The Adventures of Captain America:
Sentinel of Liberty

Fabian Nicieza & Kevin Maguire, writers;
Steve Carr & Kevin West, pencilers
(Marvel, 1991-92)

Captain America's gung-ho patriotism sometimes seems a little dated. While it was perfect for the World War II era for which he was created, it's hard to maintain that kind of nationalistic fervor today. Perhaps that's why the character endures so -- maybe we need someone out there who believes so strongly in the things we've lost along the way. Or maybe it's just because the character is so cool -- although "created" by science which brought Steve Rogers to the peak of human fitness, he still is just a mortal man who's very good at what he does. Garbed in bright red, white and blue and always smiling for the cameras, he sort of a bright reflection of DC's grimmer, but also non-powered, Batman.

Writers Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire have restored Cap to his original glory with a four-part story detailing (and in some ways, revising) Cap's creation and early years.

It begins with a gangly Rogers at the movies with friends, riveted by newsreels of the encroaching Nazi forces in Europe. He signs up for the Army afterwards, so strongly does he react, but he's deemed unfit and unworthy to serve. But a top scientist and a general tap him for greater things -- a shot at a clandestine project which they will not reveal to him. Of course, young Rogers goes along.

He makes it through the tests on sheer will alone and ultimately receives the treatment which turns him into the world's first "super soldier." A Nazi assassin ensures that he will be the only one.

The story which follows is delightful. We watch Rogers trying to fit in at an Army base, where his identity must be concealed. We meet James Buchanan Barnes, a.k.a. Bucky, who is destined to become Captain America's wisecracking sidekick (a la Robin). We see Cap's first fledgling attempts at "heroing" and witness his first sanctioned outings in the costume he designed while doodling. Then a crisis sends him winging his way to France, then Germany, where he meets his arch-foe, the Red Skull.

This is good storytelling, and it manages to capture the flavor of a 1940s serial. It's a treat to see Captain America before he became a self-assured adventurer and leader, and it's interesting to see him fight, in war-time, with firearms -- something the modern Cap always avoids. The supporting characters are strong as well; it's vaguely surprising, in retrospect, that they were created specifically for this tale, so well-rounded they are. Only the "secret" turncoat was a little disappointing, only in that the choice was so obvious from the beginning.

The artistic team (pencilers Steve Carr and Kevin West, inkers Joe Rubinstein and Terry Austin, and color artist Paul Mounts) have done a bang-up job throughout. The characters are all striking, the moods set by facial expressions and body language are easily recognizable. (The characters all seem to suffer from colds, though -- or else the artists just really like red noses.)

If you ever read any Captain America story, this should be the one. It stands alone very well, and it also gives a firm foundation for the future hero to stand on.

[ by Tom Knapp ]