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
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Uncredited
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.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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13 Comments

  1. September 11, 2011 at 11:34 pm — Reply

    I guess the most recent would be Spider-Man’s The Other. I was also fond of that run on Firestorm where he was an elemental and Ronnie Raymond and that russian guy were stuck inside him. I loved the whole Wally West vs Vandal Savage arc. I don’t know the name of the arc, but I like the one where the X-men (Team Blue) are brainwashed to fight for the acolytes and Team gold has to save them. And the whole Academy X arc was cool unlit House of M took it all way.

    When stuff like this happens, I can accept it as long as you don’t take a deuce on what I cared about. If you don’t castrate the character or turn a supporting character suddenly into a a-hole or a moron then I’m fine.

  2. MarkW
    September 12, 2011 at 6:43 am — Reply

    Great retro review, Matthew. I love Everett 50’s Subby run, just great artwork throughout. And that whole 50’s heroes revival is interesting just to see Lee & Co. try and rework Timely’s jingoistic WW2 style for the Cold War.

  3. September 12, 2011 at 8:44 am — Reply

    I intend to insert the word ‘radioactivate’ into conversation as often as possible from here on out.

    It used to bug the hell out of me when stuff got retconned away or shoehorned in to make a current stories ‘work’, but I’m much older now and understand that shared universe comics will ALWAYS suffer the crushing heartbreak of continuity conflicts. Crappy retcons don’t really ruin older stories that you loved, it just alters their context in light of current events.

  4. MarkW
    September 12, 2011 at 9:17 am — Reply

    It honestly doesn’t bother me when my favorite stories or runs are retconned or taken out of continuity. It doesn’t change the story itself. Byrne’s and Morrison’s reboots of Superman don’t make Superman #149 or Action Comics #242 or Action Comics #13 any less awesome.

    And when you think of it, almost every older Marvel comic has been rendered out-of-continuity due to the sliding time scale. Those great 60’s Kirby and Steranko Captain America issues are just as much out-of-continuity as the 50’s stuff is, due to the fact that in current continuity Steve Rogers spent the 60’s frozen in ice.

  5. Kevin Madison
    September 12, 2011 at 11:09 am — Reply

    “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?”

    This doesn’t quite answer your question, but one story that I loved that is now out of continuity is one that seemed to have been made better by the impending threat of continuity change. That story was in the last issue of Legion of Super-Heroes before Zero Hour rebooted things (Google tells me it was issue #61). I wasn’t really following the Legion at that time (at that time, the last issue I had read was the LSV attack on the Legion, when Lightning Lass got her powers back), but I still loved the Legion for nostalgic reasons. While Zero Hour itself was a bit of mess, I really enjoyed that single issue and I still love the image from the end, where the founding trio fade into white together yelling “Long Live the Legion”.

  6. September 12, 2011 at 12:21 pm — Reply

    I don’t know. It’s complicated. Here’s the thing. I love character arcs. Some of my favorite novelists, short story writers, screenwriters, and comics writers are people who can write how events impact people.

    So when those events go away or are significantly changed…it should change the character, right? I mean, I was kind of upset for awhile that Son of The Demon was deemed out of continuity, because I thought it was a great story that would have had significant impact on the character of Bruce Wayne. Then, suddenly, it was IN continuity. Now…who knows?

    Still, I recognize that some stories call for actual conclusions, and in comic books, that is kind of anathema. When you conclude something, it may leave little for the NEXT guy on the book.

    Anyway, I guess short answer is yes, it bothers me, but I’ll get over it.

  7. September 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm — Reply

    With that in mind, I felt that I could recommend some more 1953-60 forgotten revival issues of Golden Age heroes for future ‘Retro Reviews’:
    *Zip-Jet #1 (St. John; February 1953; The Golden Age Rocketman returns under a new name!)
    *Space Advetures #13 (Starring the Blue Beetle; Charlton; November 1954; Charlton’s first shot at the Blue Beetle!)
    *Danger and Adventure #22 (Starring Ibis The Invincible; Charlton; February 1955; Charlton tries again to capture gold with Fawcett’s Ibis the Invincible… and cans him after just one issue!)
    *Zoo Funnies #8 (Starring Nyoka the Jungle Girl; Charlton; November !954; For some reason, Charlton changed Nyoka’s look at least on the covers at first under the impression that women with brown hair would not appeal to readers when BLONDES are IN!)
    *Black Cobra #1 (Ajax; November 1954)
    *Phantom Lady #5 (#1; Ajax; January 1955; Trying to cover up a comics sex symbol for the coming of the comics code!)
    *The Flame #5 (#1; Ajax; January 1955; All-New All-Different!)
    *Samson #12 (Ajax; August 1955; Ditto)
    *Terrific Comics #16 (Starring Wonder Boy; Ajax; March 1955; He is back)
    *Thrills of Tomorrow #19 (Starring Stuntman; Harvey; February 1955; Simon and Kirby greatness!)
    *Black Cat Western Mystery #54 (Starring Black Cat; Harvey; February 1955; Return of cheesecake!)
    *Double Life of Private Strong #1 (Starring the Shield; Archie; June 1959; Simon and Kirby try to inject new life into the Shield!)

