Monday, April 14, 2014


Perhaps you've noticed that Captain America is "guest-starring" among the corner boxes up top, to acknowledge this month's theatrical release of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER here in the United States. And in a rare moment of blogging synergy, I've got some free weeks open on my schedule -- so I figured this would be a good time for a mini review series on a classic run which was sadly cut short back in 1981.
At the same time he was writing PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, Roger Stern took on the assignment of writing CAPTAIN AMERICA. At the same time he was illustrating UNCANNY X-MEN -- in the midst of the "Dark Phoenix Saga", no less -- John Byrne joined his friend Stern on CAPTAIN AMERICA as well.

The result was, as noted above, a run which is considered by many to be a classic. It's hard to refer to a nine-issue run as "definitive", but this is about as close to the word as such a limited number of issues can get. Stern and Byrne set up a new status quo and supporting cast for Cap, and even codified various aspects of his origin story, which had been floating around for years, into one cohesive tale. Along the way, they set him against a number of his classic foes -- and a few newer ones -- in a series of action-adventure stories evoking the sort of film serials Cap himself might have watched as a young man.

All comic book runs eventually end, but this one stopped far too soon, due to behind-the-scenes issues. Stern and Byrne each recall their departures differently:

Per Stern, he was having some health issues and Byrne was getting married, so editor Jim Salicrup commissioned a fill-in issue. This issue would cost Stern his "continuity bonus" -- an incentive Marvel paid out for creators who stuck with a title for more than six consecutive issues at a time -- and on top of that, Stern knew a fill-in would cost the series both story and sales momentum. So Stern walked, and Byrne followed in support of his friend.

TPB, 2008
Byrne's version of the story, as one might expect, places all blame squarely at the feet of editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. According to Byrne, Shooter had recently declared that all stories had to be "done-in-one" adventures, with not even so much a a cliffhanger to lead into the next issue. Stern and Byrne had already plotted a three-part Red Skull epic, and Shooter's policy suddenly meant they either had to scrap it or drastically re-work it into a single issue. So both creators left the series in protest.

(To this day, no one other than Byrne seems to recall Shooter's decree about single issue stories, so in this instance it seems likely that Stern's version of the story is more accurate.)

In any case, the end result was that a run on CAPTAIN AMERICA, which was really shaping up to be something special, came to a sudden end with the departure of both writer and artist. But on the plus side, we'll always have the nine issues they did put together, which have been reprinted multiple times over the decades since, in both paperback and hardcover format. Beginning Wednseday, I'll take a look at these stories issue-by-issue, using the 2008 trade paperback edition of CAPTAIN AMERICA: WAR AND REMEMBRANCE.

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