When Jack Kirby returned to Marvel in 1975, his Captain America was not universally well-received. I personally have always felt that some of his stories were better than others, but it never occured to me to rank them... until today. Here, then, are Jack Kirby's Captain America stories ranked from worst to best by me, Jeff of Earth-J.

#7. ANNUAL #4:


This annual is a good example of the leeway Jack Kirby was given upon his return to Marvel. We have recently discussed how Kirby was allowed to completely ignore two years worth of characters and plotlines when he took over Black Panther, and here he is allowed to do it again with Magneto and his new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. By 1977, the era of the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men had already begun, and by the time this annual was released, Magneto had already appeared in X-Men #104. Just try to square those two appearances with each other, just try. And it's not even as if Captain America Annual #4 is all that original or memorable (except for how bad it is). Captain America and Magneto are both vying for a new mutant who can transfer his consciousness between two bodies, imaginatively dubbed "Mister One" and "Mr. Two." The new Brotherhood is equally imaginative: Peeper, Burner, Lifter, Slither and Shocker. At least Ed Hannigan tried to impart a bit of continuity (and respect) to them when he later used them in his run on Defenders



I would liked to have slotted this one higher than #6, but the plot is little more than a gimmick to send Captain America careering through time to meet a number of historical personages associated with American history. The various chapters are alternately inked by John Romita, Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith (with Dan Adkins and John Verpoorten), which contributes to an uneven look throughout. I would have preferred the entire thing inked by the same hand (perhaps even Frank Giacoia). Standing out like a sore thumb is BWS, one of the best artists in the business, then or now, but his style is not suited to Kirby's. His inking does suit new character Mister Buda, however. Perhaps it would have been better to have assigned BWS only the pages in which Cap interracts with Mister Buda rather than the entire first chapter. 

Having said that, though, I do read this story from time-to-time (usually on the 4th of July). I have even read it a couple of times since it was re-released in Marvel's new Treasury Edition format in 2021. I do heartily approve of Kirby's overarching theme, "America is People," and this time through I found myself connecting with the sentiments expressed on the splash pages and the dialogue between Captain America and Mister Buda. Beyond that, Bicentennial Battles is an educational comic aimed at children, with little to offer adults. "Mister Buda" was later re-imagined as Tath Ki, an Elder of the Universe, a.k.a. the Contemplator.

#5. ANNUAL #3


This one is actually pretty good, better than I remember it. It reminds me in some ways of a tale from the Golden Age, in which something remarkable would happen in one issue, then never be mentioned again. [Actually, this story was referenced once later in Quasar #14 (1990).] Entertaining, but no lasting impact.

#4. NIGHT PEOPLE/AGRON (#201-205):


I initially had this run slotted in the #6 position in my preliminary list, then surprisingly watched it move higher and higher in my estimation as I refreshed my memory by re-reading the stories themselves. The characters (Brother Wonderful, Brother Inquisitor, Brother Dickens, Brother Peach Pie, Brother Powerful, Brother Searcher, Brother Harmony and Sister Gladiola) are about as original and memorable as the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but dig this crazy plot! "Brother Wonderful" is actually Abner Doolittle, a theoretical physicist who had a mental breakdown and was placed in an asylum on Zero Street. (Incidentally, Kirby also introduced a character named "Abner Littel" in his concurrent Black Panther.) The "Night People" (a.k.a. the "Brothers and Sisters of Zero Street") are the other inmates. Brother Wonderful invents a machine which transports the entire asylum to another dimension, where they must fight off an invasion of native monsters. Seriously, only Jack Kirby could come up with a scenario that bonkers!

The Night People are conducting raids on our dimension for supplies, etc. One of the things they need is a super-hero to defend them, and they manage to kidnap the Falcon and his girlfriend Leila, whom they brainwash with "electroshock therapy" and dub Brother "Super-Hero" and "Sister Sweet." An ally is "Texas" Jack Muldoon, a stereotypal Texas oilman. I had originally ranked this just above Annual #4 on the basis that the "Night People" were much lower profile than Magneto and a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (and therefore easier to ignore), but the sheer insanity of the plot won me over. The story crosses over (quite unnecessarily) into Marvel Team-Up #52. 


