Tag Archives: Jack Kirby

What’s So Great About Captain America?


Here we are on the eve of the release of the feature film Captain America: Winter Soldier, and I’ve found myself more excited than I’ve been about a movie in a long time. Because it’s specifically based on what I would consider the best superhero comic stotyline of the 21st century so far- Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Captain America run is already legendary, particularly for breaking one of the single biggest rules of good taste established by Marvel (No spoilers, but if you know what I’m referring to, you know)  and actually making it work. I’m excited because seeing one of my favorite characters, long relegated to the B list at best in terms of popularity, get his shine on is completely irresistible.

To the uninitiated, Cap is often thought of as a jingoistic, dense, corny character. Symbolic of American imperialism (real or imagined) at worst, a silly bit of propaganda at best, a simpleminded boy scout character. And those interpretations aren’t completely incorrect when he’s mishandled, but the truth is more complicated. There’s much more to the character than that.

The Captain first saw publication almost a year before Pearl Harbor. That’s the cover to up above, where he’s socking Hitler in the mouth. We weren’t at war yet, but for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, we couldn’t be soon enough. Two Jewish men living in the relative safety of New York, reading the news of what was happening across the world, hearing brutally frightening rumors from friends and relatives still in touch with the homeland. For them, creating Captain America wasn’t aggressive warmongering. It was born from the desire to do something. It’s been whitewashed now, but there were many Nazi sympathizers in America back then, and even besides them it wasn’t an uncommon view that bloodshed elsewhere wasn’t our problem. That didn’t sit well in the hearts of Jack and Joe, and since they couldn’t pick up their guns and go to war, they picked up their pens.

The key to understanding Cap is in his origin. Steve Rogers, a sickly young man driven to do his part, rejected by the army as 4-F every time he tries to enlist. The kind of guy the Nazis would have no problem gassing to death and sticking in a mass grave. But for Americans, it’s the textbook guy who can come from nothing and nowhere and reinvent himself into whatever he wants to be, in this case a super soldier. Thanks to hard work and some sci-fi serums and beta rays, Steve becomes a little faster, sharper, stronger, and tougher than anyone who had ever lived before, and all he wanted was to make a few wrong things right.

And so he did, on paper at least. All through the war, Cap was always there at the newsstand knocking the shit out of some awful bastard. It’s not pretty, but for a nation at war, and particularly kids, it’s important to have some kind of outlet for that pressure through art.

Once the war was over, most costumed do-gooders in general vanished. For whatever reason, super heroes weren’t a commodity anymore post war, and except for a very small handful were brushed aside for Western, Sci-Fi, Horror, Crime, and Romance comics (EC will be a post for another day). This was the case until the early 60′s, when the Captain returned to a world that had changed dramatically.

I’ve always related to a good Rip Van Winkle story, and Captain America’s is probably the single greatest one from the fiction of our time. In order to explain his disappearance from the newsstand, the storyline was invented that Cap had been frozen in suspended animation just as the tide turned our way in the war. He reemerged from ice in the modern day. Actually 1964, but it’s the perpetual “Modern Day” in Marvel continuity; from that point to today’s stories only about 10 years have passed. The less time you spend dwelling on that the better.

Cap was brought back both for nostalgic reasons and also to bring some stability to a book that was still trying to find it’s way. The Avengers had been created by Stan Lee to appease Marvel publisher Martin Goodman, who had taken note of DC’s Justice League of America comic and ordered Stan to do something similar. DC was where Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and most other characters with the underwear outside the pants resided. Characters who were inclined to be united by the common cause of heroism. Unlike Marvel guys like Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor, who were all more likely to dislike each other, and didn’t seem likely to be friends and want to work together.

Stan and Jack Kirby said a few times that their characters tended to write themselves, and as this Avengers series progressed, it became less and less easy to contrive reasons Marvel’s solo heavy hitters would still be hanging out. Hulk was a loose cannon and was written out early on, likely to go berserk at any time. Iron Man was just in it for kicks. Thor was an actual God. It took Cap’s return to give the book focus, and from there, Avengers was a winner with a sure direction.

Like most Marvel characters, Cap found himself a bit haunted. The last thing he saw before his life broke apart was his pal Bucky losing his, he came to in a world where his friend had been dead longer than he had been alive. His family had all gone, as well. He found himself adrift. There was always the question of whether strength of character really meant anything anymore. Patriotism was definitely something different. he struggled with the possibility of being irrelevant, meta-textually. Vietnam wasn’t mentioned much, if at all, but the implications were there. His anguish over his fallen friend became an analogy for his mourning of lost time and confusion. If he just had an old friend from before to talk to…

As the 70′s arrived, Captain America became a vehicle for loaded symbolism and something not unlike satire. An allegory for Watergate came across where Cap unraveled an insidious plot that took him to find that the President had been calling the shots. He was so shaken by this that he gave up being Cap and became Nomad. He eventually came to understand that America is not its government, it’s the people of the Nation, and it’s up to him to represent and fight for them.

