I recently scored a nice condition copy of CAPTAIN AMERICA ANNUAL #3 (1976) in a trade with fellow comic book collector Blake Long (Thanks Blake!). This king-size issue came out in the summer of 1976 and features a cover, story art and script by Jack "King" Kirby. Regular readers of this blog know that Jack Kirby is my all-time favorite comic book artist. I think he's the greatest comic book artist that ever lived (your mileage may vary).
I'm sure I read this one when it came out but I didn't currently have it in my collection so I gladly traded for it. I sat down and read it the other day and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's not top-tier Kirby but Jack Kirby, even at this point of his career, was still better than almost anyone else working in comics at the time.
Kirby returned to Marvel Comics in the mid-'70s after his groundbreaking sojourn at DC where he created such terrific comics as FOREVER PEOPLE, MISTER MIRACLE, NEW GODS, KAMANDI and OMAC. He also did a brilliant run on the pre-existing title, SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN. When he returned to the House of Ideas, former creative partner Stan Lee was ensconced as publisher and a slew of editors were responsible for a number of various titles. Kirby was given control of CAPTAIN AMERICA (a character he co-created with Joe Simon way back in 1941), BLACK PANTHER (a character he co-created with Stan Lee in 1965), 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (based on the Stanley Kubrick film and a title which morphed into MACHINE MAN) and THE ETERNALS (a new title loosely based on Eric Von Daniken's CHARIOTS OF THE GODS, but pure Kirby magic). These titles were only tangentially related to the larger Marvel Universe as Kirby had new ground to break, new territories to explore.
In the Annual, Cap goes up against a menace from a black star with only a brave, plucky farmer as an ally. A strange vessel has landed on the farmer's property and he calls Cap (who is nearby giving a lecture on UFOs) to investigate. They find a young alien named The Captive who is being hunted by a fleet of star ships from a distant galaxy. Cap and the farmer naturally try to protect the alien from harm but all is not what it seems.
What follows is pure Kirby. Action, fight scenes, ideas, concepts, characters and a hint of enough back story material to launch an entire new series based on the alien races on display here. The inks, by Frank Giacoia and John Verpoorten are solid but not quite as good as Kirby's two best inkers: Mike Royer and Joe Sinnott. Hell, Joe Sinnott inking can make any one's pencils look great. When he worked with Kirby the results were gorgeous.
Annuals like this one used to be a regular staple of both Marvel and DC comics. For many years, the stories were stand alone affairs, often as not separate from current continuity. Then at some point, the annuals became a staging ground for massive multi-issue epics with story lines running through dozens of issues over the course of a long, hot summer.
I liked them better when they were like this one. I especially liked them when they were written and drawn by Jack Kirby.