Review by Win Wiacek
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in an era of ferocious patriotic fervour and carefully-manipulated idealism, Captain America was a dynamic and exceedingly bombastic response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of liberty’s loss. Marvel resurrected him in the 1960s just in time to experience the Land of the Free’s most turbulent and culturally divisive era. Kirby eventually returned, and his final Cap stories are collected in Masterworks Vol. 11.
This collection features an abrupt return for the patriotic paragon fully to Marvel’s restrictively overarching, interlinked continuity. The stories are introduced by Don Glut, one of many who sought to fill the King’s boots in the months following his departure. There were many artists also until Sal Buscema (sample art) became the regular choice.
Roy Thomas and George Tuska revisit the hallowed origin story, reiterating simultaneously the history of the heroes who had inherited the red, white and blue uniform whilst Steve Rogers was entombed in ice and ending with our hero desperately wondering who the man beneath his mask might truly be. Thomas, Glut, and John Buscema begin ‘The Search for Steve Rogers!’ in S.H.I.EL.D.’s record division, where the Falcon is distracted by a surprising job offer to supervise the agency’s newest project: the S.H.I.E.L.D. Super-Agents.
These wonders-in-training consist of Texas Twister, Blue Streak, The Vamp and a rather mature-seeming Marvel Boy, but the squad are already deeply flawed and fatally compromised. The story tying into Cap’s origins is interrupted several times by space-filling vignettes combatting missed deadlines, but the path eventually leads to Cap battling a Nazi spy in a 15-foot-tall super-android’s metal and plastic brain. If that wasn’t strange enough, Steve Gerber and David Kraft co-script ‘Cul-De-Sac!’, wherein the marauding mechanoid is finally foiled – by reason not force of arms.
With Gerber fully in the writer’s seat, ‘Monumental Menace!’ (Sal Buscema) relocates ‘The Search for Steve Rogers’ storyline to Washington DC. As our hero examines army records at the Pentagon, the Corporation’s attempts to destroy him become more pronounced and bizarre. After escaping an animated, homicidal Volkswagen, Steven Grant Rogers learns at last that he was born the son of a diplomat and lost a brother at Pearl Harbor. All these revelations were later rather ingeniously retconned out so don’t worry about spoilers. Events spiral and Liberty’s Sentinel is attacked by the Lincoln Memorial, sacrilegiously brought to lethal life.
After more fill-ins Rogers regains many memories, but the machines responsible somehow denature the Super-Soldier serum in his blood and he is forced to ask ‘Am I Still Captain America?’ when his perfect warrior’s frame reverts to the frail, sickly mess it used to be.
New scripter Roger McKenzie begins his superb run of tales as S.H.I.E.L.D. puts all its resources into restoring the One-Man Army before being suddenly brought low by an invasion of body-snatching Red Skulls. The Corporation’s tentacles also intrude into the Hulk’s life, and this volume ends in a crossover conclusion.
Too many fill-ins produced at short notice mean this collection isn’t among Cap’s best, but McKenzie’s work is under-rated.