Captain America has risen in popularity with the recent movies and this collection brings together stories from his origin to modern-day, written and drawn by a number of different artists. Stan Lee delivers a foreword in his usual exuberant style, and towards the back there’s a comprehensive history of the character. There are eleven stories here and I’m not going to go through them all individually but I like the whole concept of this Platinum collection. With the history that superheroes have it’s interesting to see how the styles have changed over the years, and which threads have remained. For example, in the first issue the Red Skull is revealed to be a psychiatrist wearing a mask. There are also many differences in tone that set apart the eras, but the character remains consistent.
However, while it gives a good overview of Cap’s history I’m not sure that it hits the landmarks of his character. The origin is there and in the couple of early issues we get a glimpse of his relationship with Bucky, and an idea of how simple the writing was (Bucky discovers that Steve Rogers is actually Captain America by walking in on Steve changing in his tent). There’s also a marked effort to refrain from showing Cap from killing people, although in turn he doesn’t show much remorse. After one villain dies Bucky turns to Cap,
“But you saw it all, why didn’t you stop him from killing himself?”
“I’m not talking, Bucky!” And then Cap promptly leaps out of the window claiming that the job is done. It’s quite humorous when compared with how such a thing would be handled today. And of course the early issues are filled with rousing, patriotic endings. I found these quaint, although I am glad they didn’t include this aspect in the films. There is one story later on that features Cap running into a burning building, “Not everyone is out, she’s still in there,” and emerges carrying the American flag. That was rather sickening to be honest.
Most of the stories are entertaining. The big one is his return when he’s found by the Avengers, (well, technically Namor) but there are also team-ups with Falcon, clashes with Red Skull and a sojourn to England where we have a reunion with Spitfire and Union Jack. It then bypasses the whole Winter Soldier thing to end with the resolution of the Civil War as Steve surrenders. I can see why they had to leave out major storylines because they had to fit in self-contained stories rather than just pick and choose moments from wider story arcs, but I do think the collection suffers because of this. Instead of getting to the core of Steve’s character we have a selection of fun romps, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I enjoyed reading it and it’s good that I get to read these comics that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but for something called The Definitive Captain America…hmm I’m not so sure it lives up to that.
I think it’s worth reading if you want to delve into Cap’s history, but I think it’s more useful to see how techniques of comic book storytelling have changed throughout the years rather than as a deep examination of the character. But the stories weren’t epic enough to really sell me on Captain America’s coolness or importance and it’s a case where the movies capture something that this collection doesn’t.