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Captain America and the First Thirteen (one-shot)

Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011
By: Danny Djeljosevic

Kathryn Immonen, Stan Lee
Ramon Perez, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Frank Ray (i)
Marvel
The one good thing about Captain America being of two eras (besides the “man out of time” storytelling possibilities) is that you essentially have double the stories to tell. Considering the upcoming film, I’m surprised Marvel hasn’t yet announced a high-profile The Adjective Captain America book following Cap’s adventures in the war effort to attract any new readers who would be confused as to why Captain America exists in the year 2011 and is Bucky Barnes. It could be like Sgt. Rock -- you could tell stories about Captain America kicking Nazis for years. Maybe I’m speaking too soon, but either way, Kathryn Immonen and Ramon Perez’s Captain America and the First Thirteen makes a great case for why that would totally work.

Captain America and the First Thirteen is part of a series of one-shots, starting with last week’s Captain America and Falcon, coming out as part of Captain America’s 70th anniversary (and, y’know, to coincide with the impending film), which seem to span Cap’s entire career, from punching Crossbones and Batroc the Leaper to palling around with the Secret Avengers and Falcon. This one seems like the only one taking place during World War II, so it’s got that going for it, among a few other things.

A good war comic provides a difficult scenario for our heroes to squeeze out of, and this is it: while working with the French Resistance and retrieving a Japanese “thermal ray” from an undercover agent posing as a Nazi, Cap socks his comrade in the face in the midst of an ambush to “[make] it look good for the cameras.” So now he’s gotta sneak behind enemy lines and get his friend (who desperately needs surgery) and the plans for the thermal ray on a plane to safer territory.

Immonen frames this conflict within Cap’s relationship with Peggy Carter, aunt of modern-day love interest Sharon Carter, a.k.a. Agent 13 (hence the “First Thirteen” bit in the title), and this element offers her the chance to inject some personality in the proceedings. Especially great is her characterization of Captain America -- usually he has the personality of a flagpole when he’s not a brooding, time-lost relic, but here Immonen writes him as headstrong, overconfident and just a little Denny Colt-style girl-crazy, but also charismatic. When Carter chastises Cap for needlessly punching their undercover guy in the face, he boasts: “Listen sweetheart, I’m American! This is how we fight for America! Even when I’m in France!” It’s a bit like somebody took Mark Millar’s Ultimates Cap and dialed back the cultural chauvinism while cranking up the likability.

In other words, Kathryn Immonen makes Captain America fun. And she writes some great moments in this comic. Carter poses as an old lady to reach a resistance safehouse. A pair of resistance guys test the thermal ray by watching Cap and Carter make out. And then there’s Cap being a total horndog. I’d totally read an ongoing of this.

And luckily we have Ramon Perez drawing the thing, as he’s great at depicting wartime action scenes and the lighthearted one. Just look to how he draws Captain America himself: straight-faced man of action during the former and grinning goof during the latter ones, and never does it feel off or inappropriate. John Rauch’s colors give everything an appropriately dark, earthy look, which makes for great contrast with the back-up story.

The final ten pages are a reprint of “If a Hostage Should Die!” which comes from a 1966 issue of Tales of Suspense, following Steve Rogers as he flashes back to the days of the French Resistance and the unnamed fighter (presumably Peggy Carter) who gets captured by the Germans just before Cap liberates France by punching every goddamn Ratzi in sight. It is, for lack of a better term, a romp.

It is also a story from the ‘60s. Here, Carter’s essentially a damsel in distress, meant to pine over Captain America and then get rescued. It really makes you appreciate the capable, charming Peggy Carter of Immonen’s story. Also, that version has a beret, while the Kirby/Romita version does not. Additionally, the fact that Cap in this story had been frozen in a block of ice for less than 20 years doesn’t seem so bad compared to today’s Cap, who’s more likely been out of commission for closer to 50 years. Advantage: 2011.

And, speaking of Millar, remember that scene from The Ultimates where Cap gets all of Afghanistan to surrender just by delivering a loud, threatening speech and how hilariously preposterous it was? Well, here we find the roots for that: every time Captain America dispatches a group of Nazis, they immediately swear off Hitler as if broken from a spell. “What fools we were to believe Der Führer!” Hilarious.

As much as I goof on this story, it’s a ton of fun and shows off the differences between modern-day comic storytelling and the storytelling of the “Marvel Age of Comics.” Besides the use of prose-y narrative captions, there are sound effects everywhere, practically filling some panels with BEEOINNGs and BWANNNGs. Then there’s the lack of sensible fight choreography. Instead of depicting every single movement of a fight scene, you have one panel of cap kicking over a group of soldiers like bowling pins and then, in the next panel, hitting a dude with his shield while kicking two other dudes with both legs. Crazy shit.

The highlight of this issue -- besides, y’know, the kicking -- is the recoloring job by Michael Kelleher and Kellustration, which eschews modern flourishes in favor of a bright, basic color palette. Cap’s costume is blue and is always the same shade of blue all around -- Frank Ray’s inks take care of any shadows. I’m normally very wary of recoloring old comics, but this one keeps in with the spirit of ‘60s comic coloring. This feels like how the original comics must have looked to kids back then.

It’s easy to see these one-shots getting ignored, which is a shame because Captain America and the First Thirteen is solid, fun superhero comics, and a good amount of content (35 pages) for its $3.99 price tag, especially considering how many of Marvel’s ongoing, multi-part, 22-page issues cost the same price. I didn’t even know it was coming out until I checked this week’s releases, but now I’m set on picking up a few of the other Captain America and... one-shots coming out this month.



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