Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Independence Day. It’s one of my favorite holidays, in part because of my annual re-reading of Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles.

This tabloid-sized comic came out, of course, in the summer of 1976, just in time to keep me from losing my mind during a particularly unenjoyable family vacation. Our family always took two vacations each summer. The first was a beach trip, which I loved. The second was a fishing vacation. By the time I was sixteen, the last thing I wanted to do was spend a week with a bunch of grouchy relatives on a lake with little in the way of distraction or entertainment.

I had purchased the Captain America book on the way to Tennessee. Buying it was a no-brainer. Jack Kirby had been my favorite comic book artist for years. If fact he drew (and likely plotted) the first comic book I ever owned–
Fantastic Four #39. A few years later, he took his talents to DC where he created an epic cosmic saga of gods and humans that unfolded across four titles: Forever People, The New Gods, Mister Miracle and Jimmy Olsen. Within a couple of years, three of the books were canceled and Kirby turned to other work, some original (OMAC, The Demon) and some not (The Losers). By 1976 he was back at Marvel, writing and drawing Cap, Black Panther, Devil Dinosaur, The Eternals and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

By the time of the family vacation I was well-acquainted with Kirby’s bombastic dialogue and extreme fondness for the exclamation point. He was like a composer whose musical style was unique and instantly recognizable. No one wrote like Kirby. In fact, some critics argued that no one, not even Kirby, should write like Kirby.

Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles sent the star-spangled avenger on a journey through American history, with each chapter embellished by a different inker.

It was a spectacular story with a breathtaking scope. At 16, I was already evolving into the cynical adult I would soon become, yet Kirby’s story made me proud of my country, even in those wary post-Watergate days. It was a little piece of magic.

My original copy fell apart years ago and I replaced it (Yes, I also bought Marvel’s reprint a few years ago, but the tabloid version is still the one I take down and read each summer).

So I’ll enjoy the cookout and the fireworks and my family today. But sometime before the day ends I’ll relive the best part of the summer of 1976 with my shield-slinging hero.

I hope you have a great Fourth of July.

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