Captain America & the Falcon: Madbomb trade paperback
Writer/Pencils/Editor: Jack Kirby
Inks: Frank Giacoia & D. Bruce Berry
Colors: Janice Cohen, Phil Rachelson, Michele Wolfman & Don Warfield
Letters: John Costanza, Gaspar Soladino & D. Bruce Berry
Cover artists: Kirby & John Romita Sr.
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $16.99 US/$27.25 CAN
It’s always fun when Diamond Comic Distributors has a clearance sale, as my local comic shop, without fail, capitalizes on it and offers a diverse array of product at deep discounts to its clientele. Which brings me to the 2004 Captain America & the Falcon: Madbomb collection. Part of Jack Kirby’s heralded return to Marvel Comics in the mid-1970s, his run on Captain America is a keystone in comics history – one I hadn’t read before. Now, I must confess, while I appreciate the creativity, genius and foundational talent of the late Jack Kirby, I was never a huge fan of his work, at least as a younger comics reader and enthusiast. What’s noteworthy about this classic Cap run is that Kirby was the sole creative force; he’s even listed as the editor. That shows in the storytelling, and especially in the occasional clunkiness of the writing. Fortunately, there are still some powerful political notions at the heart of this story. While it shows its age a fair bit, there were moments when the story resonated and made me consider socio-political realities of the now. To achieve that sort of connection with a reader 40 years removed from the original crafting of the story speaks to why Kirby was so successful and integral in comics years ago and why he remains an ever-present force in the medium even years after his death.
An organization dedicated to overthrowing the U.S. government and going back to an imperial classist system has had a scientist develop what it calls a “madbomb,” a device that throws regular people into a paranoid and enraged frenzy. The group’s tests of the device have decimated a small town and even a major section of New York, leading to deaths and destruction. S.H.I.E.L.D. has learned a giant Madbomb has been planted somewhere in America to bring an end to the country on its bicentennial, and it’s up to Captain America and the Falcon to save the day.
Kirby’s artwork throughout this story puts me in mind of the improvisational nature of jazz music. As the foundation of the visuals, there are the familiar, consistently rendered figures of the titular heroes, Cap and Falcon. Kirby’s quite comfortable when it comes to rendering them; it almost feels as though we’re seeing the same poses and angles. But when it comes to the backdrops and impossible tech at the root of the plot, Kirby’s unrestrained. One could argue some elements are rendered inconsistently, but there’s so much fun and imagination in Kirby’s designs, it’s difficult to get hung up on it.
Mind you, that brings me to a key point about how this comic appears to have been created in the first place. Kirby is credited as writer, penciller and editor, and therein lies something of a problem. It struck me that occasionally, the King needed to be reined in a little, and he definitely could have used some guidance on the script. There was an instances in which the word “tracks” was used three times in a single panel. The dialogue is frequently clunky that way, and it occasionally took me out of the story.
Getting back to the interestingly improvisational qualities of Kirby’s work, it’s often been said Kirby would shift directions in a story as he drew, adding elements as he went along that changed the originally planned story (no doubt for the better in most cases). Here, it seems to me he devised a plotline early in the arc that he ultimately abandoned. Well, “abandoned” isn’t the right term, but it feels as though he lost interest in it or space to explore it. Early in the book, the villain, Lord Taurey, speaks about how his ancestor was thwarted by a Steven Rogers decades before, and how he intends to seek revenge on that man’s descendant, who, unbeknownst to him, happens to Captain America. There’s clearly an intent initially to build to a major showdown and revelation of Cap’s connection to Taurey’s story, but the eventual meeting at the end of the book seems more like an afterthought, an effort to tie up a loose end.
Speaking of loose ends, I found I was terribly interested in the fate of Carol Harding, the young but ailing daughter of the scientist who developed the titular weapon. She and Cap form a connection that actually seemed to work. Perhaps the relationship was explored in subsequent comics, but it felt as though her fate was inextricably linked to the Madbomb storyline, and I’m surprised its resolution wasn’t included in this storyline (or if it was, at least in this collection).
Despite the more ham-fisted and somewhat… unsophisticated elements of this decades-old storytelling, I was surprised to discover is holds up pretty well, even after so many years. The use of the Falcon to occasionally address issues of race is well done and, more importantly, not overdone. And the socio-economic and political elements still resonate. The classist obsession of the villain (whose organization really ought to have been far better defined) certainly put me in mind of the sadly growing divide between the wealthy and the have-nots. I couldn’t help but see a Trump-ian arrogance and sense of entitlement in Taurey as well. Ultimately, there’s a certain timelessness to Kirby’s storytelling here, despite its link to America’s bicentennial year. 6/10
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