The "Night People" storyline seques quite nicely from #203 to the "Agron" storyline #204-205 (MTU #52 notwithstanding). Agron is an energy creature from the far future, inhabiting a human corpse. As a wiser man than I once said: "Kirby, you crackhead, what have you done now?" The Falcon and Leila are still not in their right minds. I cannot say I like Sharon Carter's personality throughout this run (she's always nagging Cap to give up the super-hero game) but, to be fair, Kirby is just carrying on from previous writers. Eventually Roger McKenzie just killed her off (in 1979), but Mark Waid brought her back (in 1995) and finally did something interesting with her. But I digress. At least Sharon Carter was treated better than another "supporting character": Redwing (who was not in the Kirby run at all). S.H.I.E.L.D. psychologist Dr. Hartman sends the Falcoln into battle in his mentally impaired state (which doesn't strike me as quite ethical), but both he and Leila are restored to normal by story's end so "all's well that ends well" I guess (?). 

 #3. NIGHT FLYER (#213-214):


 Every once in a while, for whatever reason, a Jack Kirby character just doesn't catch on. The Night Flyer (an assassin who worships perfection) is one such character. OTOH (spoiler), he was killed in his first appearance, so there is some justification for that. Nevertheless, that did not stop Bill Mantlo from bringing him back in Hulk #264. In that appearance, it was suggested that the Night Flyer was an artificial being (although there was no indication of that in the Kirby story). Captain America #426 implied that his remains were human, yet Heroes for Hire #5 showed several dismantled robotic flyers. Personally, I would have brought the character (or his identity) back as a member of a cult which worshipped perfection. 

#213 also introduces Kligger and Veda and The Corporation, a criminal cartel introduced by Kirby in this issue. Kirby also introduced Curtiss Jackson, an executive of The Corporation, in Machine Man #8, But it was left to Roger Stern (then-writer of Incredible Hulk and then-editor of Captain America) to establish that Kligger (a.k.a. United States Senator Eugene Stivak) and Curtiss Jackson were the respective East and West Coast heads of The Corporation. In Captain America #217, Don Glut revealed that Veda was the daughter of "Agent R" (the "old crone" from Captain America's origin story) and, in Captain America #225, Steve Gerber revealed that Agent R's face was at some point hideously disfigured, but after he killed Veda off in that same issue, the plot point was dropped and the story of Agent R's disfiurement was left unrevealed. 

It should be noted writer Bill Mantlo had previously introduced a criminal cartel known as "The Corporation" in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, but I seriously doubt that Jack Kirby was aware of that fact. It was later established that these "Corporations" were one and the same, but that probably was not the intentiion from the beginning. Then again, somebody had to tell Kirby that SHIELD agents then wore "yellow beret" jumpsuits, not suits and ties as they had earlier in his run. #213-214 didn't have any lasting impact on Captain America specifically or the MU in general, but it was a fun two-parter. Captain America spent most of these two issues temporarily blinded, BTW, but regained his sight for the "New Direction" touted for #215.

#2. MADBOMB (#193-200):


Kirby's return to Marvel not only led into Captain America #200, but #200 coincided with the 200th anniversary of the United States of America. Despite its strong ties to America's bicentennial, I actually find "Madbomb" to be less dated than the non-Kirby Cap stories which immediately preceeded and followed it. What's more, for the past 20+ years it has become my "go-to" anti-terrorism story (because the good guys win), even moreso than the actual anti-terrorism storyline of the 2002 Captain America series by John Ney Rieber and John Cassiday, whether it be for 9-11 or January 6, following threats either foriegn or domestic. 

Every time I reread this storyline I become more impressed with how prescient Jack Kirby was. Consider these lines of dialogue: "So that's their new America--soldiers and workers in the service of a ruling elite!"; "It's the same old phony package! The "double-talk" slogans, the corrupted flag [the one in the story replaces the field of stars with a gallows], the iron-jawed, loud-mouthed leader!"; "The elite runs the whole show. They offer these followers an image, while they weild the power!" The only difference between these "Elite" and today's "IRL" elite is that the comic book ones call themselves the "Royalist Forces of America" whereas today's MAGA movement have branded themselves as "patriots." The ultimate goal of both groups is to overturn the Constitution.

I was going to say more about the story itself, but on this Independence Day I think I'll just leave it at that.

Which brings me up to my favorite storyline of Jack Kirby's return to Captain America...