In the 80′s, the military called him to the carpet and ordered him to work directly for them, and get paid to do so. His reaction was to resign, switch to red, white, and black, and merely go by “The Captain.” A gung-ho xenophobic lunatic with a buzzcut took his place, and served as a representation of what the uninitiated might have thought Cap was until he finally went too far, got his walking papers, and Steve Rogers returned to the role. The idea of going on the army payroll was dismissed. He established a telephone hotline, citizens in trouble could call him to investigate superhuman crime. Cap has always been at his best when depicted as nothing less or more than the champion for the people.


In the wake of 9/11 all superhero fiction was a difficult proposition, but perhaps for none more than Captain America. It fell in the hands of writer John Ney Rieber and artist John Cassidy to tell a story of Cap on the defense against a literally faceless enemy, a terrorist from an unknown locale that had been done wrong in American military intervention, scarred to the point of being entirely unrecognizable, hounding the “American Way” with acts of unbridled destruction and a self righteous fury. It was a story that tested the resolve of many readers, but for those open minded enough to see it through to the end,  it was a treat.


“My people never knew!” Cap told him, in the final battle, as he was dispatching the enemy. “We know now. And those days are over- we’ve learned from our mistakes. But you- you say you’ve seen the innocent die- known that loss. Felt that suffering. You’re blind.You haven’t seen anything but your own pain. Your own hate- Or you’d die before you’d cause another man that pain- any man. Any woman, any child. You’re no better than the warlords who created you. Wherever you’re from.”

Winter Soldier

It was this very pragmatic take on the character that Ed Brubaker riffed on when he took on the book, weaving elements of intrigue and espionage into the DNA of the character, playing on the wartime grit that time had washed out. It is this version of the character, hopefully, that film goers will be meeting this weekend at the multiplex- a complex and complicated warrior, ready to do what must be done for the greater good, a beacon of light in a murky world of gray. Go get’em, Cap!

Rocko Jerome is the co-host of the Back To The Comics podcast. You can read more from him at RockoJerome.com. Discuss Captain America and his new movie with us at our message board.

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Atomic Two-on-One: Enter Sandman

More elbow-to-elbow customizing of the uncharted plastic DC Universe

by Deane Aikins and Rod Keith

     “There is no land beyond the law
     Where tyrants rule with unshakable power!
     ‘Tis but a dream from which the evil wake
     To face their fate, their terrifying hour!”


Once again, Deane and I team up to customize unexplored corners of the DC Universe in DCUC style. This time, we’re looking at another JSA legacy—SANDMAN.


In the mid Seventies, I came across the Treasury Reprint Edition of All-Star Comics #3, the first meeting of the Justice Society of America.  The comic depicted a dinner of superheroes, sitting around telling stories of their adventures, with a rascally Johnny Thunder crashing the party.

I was sold.

Of all of them, one that stayed with me the most was the Sandman.  He was uniquely dressed apart from the rest of the members, in a green suit, purple cape, and blue/yellow gas mask.  He had a gal pal Dian that was right in the adventure with him.  And it was bloody.  Men had been tortured and experimented upon, leaving deformed corpses for The Sandman and Dian to find and bring their killer to justice.

Of the comics that I could find in Detroit, Justice League of America back issues were cheap.  I quickly was able to buy most of the annual summer JLA/JSA team-ups.  To my delight, The Sandman was an occasional member.  Same green suit, same gasmask.

The first JLA issue that I remember seeing on the stands was Justice League #113, the standalone JLA/JSA x-over where a still-devilishly handsome Wes Dodds, as depicted by Dick Dillin, grieves over his sidekick, now transformed into a grotesque sand-monster.

Then came All Star Squadron #1, featuring a yellow and purple guy with some sort of rope gun.  This was Sandman?  I figured it must be a new Earth (early Earth-X), whose World War II heroes had never formed a JSA or other teams, but created this giant Squadron.  Their Sandman was different.

Coincidentally, and confusingly, this was a Sept-October 1974 issue, about the same time that DC house ads were advertising a different Sandman book altogether, drawn by that chunky Kamandi artist guy…

Simon & Kirby’s new Sandman, which lasted six published issues through 1975, with art also by Ernie Chua and inks by Mike Royer and Wally Wood, was always a mystery to me because I never actually saw an issue with the character during its run, not until years afterward. It existed as sort of a nebulous dream-like concept itself, on the edges of my collecting consciousness.


Adventure Comics then became a digest reprint book, showcasing old Legion of Superheroes stories and other characters that had once been featured in Adventure.  Sure enough, I learned of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s Sandman and Sandy, the Golden Boy stories.  Gone was the green suit, gone was the gasmask.  Hello gold and purple super-suit, hello boy sidekick, hello “wirepoon” gun.  Hello, dynamic artwork and wild storytelling.

The new, ‘other’ Simon & Kirby Sandman (proclaiming on his first cover, “He’s Back!”) was a straight-arrow who operated in the Dream Stream with the help of his two malcontented ‘ nightmare’ henchmen Brute and Glob. This Sandman spent most of his time helping his young pal Jed who often found himself or his grandfather in troubling situations with weirdy villains or monsters. The tone of the book was odd, shifting between standard superheroics to quasi-horror to childish fantasy—much like a dream might.

