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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
The Shield
Captain America (serial)
3 Dev Adam
Captain America (1979) and Captain America II: Death Too Soon
Captain America (1990)
Crimes Does Not Pay Archives Volume 1
Recent Books of Interest
Crimes Does Not Pay Archives Volume 1 (Dark Horse)
Crimes Does Not Pay Archives Volume 1 Collecting the first four issues of the infamous pre-code crime comic, this full color hardcover collection of lurid tales features work by some the era's finest artists including Charles Biro, Woody Hamilton, Harry Lucey, Carl Hubbell, Bob Montana, George Tuska, Dick Wood, Dick Briefer, Frank Giacoia, Bob Wood, and Dan Barry. Most importantly, the volume contains Biro's grotesque covers that even today would be considered disturbing. One such illustration features a man forcing a woman's head onto a lit stove, igniting her hair. For the most part, the unflinching true crime stories themselves read well and are magnificently illustrated. The book's main flaw lies not with the original Crime Does Not Pay comics but rather the Dark Horse presentation. Beyond the brief Matt Fraction foreword, the archive offers little in the way of background material. The back cover and Fraction allude to the series being "partially responsible for the creation of the stifling Comics Code Authority," but not the hows and whys. No backgrounds or biographies of any of the creators are included. Nor the origin of the title or concept. Also, the series started with issue #22. Why? What title preceded it? (For the completist out there, it bore the title Silver Streak Comics for the first 21 issues.) Establishing historical context elevates any collection of older works and in a $50 volume, these facts often justify the price.

Leviathan Written by Ian Edginton Art by D'Israeli (2000 AD)
Leviathan Written Originally serialized in the legendary British comics magazine 2000 AD, Leviathan reveals the fascinating, tragic tale of the eponymous cruise liner, the largest ever built. Carrying a crew and passenger complement numbering closing to 30,000 people, the ship disappeared in 1928 on its maiden voyage. Twenty years later with the Leviathan lost in an undead sea, a complex social strata develops under the command of a powerful aristocratic cabal. The group summons Lament, a detective sergeant back in the real world, to investigate a series of grisly murders. He uncovers the secret of the Leviathan and possibly a way home. Though hampered by a reveal steeped in clichés, the talented team of Edginton and D'Israeli produce an engaging enough tale to overlook such foibles. D'Israeli expertly renders the Leviathan as both massive and confining. Edginton manages to make his archetypical characters interesting. This volume contains the main lengthy story plus four short stories that explore other happenings aboard the Leviathan. Sample script pages and an artist sketchbook round out the book.

Patriotic Potential: The Failed History of Captain America on Film

With The Avengers on everyone's mind (crossed the billion dollar mark worldwide over the mid-May weekend), rather than fight it I decided to go with it and reprint a no longer available, yet related article. A few weeks before the release of Captain America: The First Avenger, the following piece originally appeared at the now defunct Moving Pictures Magazine website.

Captain America - a 15 chapter Republic serial
Captain America Comics #1
Avengers #4
Captain America
3 Dev Adam (Three Mighty Men)

Arriving in theaters on July 22, Captain America: The First Avenger chronicles the initial adventures of a character that first premiered over seven decades ago. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby introduced Captain America in December 1940, one year before Pearl Harbor.

In 1940, war raged throughout Europe but most Americans saw Nazi Germany and the accompanying atrocities as a strictly European problem. Though sympathetic to the plight, polls showed that a vast majority of Americans stood against entering the war. The virulent anti-war movement, spearheaded by the "America First" organization and their some 850,000 members, hampered Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to aid his British allies, the lone European force against the Nazi tide.

Amidst this public sentiment, Timely Comics, a precursor to today's Marvel, published Captain America Comics #1. Not the first patriotic hero -- that distinction belongs to The Shield, which premiered in Pep Comics #1, October 1939 -- Captain America succeeded largely thanks to the dynamic, innovative Kirby art, the overt politic tenor of the series, and FDR's inspiring "Great arsenal of democracy" speech that just two weeks later informed Americans of the need to prepare for the eventual war with Germany.

The cover of Captain America's initial appearance featured the hero punching Hitler, a first for comics. The issue also became the first to showcase the German leader as a villain.

