Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty by Stan Lee
In the late 1970s Fireside Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, published collections of reprinted comic book stories that are now widely considered to be the first trade paperbacks. The books featured a selection of stories featuring Marvel Comics characters with introductions and commentaries by original story author Stan Lee. These books proved such a success that 11 volumes saw print – Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty by Stan Lee was the last of these reprint collections and was published in 1979.
Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty runs to 132 pages and reprints eight classic stories:
“The Origin of Captain America”, originally published in Tales of Suspense issue #63 (March 1965); “Captain America foils the Traitor’s Revenge”, Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941); “Captain America joins… The Avengers!”, The Avengers #4 (March 1964); “Captain America”, Tales of Suspense #59 (November 1964); “The Red Skull Lives!”, Tales of Suspense #79 (July 1966); “Who holds the Cosmic Cube”, Tales of Suspense #80 (August 1966); “The Red Skull Supreme!”, Tales of Suspense #81 (September 1966); “No Longer Alone!”, Captain America #110 (February 1969) and “The Sting of The Scorpion!“, Captain America #122 (February 1970).
Although this collection was the last of the Marvel/Fireside reprint collections it is by no means the weakest – far from it, for me it’s one of the strongest entries in the series with the stories representing a solid selection of Cap’s adventures drawn by three of Marvel’s most talented artists. First off is a retelling of the character’s origin from 1965 – according to Lee’s introduction the original story from 1941 was unavailable for reproduction so this version has been included instead (although a cynic might well point out that including the original 1941 story would rob Lee of his sole author credit to this book). There’s also the character’s first appearance in the modern Marvel Universe with the inclusion of The Avenger’s issue #4 where Cap’s frozen body is found by the team of heroes who awaken him from suspended animation. The classic Cosmic Cube three parter is also included and not only is it a great story but the introduction of the Cube would have far reaching implications for the character, so-much-so that it played an integral part in the Captain America: The First Avenger movie from 2011. The story also first introduced readers to another mainstay of the Marvel Universe: AIM, future enemies of Cap and SHIELD. All of these stories were drawn by Jack Kirby (who with Joe Simon created the character in the early Forties) and he clearly feels affection for the character and this collection features some of his best work.
Also included in the collection is a Jim Steranko penciled story from 1969. The hugely popular Steranko does a good job here in a story where Cap first faces off against The Hulk before battling Hydra. The story may not have all the trademark visual flair and design that the artist would bring to bear on his Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD stories, but it’s an action packed story to which he brings his usual eye for dynamism.
The book ends with a somewhat contemplative story as a emotionally troubled Steve Rogers questions his role in a society he believes has out grown Captain America. Drawn by veteran Marvel artist Gene Colan the beginning six page sequence has an almost dream-like quality that perfectly reflects the somber mood of the character. Lee doesn’t let the character navel-gaze for too long though before pitching him against The Scorpion in an battle to rescue Sharon Carter, future love interest for the hero.
An added bonus in this volume is a two page text story that originally saw print in Captain America Comics in 1941 and is notable for being the first published work by a young Stan Lee. Clearly included for sentimental reasons it’s still an interesting read especially when you consider how far he’s come from such humble beginnings.
As with the other collections in this series Lee introduces the book and writes commentaries to the stories recognising the contributions made by the artists. The book is also dedicated to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, which is only fitting. Finally in his Epilogue Lee excitedly announces the imminent arrival of a Captain America TV series which never materialised – although that’s probably just as well if the planned series was anything as dreadful as the Captain America movie released in 1979.
Lastly, the cover features a painting by another Marvel veteran, Dave Cockrum. It’s not a bad cover and Cap does look suitably patriotic but it doesn’t quite work for me – Cap looks a bit bow-legged and his waist is a little too small. It’s an OK cover but not the strongest entry in the series.
Although Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty was the last collection of reprinted Marvel Comics material published by Fireside Books it wasn’t the last collaboration between the publishers. 1978 saw the publication of The Silver Surfer: The Ultimate Cosmic Experience, a 99 page original story by Lee and Kirby written and illustrated specially to be printed in book form – one of the first Graphic Novels. I’ll be looking at that book in more detail next.
Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty
Published by Fireside Books, October 1979, 132 pages
Hardcover: ISBN 0-671-25231-3
Softcover: ISBN 978-0671252328