Or – “Believe It Or Not, Relaunches Are Nothing New…”
With the beginnings of the New 52 in stores, internet wags have already sounded the death knell for DC and for comics in general, and there are some who cite restarts/relaunches/reboots and such as the work of Mephisto. The truth, Faithful Spoilerites, is that relaunches have always been the way of the comic book world, dating back to the earliest days of cheap newsprint. Case in point: Captain America – Commie Smasher!
YOUNG MEN #24
Writer: Uncredited (Stan Lee?)
Penciller(s): Carl Burgos/Russ Heath/John Romita/Bill Everett
Inker(s): Carl Burgos/Russ Heath/John Romita/Bill Everett
Cover Artist: Dick Ayers & Carl Burgos
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Atlas Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents (Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4000)
Previously, on Young Men: There are a lot of things in comics that kind of irk me, but among the top tier is Marvel Comics’ current editorial thought process that they’ve been around for 70-odd years. Though a couple of their characters date back to the dawn of comics, Marvel Comics as an entity has been around since the mid-to-late fifties, and much of the universe building retro-continuity is just absorbing old stories into their current publishing mentality. Marvel as we know it began in 1961, and there’s not a thing wrong with that, and if you pay attention to the history books, you’ll find that the primary publishing strategy that founder Martin Goodman employed back in the day was “Steal what sells, fly by night, and hope that nobody notices.” As the superhero star began getting eclipsed in 1949, Marvel’s heroes pretty much all fell by the wayside. A few years later, in the dawn of what would become the Silver Age, other publishers started cautiously putting out superhero titles again, and thus did Atlas Comics follow, sending up a trial balloon that relaunched their three most popular characters, starting with the android Human Torch…
The first superhero put out by the proto-Marvel was also (arguably) the best, and certainly the most popular, thanks partly due to the amazing art of creator Carl Burgos. I’m quite bemused to see that Burgos only drew the splash page of this issue, leading into a story drawn by a young Russ Heath, using the bait-and-switch-different-cover-artist trick years before it became commonplace. As for the Torch, he’s back and more powerful than ever, resistant to asbestos and “Solution X-R”, the chemical formula that used to dampen his flames. What has led to this increase in (you should excuse the expression) firepower?
Quoth Denis Leary: “TWO WORDS: NUCLEAR #&$@ING WEAPONS!” A newly atomic-powered torch (which cannot be safe, by the way) is thrown into battle against Communist spies who have commandeered his former partner Torch, but H.T. quickly overpowers his partner, saves his missing girlfriend, and ends his story ready to return to action against crime. And the Human Torch doesn’t fly off to “Frakistan” or “Plartclobbia,” either, but flies straight into the front lines of the Korean War! As for the Living Weapon of World War II, we open our Captain America tale with an all-out battle against the Red Skull, a battle which turns out to be nothing more than an orientation film for a new batch of Red Skull henchmen. (Shades of the Monarch…)
Fans of the Steve Englehart Captain America run of the 70’s may recognize this setup as the backstory for the SECOND Captain America, a man who recently appeared against James Barnes as Cap, a patriotic professor who volunteered to be the new Cap after the old one disappeared. (The irony of retcons is that, eventually, we found out about no less than THREE other war era Caps, Isaiah Bradley, Jeff Mace and William Naslund, who predated this man, William Burnside.) After giving a history lesson that consisted of nothing but classified wartime information, Steve then sends his class out to bully one another and presumably smoke rope, build zip-guns and hash pipes…
I find it odd that Bucky seemingly hasn’t aged at all in the 12 years since he and Cap started fighting Nazis in 1941, which even in comic book terms should have been a noticeable plot hole. This is later retconned as the first appearance of Jack Monroe, later to become Nomad and star in his own grim-and-gritty 90’s series wherein he wore a baby on his back while getting shot at by gangs of thugs. So, his poor decision-making skills are in evidence even from his very first appearance, which is admittedly more consistent than most comic characters get. It’s actually inspiring to see how closely Englehart read this and subsequent issues of the books, taking notice of the changes to Cap’s shield (the outer stripe is white) and the fact that this Captain America’s waist-stripes don’t go all the way around like the original’s do.
Of course, all of that is retconnery (not to be confused with Sean Connery), as at this point in time, this is meant to be the “real” Captain America back in action. Cap and Bucky cross swords with the now-apparently-Communist-leaning Red Skull, and their return to action convinces the other kids in class that Captain America is the bee’s knees, or whatever 50’s slang would be for “good.” (Chachi Arcola used to say “Wah wah wah,” but I think that only applies to hot girls…) And as for Prince Namor, well, he gets the best treatment of all, a return to action handled by his original creator, writer/artist Bill Everett, who is working at the peak of his powers. A mysterious force begins sinking cargo ships around the world, leaving Namor’s old flame Betty Dean to make a fateful phone call…
Everett just draws the holy HELL out of this story, as Betty and her roomie are as close to sexy as one can get in a fifties funny book, and Prince Namor himself is revealed to have turned from anti-hero to all-American-Atlantean golden boy, complete with the stylish pinstripe suit that Colonel Henry Blake always wanted…
“Wheeee!” Heh. Subby and Betty discover a hoard of Communist robots (you can tell, because they’re painted red) led by… an alien… from Venus. The Sub-Mariner beats them all senseless, and takes the Venusian’s mechanical leader hostage, only to have the creature get killed by remote control. To add insult to injury, the American authorities don’t believe their wild tale of underwater alien robot armies in the Marianas trench…
I can’t believe how the FBI responds here. After all, this can’t be the first time that a girl calls her Atlantean boyfriend who flies with wings on his ankles out of retirement after he helped win the war in a speedo, only to find that Communist robots from planet Venus are pirating cargo ships and stripping them of their radio components so that they can take over the world… (Cue awkward look at the camera.) Still, Everett’s wild tale isn’t much more ridiculous in hindsight than the Cap and Torch tales’ insistence that evil spies out to undermine America hid in every nook and cranny, or that an atomic explosion would make a plastic robot more powerful rather than making him a pile of radioactive slag. This heroic revival would be short lived for Marvel (Young Men ran for four or five more issues, while Captain America’s own book was revived for a three-issue spell) and Captain America and company went back into suspended animation until the Marvel Age really began, not quite a decade later.
Sometimes books like this end up being only interesting in hindsight, for their place in history, but this one was actually quality work, featuring future Marvel legend John Romita as well as the aforementioned Burgos and Everett, and the stories (while a little bit on the two-dimensional side) are fun affairs in which I strongly suspect the input of editor Stan Lee. They were also ahead of their time, as the debut of the The Flash and the real start of the Silver Age was less than a year away. Young Men #24 is a fun old-school read, with some fun bits of 20/20 hindsight and some really stellar art throughout, earning a red-white-and-blue-but-easy-on-the-red 4 out of 5 stars overall.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: How do you respond when you hear that your favorites stories have been changed, retconned or “never happened” in continuity? What no-longer-in-continuity tales are your favorites?