And in 1976, we were in the middle of a Presidential race between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Yes, it was a case of the bland leading the bland.
Still, 200 years as a country was still something we really needed to work ourselves out of the doldrums and celebrate. And in the world of comic books, Marvel and DC put out a couple of specials to commemorate the big event.
In the mid-1970's, Marvel and DC began releasing oversized comics in a format known as tabloid editions. The page dimensions were more than double that of a normal comic book, selling at a significantly higher price point than regular comics. These tabloids could be found away from the spinner rack and in with the more respectable magazines like Hot Rod and True Detective.
To celebrate America's 200th anniversary, Marvel and DC each released a tabloid book. Marvel's entry was a spectacular adventure starring the most patriotic super hero in comics, Captain America, in a story written and drawn by his co-creator, Jack Kirby.
With inks by Barry Windsor-Smith, Herb Trimpe and John Romita Sr., this 80 page tabloid sized comic featured an all new epic tale of Captain America bouncing around in time for key moments in American history. Kirby was just back from his sojourn at DC where he created the New Gods, Mister Miracle, Forever People, The Demon, OMAC, Kamandi and more. Kirby's imagination was off the hook at this point in his career and when he returned to Marvel to write and draw Captain America, his unique gonzo style of storytelling was cranked up to eleven. And that was no more evident than in Captain America's Bicentennial Battles. Here's some of what happens over the course of this special.
- Captain America visits a Mr. Buda on America's Bicentennial who offers Cap an opportunity to view America with a universal eye.
- Cap falls through a trap door and lands in Nazi Germany where he discovers Bucky being tortured by Hitler and the Red Skull.
- Cap is transported to Philadelphia in the 1770's where he meets Benjamin Franklin, who designs the American flag after Cap's uniform.
- Cap fights gangsters in New York during The Great Depression.
- Cap fights Apaches but gains the respect of their leader Geronimo with his wisdom.
- Cap gets in a boxing match with John L. Sullivan,
- Cap frees a slave from bounty hunters.
- Cap appears at Almagordo to witness the first atomic bomb test.
- Cap rescues people during the great Chicago fire.
- Cap witnesses a battle on the moon.
- It all ends with Cap surrounded by children and he tells them that they can grow up to be anything they want.
It may have been a whacked out fever dream of Kirby sized proportions but at least Marvel gave the readers on the inside what was promised on the outside. DC's entry was a bit less forthcoming.
If you were expecting something similar to Marvel's project from DC's Bicentennial offering, you might be a bit disappointed. There's a classic Fred Ray illustrated cover of Superman and the issue opens with some new pages of the Man of Steel drawn by definitive Superman artist Curt Swan but that's about it for Superman. The rest of the book is composed of reprints featuring a classic DC character set in the days of the American Revolution, Tomahawk; these stories were from the 1950's and were illustrated by Fred Ray. Ray gets the spotlight in this edition with a biography of the artist and 13 page sequence illustrated by Ray about the story of Valley Forge. Despite some fanciful liberties taken (as one would expect to find in a comic book), the Tomahawk stories do tie in to some actual points of early American history. Still, this issue is regarded poorly because it is a cheat to put Superman on the cover and then hardly deliver on the Man of Steel. Marvel's contribution may have been weird in the extreme but hell, they promised Captain America on the cover and Jack Kirby delivered Captain America.
So to my fellow Americans, a happy 4th of July to you and yours. Remember that we may not be perfect but we are a pretty awesome country.
Thank you and be good to one another.