1976 proved to be a propitious time for Jack "King" Kirby's return to Marvel and to Captain America in particular. It allowed him the luxury of creating a mammoth tale in one of the then popular treasury editions. Kirby excused the Falcon from this iconic journey which took Captain America into the past, the present and even the future for tantalizing glimpses of moments from America's story.
|(Note some differences between this pencil version and the final cover.)|
Cap then begins an odyssey across the years first landing in Nazi-controlled Germany where he finds his then-dead partner Bucky being interrogated by no less than Adolph Hitler himself. After sharing a brief moment with Bucky Cap is shifted away again to Buda's home but finds himself lost, confronted by an expansive mural similar to one at Gettysburg.
Walking into the street, he is then transported to the days of the American Revolution where he meets Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross who find inspiration in his costume for a new flag. This paradox accounted for Cap then Depression Era NYC where he finds a young boy selling papers who has dreams of one day creating comic books, a boy very similar of course to Jack Kirby himself.
Then it's off to find himself alongside the Native American chief Geronimo, saving trapped miners in a collapsed mine in my own state of Kentucky, and then quickly into a WWI dogfight. Buda shows up again and Cap is confronted by John L. Sullivan in a bare-knuckles boxing match before finding himself helping an escaped slave fend off the men who are bent on recapturing him, and both are helped by a young boy who turns out to be the son of John Brown.
Then on to Alamagordo to see the Atomic Bomb explode in all its horrible glory before finding the conflagration shifted to the great Chicago fire. Then under the sea where scientists work to find food for the growing world population. The future is next, when Cap ends up on a Moon which is a battleground between mysterious forces which must be at least partially American. That becomes the set of a Busby Berkley style musical which Cap leaves disdainfully for all its pagentry.
After that Cap has some control where he goes and finds a young black student working diligently to make a success of himself along with a whole kid's gang who find inspiration in Cap and in themselves as they resolve to work and find success however they choose to define it. That it seems is the thread that ties together the tapestry of the American story.
|(My favorite panel.)|
The artwork is stupendous with inking supplied not by the usual suspects. Many point to the work of Barry Windsor-Smith in this book, but for me it is the underrated work of Herb Trimpe who does the majority of the pages who wins the day. He is an ideal inker for Kirby, bringing a warmth to his lines which some miss.
This is a job which could have gone desperately wrong. It might've become a tawdry display of rank simple-minded rah-rah patriotism, but Kirby is not interested in that. He gives us a story which has some more depth than the usual celebratory effort, a story which digs a bit beneath the skin to offer up a commentary which while upbeat in the final analysis doesn't ignore completely the grimmer aspects of the American saga as it reached its two hundredth anniversary. It is instead a true American Odyssey of sorts, full of monsters and myth, but ultimately with an ending which showcases a hero transformed by his journey.