Following a long and distinguished run by a writer of Steve Englehart’s calibre was never going to be easy. So, when Englehart abandoned Captain America, Marvel looked to deliver the book into a safe pair of hands.There were none safer, perhaps, than those of the star-spangled Avenger’s co-creator Jack Kirby. Kirby was returning to Marvel after a five-year stint at DC. Following a promising—even astonishing—start there with the Fourth World books in 1970, Kirby had become increasingly disillusioned. When the Fourth World had been cancelled in 1972, Kirby had made tentative overtures to Marvel about returning, but ultimately stayed put. His new concepts, such as Kamandi, the Demon and OMAC, were exciting, but a lot of the heart had gone.
By 1975, much of his DC output consisted of fill-ins and one-shots. Kirby was clearly just marking time until his contract expired. The work during that last year was frequently sloppy and lazy. Would anyone else get away with having five full splash pages in a 17-page comic? By contrast, the work Kirby turned in upon his return to Marvel was far and away improved. The King was reinvigorated and it showed in his art: much tighter, more dynamic. The idea of handling the reins of Captain America during the bi-centennial celebrations of 1976 clearly intrigued and delighted Kirby. And, consequently, the initial Madbomb saga is filled with wild concepts.
It didn’t take long for the complaints to start coming in. Kirby had no intention of following the “man without a country” notion. His Captain America would not be plagued with self-doubt. Unfortunately, as far as many fans were concerned, Marvel‘s Cap did have issues, and they felt short-changed by Kirby. It’s true that Kirby’s Captain America is a far less sophisticated book than Englehart’s, but it shouldn’t be condemned for that. For my money, Kirby’s run actually holds up better now than the material of a few years earlier. Englehart was concerned with current events, and the book reflected that to such a degree that it’s now dated. Kirby’s run, on the other hand, being largely simple action adventure, reads as timeless.
Kirby lasted on Captain America for 22 issues and two Annuals. A very respectable run. It may not have been to everyone’s taste, but Marvel were clearly excited to have Kirby back. This ad trumpets his return at the end of Captain America #192 (December 1975).
Image ©2013 Marvel Characters, Inc