Welcome back to Consigned, Cool, & Collected! Each week, Back to the Past examines the wider significance of the stuff we handle every day – the very things that make them cool! This week is the penultimate entry in our examination of a comic collection that comes to auction May 19 through our live auction May 21st. We’re looking at a CGC graded 2.5 copy of The Avengers #4.
The Last Days of Captain America
Everyone knows that DC Comics’ “Trinity” of leading characters is Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. They were DC’s biggest sellers, longest runners, and at one point in the 1950s basically the only superheroes getting published. Marvel Comics’ top tier isn’t so easily defined, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the 40s, when they were still Timely Comics, their “trinity” was Sub-Mariner, Human Torch, and Captain America.
They were among the first Timely Comics superheroes AND among the last, with Captain America’s Weird Tales #74 marking the end of their superhero era in mid-1949. The next, and final, issue bore Cap’s name but he did not appear on a single page – it was now a horror anthology. There would be a brief attempt to revive the trio in 1953 and 1954, first with all three appearing in the anthology Young Men and then with solo titles. Cap’s solo book lasted three issues. Captain America would not appear again for ten years.
Namor and The Human Torch Return
1962’s Fantastic Four #1 brought superheroes back to Marvel Comics, including a brand new version of the Human Torch. Fantastic Four #4, in turn, brought back Golden Age hero Namor, The Sub-Mariner as an antagonist for the new heroes.The new Human Torch quickly gained a solo feature in the pages of Strange Tales, where he battled an imposter Captain America in #114. The story ended with an editorial note reading
You Guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!
Boy, Stan Lee was an excitable sort. Just under a year later, Stan Lee and his frequent collaborator Jack Kirby would introduce a new team to the burgeoning Marvel Universe. Like the Distinguished Competition’s Justice League of America, it was an assemblage of various solo superhero characters. The third issue featured the team battling Namor, and that set the stage for the fourth issue.
Captain America in the Silver Age
Avengers #4 opens with Namor fleeing his defeat by The Avengers. He runs across a tribe of Arctic natives worshiping a figure frozen in ice. Infuriated, The Sub-Mariner tosses the hunk of ice into the water, where it floats to warmer climes. The figure inside is freed, and quickly found by The Avengers as they search for their foe. They swiftly recognize the figure as Captain America, unaged after all these years.
After the Captain awakens, they put him to the test to determine if he’s the real deal and quiz him on how he ended up in the ice. He relates that, as the war in Europe drew to a close, he and his kid sidekick Bucky make a last-ditch effort to stop a flying bomb aimed at the USA. They succeeded, but the effort killed Bucky and sent Captain America into the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean.
The rest of the issue features the newly awakened Captain America aiding his rescuers against both alien invaders and Namor. Cap ultimately joins the team, quickly becoming one of its most beloved members.
One of Comics’ First Major Retcons
You will note that the circumstances of Cap’s revival don’t entirely jive with his Golden Age history. His comic adventures kept coming long after World War II ended, and he adventured with sidekicks like Bucky or Golden Girl throughout the Golden Age. Two factors were at play here. First was that Jack Kirby, artist and co-plotter on The Avengers, was Captain America’s co-creator. He and his original collaborator Joe Simon were fired after the character’s tenth Golden Age issues for moonlighting at DC. Kirby was reportedly not a big fan of the direction other creators had taken the character after the War – particularly the commie-hunting days of the 50s.
Second, Stan Lee didn’t much like kid sidekicks. He didn’t mind teen heroes, as evidenced by his creating The Human Torch, Spider-Man, or even Captain America’s brief Avengers-era partner Rick Jones. But in the Golden Age, the heyday of the sidekick, they were often prepubescent children. The trope codifier for that was Batman’s partner, Robin The Boy Wonder, who was explicitly eight years old in his first appearance.Teens old enough to lie about their age and ship off to war were one thing, but elementary schoolers as crime fighters was quite another.
So the version of Captain America that debuted in Avengers #4 was their collective perfect version – frozen as he was battling the forces of fascism, without the kid sidekick. That’s the version that persist to this day, the version that’s made literally billions of dollars at the box office. If you’ve got a collection of key Silver Age comics like this, and you’re ready sell, we’re here to help you with that! If you’re looking to buy, this copy comes to auction on May 21st. And if you just want to keep reading about cool stuff, Consigned, Cool, & Collected comes out every Monday!