The 5 Captain America Comics You Should Own (or at least read)

Posted: July 28, 2011 in comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , ,

Whenever a superhero movie comes out, both regular bookstores (remember those?) and comic shops tend to stock up on paperback collections of the featured characters.

But this can be daunting because Marvel and DC tend to go apeshit with their trade paperback publishing, flooding the market with everything they can gather.

Go type “Captain America” into Amazon’s search engine and you’re likely to be overwhelmed with titles, but never fear. As a long, long-time Cap fan, I can tell you the five best books to pick up: 

1)      Operation Rebirth by Mark Waid and Ron Garney. At the height of the 1990’s, superhero comics kinda sucked. Captain America REALLY sucked, as longtime writer Mark Gruenwald got wrapped up in the trends at the time and we got stuff like “Werewolf Cap” and “Dying, Armored Cap.” Waid and Garney came in and found the core of what makes great Cap stories – faced-paced action, world-trembling threats, weird villains, and the battle between idealism and cynicism, waged in this case as the quarrel between Cap and his ex-girlfriend Agent 13. (Follow-up: Waid’s second run on Cap, which wasn’t as well-received but still nails the character, particularly in the flashback Sentinel of Liberty collection.)

2)      War and Remembrance by John Byrne and Roger Stern. The quintessential Captain America as a Superhero stories – fun, dynamic one- and two-part fights against vampires, Mr. Hyde, Batroc the Leaper (who NEEDS to be in the Cap sequel!), along with a fine answer to the question, “Should Cap run for president?”

3)       Jack Kirby Omnibus. Cap’s creator came back to the book in the 70’s, after Steve Englehart took the idea of a disillusioned hero as far as he could go. Kirby’s response to the post-Watergate seriousness was to go completely gonzo, with insanity-inducing bombs, decadent secret societies and, yes, murder-roller-derby. Every page has like 5 wonderful, wild ideas that make Kirby’s Cap a blast.

4)     The Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. After 9/11, Marvel had a tough time of figuring out how best to play their patriotic hero, and Brubaker found the right tone: 24-style action/espionage tales that laid the foundation for an epic story that brought back the specter of Cap’s greatest failure: the death of his WWII partner, Bucky. (Follow-up: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s still-ongoing run, where you get to see Bucky take up the mantel of Captain America.)

5)      The Captain by Mark Gruenwald and M.D. Bright. This mid-80’s story falls into the time-capsule mode of Cap stories that attempt to comment on the political tenor of the times, as Steve Rogers is replaced by a more violent, right-wing Reagan-era successor. But worth reading, particularly since this was my first experience with Cap in the comics and it remains an indelible part of his story to me. (Follow-up: The Bloodstone Hunt, which introduces Crossbones, the Red Skull’s mean-ass right-hand-man.)

Any others I missed?

  1. Angriestgeek says:

    Nothing Gruenwald wrote is more significant than the work of Steve Englehart’s Secret Empire/Nomad days where Cap becomes disillusioned by the Nixon Administration. And Mark Waid over Jim Steranko? Are you joking?

  2. AyAitch says:

    Something that’s worth mentioning — even if it isn’t exactly a full-fledged story line or anything — was the Captain America: Red, White, and Blue collection that came out around the time he died. Many of the stories were only about the Cap tangentially, but they all did a great job capturing who the man was (is) and what he stood for. I think the appropriate term is Adaptation Distillation.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    “Are you joking?”


  4. […] generally enjoy doing a little comics primer for whatever character‘s currently popping up on the screen, and I really wanted to do one for Avengers, but there’s one problem: An image […]

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