#1. FILE #116 (#206-212):


I don't know why this issue is touted on the cover as the beginning of "a startling NEW CONCEPT--a stunning NEW ADVENTURE!"; the storyline actually began in #206. The series may have floundered for a bit following J.K.'s inition bicentennial storyline, but it's back on track now with a seven-issue storyline that's difficult to peg down. It's starts with Captain America getting involved with Hector Santiago (a.k.a. "The Swine"), a cruel Central American dictator who lives on the Rio de Muerte amidst a jungle full of genetically-created horrors. His cousin is Donna Maria Puentes. Sharon Carter also enters the story for the first time since Kirby's return.

The Falcon flies, seemingly at random, in search of Cap and runs headlong into the mystery of SHIELD's "File #116." After escaping from the Swine, Captain America tangles with the Man-Fish, which also happens to be associated with File #116, and it's creator, the ex-Nazi scientist Arnim Zola (a.k.a. the "Bio-Fanatic"), truly one of Kirby's oddest-looking character designs. Chief among his "genetically created horrors" are Doughboy and Primus. Meanwhile, back in the States, Sharon Carter is assigned to investigate millionaire Cyrus Fenton, suspected of being the financier funding File #116. The real Cyrus Fenton, however, has been replaced by the Red Skull. 

The Skull transports Agent 13 to Central America where she and Cap are reunited. The Skull and Zola's master plan is to transplant the brain of "Nazi X" (actually Adolf Hitler) into Captain America's body. Captain America, Sharon Carter and Donna Maria Puentes defeat the Red Skull, but Cap is temporarily blinded and the Skull escapes. The Skull's next chronological appearance is in Captain Brittain #16-27, where Captain America follows him as soon as his eyes heal. (For many years this story was not available in the United States, but now can be found in multiple formats.) Donna Maria disappears from the scene for 15 years, but eventually returns as a member of the Avengers' staff (Captain America #404, 1992). the only disappointing aspect of the story is the Falcon subplot, which is left unresolved, but is tied up by a line of dialogue in the following issue. Of course the most lasting impact this storyline has had is the introduction of Arnim Zola, who has appeared many times over the years.

And there you have it: my estimation of Jack Kirby's Captain America stories ranked in order from worst to best. After this re-reading it has become clear to me that, when I was younger, I could not overlook the corny dialogue on the surface to see the deeper themes beneath. I remember when I first learned that Jack Kirby was 49 years old when he created the Silver Surfer. How old that sounded to me then! Right now I'm roughly the same age Kirby was when he was doing this run of Captain America. Just sayin'.  If anyone out there disagrees with my rankings, you know the drill. 

You need to be a member of Captain Comics to add comments!

Join Captain Comics

Votes: 0
Email me when people reply –


  • I liked Captain America Annual  #4.  I thought that it was a good story, and since I had  zero knowledge  of X-Men continuity at the time, none of that stuff bothered me.

  • And that, my friend, is what makes horseraces.

    In the past, Jack Kirby's solo run on Captain  America has inspired more lively debate on this board; I actually anticipated more pushback on some of my rankings. I will say that, given you had "zero knowledge  of X-Men continuity at the time," I can understand how you hold Captain America Annual #4 higher in your estimation than I do in mine. If all things are relative, though (and there's no real reason to assume that they are), you might like the rest of Kirby run even more than the fourth annual. Kirby's Captain America has been broken up into a series of three tpbs, so my post may serve as a guide as to which someone unfamiliar with the run might like best.

    • I did read these when you sent them to me.  Maybe I'll re-read them some time and see if my opinions have changed.

      Kirby Captain America: Initial Impressions
      Captain America #193 (January 1976) "The Madbomb - Screamer in the Brain!" 1)"The trial of the Falcon is over" - What was the trial of the Falcon ab…
  • Thanks for posting that link!

    You know, I thought I might have passed my Jack Kirby Captain America tpbs on to you, but I wasn't certain. I had fogotten about this discussion (or at least when it was). I just re-read the entire thing. I thought it had been close to 20 years since I last reread this run, but according to comments I made in your discussion I read it in both 2008 and 2017 as well. No wonder this thread didn't draw many comments (it being basically a repeat of a discussion from only seven years ago). If I had remembered that discussion, I would have incorporated some of the comments into this (or, more likely, not posted it at all).

This reply was deleted.