What better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than with Captain America? Fortunately, Marvel Comics recently released a new treasury edition Captain America book that explores some specific, super-patriotic Cap stories. Titled Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles: All-New Marvel Treasury Edition, the new 9×14, extra-sized book features one of the most patriotic comics known to mankind. Marvel’s Treasury Editions have made a comeback in recent years, with recent releases for Fantastic Four: Antithesis Treasury Edition and last year’s the amazing History of the Marvel Universe Treasury Edition.
The main plot is rather simple though it’s as zany as anything Jack Kirby has ever done. Captain America is compelled to visit a mysterious man named Mister Buda, who meditates, levitates, and practices trans-yoga in his spare time. After Cap clearly articulates he’s not into what Mister Buda is selling, he’s whisked off to Nazi Germany, where Hitler and his goons are beating up Bucky. Captain America quickly makes short order of Hitler and the bad guys and escapes with Bucky, only to be whisked back to Mister Buda. Captain America is confused and shocked and doesn’t want to take any more hokum from Mister Buda, but before he can finally leave, Mister Buda plants a psychic-talisman on his palm that’ll send Cap through various times and locations in American history.
The concept is simple enough, though it sets up a story where you think Mister Buda and his Eastern culture may be villainous only to see he’s actively trying to help Captain America. This book, originally published to celebrate the bicentennial, sees Kirby showing how America has been both awful and heroic, and almost everything in between. It’s an example of how progressive Kirby was in his thinking, like how Captain America helps Geronimo fight against the white American soldiers, or helps a slave escape bounty hunters and find his freedom. When Captain America tells the slave one day things will be different, the slave matter of factly states that he won’t live to see it, and he’s right. Change takes time, but fighting for what is right is what at the core of this tale. Hell, even Ben Franklin is a bit of a bastard and steals the American flag design from Captain America’s costume!
Thankfully, this book doesn’t sugarcoat America’s not-so-simple and not-so-pure past. By the end, the true message about what America is about is clearly stated when Captain America says America is “a place of stubborn confidence — where both young and old can hope and dream and wade through the disappointment, despair and the crunch of events — with the chance of making life meaningful!” Whether that is true or not –given the rise of corporations and injustices committed every day — remains to be seen, but the sentiment feels close enough to be meaningful.
There are many other fights Captain America wades through thanks to Mister Buda, including helping people flee the Great Chicago Fire of 1872, and even as man walks on the moon for the first time. Literally, every page is a master class in why Kirby is one of if not the greatest comics artist to ever live. This isn’t the first oversized collection featuring Kirby’s work, but when you crack this open, it’ll feel like the first time given its sheer size and scope. Kirby’s style deserves a larger format like this, and it makes a full-page splash al that more epic.
Plus, Kirby is aided by some of comics’ greatest artists to manage inks, including Barry Windsor-Smith, Herb Trimpe, and John Romita, Sr. (The entire book is colored by Phil Rachelson and lettered by John Costanza.) Thanks to these collaborators, and Kirby’s own greatness, this book is a work of art that stands tall.
Also included in this 112-page book are many extra features, including the covers reprinted in the back of the book, the entire “Bicentennial Battles” calendar reprinted , house ads for the story (originally published in August 1976), and a number of uncolored pages reprinted to show off Kirby and Windsor-Smith’s excellent work. Of these extras, the calendar is a real trip, and a fun way to relive the ways in which Marvel promoted their work and celebrated events like the Bicentennial.
At this point, it’s safe to say Marvel’s Treasury Edition format is a buy-on-sight graphic novel experience. This book isn’t just a celebration of America, one of Jack Kirby’s most iconic works, or a great Captain America story, but an experience well worth your investment.
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