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Year of the Artist, Day 354: Jim Steranko, Part 2 - Captain America #111 and #113

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Jim Steranko, and the issues are Captain America #111 and #113, which were published by Marvel and are cover dated March and May 1969, respectively. These scans are from Marvel Masterworks: Captain America volume 3, which came out in 2014 (well, my printing did). Enjoy!

Three kick-ass issues are all we have from Jim Steranko's Captain America "run," but damn, they're cool issues. In the first issue (which I'm not showing), Cap just up and lets Rick Jones become his new partner. Yeah, that was weird. Then they kick Hydra's ass, because Hydra never got tired of the Marvel superheroes kicking their asses! Which, of course leads into issues #111 and #113 (#112 is a Kirby "history of Cap" issue), which features ... Marvel superheroes kicking Hydra ass! Let's get to that!

The first page is interesting, as Steve hangs out in a penny arcade waiting for Nick Fury, who called to set up a meeting (not really, as Hydra lured Steve there with a faux Fury voice on the phone, and doesn't S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point have video-conferencing, so Steve could have seen Fury himself?). Steranko does a nice job setting up the fight that's about to break out, with a lot of foreshadowing even among common items at an arcade. He puts in a sharpshooter, a sale on stilettos, and a Wild West showdown panel. Steve puts a dime in the fortune teller booth, and Steranko draws a creepy gypsy leering out through the glass. There's a panel reading "on target." A hand reaches for a rifle. In the center of the page, Steranko draws Madame Hydra hiding next to the stuffed animals ("Congratulations for shooting all those ducks, Timmy - here's your very own Madama Hydra!"). We get spooky dolls staring dead-eyed at the world. And then Steve gets a scary fortune. Oh dear. It's a very cool page, as Steranko uses silence to build tension (as uses the panel with "Record your voice" in the background somewhat ironically) and the smaller panels to give us snippets of what's going on. We know something is about to happen, and while Lee and Steranko don't make it too surprising (I mean, Madame Hydra is right there), it's still a good use of a first page.

I really haven't shown a good Steranko hand-to-hand fight yet, so here's one page of the donnybrook that ensues after Steve gets his fortune. The first panel shows an awkward pose, as Cap throws himself at the Hydra agent, but it works because of the dynamism that Steranko gives to Cap and because it makes some sense that he would fling himself like that to avoid the rifle fire. In Panel 3, he's trying to interrogate the one agent while the other dude leaps toward his back, but that dude foolishly yells, so Steve is able to throw his shield up behind him and smash the dude in the face. Steranko draws Steve and the Hydra agent a bit oddly in Panel 3, with their heads turned at extremely bizarre angles so their faces are parallel to their shoulders, but that wasn't too uncommon in the 1960s, so it looks less weird than if it was drawn today. Panel 4 gives us a nice frame for Steve, with the rifles and guns pointing us toward him (and threatening him, of course) while the evil Hydra dude is on the other side, getting smashed in the face. Steranko's Cap is lithe and lean, muscled but not overly so, which makes his movements look nice and fluid. Steranko makes Steve nice and ragey in Panel 2 - 1960s Marvel wasn't the best place for subtle facial expressions, as the characters often yelled a lot, but Steranko gives Steve a good "Do you want to be waterboarded?" look.

Well, of course Steve wanted to find Madame Hydra - she can string me up and attach electrical cables to my testicles any day, amirite? Steranko uses nice rounded lines and different shades of blue to create that thick smoke behind her, and he puts the prisoner in between two separate panels to expand the scope of the first panel to make it a splash page with other panels sprinkled on top of them. The storytelling is a bit wonky, because the agent gets in the way of the flow of the "warrant of death" sequence, but it's an interesting attempt to switch things up a bit. The biggest problem is that we don't actually see what happens to the Hydra agent - later, Rick Jones inhales the same stuff and doesn't die, so is it a question of the amount of poison on the cloth? It's never explained. I do like how Steranko draws Madame Hydra's lips in that final panel - he uses blacks and thin vertical lines, but no border, so they look a lot more sensual. Dang, Madame Hydra. Where do I sign up for domination, world or otherwise????

Bucky opens Cap's mail and learns his lesson, as he inhales the poison meant for our hero (is Rick the nosiest person in comic book history? - discuss). We get these hallucinatory two pages, in which Rick feels inadequate next to Bucky. Steranko uses perspective like a pro on the first page, almost as if he's putting on a clinic. He draws in the eyes with a lot of thick blacks and puts the eerie hooded figure next to them, implying that something is always watching Rick, as he runs across the landscape. Rick's shadow stretches horizontally across the page, which breaks up the perspective view a little, and Steranko throws in a decayed shrine just for the heck of it. He does really nice work with the three-dimensional aspect of the ground - we saw this yesterday, when Fury ran the Yellow Claw's gauntlet, and Steranko does it well here, too. The hands coming out of the white is a nice inversion of the usual hands coming out of the dark, and Steranko uses a lot of nice blacks on Rick to show how stressed he is - the wind-swept hair, the rings under his eyes, and even the scratchy blacks on his shirt make him look more unnerved than he does when he's awake. On the second page, he uses blacks without holding lines to create the skeletal figure that points Rick toward the door, behind which Bucky leers. Steranko slowly changes Bucky's mad grin until it's more angry than crazed, until Rick tears him apart and Steranko uses short, horizontal lines to show him dissipating in the breeze. It's a very creepy dream, and Steranko's willingness to break from the normal way to lay a page out shows why he's such a visionary.

Both double-page spreads in this post are courtesy of Our Very Own Dread Lord and Master, who once posted them just for the hell of it. Thanks, DL&M!

