For Your Consideration: Marvel’s Decades: Marvel in the ‘50s –Captain America Strikes!

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

In case you hadn’t noticed, Marvel’s 80th anniversary is rapidly approaching and they have come up with some clever ways to celebrate their past. Among these is there new line of collected editions under the Decades umbrella. Coming in January is Decades: Marvel in the ‘50s –Captain America Strikes!, a collection of stories that would have been a mere footnote had Steve Englehart not mined them for his brilliant Secret Empire serial.

Decades: Marvel in the ‘50s –Captain America Strikes!

Decades: Marvel in the ‘50s –Captain America Strikes!


In 1949, the superhero craze was pretty much over and while DC kept their Holy Trinity still in print, Timely publisher Martin Goodman cancelled his heroes to make room for new titles to latch on to the latest fads: crime and war. The Human Torch and Toro along with the Sub-Mariner had been cancelled while Bucky was shot, replaced by Golden Girl, and then Captain America stopped appearing in his own book which was renamed Captain America’s Weird Tales.

Young Men #24

Young Men #24


In 1953, Goodman watched his rival rake in the bucks with The Adventures of Superman on television and thought maybe he’d try his heroes once more. Timely had given way to Atlas as an imprint and the adventure stories found in Young Men were jettisoned in favor of his Big Three, starting with issue #24, cover-dated December 1953.

Writer credits for the era are virtually nonexistent so maybe it was Stan Lee behind the typewriter. However, what is known is that newcomer John Romita got a shot at heroic action by being assigned the Star-Spangled Avenger. In “Back from the Dead!” Cap and Bucky are resurrected, returning to the Army and now on the hunt for Commies.

Goodman must have liked the sales numbers because he cancelled the title, making room for Captain America, continuing its numbering with #76. Cover-dated May 1954, the bimonthly was joined with the heroes also appearing in that month’s Men’s Adventures #27. Romita drew just about every story with one seven-pager from Bill Benulis and Jack Abel and one from Golden Age veteran Mort Lawrence. Benulis was a short-timer in comics, lasting just a few years before giving up the freelance life to work for the Post Office.

Captain America #77

Captain America #77


The stories tended to be short, six and seven pages each, with zero attempts at continuity. Once Steve Rogers, retired from active service, learned his archenemy the Red Skull was once again active, he reported for duty. “Captain America…Commie Smasher!” was how he was billed during the early years of the Cold War so he was mostly dealing with gangs of spies. He spouted patriotic, jingoistic slogans while dealing out good old-fashioned American justice.

The pair of new super-villains he encountered was The Man with No Face and the Russian Electro (unrelated to the Spidey villain). Neither was much of a challenge.

Captain America #78

Captain America #78


The quest for freedom took the duo to New York to save the United Nations or track spies to Indochina and China. But, as these titles cranked out tonnage, the world was changing. Fear over the Communist threat waned as Senator Joe McCarthy was exposed as the redbaiting bully he always was. This was coupled with the Senate sub-committee investigating causes of juvenile delinquency: radio, movies, television, and comic books.

In just under a year, Cap and the Human Torch lost their new leases on life (Sub-Mariner lingered until a possible TV deal fizzled).

Lee ignored it all when he and Jack Kirby resurrected Cap in The Avengers #4 but Englehart was inspired by those stories. When he was writing the hero’s book in 1972, he struck on the idea that the 1950s Cap and Bucky were someone else, and were back. Renamed William Burnside and Jack Monroe, they had also been revived and were in search of the “real” America. With Sal Buscema, the storyline kept readers spellbound for a few years.

Captain America: Theater of War - America First!

Captain America: Theater of War – America First!


Rounding out the collection is a 2009 offering from Howard Chaykin. There were seven books called Captain America: Theater of War, one per decade of Caps stories career. In America First! Chaykin was freer to delve into the mindset of the Cold War, sending Cap behind the Iron Curtain with his World War II ally Nick Fury in search of spies, saboteurs, and fifth columnists. Chaykin acknowledges the continuity and this is the first meeting between Burnside and Fury, now a CIA agent.

The 1950s stories are curiosities and a snapshot of the times. You can see flashes of Romita’s signature style and it’s always a pleasure to watch Chaykin mine the past.

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