The Golden Age of Captain America, A Brief Return

Young Men #24 (December 1953) “Back from the Dead”, pencils by John Romita

The popularity of superheroes declined after World War II to the extent that only a handful remained by the end of the 40’s. However true peace did not follow the defeat of the Axis powers, at least not for long. The Communist took control over China, the United States became involved in the Korean War, and domestic politicians claimed that Communists had infiltrated society and government. If superheroes were popular in the last war it was reasonable that they might once again sell comics now that the Cold War had begun. At least that was probably the logic behind the return of the big three; the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America. All three heroes returned in separate stories in Young Men #24 (December 1953). “Back from the Dead” was drawn by a young John Romita. John Romita would end up drawing all the Captain America art for this revival with a single exception.

Young Men #25 (February 1954) “Top Secret”, pencils by John Romita

Romita’s art may seem crude compared to the work he did later in his productive life but his art was a cut above that which appeared toward the end of the first run of Captain America Comics. The art that Romita did for the relaunched Captain America is packed with energy. I am sure this was a labor of love. Simon and Kirby would release their own version of a patriotic hero called Fighting American but the timing is such that I doubt Romita saw it while he was still working on Captain America. Considering his age it is likely that Romita had not seen Simon and Kirby’s original take on Captain America either. But clearly Romita was familiar with the earlier run of Captain America. Romita often extended figures beyond the panel border a technique that can be traced back to Simon and Kirby but also used by subsequent Captain America artists Al Avison and Syd Shores. Romita also strove to give his figures a deep dimension another characteristic found in Kirby, Avison and Shores.

Young Men #27 (April 1954) “The Return of the Red Skull”, pencils by John Romita

The Red Skull returned as well, he clearly was too good a villain to let languish in hell. Of course after the defeat of the Axis powers he no longer served fascism. Nor was he a Communist. Rather he was a criminal quite willing to sell secrets to Communist powers.

Captain America #76 (May 1954)<, art by unidentified artist

Months after their reappearance each of the big three heroes got their own titles. Normally I would interpret this as an indication of good sales but considering how short the entire run of the relaunched heroes was I rather suspect it was a pre-planned roll out.

The cover art for the first new issue of the Captain American was the only Cap art from this run not executed by John Romita. I cannot say who did it but it is quite possible more than one artist was involved. There seems to be a distinct stylistic difference between Captain America and Bucky compared to the rest of the figures. This might be considered intentional if it was just criminals that had the rougher look but the policemen received the same treatment.

Captain America #76 (May 1954) “Captain America Strikes”, pencils by John Romita

It maybe hard for the younger readers to understand how threatening Communism seemed in the 50’s. With Eastern Europe falling under Soviet domination after the war and the Red takeover of China, Communism seemed to many to be steadily expanding. Captain America appeared perfectly suited to be the hero to combat such an evil. That certainly was the approach often taken in the relaunched Captain America comics.

Note that Steve Rogers, Captain America’s alter ego, was depicted above as belonging to the Army. However in Young Men #24 (December 1953) he was presented as a teacher which was the position he had at the end of the last Captain America run. I am not sure if they ever explained the transition back to the military. I suspect they did not since continuity was not a large concern during the golden age.

Captain America #77 (July 1954) “You Die at Midnight”, pencils by John Romita

Most of the Captain America splashes in Young Men or Men’s Adventure this period only used two thirds of the page but in Captain America Comics the full page was used although story panels were included in the corner. Romita made good use of the extra space. Again Romita’s art was not yet as good as that previously done by Avison or Shores but they still are rather nice splashes.

Captain America #78 (September 1954) “The Green Dragon”, pencils by John Romita

Probably the penciling and inking was separate jobs done assigned to different artists (most likely by Stan Lee). This was a very different arrangement from that found in Simon and Kirby productions. I do not know what inkers worked on Romita’s Captain America but I think they did a good job. At least the care taken for the inking seems to match the effort on the pencils.

Captain America #78 (September 1954) “His Touch is Death”, pencils by John Romita

In my last chapter about the previous run of Captain America I commented that while it now seems obvious that superheroes need super villains that logic was largely ignored during the golden age. This second run of Captain America repeated this error and only in the last issue is a super villain presented. Actually the quality of the stories themselves war inferior during this second run of Captain America.

3 thoughts on “The Golden Age of Captain America, A Brief Return

  1. John S.

    Actually, John Romita was acutely aware of Simon & Kirby’s work on Cap, as he has mentioned in a number of interviews. He was born in 1930, and so would have been eleven years old when Captain America Comics debuted — just the right age to grab it straight off the newsstand.

    There were only a few of these stories that weren’t inked by Romita himself, including two in issue 76 that were inked by Jack Abel. And speaking of issue 76, Romita credits that cover to Carl Burgos (who was doing a lot of Stan Lee’s covers at the time), with the Cap and Bucky figures possibly finished by artist Mort Lawrence, who also drew the two-thirds splash panel for “Back from the Dead!” — probably because Stan was unhappy with Romita’s original panel.

    For more info on Romita’s Cap run in the fifties, check out the excellent TwoMorrows book, John Romita…And All That Jazz! Lots of great reminiscences in there from a dynamite artist who lived through so much of the industry’s history.

  2. Nick Caputo

    I agree with John S. on almost all counts. Mort Laurence Cap and Bucky figures, Burgos backgrounds on Cap 76 cover. Stan had quite a few of the splashes touched up, most likely the Red Skull figure in “The Return of the Red Skull” and the Cap and some other figures in the top tier of “You Die at Midnight”. I’m unsure of who altered the Skull, but Cap and background figures look like input by Sol Brodsky.

  3. Lou Mougin

    In CAPTAIN AMERICA #76, on pg. 2, panel 4 of “The Betrayers”, Cap notes that “there’s a war going on…a war of spies! We’re going to join in on that war…as soldiers in the army!” A panel later, Steve and Bucky are back in the army, under Sgt. Shanty Trucks’s supervision. Hope that explains things.

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