In 1976, Marvel Comics published the oversized comic book pictured above. It's the MARVEL TREASURY SPECIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA'S BICENTENNIAL BATTLES. As the cover blurb proclaims, it's "A Jack Kirby King-Size Spectacular". And indeed it was. Jack Kirby wrote and drew the entire story, an epic in which Captain America is sent throughout time, both past and future by the mysterious Mr. Buda in a journey to discover the real meaning of America.
I remember buying and reading this one when it came out. Sadly, I no longer have a copy of the original, treasury size comic. Those things are extremely difficult to store! But I do have the next best thing, a 2005 trade paperback that reprints the story in its entirety along with some other classic 1970s Captain America comics by Jack Kirby. To celebrate the Fourth of July, I sat down and read the Bicentennial Battles story this morning and loved every page of it.
Regular readers of this blog know that Jack Kirby is my all-time favorite comic book artist. He's in rare form here. Some people think Kirby's mid '70s work at Marvel (to which he returned after a brilliant stint at DC earlier in the decade) is not as strong as his earlier stuff. The fact that Kirby was writing and drawing all of his comics was viewed by some as a detriment. Kirby, they argued, just wasn't a good wordsmith. He was better, in some people's opinion, when someone like Stan Lee was doing the actual writing, leaving Kirby to focus on the drawing and storytelling.
While Kirby's writing isn't the greatest, his voice is sincere, unique and distinctive. It has a ring of honesty to it, a yearning desire to communicate to and connect with the reader. There's some pretty nice turns of phrase in this story including this one:
"That's America! A place of stubborn confidence-where both young and old can hope and dream, and wade through disappointment, despair and the crunch of events-with the chance of making life meaningful."
Preachy? Maybe? Patriotic? You betcha. I bought it hook, line and sinker.
Kirby is aided in his artwork by a trio of ink slingers: Herb Trimpe, John Romita and Barry Windsor Smith. I spotted Romita's work in the sequence set during the great Chicago fire of 1871. But it's Windsor Smith's work that beautifully complements Kirby's pencils in the opening sequence which takes place during WWII. It's short (and the color of Bucky's leggings change from panel to panel from red to blue and back to red), but it's gorgeous work. I would have loved to have seen a full length WWII Cap and Bucky adventure written and drawn by the team of Kirby and Smith.
In short, CAPTAIN AMERICA'S BICENTENNIAL BATTLES was a fun trip down memory lane and a great way to celebrate the Fourth. Check it out if you get a chance. You won't be disappointed.