Pulp Corner: Captain America, The Steranko Run
Legendary artist Jim Steranko did 3 issues of Captain America in 1969 directly coming off his groundbreaking run on Nick Fury. I’ve been waiting a long time to read this, it may only be 3 issues but there’s criminally little comic book output from Steranko and it’s worth pouring over. Stan Lee is on scripts here and the storylines are in step with his silver age zaniness but when the art is this good it doesn’t matter.
So what was I in for?
The very first page of issue 110 is startling, we see Steve Rogers lighting up a cigarette behind him a large mural of Captain America! It looks so wrong but so right. It reminds me of the famous scene from Citizen Kane with a touch of noir.
We are pretty quickly thrust into a scene with an out of control Hulk being persued by the military. Believing himself the Hulk Whisperer, side kick extradonaire Rick Jones leaps into the scene to protect the rampaging monster. We all can guess how that ends right? Cut to Avengers HQ (which looks an awful lot like Nick Fury’s Don Draper esque NYC pad) and Cap tending to Rick’s wounds.
So after some Bucky flashbacks Cap is feeling sick over putting another youngster in the line of fire. Yet, Rick comes out in Bucky’s old costume which is pretty fucked up in itself but Cap reluctantly allows him to become his new sidekick. Can we agree that Cap should know better? He does have some moments of reflection and remorse over the original Bucky’s death but he still let’s Rick go through with it. For reasons that escape me the two of them rush to the sewers to confront Hydra and there new leader Madame Hydra. Madame Hydra is a classic Steranko femme fatale, cold calculating and beautiful.
As you’ll notice, the posing and posturing of the characters here are ridiculous but when it looks that good does it really matter?
All three of the issues open with amazing pages and #111 is no exception. It’s a gorgeous sneak attack of Steve Rogers at the penny arcade vividly evoking that time period but also bringing in that noir influence once again.
Prior to these issues there must have been storyline where Captain American’s civilian identity is actually revealed to the general public because this theme is addressed here a lot. This issue actually ends with Cap faking his death to outmaneuver Hydra and he leaves a Steve Rogers mask (from that unlimited supply he keeps on his person?) floating in the harbor to seemingly undo that plot point. What I actually like about this issue is that it shows Cap training with Rick Jones and how to be a more effective acrobat and fighter. It reminded me of Claremont’s X-Men run where we constantly see the team honing their skill in the Danger Room. Before that though, Hydra tries to ensnare Captain America by delivering a envelope filled with knockout (?) gas to Avengers HQ. Cap is not on the premises though and Rick finds the letter. Hydra quickly decides to kidnap him instead to be uses as bait. This leads to two of the greatest 1960’s pop art comic book pages ever.
How that ever made it into a comic book is beyond me.
The final issue gives us Madame Hydra’s origin which after a disfiguring involves one of the greatest mirror smashes this side of the Nicholson Joker. Since everyone thinks Captain America is dead his friends have a funeral for him. This is a bonus because we get to see Steranko draw some of the Avengers and of course his old standby Nick Fury. Hydra captures them all using gas and goes as far as putting them in coffins to bury them only to be saved by Cap in the end who also defeats Madame Hydra…for now.
The story is fine if you know what you’re jumping into but that’s not why you’re here. Steranko and his art is on display front and center. These issues are worth tracking down even just to thumb through. Hell, I wish this article was longer so I could post more images. If you’re into art and haven’t checked it out yet do yourself a favor and take a look.
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