This is “Just Like the Time Before,” a feature where I examine instances from comic book history where comic book creators did early versions of later, notable comic book characters and plot ideas. Essentially, the “test runs” for later, more famous characters and stories.
Whenever I do a new feature, I like to do a couple of them right away, so that the tag actually has a couple in there if people want to seek it out, ya know? Give them a little bit of something to read. Anyhow, today we look at a very odd Marvel comic book story that served as a test case for Captain America’s return to comics.
Captain America already had had a comeback in the 1950s after his comic book (which at one point was not only the best selling title at Timely Comics, which was what Marvel was called back in the day, but it was one of the best-selling comic books period for a while there) came to a close in the late 1940s.
Marvel tried to take the “Cap versus Nazis” approach and adapt it to “Cap versus Communists.” However, the early 1950s was apparently too soon to try to do a superhero revival at Marvel (by this point, the company was going by the name Atlas) and it ended soon. A young John Romita, early in his career at Marvel, drew some of the stories of the “Commie-bashing” Captain America.
Anyhow, it’s now a decade later and Marvel has successfully had a superhero revival, with the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man big hits for them. The Fantastic Four, in particular, were notable because in the Golden Age, there were three major heroes at Timely Comics. They were Captain America, Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner. Martin Goodman, the publisher of Marvel/Timely from the beginning wanted to include one of their classic heroes, but Stan Lee and Jack Kirby convinced him to instead go with a DIFFERENT version of the Human Torch, so this time around it was a teenager.
Four issues into this new Fantastic Four series, Stan and Jack decided to bring back Namor, the Sub-Mariner, but now as more of an antagonist (he was always a bit of an anti-hero)…
However, they held off on bringing back Captain America. Finally, in late 1963, over two years after the Fantastic Four had debuted and Marvel had already expanded to a number of superhero titles, Captain America made his return in Avengers #4 (by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), as Namor accidentally freed his old Golden Age friend from suspended animation…
I still can’t get over how awesome Captain America is in these scenes. He wakes up to the news that his partner is dead and it’s some strange future and within SECONDS he’s like, “Eh, whatever, let’s go. I’m Captain freakin’ America here.” Then he gets caught up in a bit of an odd story involving aliens, but let’s not think too much about the rest of the issue. The main thing is that Cap was back and everyone was thrilled.
However, Stan and Jack were so unsure if the public would actually want Captain America back (perhaps they felt he was too tied to World War II?) that they actually did a test run roughly six months before Avengers #4 came out!
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