by Wayne Markley
As many of you know who read this column, there are a number of movies featuring traditional superheroes coming out this summer. There is also Free Comic Book Day coming in a couple of weeks. And as fate would have it, Marvel has a brilliant FCBD comic called Thor and Captain America which happens to be the two biggest comic book movies of the summer. (Sorry DC and Warner Brothers, after Jonah Hex I have no faith in any comic movie you will ever make again.) This free comic is by one of my favorite creative teams, Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee, who were the creative team behind one of my favorite books, Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Of course, since this was one of my favorites, it got the axe, but the eight issues that did come out are collected into two very spiffy trades. Well, to be honest, this FCBD comics was to be issue #9, but with the books being cancelled Marvel decided to make it a freebie. This gives everybody a chance to get a copy and see how great the series was and then go back and buy the trades. As well as this free comic, Marvel has issued a ton of collections reprinting Captain America and Thor from various time periods of their histories, and we are going to review some of these releases.
As Captain America is turning 70 this year, there is a lot of material that Marvel can pick and choose from to reprint. First off, if you are not familiar with Captain America and really would like to learn about the character, good and bad, then I would recommend you read the Essential Captain America. There are six volumes of the Essential Cap and they reprint all his adventures from Tales of Suspense and the first 230 issues of his own book. Here you will get to see some of the best Captain America stories by such greats as Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Stan Lee, Steve Englehart, and many more. These collections also include side stories that tied into the main story as well as Annuals. And they are very fairly priced at over 500 pages for less than $20. The only negative is these books are in black and white. If you want the same material in colo,r then I would recommend the Marvel Masterworks which are in color and hardcover but are much more expensive. And there is one paperback volume of Captain America Masterworks in paperback and in color.
A collection of Captain America stories featuring his biggest villain is Captain America vs. the Red Skull. The Red Skull, an evil Nazi, has been considered Cap’s main villain since the 1940s and this collection presents a nice selection of stories of Cap vs. the Skull from the golden age stories of the 1940s through present day. It is a very good way to get a sampling of the different styles and stories that Cap has gone through over the years.
One of the best Captain America collections is War and Remembrance by Roger Stern and John Byrne. This was a short run, but it is obvious in reading this collection that both Stern and Byrne loved the character and had a vision of who Cap was and where they wanted to go with him, even though their run was cut short.
One of my personal favorite periods of Cap’s history was the run written by Steve Englehart. These stories from the 70s were a clear reflection of the time in America and were also the first time Steve Rogers gave up being Captain America due to the Secret Empire. It also introduced the Nomad and explained why there was a different Captain America in the 1950s. There are two collections of these excellent stories.
One of the writers with the longest run on the Cap was the late Mark Gruenwald. He wrote Cap for years and all of these adventures are solid, fun storytelling with a wide use of the Marvel Universe, both the heroes and the villains. Some of the recent collections of Mark’s stories include Bloodstone Saga, Man & Wolf (how can you resist?), Scourge of the Underworld, and The Captain.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the current Captain America by Ed Brubaker. Since Ed took over the book he has turned out one of the best comics done month to month. He has brought back Bucky, in perhaps the only character that has come back from the dead that I can accept as not a cheap ploy. He has killed Steve Rogers. He has made the Red Skull into a top tier villain. And his stories have more twists and turns than an Ellery Queen novel. All of this stories have been collected into trade collections and any of them is highly recommended, but I would forewarn you they are better if read in sequence.
And if you are a wealthy person, there are three Omnibus of Captain America you can get. There are two reprinting all of Ed Brubacker’s Cap stories and there is one collection all of Caps stories from Tales of Suspense from the 60s. All of these books are $100 or more but they are oversized and are beautiful collections if you have the money.
Like Captain America, Thor can be bought in five inexpensive (and black and white) Essential volumes which will take you from his fist appearances up to the mid 1970s. And there are six hardcover Masterworks of his early appearances in full color. Plus there are two Masterworks in paperback collecting his appearances in Journey into Mystery.
And like Cap, there are collections of Thor stories from various time periods in his history. There are four main periods Marvel has collected so far and due to space I am going to briefly go over them. (And I have raved over the Dan Jurgens and Michael Straczynski periods in past blogs.)
One of Thor’s long-time writers was Roy Thomas, who took over from Stan Lee, and to be fair, Stan’s stories are hard to top and are well worth seeking out. There are at least three collections of Roy’s stories. Ragnarok, which is a long running theme in the Thor book, about the dying days of the gods. Of course this never happens, but it is a threat. They have also collected Roy’s Thor: The Eternals Saga in two trade paperbacks. This was Roy’s attempt to bring Kirby’s Eternals world into the Marvel Universe and the pantheon of Gods. It is fun stuff, but not as good as Jack Kirby’s original Eternals.
Another long-running writer on Thor was Tom DeFalco. Tom’s stories are a lot of fun and are done in the straight forward traditional Marvel superhero manner. While these stories do include quite a bit of the Gods and what will they do and their various battle with Frost Giants, Trolls, and other godly villains, there is also a lot of good old fashioned super-villains and traditional comic book drama. Marvel has also collected DeFalco’s Lost Gods saga from the pages of Journey into Mystery. This is an interesting story that came out of the Onslaught story and set up the revival of the Avengers in the 90s.
But if you really want to read the very best of Thor here are the top three periods of his career. In third would be the Dan Jurgens stories from Thor Vol. 2 #1-79. All of these will be collected shortly in trade collections. Marvel has done six so far and plan on having the rest of Jurgens’ run out shortly. This is a very different take than what Lee/Kirby had done, but it is very good. Coming in second is J. Michael Straczynski. These are the stories from the most current revival of Thor and are excellent. They are available in both trade paperbacks and in a beautiful oversized HC Omnibus. And the best Thor you can buy is by Walt Simonson. Marvel just released a stunning completely re-mastered Omnibus of all of Simonson’s best known Thor work in one amazing hardcover. While this book is expensive, it is the some of the best comics ever done and without question the best Thor ever done. It is well worth the money. And don’t miss Thor: Quest For Odin which is written by Len Wein and includes Simonson’s first work on Thor.
I hope you can try some of these books mentioned here and can see both the Thor and Captain America movies this summer. As always anything written here is my opinion and does not reflect the thoughts of Westfield or their employees. Any comments, complaints, and thoughts can be sent to MFBWAY@AOL.COM.