A duel is due

I haven’t seen The Winter Soldier yet, but I did find a couple of podcasts to help me prepare. They’re both episodes of the Talking Comics podcast, which I’d never listened to before.

The first is episode 127, “History of Captain America.” This is a three hour episode, but the first half is the sort of non-Cap stuff of their typical show. I suggest fast forwarding to about 1:25, when they shift to Cap. Bob Reyer, who seems to be the podcast’s resident historian, does a nice job of running through the whole Captain America timeline, starting with the Simon/Kirby days before WWII and going up to the present.

It’s a much better narrative than what you’ll get by reading the Wikipedia entry for Captain America. I find all of the Wikipedia articles on comic book characters unsatisfying because the biography sections treat the characters as if they’re real, and there’s a lysergic quality to the chronicle because all the inconsistencies and retcons are treated at face value. The history you really want to hear is one that accepts that different writers and artists have taken the character in different directions and doesn’t try to make it sound as if every story is part of a coherent whole. Reyer does that quite well.

Unfortunately, the host of the show has the disturbing habit of interjecting continually instead of just letting Reyer talk. He doesn’t actually say anything or steer the narrative, it’s just a long, intermittent stream of uh-huh, yes, alright, mmm-hmmm, right, yes, uh-huh. For an hour and a half.1

My favorite part of the show is when Reyer moves from the Steve Englehart years, considered one of the book’s highlights, to Jack Kirby’s return in 1976. Kirby both wrote and drew the book, and Reyer whispers “It was horrible,” as if saying anything negative about the King was sacrilegious.

Captain America 193

It was horrible, though. I remember being bitterly disappointed in the Kirby issues. I was, you see, a big Kirby fan. He was gone from Marvel when I started collecting, but I bought all the monthly books that reprinted the Silver Age stories that he and Stan Lee did. Also, I bought the Marvel Treasury Editions, in which the best of those stories were reprinted at high quality and in an extra large size.

Captain America Treasury Special

I don’t remember disliking Kirby’s storyline; it was the drawings that put me off. Kirby’s characters had always been on the blocky side—that was part of what made his Ben Grimm so good—but now there was a stiffness about every character that hadn’t been there ten years earlier. It was as if someone were doing a Kirby parody. You don’t see it so much in the covers, especially the one John Romita inked,2 but it was prominent in the panels inside.

My collecting years started at the end of Englehart’s Nomad series, and I remember him also as the writer of Doctor Strange and the Avengers. The Talking Comics people interviewed him in a special episode also timed to coincide with the release of The Winter Soldier. I’m a sucker for stories told by the people who made the comics I read, so I’m probably not the best judge of this interview: I wish it could have gone on longer. I loved hearing him talk about the Secret Empire storyline, Nomad, and the Rutland Halloween crossover.

It was also interesting to hear about the kinds of sales comics racked up in those days. What’s considered a big seller now would have been on the chopping block back then.

Of course, I also listened to The Incomparable’s Winter Soldier episode and will probably listen to it again after I see the movie. The spoiler horn goes off early, but that doesn’t bother me. One good thing about getting older is that by the time I see the movie, I’ll have forgotten the spoilers. Well, not the big one, but I knew that one already.

  1. I may have been especially sensitive to this because I listened to the show on a day in which I had a phone call with a client who added a drawn out mmmmmmmmmm-hmmmmmmmmm to the end of every one of my sentences. 

  2. I’m surprised I didn’t pee my pants when I bought Captain America 193. Jack Kirby and John Romita collaborating on a cover that I was able to buy new off the spinner rack!