Steranko doesn't really need to do this as a double-page spread, but, being Steranko, he just went ahead and did it anyway. It's laid out well, as the first dude leads our eyes across the page with the laser blast (and that's a fine Kirby gun he's holding) while Cap tears into the other two Hydra agents. Steranko's blacks and Joe Sinnott's inks are very nice, as Cap is ripped and the blacks make his costume look shinier and more stretchy. In just a few years, Steranko's figures have become much more fluid, so the two dudes falling under Cap's fists look like marionettes with their strings cut. It's very neat.

Steranko gives us an origin for Madame Hydra, and while it's Dr. Doom-esque, he still draws it really nicely. He uses the flames, the ground, and the twisted roots on the first page as panel borders, which is always a nice change from lines, and he does really nice work with Madame Hydra's eyes in Panel 2, as she flashbacks to her childhood. He uses thin lines and elegant brush strokes to make her look feminine and haunted, and he puts the flames over the lower half of her face to show how her memories are crashing in on her. The wagon is drawn well, as Steranko uses black shapes to create it, which fits with the silhouetted figures chasing it (I love how the men don't lose their hats even when they're trying to kill gypsies). Steranko draws nice twisted roots in Panel 4, as they reach for Madame Hydra as she stumbles through the swamp. In Panel 4, Steranko uses thinner lines and colors to create the steady rainfall. On this page, he uses a lot of different line weights, which helps distinguish each panel from the other. On the second page, he uses more green, which isn't surprising as it's Hydra's color, and he shows again how mod Hydra can be - the ceiling is patterned like a chocolate bar (and it's an optical illusion, as the green diamonds could be empty spaces or not), the platform on which everyone stands is sleek and trendy, and the Hydra poobahs look like they might be sitting in Eero Aarnio chairs. At the bottom, Steranko wrings some pathos out of Madame Hydra's situation (even though she's clearly insane, as we can see that if she is scarred, it's hardly noticeable), as he focuses on her facial parts, using really nice inking to add lushness to her eyes and lips, which contrasts well with the rougher lines on her leather glove. Steranko uses white ink to create the shattered mirror, and that panel is very neat - the mirror is cracked, the white at the center of Madame Hydra's arm is set off by the black, which as we've seen many times this year makes the leather crackle, and Steranko does a nice job not showing all of Madame Hydra but still showing how upset she is. It's a powerful moment, even if we don't think Madame Hydra has anything to be upset about.

Rick follows Hydra, which has gassed the Avengers and carted them away, until he himself gets caught by the bad guys. Steranko creates a nice, spooky mood on this page, as Rick sneaks around trying to figure out what's going on. He uses blacks really well - Panel 3, with the yellow headlights visible in the utter blackness, is very neat - and those long, thin lines as clouds like we saw yesterday in the graveyard (Steranko seems to think it's always foggy in cemeteries). We get nice silhouettes in Panels 1, 3, 5, and 7, as Rick stows away to see what's what. He uses the blacks well in the background of Panel 7, as the gravestones show up as negative space with the silhouettes of the Hydra agents and the twisted trees setting a neat scene. Steranko uses interesting points of view to make the car's journey interesting - he makes the car very large in Panel 1, shows Rick clinging to the back in Panel 2, shows the car emerging from the black in Panel 3, gives us an overhead view in Panel 4, and then, in an echo of Panel 1, shows the back of the car in Panel 5, once again with Rick in the deep background. The Hydra agent surprising Rick in Panel 8 leads us to the next double-page spread:

Brian always seems to have scans of originals, so I'm going to assume that this one is, too, and it's interesting, because it looks more painted than the one I'm looking at in the Marvel Masterworks volume in which this is reprinted. Marvel, I guess, "cleaned up" the coloring a little, but they didn't really change too much - the tree is less red, and the costumes of the Hydra agents by the tree (with their backs to the gravestone on which the words are written) are a bit more white, but it's still pretty much the same. Look at that thing, though. Steranko captures the moment at the perfect time - the motorcycle has clipped the top of the grave marker, Cap has flung himself off the bike and is punching two Hydra agents, the other Hydra agents are firing wildly, and one of them is surprised as he's laying the coffins in the earth. It's a static moment that bristles with dynamic action, which is pretty much all you can ask of an artist drawing big superhero fight scenes.

Madame Hydra fires heat-seeking missiles at Cap and Rick, but they end up destroying her. Oh, the karma! We get a nice tumble by Cap and Rick into the open grave, while Steranko draws the flight path of the missiles so that they make us swerve to the right and then back to the left, which is where our eyes need to go. He builds tension by using the bull's-eye to move in on Madame Hydra, with her finally turning as she realizes that things are not looking well for her. The final panel is tremendous, as Steranko uses bunches of line and beautiful shapes to show the explosion of the mausoleum, with a twisted Madame Hydra and her tattered cloak right in the center of the blast. In the foreground, we get the nice three-dimensional gravestones, with the "R.I.P." etched on one of them. Steranko uses straight lines and solid geometric shapes to create curves where the mausoleum is exploding, which is cool to see as it retains the stone-like nature of the structure even as it's getting blown apart and it also makes a good contrast to the human figure in the center. You can't exactly feel bad for Madame Hydra, but Steranko does remind us that she's still a human being.

Steranko wasn't completely done with comics after his brief run on Cap, but he move into other artistic areas and he's rarely done interior work since. I don't own Superman #400, where he drew a 10-page story (sorry!), so for the final day, I'll check out an adaptation he did that really needs to be reprinted. Come on, people, we got Goodwin and Simonson's Alien, why can't we get this?!?!? While you wait, please take a look in the archives!

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