Hello and welcome to another edition of Ye Olde School Café! This time around I’ll be showcasing another incredible offering from the unbridled imagination of Jack ‘King’ Kirby! In the trade paperback Bicentennial Battles, Jack Kirby had recently returned to Marvel (after creating his Fourth World material, Kamandi, and others), and gave the world some of the absolutely wildest stories the Marvel Universe had ever seen. Or ever will.
With talents like Herbe Trimpe, ‘Jazzy’ John Romita Sr., ‘Jumbo’ John Verpoorten, Frank Giacoia, and Bob Smith inking Jack’s work, you get some of the most mind-blowing artwork ever by Kirby. Add in John Costanza, Jim Novak, George Roussos, and more, and you get a book full of awesomeness. The book collects Captain America #201-205 (1976/77). Let’s dive in!
In the beginning of this trade, Cap meets the enigmatic Mister Buda. This kooky figure sits inside some kind of time-travel device shaped like a pyramid. While inside, he can traverse to any location in time/space. He returns from somewhere/when, and Cap confronts him. Mister Buda convinces Cap to take a journey through the veil of time, to seek out those in need. Cap’s first mission ends up in familiar territory: WWII. He fights against Hitler and the Nazis, and even meets up with his old partner Bucky Barnes!
After returning to the chambers of Mister Buda, Cap agrees to “expand his mind,” and take another “trip.” Unbeknownst to Cap, though, Mister Buda has slipped him some kind of wacky device (during a hand shake) that will help this process along. Mister Buda remarks to himself that it will take Cap into an alternate universe, where things ended up quite differently than in the America he knows. Cap then realizes he’s been transported to Colonial times, and meets Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, and others of that time. A quick run-in with some gangsters in the prohibition era, and while there, he saves the life of a newspaper kid.
The next “trip” shows Cap fighting alongside Native Americans against the forces that took their land. Next, Cap helps some workers at a cave-in. That adventure is a quick one, though, and we see Cap whisked away to fight in WWI. A fast trip back to the chambers of Mister Buda, as they have a conversation, but it ends abruptly, and Cap finds himself in a fist fight with the world boxing champion (John L. Sullivan?) .
Other “trips” of note are one to the deep south, where Cap defends the rights of slaves on a plantation; then Cap witnesses the testing of the first atomic bomb; the 1871 fire in Chicago; goes to space; and literally everything else you can think of for a story!
This book is many things: a history lesson, a lesson in forgiveness, stories that show what can happen as a result of certain atrocities. Kirby really showed how existentialism was something he apparently held in high regard. You can tell from reading a book like this (over several readings) that Kirby really understood what it was like to be a part of things like racism (being Jewish), and what it was like to fight against tyranny (as a soldier in WWII).
Do yourself a favor and grab this trade. You get the incredible artwork of Jack Kirby, but also see what he could do when he had total control of a title. You get a history lesson through the eyes of one of comic book’s greatest creators ever!