and his sidekick Bucky serve up daily helpings of adventure filled with robots, secret underground cities, femme fatales, and no-good Nazis just waiting for a sock in the jaw!
Can I jump in easily?
This is easy to jump into. This is one of those collections you may assume you’ve already read or aren’t interested in because it’s rehashing an origin. Don’t make that mistake! This collection retells Captain America’s origin in a gripping way that adds new elements while taking its time over Cap gaining his powers and eventually getting thrust into the field. The last third of this book is another retelling of Captain America via a newspaper-style comic strip. Again, very accessible.
Reason 1: Cap gets an update on the origin.
This collection opens with Steve Rogers going to the movies and watching the news with two of his pals. They’re worried about Rogers’ desire to join the army since he’s all courage with not a lot to back that up. He’s not the pipsqueak we saw in the film (or in the original origin), but he is an average man who happens to have a history of being sick a lot. It’s a bit more realistic. His frame ends up being a major element, as the government takes a liking to his chances of being a super soldier — it’s briefly mentioned his frame can allow for more muscle without tearing him to bits. As he trains to prepare to get the Super Soldier Serum we meet Cindy, Professor Erskine, and Colonel Fletcher. These characters are given ample time to be fleshed out and give the story a bit more realism.
Sweet move Cap!
Eventually, Steve gets the serum and the experiment is ruined by a Nazi, just like in the film, but from there, things wildly go off the path. Steve goes into the army to lay low as Red Skull and the super soldiers of his own attempt to find each piece of the serum’s recipe. This gives the book some espionage flavor as well as lets Kevin Maguire stretch his legs when it comes to Cap fighting some souped up Nazi scum.
The last portion of the collection sends Cap to France, has him imprisoned with Polish Jews, and eventually sees him fight Red Skull man to man. Hitler even shows up at one point and Steve loses someone truly dear to him, which further adds to his motivation to go out and be a superhero.
Reason 2: A lesson is learned about following orders.
Pretending to be dumb is tricky business for Steve while he lays low in the Army barracks. Imagine walking around with super muscles and not being able to use ’em! He ends up catching people smuggling supplies out of the Army camp. This leads to him using his training and powers to kick some ass as a vigilante hero with just some goggles and leather jacket to keep his identity a secret. This section of the comic gives Cap a chance to be the hero he was born to be while his handlers continue to bark orders at him to prevent him. This also gives Cap the needed inspiration to go it alone and sometimes break away from orders when you know those you love are in danger.
Reason 3: Bucky has a purpose.
When Steve first meets Bucky, he’s taken by surprise. The kid is being bullied (he basically looks no older than 15) and he aims to help him out. Quickly he learns Bucky is a fast talker and knows how to get out of a sticky situation. There is a scene later when Bucky helps Cap and Cindy get to France with all the supplies he needs. He’s basically a street urchin who has found his calling fighting for America in World War II. At first, he’s a bit of a whiny kid, but later you realize it’s a bit of a front and there’s a true hero underneath. He may not be a superhero like Captain America, but Fabian Nicieza proves his resourcefulness is a power in itself.
You’ll grow to like Bucky in this one.
But wait, there’s more.
The last third of this book collects Captain America: The 1940s Newspaper Strip which came out in 2010. The inspiration for it was to give Cap the newspaper strip he deserves seeing as Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman all got their own. Drawn in mostly four panel stories, each strip plays out like a weekly chapter in Cap’s life, starting with his origin and ending with a big finish fighting Red Skull. It’s certainly different than conventional comic book storytelling since it’s made of tight and quick chapters written and drawn by Karl Kesel. The cartoony style helps sell it as a Saturday morning adventure and is right at home with the main feature.
That dude…is a bad ass.
Reasons to be wary?
The last chapter in Nicieza and Maguire’s four-part origin story plays out in a conventional way. The heroes must fight, the heroes must flee, they somehow don’t get shot, and even Hitler gets what is coming to him. You get the impression they had to wrap it up with more action and less character work than previous volumes, which is made more obvious by how little Cap resonates in this last chapter. I suppose at this point he’s the hero we deserve, but he mostly fights and does very little else. He’s beaten and in doubt of himself, which he overcomes, but it becomes obvious in the ending the character isn’t the most complex. He has his moments, but besides being courageous and adamant about helping others there isn’t a lot to him.
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
I loved this collection and I had no idea I would by just looking at the cover. I expected a retelling of a classic superhero origin, but instead, we have a crisply written character focused story with great supporting characters and realism. Kevin Maguire’s art is great too, incredible at times even, and the detail of the faces are reminiscent of Kirby while the details (like in the links in Cap’s costume) make the book look modern. In the 90s everything was extreme and of a certain style, but The Adventures of Captain America is timeless.