Captain America: The End
The world has fallen! A terrible plague has devastated society, turning all into mindless berzerkers with the ghastly visage of its creator - the fascist Red Skull! These berzerkers want only one thing: to kill! And the only one left to stand in their way is CAPTAIN AMERICA!
Writer/artist Erik Larsen, not exactly a creator known for half-measures, goes full-on Kirby to pretty spiffy effect in Captain America: The End #1. It’s not a style that will resonate with some readers, but the intent and love of the King’s style bleeds onto every page. Not a panel is wasted here, and from start to finish, the pacing whipsaws readers with a bracing ferocity. Is it a perfect read? No. But it sure is fun, and a nice “final” statement on Captain America.
Sometime in the near future, the Red Skull was at last, definitively defeated by Cap, just as he was about to unleash a designer virus on New York. Cap was able to (somehow) blow it out to sea, but climate change created a perfect breeding ground for the virus to mutate into something far worse than the Skull had ever intended. Now, the virus morphs its victims into mindless automatons hellbent on nothing more than destruction or conversion. “Resistance is futile” is the order of the day. The only person left to fight back is Captain America, as unstoppable as ever and as unshaken in his faith that good will prevail, restoring order and freedom.
Larsen does a good job of conveying an older Cap whose spirit is still young but who is growing tired, weary of constant battle. Maybe even a little desperate. He continues fighting because it’s all he knows how to do, even in the face of the end of humanity. That “never give up, never surrender” mentality eventually leads to Cap’s own stark realization late in the book as to what it would actually take to win against an entire world, and for a brief moment, even Cap loses faith. And then, something shocking and unexpected happens, and the way forward reveals itself.
Erik Larsen might not be anyone’s first choice when it comes to writing a final Captain America tale. Known for his hard-R Savage Dragon, a beloved Spider-Man tenure in the early ’90s, and his own unfiltered opinions, many would assume he simply wasn’t the right man for the job. And, if this comic were playing it straight, they might be right. But Larsen is a keen student of Jack Kirby and has occasionally over the years peppered Savage Dragon with just the right doses of the King’s style when the story called for it. Larsen’s own pencilling style is a cross somewhere between Kirby and Walt Simonson (with a healthy dose of cheesecake thrown in the mix, although that aspect isn’t present here). Here, he deliberately leans into his Kirby influences both in style and in page layout; it doesn’t take an eagle-eyed reader to take notice of that.
Larsen writes like Kirby here, too, and that’s where the book stumbles a bit. Kirby was not known for his prowess in wordsmithing. Often, his characters spoke not unlike robots, or their dialogue was pretty interchangeable, or they would give big weird speeches about being “the tiger-force at the center of all things” and whatnot. For Bronze Age readers, Kirby’s dialogue was a pretty stark contrast to the revolutionary hip patter popularized by Stan Lee in the ’60s. It was looked down upon and even sneered at by the bourgeoisie.
But here’s the thing – and I swear, I won’t go too much more out on a limb about Kirby before getting back to actually reviewing this comic – Kirby’s dialogue was dramatic. Deliberately so. You couldn’t help but stand at attention for it. He loved to deliver big ideas and big impact moments and he wrote booming, over-the-top dialogue to match. So while some of his dialogue didn’t exactly fit in with the comics zeitgeist of is era, it suited his work perfectly. And, to be honest – who doesn’t love a great villain speech, or an impassioned cry for democracy? Hokey as they can be, if they suit the material, then there’s nothing wrong with it.
All that said, Larsen absolutely rips this page right from the Kirby playbook for Captain America: The End. The dialogue definitely comes off as cheesy, but in all the right ways. This is a slam-bang, don’t-stop-til-the-last-page action adventure, and the dialogue plays right into that. Reading this comic, you really do feel like you could be reading a lost Jack Kirby book. That’s how well Larsen sells it.
Of course, under the slightest scrutiny, the story doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. If Cap blew the Red Skull’s mist out into sea, what was his plan then? Did he just leave it? I suppose the case could be made for him thinking it would simply disperse, but there’s no in-story evidence to support that theory. If everyone else in the world except Cap and few hangers-on he stumbles onto are the only regular humans left, how on earth do they have the means to pull off the comic’s ending? (Sorry, I know that’s vague, but I don’t want to spoil what happens.) But in the end, just like the best Kirby comics, you sort of glaze over these details because frankly, they’re beside the point. Larsen is selling a feeling here, to be in Captain America’s shoes as he furiously fights what could be is final stand. And, to his credit, he mostly pulls it off. It’s a simplistic story by design that speaks volumes about its lead.
Larsen’s art won’t be for everybody. Like I said, he’s leaning pretty heavily into his own Kirby influences here, but that doesn’t change the fact that some of his panels look rushed, as though he inked a page layout and then expected the colorist, Dono Sanchez-Almara, to finish the rendering. The coloring, though, is easily the worst part of the book. Sanchez-Almara’s computer coloring suffers from the affliction of being too obviously computer-generated. Everything has a bizarre sheen to it, and nothing blends together very well. Instead, it looks blocky and frankly about twenty-five years outdated. There’s also some half-hearted attempts at lens flare that make things look metallic rather than natural. It just doesn’t work and is frankly garish.
But poor coloring doesn’t stop this from being a totally fun, rip-roaring good comic. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who like a little homage to the King, there are far worse ways to spend your time.
One last thing: I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss that Marvel Comics released what’s supposed to be a definitive “final” Captain America tale and gave credit to the wrong people for his creation. The book’s last page states he was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, when in fact (and this is extremely common knowledge!) he was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. I’m genuinely mindboggled that this comic made it through however many levels of editorial, was published, shipped, and hit the stands, and nobody at Marvel cared enough to catch this egregious error. Giving credit where credit is due shouldn’t be this hard, guys, ESPECIALLY when it comes to one of your cornerstone characters. Shameful.
Captain America: The End #1 may feel a little simplistic, but that's by design. A full-throated homage to Cap co-creator Jack Kirby more than anything else, this comic nonetheless is a worthy celebration of what makes him great. The poor coloring, though, dampens the affair, but overall, this is a fun, zippy read.
Captain America: The End #1: One Last Battle
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 6/106/10
Color - 3/103/10
Cover Art - 6/106/10
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