Friday, March 29, 2019



Writer & Artist: Karl Kesel
Colorist: Ben Dimagmaliw | Letters: Jared K. Fletcher
Assistant Editor: Rachel Pinnelas | Associate Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Editor: Bill Rosemann | Executive Editor: Tom Brevoort
Digital Production Manager: Tom Smith 3 | Digital Coordinator: Harry Go

If there was ever a perfect way to do a webcomic for a superhero, this has to be it. Over the years, going all the way back to their earliest days on America Online, Marvel has engaged in periodic webcomics, but -- to the best of my recollection -- they have most all been done in a regular comic book format, or with silly animated effects. But, someplace in between all that, Karl Kesel found a formula that worked astoundingly well, to the point I don't know why all superhero webcomics aren't done this way! Somewhere around 2009/2010, Kesel wrote and drew a serialized comic strip starring Captain America, which was posted daily at -- and the results are stupendous.

It helps that Kesel has a love for the genre -- he says as much in his afterword to the collected strips, but he needn't have done so. His enthusiasm is fully evident in every daily installment. As readers of this blog know, I've developed quite an interest in newspaper adventure strips myself over the past few years, and for the most part Kesel produces a masterful pastiche of same.

The story, presented as an "arc" in a ongoing strip, sees Captain America and Bucky brought to a top-secret facility where the government is pursuing various means in search of a new type of super soldier. Cap is subjected to a battery of tests, but things go off-track when it appears the Red Skull has infiltrated the base. The FBI's Red Skull expert is called in to investigate, and Cap and Bucky find themselves joining in to get to the bottom of a series of disappearances and apparent acts of sabotage.

As noted above, it's clear that Kesel has a great love for, and handle on, the serialized adventure strip format. He runs his weeks in a similar fashion to the classics, with a buildup through the week to a big finish every Sunday. The characters, from Cap and Bucky to all the supporting cast members, feel like a perfect fit for a vintage strip. He even throws in a bizarrely named female character, lab assistant Miss Vinegar, which feels a little odd today, but wouldn't have been unusual at all in the forties.

Kesel's scripting is great, too -- a little over-the-top in all the best ways. He has great fun with Bucky's dialogue, peppering it with nutty exclamations at every turn. He also makes several nods to the original CAP continuity, mentioning some of the classic stories in dialogue, and giving a large part to Cap's FBI liaison Betsy Ross, a character from the earliest Simon & Kirby tales. Kesel also introduces a roboticist named Smythe, who has created a radio-controlled automaton he hopes will become the template for the next generation super soldier. Though it's not stated or even implied here, I have to assume Kesel's intention is for this character to be the father or grandfather of Spencer Smythe, creator of the Spider-Slayers in the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comics.

The artwork is wonderful; a perfect blend of cartooniness and comic strip realism -- and I have to give special notice to Kesel's interpretation of the Red Skull. It's pitch perfect. The colors, while not authentic to the forties period in which this strip pretends to have existed, are top-notch, too. In his afterword, Kesel notes that there were discussions of producing the strip in both a colored version and a black-and-white edition with added tones to mimic the vintage style. This idea was dropped during production, but I would've loved to have seen it realized. That's a minor issue, though, because the colors really are beautiful.

I must admit, however, that as much as I love the story and artwork, I do have a couple of issues with this production: first is the format. The strips were produced by Kesel to resemble classic comic strips -- four or so panels in a row six days a week, with a larger Sunday spread. But in order to collect the strip into a normal-sized comic book, everything was cut in half and stacked. Kesel does say in that afterword that the strips were designed with this in mind, but I still wish Marvel could've found a way to reprint the material as it was originally published.

