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Captain America #213-214
posted October 3, 2011
Jack Kirby, Dan Green, Joe Rosen, George Roussos, Sam Kato
Marvel, comic books, 32 pages 1977, $.30 each
It's difficult to find a more desultory pair of issues plot-wise in Jack Kirby's long run of Marvel comic books than these two books at the end of his 1970s stint on Captain America
. Still, when the author of a comic book is Kirby, there are bound to be several moments of observational interest to pull from its pages, and that's the case here times two. As opposed to the the almost over-stuffed idea farm that previous stories in the run had been, these two last issues constitute what is essentially a single set piece: an extended fight between a handicapped Captain America and a single, sort of uninspiring foe. If you ever want to make the argument that Jack Kirby of all people also invented decompressed storytelling, this story would almost certainly be entered into evidence on your behalf. Captain America finds himself in a S.H.I.E.L.D. hospital facility because something that happened during the last adventure made him blind. He's visited by The Falcon. Our hero then finds himself sharing his room -- this was before the 1980s surge in military spending, clearly -- with a wrapped-up gentleman referred to as The Defector. A rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent tries to kill this person. When Captain America thwarts this killer's plans, an assassin called The Night Flyer is put on the case. The rest of the two issues is basically an extended action encounter with the gimmicky handicap there to juice the stakes.
It's fitting to see Kirby go out on this last great run with his first great character via a bunch of action pages. The reader is treated to nearly every physical beat of the sprawling conflict. Kirby employs two-page spreads and a smattering of four-panel pages in addition to more standard page breakdowns. This keeps the plot racing along and
helps the whole affair seem like fewer pages than actually employed. Kirby also jettisons a lot of extraneous plot material a lot of other writers might have included. We don't see Captain America's girlfriend Sharon Carter -- although she's mentioned as being nearby -- and we don't see S.H.I.E.L.D. head honcho Nick Fury, the man who conceivably established the scenario in which our heroes now find themselves embroiled. I think it's most fun to read these issues as a combination of getting to watch an old master taking one last tour around familiar territory and an opportunity to suss out the 1970s Kirbyisms. Blindness as a plot element was a recurring plot device in 1970s TV shows, so these issues retain that Kirby as pop-culture sponge feel. The Night Flyer is one of those villains that seems slightly goofy when you first see him but the full reveal of his power set actually makes a lot of sense (he has a kind of hang-glider vehicle he leaves flying outside of where he's attacking that provides him with power boosts as needed). It's also fun to have the comics take place in a nameless building and have the character of The Defector be this kind of inexplicable, almost generic person-in-peril. A lot of Kirby's work in the 1970s had a timelessness to it and an almost purposeful lack of specific setting that emphasized more fundamental, even arch, superhero-driven themes. I also like some of the detail work, such as many of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents looking like 40-something industrial arts teachers as opposed to extras from a primetime soap opera. It's all good fun.
Those of us reading comics in the 1970s, even as little kids, sometimes overlooked what Jack Kirby was doing in our desperation to have our choice of reading material validated with the veneer of surface sophistication we thought so very important. And yet it's these comics that have aged much better than the other kind, despite being almost totally out of step with where serial mainstream comics stand today. It's always worth a quick reminder why Kirby was the King.