Wednesday, May 14, 2014

CAPTAIN AMERICA #255

"THE LIVING LEGEND"
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Writer: Roger Stern | Artist: John Byrne
Letterer: Joe Rosen | Colorist: Bob Sharen
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
Special Thanks to Joe Rubinstein, Inker of Today!

Cover by Frank Miller
The Plot: In 1941, inside the White House, President Franklin Roosevelt reads a dossier on Steve Rogers, and peruses the files on Operation: Rebirth and Project: Super Soldier, the military directives which transformed Rogers into Captain America. Following his review, Roosevelt meets Captain America in person, and presents him with a new, disc-shaped shield to replace the triangular one he had been carrying previously.

A month later, Cap has reported to Camp Lehigh as Private Steve Rogers, a cover which will allow him to move about in secret. He has befriended young Bucky Barnes, and the two soon go on to become partners in the war. Following a montage which recaps the remainder of Cap's World War II career alongside the Invaders, the story jumps back to the present day, where Cap returns home after a long night of superheroing.

Continuity Notes: The entire story is basically one big continuity note, reconciling various versions of Captain America's origin into a cohesive whole. More on that below.

The version of Steve Rogers's childhood as defined by Stern and Byrne in their first issue, #247, is revisited first. Then comes the origin sequence, which is, beat-for-beat, the standard version of the story as seen in almost all media, including the 2011 film, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. Steve Rogers tries to enlist in the army, is declared too frail for service, gets recruited by the military for a special experiment, is imbued with the maximum human physical abilities by Dr. Erskine's Super Soldier formula, and fails to stop Erskine from being assassinated by a Nazi agent.
In this version of the story, the Captain America identity is created in response to the existence of the Red Skull. I am uncertain if this has always been the established order of their debuts.

Cap is shown to have thwarted several Nazi operations on U.S. soil over the course of a few months following the Super Soldier procedure. During that time he nearly loses his mask in a fight, and eventually gets his uniform updated so that the mask is joined to the rest of the outfit. This definitely seems to be a slight ret-con, as I believe that Captain America had the separate mask in his very first comic, where he was already working alongside Bucky -- but here, he meets Bucky afterward.

President Roosevelt personally presents Captain America with his new shield, noting that the process which created it is unduplicatable.
And then there's this:
My Thoughts: Following several flashbacks throughout the prior issues in their run, Stern and Byrne finally get down to presenting their origin for Captain America. I first encountered this issue long, long before the rest of the Stern/Byrne run. As a child, I had a book called CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE SECRET STORY OF MARVEL'S STAR-SPANGLED SUPERHERO, which had several pages of text explaining Cap, a Lee/Kirby issue from the Silver Age featuring Cap against the Red Skull, and this story. Consequently, as far as I'm concerned this is the origin of Captain America, regardless of what came before and what came after.

And an excellent origin it is, too. I'm unfamiliar with Cap's Golden Age adventures, and I've barely read any of his Silver Age exploits either, so I'm not sure how much of this is pre-existing material, and how much is created for the story by Stern and Byrne. Cearly there is some retroactive continunity going on here, with regards to early parts of the origin. For example, when Steve is admitted to the Operation: Rebirth labs, he recognizes Dr. Erskine, the inventor of the Super Soldier process, despite the government codename of Dr. Reinstein. I'm pretty sure Reinstein was a Stan Lee invention. Erskine probably came along later, and Stern would most likely have come up with the "codename" to explain the discrepancy.

Equally odd is the fact that Steve first takes the Super Soldier Serum as an injection, then drinks an orally ingested component, then receives a bombardment of "vita-rays" to complete the process. This almost has to be Sten reconciling multiple versions of the origin. It's odd, but it's not unreasonable to accept that the process would require multiple components (and it also helps to explain the fact that the process has never been duplicated since Erskine's death).

Some of the dialogue during the "rebirth" scene seems to have been lifted from Stan Lee as well. Erskine refers to the oral component as a "potion", which is a word I tend to associate with Lee more than anyone else, at least in reference to liquids which would not normally be called potions.

I assume the majority of the "spy smasher Cap" material was created by Stern and Byrne, but I could be mistaken. They give us a handful of quick vignettes showing Cap's earliest operations as a superhero, before he is assigned to the army as Private Rogers.

And the Private Rogers bit is the part which works the least, here. The president informs Cap that he will be given the cover identity so that he can move about more freely, but wouldn't this have the opposite effect? Especially since his identity is a secret even from his own immediate superior? This part of the story seems to unnecessarily complicate things. Rogers would be court-martialed for going AWOL the very first time he left camp to take care of a secret mission! It really seems like Stern and Byrne should've found some way to just eliminate this part of Cap's backstory, but I'm not certain how it could be done in the days before overt reboots became the norm.
At any rate, aside from that little bit, this is the definitive Captain America origin story, and an excellent way for Stern and Byrne to end their all-too-brief stint. I would've loved to have seen them continue their run, as these nine issues are some of my favorite Captain America comics -- but if they had to leave, then this is a great way to go out. If nothing else, they have cemented their legacy with the definitive version of Captain America's origin and early adventures.

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