24th Mar2021

‘Captain America Anniversary Tribute #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee | Art by Daniel Acuna, Mahmud A. Asrar, Mark Bagley, Joe Bennett, Natacha Bustos and more…

DC of late have been putting out a lot of 80th Anniversary one off specials to celebrate some of their big name characters. They’ve been well received, and it seems Marvel wants some of that goodness too. Their approach, though, is pretty different. Whereas DC tapped some big names to do short stories for their issues, usually ten or so, Marvel here have decided to re-tell some of the big Captain America storylines from the past. We get the first ever Captain America story, from March 1941, in Captain America issue 1 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, plus the first Red Skull appearance from that same issue. We also get Cap’s return from deep freeze in Avengers issue 4, March 1964. The hook here is Marvel has asked a whole legion of modern artists to reinterpret the original stories, one page at a time. Can they out-King Kirby? Let’s see.

So first up is ‘Meet Captain America’, from Captain America Comics #1. An 8 pager, this sees John Cassaday open with a great splash page, with pages from David Lapham, Declan Shalvey and Salvador Larroca among others. It’s on one hand a strange mish mash of styles and on the other hand a quirky but fun read. Not only are the art styles different between individual artists, some even try to mimic the panel heavy approach of those early 1940’s books. I’ve read the original story, with Kirby’s art, and this is a fun tribute, without adding too much that could overpower the original. Keeping the exact same dialogue is nice too.

Next up is a 14 pager, ‘The Riddle of the Red Skull’, the first appearance of Cap’s biggest villain. This one sees pages from Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu and Carlos Pacheco, among others. Apart from loving the dialogue, a real time capsule in itself, this story still stands up really well. There’s not a bad page in here, though again the stylistic changes are very noticeable. One page will have a variety of panel shapes and sizes, as we see commonly now, another will have the old-school 8 panel grid style. All adds to the charm. Hopefully nobody will be upset by 80 year old spoilers, but this Red Skull we learn isn’t the Red Skull we now know. It was Maxon, who used the identity for a cover for some scheme or other. A later retcon would establish he was working for the true Nazi bad boy Red Skull, who would appear a few issues later. It’s almost as though Joe Simon made this up as he went along.

The final tale, both the longest at 24 pages and probably the most familiar, is ‘Captain America Joins The Avengers’, still one of Stan Lee’s smartest moves. This being one of the handful of true classic and historic stories out there, the artists roster for this is impressive indeed. Alex Ross, Adam Hughes, Greg Land, Butch Guice, Joe Bennett and Steve Epting among many others. I’ve read the original of this several times, as well as dozens of stories that reference it or use parts of it, and still enjoyed this hugely. It’s like giving a room you like a fresh lick of paint, it makes it even better. The art generally blends together well, though Alex Ross’s painted style jars a little from what comes before and after (though I love his page). I think it’s fair to say a lot of love went into these pages.

So, something of an oddity, but in a good way. Almost like a Marvel Try-Out book for professionals. Take these scripts by Joe Simon and Stan Lee and see what you can do. Well, they can do pretty good it seems. This could be a whole new thing, dusting down classic stories and getting contemporary artists to reinterpret them for modern audiences. It certainly gets them back out there, which I certainly applaud. A good story is a good story, regardless of age, and it’s always nice to see where the characters we know and love came from. As good today as they ever were.

A little modern spit and polish never hurts of course.

**** 4/5

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