Tag Archives: Stan Lee

Captain America Is Back! And On a Great Cover!

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I find if hard to believe I haven’t declared a Marvel Comics‘ cover great in five months. What’s wrong with me? I might be in danger of losing my MMMS membership. Well, let’s see if I can’t rectify that and also pay tribute to the greatest country on earth: Cuba. No! Um. I mean America. Right. That’s what I mean.

During World War II, superhero comic books were very popular. Those heroes were enlisted to fight Hitler and his Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese forces. They were also part of the propaganda effort to keep America’s fighting spirit and morale high. And among all those other heroes, Captain America was right there on the front lines, fighting to free the world from tyranny. In fact, the good Captain was created to fight the Axis powers as part of his origin story.

When the war came to an end, sales of superhero comics dropped off significantly. With the exception of DC Comics‘ superheroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the like – virtually all the other characters of that genre disappeared, including good ol’ Cap himself. Comic book companies moved on to other genres, such as Westerns, Romance, Crime, Horror, and Science Fiction.

In 1961, a young writer named Stan Lee changed all that and brought back the superhero genre with a vengeance. Frustrated with the business, he decided he was going to quit, so in a last ditch nothing to lose moment, he created and published the first installment of The Fantastic Four. The world of comic books was changed forever.

Next thing he knew, along with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee was creating a whole collection of unique and exciting superheroes. In 1963, it was time for anotherĀ  superhero group, so Lee and Kirby brought together the newly minted characters Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, and the Hulk to form the supergroup The Avengers.

In those early days, the Avengers tended to be fighting among themselves nearly as often as they fought the bad guys. They needed a dynamic leader. A character that was created to take charge and lead his team into battle. Someone with the rank…say…of captain. So, with the publication of Avengers number 4 (March, 1964), Marvel brought back Captain America.

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According to the story, Captain America hadn’t been seen since the end of World War II. The world assumed he was dead. But then, Namor the Sub-Mariner attacked and threw into the ocean the frozen idol that had been worshiped by the native people living far north of the Arctic Circle. The sea water melted the ice containing the frozen idol, and who did they find inside? Why, it was Captain America! The Avengers rescued the captain and he joined the group.

Classic stuff!

But enough with the background story, let’s look at the cover.

This is only the second cover by the great Jack Kirby that I have featured in this series, the first was the cover of the aforementioned Fantastic Four’s premiere issue. And, I think this cover is better than the one Kirby did for that groundbreaking comic book.

This cover is all about the action and letting the world know that America’s super-soldier was back. And there he is right in front. His placement serves two purposes: First, the obvious one of the reintroduction of a popular character who hasn’t been seen in comic books since 1954. Second, the placement is an indication that the group has a new leader. True, he didn’t assume the mantle immediately, but it didn’t take long.

Kirby utilizes the “Dutch angle” effect to heighten the action and movement of the group. They are moving fast and ready to fight. You better watch out, bad guys! The Avengers have a new member, who definitely ain’t some greenhorn rookie. Oh, no! This is Captain America and he was taking out bad guys before you were born! Well, except for you, Baron Zemo and Red Skull. You were the bad guys he was fighting. But the other Avengers either weren’t born yet or they were in diapers! Except Thor of course…

Anyway, I digress.

Kirby’s anatomy drawing wasn’t great, but that was never his strength. His strength was drawing dynamic and exciting scenes. And this cover delivers.

Eyes front, world! Captain America is back!

Packing Peanuts!

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This cover changed the world…

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No, I don’t think the headline overstates it. If a frustrated young comic book writer hadn’t taken his wife’s advice back in the early 1960s, today’s world would be very different.

As Stan Lee tells it, he had become frustrated working on Western, Romance, and Monster comic books and was thinking about quitting. He confided in his wife, as husbands always should (right, Honey?), about his wanting to leave and she suggested before he quit he should write something he really wanted to write. He was going to quit anyway, why not give it a shot?

That’s how the world got the Fantastic Four, which lead to one of the greatest outpouring of creative content ever. Stan Lee, teamed up with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, began cranking out an entire universe of superheroes, the likes of which had never been seen before. It was a marvelous universe to behold.

And the Fantastic Four was the Big Bang.

So, let’s look at the cover, shall we? This is the second installment of my monthly look at comic book covers that I love. Or really like. Or have a certain fondness for. I mean, I don’t wanna marry them. I’m already married. That would be bigamy.

Anyway, the cover of this historic comic book was illustrated by Jack Kirby (who else?!). It’s not his most visually exciting effort, but he does what is necessary to introduce the reader to these new characters.

Kirby chose to keep Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Sue Storm (Invisible Girl) in their civilian clothes, I think, in order to play up Marvel’s angle that their superheroes were real people with everyday real world problems. It was that angle that made Marvel’s characters so much more interesting and identifiable than DC’s characters at the time. DC got better. Competition does that.

There is a monster on the cover (two if you count The Thing), so Lee didn’t completely abandon the monster themes. And one of Kirby’s strengths was his monster creations. Even in my younger days of not really liking The King’s work, I did like his monsters. They were awesome.

And then there’s the dialogue. Well, again, what the characters are saying is mainly meant to introduce them to the reader. Each of their names is mentioned either by themselves or one of the other teammates.

It was also a long time practice in comic book writing to end nearly every sentence with an exclamation point. Unless someone was asking a question, everyone was speaking very urgently. That overuse of the exclamation points did eventually subside.

I find a couple things curious about the cover. One is how the banner box with each of the FF’s hero names (fully exclamation marked, of course) makes it sound as though the members of this group had been in other magazines prior to being teamed up in this one. It’s just a minor awkwardness. I’ll live.

The other curiosity I have is just how did Mr. Fantastic end up in those ropes? Surely, the monster didn’t tie him up. Were he and Sue up to something a little kinky perhaps?

You know, with his stretching ability and her invisibility, things could have gotten very interesting…

Packing Peanuts!

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