    What do you think?

    J.A.P.

    • September 13, 2011 at 7:04 pm — Reply

      I think I only own about half of those, and Black Cat Western is murder to find…

      • September 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm — Reply

        But DO YOU THINK those issues are worthy enough for a Retro Review somewhere around the line?

        (And WHICH ONES DO YOU ACTUALLY OWN?)

        Jeremy.

        • September 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm — Reply

          Virtually anything that I have read, can read or have the possibility of getting is worthy of Retro Review. Even the stinky ones… :)

          *Zip-Jet #1 — I got this one from an antique store in Hays, Kansas, along with a stack of Holyoke Catman.
          *Space Adventures #13 – My Silver Age Blue Beetle collection is damn near complete, including this one.
          *Danger and Adventure #22 – Even *I* hadn’t heard of this one, but I’m going to start looking for it.
          *Zoo Funnies #8 – I don’t have this, though I think I have an AC Comics reprint thereof…
          *Black Cobra #1 – I don’t have this one…
          *Phantom Lady #5 – My copy is coverless, picked up at some con or other in a grab bag…
          *The Flame #5 – This one I don’t have, but if it’s the same The Flame that I think it is, I always liked his costume… :)
          *Samson #12 – Nope.
          *Terrific Comics #16 – Is this the one where Wonderboy and Young Nastyman join forces and form a band, the likes of which have never been seen? No? Okay, I don’t have it.
          *Thrills of Tomorrow #19 – Got a rather nice copy of this, actually, and I’m rather proud of it.
          *Black Cat Western Mystery #54 – Another coverless, but still awesome, issue.
          *Double Life of Private Strong #1 – Archie Heroes are one of my fave-raves. I cut my teeth on the !mpact universe, and went looking for these, the Blue Ribbon relaunch of the 60’s, and even Pureheart the Powerful.

        • September 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm — Reply

          I’m also trying desperately to find a decent copy of ‘Harvey Hits #12’ (I think) which features a Jack Kirby illustrated ‘Phantom’ tale…

        • September 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm — Reply

          And a Prize Comics #24, the first super-team ever in the history of the universe!

  8. Jeremy Aron Patterson.
    March 11, 2012 at 12:44 am — Reply

    Well, Valiant is reviving its universe AGAIN this May with a summer of all-new versions of four of their most popular series: X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, and Archer and Armstrong.

    It looks like these are going to be updated revamps of the original versions. Valiant is trying for some of their hits from the Valiant Universe’s first two years: Don’t expect to see ‘Troublemakers’ or ‘Quantum and Woody’ to show up anytime soon.

    The four books of the NEW Valiant’s launch have actually been the subjects of revamps before, as seen below:

    *X-O Manowar Volume 2 #1 (February 1997; I am surprised that the guys running Valiant Entertainment had similar ideas to Fabian Nicieza’s stint as editor-in-chief: Both felt that X-O Manowar should be Valiant’s flagship title. The ‘VH2’ version of X-O was deemed worthy of that position due to having MARK WAID as its writer, because of his ‘HOT WRITER’ status at the time!)

    * Bloodshot Volume 2 #1 (July 1997; Len Kaminski’s revamp of a series that was admittedly ‘So Bad It’s Good’ [The original series] clearly made a little to dark for some fans!)

    *Eternal Warriors: Archer and Armstrong #1 (1998; The odd couple of Valiant headline their own one-shot!)

    Harbinger actually had TWO revamps to its name:
    *The New Harbingers #26 (February 1994; Even the original Valiant Universe had retooled some of their books, with some success [Bob Hall’s Shadowman, John Ostrander’s Magnus, Rai, and Eternal Warrior, and Dan Jurgen’s Solar]. The classic Harbinger series ended with a epic battle between Sting and Harada in issue #25. However, Valiant decided to keep Harbinger and gave it a new direction: We now have the misadventures of Faith ‘Zephyr’ Herbert [The requisite holdover from the old regime] and a team of delinquints in a school for Harbingers. They essentially turned Harbinger into a superhero version of ‘Welcome Back Kotter’! This ‘new direction’ lasted only sixteen issues, making it even more short-lived than both the ‘New Defenders’ AND Justice League Detroit!

    *Harbinger: Acts of God #1 (1998; Many people asked for a Harbinger revamp for the updated VH2 universe [Due to the original series being quite good], and this one-shot was the result! This VH2 version of Harbinger did show up in an issue of Troublemakers before disappearing!)

    What do you guys think?

    Jeremy.

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