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Captain America Issue #616

Saturday - April 02, 2011

When one falls off of the comic continuity bandwagon it is often difficult to climb back on. It seems like many series are kept as arcanely closed as any decades old soap opera and although some revisiting of past stories is included in new issues, it often feels that a reader must do a good degree of back issue research just to access a story. Most adults who were comic readers in their youth also carry with them an odd assortment of factoids about their once favorite characters, half remembered images from issues decades ago or powers lists gleaned from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe or Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe as well as schoolyard discussions with kids who read and reread their favorite titles.

Captain America is one of those characters for me. An iconic hero indeed but one who has had several severe twists and turns in his lengthy history. My first awareness of Cap came from a random assortment of issues that always seemed to come to me in brown paper grocery bags, usually given to me by an aunt who was throwing them out, or in the mixed bags of three comics that my folks would buy me and my brother to keep us quiet on road trips. So my beginning knowledge of Captain America was incomplete and varied. I knew the iconic character but not necessarily where he was supposed to be in his history from issue to issue. And that was fine for me as a kid. All I needed was the character but not necessarily what story arc he was supposed to be in at a given time.

I dug him in The Invaders but I never liked Namor so I ditched that series. I loved him with The Avengers but I couldn't keep up with all of the other characters in the rest of the team. Eventually I stopped trying and switched to underground comics, Heavy Metal and Epic Magazines, and my long running favorite Judge Dredd. I bought one issue of Captain America after 9-11 and then stopped trying to follow Cap altogether.

Then along comes issue #616. This 70th anniversary issue is one of the single best values for anyone's comic dollar ever. For 5.00 you get a groovy mash-up of stories, from the dark and grim world of a Russian prison to the good old fashioned punch-ups of the World War 2 era. I read this comic in much the same way I used to read those three for a dollar comics. Partially wanting to devour it all in one sitting but also saving some of the stories for later. And although each story doesn't totally connect with me as a pseudo-fan, I'm pleased as punch to recommend this issue for anyone wanting to reconnect with the character.

A couple of stand out stories for me in this issue are Opaque Shadows by one of my all time favorite creators Howard Chaykin and Crossfire by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel.

Chaykin's story begins with one of the bizarre time-warp moments that Steve Rogers must often face by being a man who still looks like a young vital soldier but is in reality a 94 year old veteran who has seen horrors that most lucky folks will never imagine. Although Chaykin sets most of the tale in World War 2 there is a resonance in the ending that drives Roger's displacement in time home. And I'd love to have a poster of the Kerwin Stockwell painting featured in the story.

Crossfire is a bit more of a traditional story featuring Cap and Union Jack attempting to hold the French town of Chanson. And although they are soon cut off by German artillery and realize that they are now being targeted by an entire army for assassination, they remain determined to go down swinging. When a French mother and her small child show up to offer help the two icons of freedom realize that this is not really about themselves anymore. A good quick tale that shows that giving someone hope goes both ways.

This huge(104 pages fer crying out loud!) issue has done for me what I expect it was meant to do for many readers. It gave me a chance to revisit a character that had become a shadow in my memory and created the desire to see what he's been up to lately. I realize that so much of the current drive is merely promotional stuff for the up coming film and that's okay. The really good stories are still going to be told in the comics and I for one intend to get serious about reading them again.

~Brian S. Roe


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