The strangest moment comes in issue 5, where Jed’s Grandpa actually drowns when the Sandman comes too late, and he’s forced to live with his less-than-kind aunt and uncle. Unusual for a kid’s comic, but not if you place it into the context of fairy tales or childhood fears.

Oddly enough, this Sandman didn’t get ANY sort of backstory until Roy Thomas inserted him in Wonder Woman #300, his first contact with the rest of the DCU, when it’s revealed that he’s Dr. Garrett Sanford, who was a sleep researcher monitoring dreams at UCLA, when he gets embroiled helping the military and ends up trapped in the dream world, battling ‘monsters of the Id’. He takes on the Sandman name ‘from an old comic-book hero’ (typical Roy Thomas, First of the Fanboys). Oh yeah, and in the issue he’s got a HUGE crush on Diana, but that’s between them.

The next time we see this version is in Neil Gaiman’s seminal series, where it’s revealed that the strain of being the Sandman caused Sanford to commit suicide, and Brute and Glob has replaced him with the dead Hector Hall (formerly Silver Scarab of Infinity Inc. and E-2 Hawkman’s son) during Morpheus’ long absence from the Dreaming. How this is all dealt with sets up how Gaiman’s series eventually concludes.

And finally, the character is brought back years later in JSA #63-64, where Sand (formerly Wes Dodds’ chum) has now adopted the red-and-gold. Whew! How’s that for circular?

How can we not have a Simon & Kirby Sandman action figure, when “action” was a part of every page of their stories?

I took a “Camo-Aquaman” figure and went to town, sculpting boots and boxer briefs for the figure.  A quick sanding of the hair and re-working of a mask was also in order.  I sculpted holsters and then used vinyl for the flaps and belt.

My base is the Flash.

After cutting away his boot and ear wings, his mask had to be rebuilt with Milliput from the jagged edge of Barry’s to smooth round flaps and smaller eyeholes. He needed round glove cuffs, belt, and Captain America style pirate boot cuffs.

Also, to keep the chest joint, which I like, I had to accommodate the zipper (?) down the center.At first I sculpted it but it broke off. The end solution was to actually dremel a trench near the solar plexus and add a styrene strip that ends up being recessed near the joint, so he still can bend forward and back and the red stripe doesn’t change..

As a side note, I usually cut down as much as possible from the joints—shoulder balls, the back and fronts of knees and elbows—to keep articulation.

The text of those early stories referred to The Sandman as being “golden”, so I used a Tamiya gold lacquer, followed by Tamiya lavender.

After several rummages through the source material, it seemed everything about Kirby’s 70’s costume had a reflective surface, so I went with a gloss all over—using Tamiya Red and Gloss Lemon Yellow. I’m not usually a fan of too much gloss (my Gavyn Starman hurt my eyes when I did that and had to be muted) but it sees to be accurate here. Gloss paint was also a better choice for another reason—red and yellow suck to try to get an even coat, as anyone who’s done a custom with them knows. The gloss smoothes out the brushstrokes and seems to dry as a unified surface, which flat wouldn’t have. I’d probably still be putting coats on.

The black detailing was done with extra fine Sharpie marker!

There were several versions of the gold/purple costume, originally including even a cape, but I choose the one most frequently seen.

I like to think that Kirby and those who came after with the character were working with ‘dream-logic’ when it came to costume details for 70’s Sandman. Often the specific changed, even from panel to panel: cape and collar attached or not, the black detailing fills in or doesn’t, the piping down the center is there or not (and later, in Wonder Woman or Gaiman’s Sandman, is replaced with an hourglass), but I went with first appearance.


The cape took some figuring. The collar is actually separate form where the cape joins onto the costume—not at the neck, like other heroes, but at the pecs.

Eventually, I ended up using the overly flowing cape from the DCSH Superman, and the collar from a DCUC Mr. Miracle. I dremelled troughs for their insertion and were glued in place. They were then joined at the back using Milliput.

I love this character and now have a figure that matches his real adventuring days.

Mattel played it safe and went with the traditional Wes Dodds costume. The 4H sure loved their Kirby and I wish they had gone for the risky move.

Now, about that Sandy The Golden Boy figure…

Deane, we’ll never be satisfied. I’m already thinking about making a Brute and Glob to go with mine!


NEXT ON Atomic 2ON1:   A guarded secret…!

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Jack Kirby and the CrazySexyCool of a flying Porsche

It’s 1965 and Sean Connery has shown the world how to seduce Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  On this side of the pond, MARVEL COMICS decides it needs a super spy, too.

Hello Nick Fury.

Stan “The Man” Lee dusted off his old WWII icon, gave him an eye patch, and brought him in for the Cold War.  The CIA was hiring, but what does a G-Man drive?

Hello Jack Kirby

The story goes that legendary artist “King” Kirby wanted something sleek and exotic for Fury’s flying car, so his son handed him a ROAD & DRIVER with a new racing Porsche 904 (EDITOR- not the 910.  Who let HYDRA edit this thing?)

Eventually, Jack ditched the yellow.

We approve.


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