Then there's the lettering. Jared Fletcher does a decent job, but nothing about his work evokes a vintage style. The font he uses for dialogue looks like standard modern-day comic lettering, his word balloons don't even try to appear hand-drawn, and the sound effects are mostly uninspired. I can't help feeling that if Marvel had hired Comicraft, for example (I know, I sound like a broken record at this point), to handle this assignment, they would've really punched this thing up with some eclectic fonts and fun effects to make it look like an authentic product of bygone days (they did this to perfection on a number of projects at Marvel back in the nineties, after all). I think the reason the letters bug me but the colors don't is that if this had really been lettered to look like an honest-to-gosh forties comic strip, then a reader could "pretend" it had been colorized over the years. But when the letters look as modern as the colors, some of that verisimilitude is lost. (Plus, I'm just kind of a letter-nut; I admit it!)

But most of all, my biggest complaint about this strip is that this is all there is! Kesel says, again in his afterword, that this was one of the hardest things he's ever done creatively, but he nonetheless wished he could've kept it going. So do I! This thing is just so much fun, that I find myself wishing Marvel had kept it running indefinitely. At the very least, it would be nice to see them revisit the format for other characters. An ongoing adventure strip, done by someone as talented as Kesel and with a real love of the genre, posted daily to, would get me to visit the site every day (and I never visit that site).

And now a bonus: while we're talking comic strips, let's take a very quick look at another project from the 2010/2011 period, the SPIDEY SUNDAY SPECTACULAR! Created as backup features in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN during that era, these two-page strips were written by Stan Lee and drawn by my bar-none favorite twenty-first century Spider-Man artist, Marcos Martin. The story is about as fluffy as can be, centering on two crooks from the "real world", Brain and Bull, who transport themselves to the "comic book dimension", where they cross paths with Spider-Man. Even in his late eighties (as he was when he wrote this), Lee had a great knack for dialogue. The story is silly, involving Peter Parker building a time machine (!) that the bad guys want to steal, but the script is fun and Martin's artwork is spectacular.

The reprint of these SUNDAY SPECTACULAR! strips also includes a backup Lee and Martin produced for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600 in 2009 -- in this one, Spidey goes to see a psychiatrist (drawn by Martin to resemble Lee as he looked in the sixties). The wall-crawler complains to the shrink that he constantly feels like a different person and never knows which version of himself is real. Lee plays it all for laughs, allowing Martin to draw the six-armed Spider-Man, Spider-Hulk, Spider-Lizard, black costumed Spider-Man, and so forth -- and Lee gets in (what I perceive as) a jab or two at then-modern Marvel, as Spider-Man complains that he woke up one morning and Mary Jane was no longer his wife... or were they ever even married in the first place?

By no means a necessity for any Spider-Man fan to read, both of these stories are nonetheless fun, well-scripted, and beautifully drawn.


  1. Very good work on this review, my friend.

  2. Nice article as well as whole site.Thanks.

  3. Karl Kesel is one of those writers who, whenever I read one of his books, makes me wonder why on earth I don't read more of them. His all-too-brief run on Daredevil is a treasure that I only belatedly discovered, and his holding-the-fort run on Fantastic Four managed to be better than the actual runs both before and after it. Thank you for another review of a comic series that had passed me by in realtime.

    1. Glad the post was of use to you! I like Kesel a lot too, though I haven't read a ton of his work. I've never been a massive DC guy, and it seems he did the majority of his writing with them.

      I had an interesting experience with his DD run... I remember reading an interview with Kesel in a friend's copy of WIZARD, in which he talked about bringing DD back to his roots as a wisecracking swashbuckler. "This sounds right up my alley," I thought, so I picked up the next issue... which happened to be Kesel's last! I'm not sure why he left the title, but I figured if he wasn't sticking around, I wouldn't either, so I dropped the series as quickly as I'd started it.

    2. You did better than I: I remember reading the same WIZARD profile (which I think contained his famous comparison of Daredevil and Spider-Man to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck), but never managed to find ANY of the issues when they were being published -- I didn't live near a comic shop at the time, and depended on the limited selection at my local supermarket. So it was only in the last couple of years that I learned what I had missed.

      According to Kesel, incidentally, he left the book because he had too heavy a workload at the time, and felt he was about to get burned out. I guess part of his quality comes from the fact that he's a good judge of when his work is going to suffer, and scaling back accordingly.