Captain America #193 cover, Jack Kirby, Madbomb

Captain America #193, January 1976

“The Madbomb Screamer in the Brain!”

Script: Jack Kirby

Pencils: Jack Kirby

Inks: Frank Giacoia

Cap and his pal the Falcon are enjoying a bit of downtime horsing around in the kitchen. Suddenly both heroes are overcome with a powerful urge to murder the other. Soon, even Falcon’s girlfriend Leila joins in, waving a knife around threateningly. Luckily the heroes are made of stern stuff and quickly recover their senses, but outside pandemonium reigns as the streets explode with violence and gunfire.

Cap leaps out into the fray and is almost beaten by an angry mob. He sees a small device and, as he approaches, it affects his sanity. Sheer instinct drives him on and he shatters the device with his shield. Calm returns, but the scene around him is one of utter devastation.

The effects of the Madbomb, Captain America #193

A SHIELD agent arrives and tells Cap and the Falcon about a conspiracy that threatens the US in this bi-centennial year: a conspiracy that centres on technology called a Madbomb that induces mass hysteria. The heroes are taken to a secret base at “an unknown destination”. There, they are subjected to a bizarre—not to say deadly—series of tests, including gas, missiles, a room where the walls close in on them, and, finally, assault by a gang of thugs. Having survived all this, and thereby proven themselves to be the real deal, they are greeted by Henry Kissinger. Kissinger is so impressed by the duo that he insists they call him “Henny”!

Kissinger explains that there have been past Madbombs: the first, called “peanut” destroyed a small town; a larger one, named “dumpling”, put paid to River City and its population of 200,000. Now, the National Security Advisor informs them, their job is to find the next Madbomb. The Falcon is concerned that the next device might be a large as a piano and could cause untold chaos. Kissinger looks worried as he hands them a photograph that has been obtained by a spy.

Code named “Big Daddy”, the next Madbomb is as big as a house—and has been designed to do no no less than destroy the United States..!!!

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After a number of years in the relative wilderness of DC comics, Jack Kirby came back to Marvel in late-1975. It wasn’t exactly a triumphant return, but he produced some great comics in his time there. One of the things that enticed him back was the chance to write and draw his signature creation, Captain America, comics’ premier symbol of US patriotism, during the year of the American bi-centennial celebrations. In one of the most amazing coincidences in comics history, Captain America #200 was on the stands during the crucial month of July 1976. How they managed that, I dunno—it’s almost like it was planned all along!

Anyway, back ti the start of the run. The cover is one of Jack’s best. It’s a fabulous image of Cap, and showcases Kirby’s dynamism and exaggeration to its very best effect. Kirby didn’t actually have a clue how the human body is really put together, but he knew how to make it look good—and, in comics, that’s more important. Once, when asked where he learned anatomy and musculature, he replied that he just made up his own muscle groups. And why not, when the result looks this good?

One interesting factoid: the Cap figure was originally drawn as a 3-D experiment. John Romita seemingly inked it on several pieces of acetate, one for each “level” of the 3-D image. So, the fist, say, was inked on one sheet, the forearm on a second, the bicep on a third, etc. These would then have had a range of red/blue separations to create the illusion of depth when viewed through special eye-wear. Ultimately the experiment came to nought and the image was used as a cover instead.

The story of the hunt for the Madbomb, and the conspiracy behind its creation, was to run all the way through to #200. It’s one of Kirby’s longest sustained narratives, and serves as a nice showcase for Cap and his patriotic fervor. Of, course, by 1976, the post-Nixon US was growing suspicious of the kind of patriotism that Cap embraced, and the character had gone through much soul searching under the typewriter of Steve Englehart. Kirby was having none of that, and insisted that “his” Cap had no self doubts. Interestingly, Kirby’s approach may well have been the right one in the long-term—Englehart’s work now looks horribly dated, despite its classic status. Time marches on, but Kirby’s work, cleaving to no particular political period, has a timeless quality. His art here is stronger than anything he’d been doing at DC for the last few years, indicating, perhaps, his excitement to finally be free of the company that had crushed his Fourth World dreams.

The whole Madbomb saga has been collected several times, and can currently be found in an expensive Omnibus or, in black and white, a cheaper Essential volume.

Images ©2012 Marvel Characters, Inc