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The 7 Most Awesome Moments From Jack Kirby’s ‘Captain America’

This week, Marvel is putting out a massive omnibus edition of Jack Kirby’s 1976 run on Captain America, and if you’ve never read it, you need to.

That’s why today, I’m going back through my archives to bring you the Most Awesome Moments from Jack Kirby’s Captain America!I’ll admit, as much as I would’ve loved to see him keep doing New Gods, OMAC and The Demon for another decade, I absolutely love Kirby’s return to Marvel. This is, after all, the era of Devil Dinosaur, a book that famously began with an essay from Kirby about how he was planning to stick as close as possible to what little facts were known about that far-off era of dinosaurs that he termed “the X-Age,” and then proceded to tell the story of aliens coming to Earth with a computer that founded the Garden of Eden for two cavemen before it was smashed to bits by an extremely angry Tyrannosaurus Rex. In other words, it was awesome.

And in returning Captain Americai, Kirby brought that same unmatched energy to the character he’d co-created thirty-five years before. Over 23 issues and one gigantic Treasury Spectacular, he pit Cap and the Falcon against some of the wildest adventures of all time, in a senses-shattering celebration of America’s bicentennial.

#7. OVER THE TOP

When Kirby took over with Captain America #193, he hit the ground running with what is unquestionably the most intense scene of arm-wrestling the comics page has ever seen. Sorry, All Star Superman #3.

I love this scene, if for no other reason than I find it hilarious that Cap and the Falcon spend their free time just kicking it in the kitchen, killing time waiting for a hot cup of coffee through the art of arm-wrestling, which as we all know from the opening scenes of Predator is exactly what tough guys do whenever they’re within ten feet of each other. And what’s more, it suddenly turns into a sudden life-or-death struggle, like a more intense version of what was faced by Lincoln Hawk (Sylvester Stallone) in 1987′s Over The Top, in which a truck driver attempted to win custody of his son through an arm-wrestling contest.

Basically what I’m saying here is that in 1975, Jack Kirby pretty accurately predicted exactly what movies would be like ten years later. And that’s real.

#6. FLAVORS OF MADNESS

As for what could make Cap and the Falcon (temporarily) turn on each other, that’s the effect of their first big adventure: The Madbomb! It Can Destroy The World! Specifically, it can destroy the world by making people so mad that they fight each other and tear down entire cities.

And it’s available in three enjoyable flavors:

Now, it’s pretty obvious that with “Big Daddy,” Kirby was riffing on “Fat Man” and “Little Boy.” “Peanut” and “Dumpling,” however, just strike me as hilarious, especially once you add in the phrase “DUMPLING WAS CAPABLE OF DESTROYING A HEAVILY POPULATED CITY!”

Also, the fact that he basically drew gigantic domed techno-bombs with brains inside means that we now know exactly what it would’ve looked like if Jack Kirby had designed the Daleks.

#5. THE FREEDOM FREAKS

Okay, full disclosure time: The following panels were in the very first Marvel comic I ever read. The story concerns Cap and the Falcon being shown around a secret enclave by Cheer Chadwick, a “Biggie” in a militant underground movement that wants to restore monarchy to power in America, and at age 6, it scared the living hell out of me.

 

Seriously! A “Love Machine” that turned out to be an effigy with a (hilarious-in-retrospect) Frowny Face that’s not only hanged from a gallows, but then beaten and ripped apart by an angry mob at the command of a disembodied head?! It might not be subtle political satire by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s pretty heavy for a kid to take.

Fortunately, Kirby’s prescience missed the mark on this one. I mean, talking heads on TV screens spouting catchphrases designed to rile up the populace and incite them to violence against people with a different viewpoint? Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to live in a world where that stuff happened?

#4. KILL-DERBY

Another interesting element of Cheer Chadwick’s new society is how disputes are settled. Rather than clogging up an inefficient court system, two people with grievances — such as, say, a stolen shield — settle them in a far more expedient manner: Kill-Derby, a deadly roller derby involving rocket powered skateboards.

 

And for bonus points, the lady speaking in red on the right is named Tinkerbell.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m as big a fan of the next guy of the lady-centric 21st century Roller Derby revival, and I’ll be the first to admit that torn fishnets and tank tops make for a better look than bulky armor with spikes on it, but c’mon: Can’t we all agree that things would be a little more exciting with the addition of shoulder-mounted flamethrowers?

#3. MR. BUDA AND THE BICENTENNIAL

The massive 79-page, treasury-sized Bicentennial Battles was the centerpiece of Kirby’s run, and it’s arguably the biggest and craziest example of his work on the title. In it, Captain America finds himself being bounced around the timestream in search of The Real America by this guy, Mr. Buda, master of Trans-Yoga.

During his trip, which is guided by a mystic, glowing “psychic sigil” on his palm (or at least, his glove), Cap pretty much bops around to where you’d expect: The American Revolution to hang with Ben Franklin, the Wild West where he attempts to talk Union troops out of going to war with Native Americans, and of course, World War II, where he punches Hitler’s face in.

And then he goes to the moon. In the future.

The weirdest place he finds himself, though, is trapped in an extended metaphor for crass consumerism and the rendering of heroism as a commodity to be sold rather than an ideal to aspire to.

 

Which, oddly enough, just happens to look an awful lot like the set of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.

#2. THE LITTLE HAND IS ON THE FOUR

In Kirby’s final issue, he pit Captain America against Magneto (the main antagonist of a little-known super-hero franchise he co-created called the X-Men). The source of the conflict was, as one might expect, a mutant who took out a classified ad asking interested parties to try to recruit him, and turned out to be…

…a tiny little man named Mister One with somehow even tinier blue shorts who lives in a wristwatch.

#1. YESTERDAY’S FANTASY! TODAY’S TRUTH! TOMORROW’S TERROR!

And finally, we have what is unquestionably the most awesomely insane, insanely awesome thing to come out of Kirby’s ’76 Cap run. And considering that we’ve already seen rocket flamethrower roller derby, that’s saying something.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Arnim Zola.

I didn’t think I’d really need to add a whole lot fo commentary here, as you can all plainly see that this is a dude with a video camera for a head and a TV in his chest with his head on it who is also wearing a purple loincloth on his robot body, which may actually make him a crazier Kirby design than M.O.D.O.K. But there’s actually more to it than that.

I mean, in addition to the fact that Kirby considered camera-headed head-chested dudes to be “today’s truth,” there’s the whole thing where what Zola wants…

 

…is to transplant Adolf Hitler’s brain into Captain America’s body from where it’s been since 1945, inside a super-robot with no eyes named Nazi X.

You know, as one does.

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