Though he’s one of the company’s poster boys now, there was actually time when Captain America had fallen out of favor with the good people at Marvel Comics. After his World War II glory days in the care of creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Cap’s popularity waned, and he virtually disappeared. In 1964, he came back in a big way.
Kirby and Marvel guru Stan “The Man” Lee had already tested the waters on Cap’s return with an odd little Human Torch story in a 1963 Strange Tales issue, letting Johnny Storm tussle with the classic hero for a while before revealing at the end of the book that it was really just villain The Acrobat in disguise. But the idea of having the actual Captain back in action was appealing enough to fans that in The Avengers #4 (March 1964) it was revealed that Cap had never really been gone, just frozen in a big block ice after he went down with a plane during the War.
You know the rest. Captain America became the leader of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and eventually got his own solo series again. But in between, when his starring role was in The Avengers, Lee and Kirby also gave Cap a co-starring role in a little book called Tales of Suspense. Each issue (in those days, anyway) was cut in half, featuring one Captain America story and one Iron Man story. The first of these Cap stories, titled simply “Captain America,” isn’t on any kind of epic scale and doesn’t feature any grand development in the history of the character, but it’s so simple and endearing in an odd way that it becomes classic reading for any fan. Click the jump to find out why.
So, Captain America’s role in Tales of Suspense #59 is about 10 pages long, and it goes like this. The Avengers have a mansion that Tony Stark gave them to use as a base (none of them know Tony Stark is Iron Man, by the way), and for some reason, one member of the team has to hang out there every night to make sure it doesn’t get burglarized (because they can’t lock the doors, or something). On this particular night, Captain America takes the shift. After sending the butler, Jarvis, home (Yeah, how awesome is that? Never mind that the butler could just hang around and watch the joint.), Cap kicks back in an armchair with an old photo album to relive his days clocking Adolf Hitler on the jaw.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town (I’ve always wanted to say that), in captions filled with patented Stan Lee exclamation point enthusiasm, a group of hoodlums are planning to break into Avengers Manor. The leader of this fineband of ruffians rationalizes the move by saying that, since Cap doesn’t have any superpowers, he’s the weak link of the bunch, and he’ll be the easiest to take out. Cap basically spends the rest of the story beating the living hell out of them.
None of this would be noteworthy if it weren’t for the sheer fun of reading the story. Everything is over-dramatized in the classic Stan Lee style. Everything is big and bold and filled with intrigue, even when it’s just Cap sitting in a chair looking at old photos of Bucky and suddenly getting all angsty. Plus, the great Jack Kirby drew this thing, and he was unquestionably the great action artist of his age. Cap darts through the panels like a jittery insect, flipping his shield at the hoods and ducking bullets as he goes. No matter how small the tale, it’s always a delight to see Kirby at work.
There’s no deep analysis here, no need to contemplate what this story means to comics history. It’s just fun. You can find Tales of Suspense #59 in the Marvel Masterworks Captain America: Volume 1, and I highly recommend you do, if only for a nostalgic chuckle.