That same issue related the Captain's origin. Considered unfit for service, scrawny volunteer Steve Rogers receives a mysterious injection that increases "his stature and intelligence to an amazing degree." Professor Reinstein, a thinly-veiled reference to Albert Einstein, declares the procedure a success and announces plans to create a corps of super-agents. A Nazi spy, hidden amongst the watching dignitaries, kills the Professor. The enraged, now-musclebound Rogers punches the assassin, who in a panicked attempt to escape, trips into bank of coils and is electrocuted. Dressed in an America flag-inspired suit, wielding a shield and partnered with the teen Bucky, Captain America defends America from fifth columnists, Nazis, and saboteurs.

Captain America proved very popular with sales that rivaled Superman. Though not everyone loved the comic. Numerous threatening phone calls and anti-Semitic hate mail attacked publisher Martin Goodman and the creative tandem, all three Jewish. After reporting the incidents, police responded surprisingly quick. A few days following the first threats, a stunned Simon received a call from New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He declared his love for the book and promised that the city will protect the creators and publisher.

In 1944, Captain America, a 15-chapter Republic serial, delivered the first film version of the star spangled hero. Beyond the costume, the series bore little resemblance to the comic book. District Attorney Grant Gardner (Dick Purcell) in his secret identity, Captain America, challenges the evil forces of The Scarab. This Captain uses a gun rather than a shield and even though filmed during the height of World War II, fights thugs rather than Nazis. Beyond the suit, this could have been nearly any serial character.

Upon the war's conclusion, Captain America, like most of his super hero brethren, experienced declining sales and ultimately cancellation. He languished, largely forgotten until 1964 when Stan Lee and Kirby inducted him into the modern Marvel Universe.

Near the end of the war, Captain America and Bucky apparently die attempting to stop a plane loaded with explosives near Newfoundland. In Avengers #4 (December 1963), the team rescues Cap, who had laid frozen in suspended animation for 20 years.

For his second big screen incarnation in the 1973 Turkish film 3 Dev Adam (Three Mighty Men), a shieldless Captain America (Aytekin Akkaya), wearing the hero's traditional garb, joins forces with Santos (of Mexican wrestling fame) to confront the villainous Spider-Man. Set in Istanbul, the story reveals little of this version's origin, powers or identity.

While never quite regaining his previous glory, the Marvel Cap proved popular and in 1979 garnered two live action television movies: Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon. Both films, set in 1979, starred Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, a former Marine now working artist, who after a potentially fatal accident receives the experimental FLAG (Full Latent Ability Gain) serum. The mixture not only saves his life but enhances his body with heightened strength and reflexes. Wearing an outfit of his own design and given a souped-up van and motorcycle, Rogers uses a transparent shield made of "jet-age plastics" as Captain America. The second movie wastes the talents of Christopher Lee as a madman who seeks a formula that accelerates aging. He threatens Portland with the chemicals and is eventually defeated by Captain America.

The next and most recent live action effort proved equally disappointing. The Albert Pyun directed movie actually stays remarkably true to the comic book vision, Captain America (1990) begins in World War II, traps Cap (Matt Salinger) in ice, and concludes in the present. It's the only film to portray Captain America's arch-nemesis the über-Nazi Red Skull (Scott Paulin), though halfway through the Skull's trademark red skull suddenly and inexplicably lacks the proper pigmentation. As with Pyun's other trash flicks such as Cyborg, The Sword and the Sorcerer, and Dollman, inferior production values, poor writing, and despite the presence of reliable veterans Darren McGavin and Ned Beatty, terrible acting doom the film. Captain America received a brief theatrical stint in Europe and in the US went straight to video.

Given the recent success of Marvel films, Captain America: The First Avenger offers greater promise. The inclusion of Rocketeer and Hidalgo director Joe Johnston, top tier actors (Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Richard Armitage and Chris Evans as the hero), the use of the Red Skull, and most importantly the World War II setting, point to a film of great potential. The jury remains out until July 22.

[Note on comic book publication dates: Until the 1990s, comic books routinely premiered three months before the date printed on the publication. In order to more accurately reflect the socio-political realities, I use the actual date of appearance on the newsstand rather than the date printed on the publication.]

Captain America: The First Avenger exceeded all expectations, ranking just below Iron Man as the best of the movies leading up to The Avengers.

Copyright © 2012 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures, RevolutionSF, Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, Steampunk, and The Steampunk Bible. Coming in March 2013 from Tachyon, he is editing The Apes of Wrath, a survey of apes in literature with contributions from Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, Joe R. Lansdale, Pat Murphy, Leigh Kennedy, James P. Blaylock, Clark Ashton Smith, Karen Joy Fowler, Philip José Farmer, Robert E. Howard and others. Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.

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