Fred Hembeck’s Hero Complex: Captain America (Part 1)


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It was 70 years ago that Marvel Comics’ No. 1 hit the newsstands of America, and all year long we’ll be marking that key pivot point in publishing history with special features. One of those features will be ‘Fred Hembeck’s Hero Complex,’ where Fred Hembeck, the parody master of comics fandom, lovingly lampoons classic Marvel covers. Take it away, Fred...

My name is Fred Hembeck. Some of you may know me from when I destroyed the Marvel Universe a while back (turns out it didn’t stick ...), others from the countless goofy little cartoons I’ve done over the years spoofing the entire comics medium.


The fine folks at Hero Complex -- that’d be Geoff Boucher; thanks, buddy! -- have kindly invited me to dig through my files and, every few weeks, share a selection of my Classic Cover Redos, which (ahem) happen to be available for purchase.

Since The House of Ideas is celebrating a noteworthy birthday in 2009 -- the 70th, makes them older than me even -- Geoff thought it might be nice to throw a spotlight on some of my Marvel work, and who better to start with than a two-part series chronicling the exploits of the dude who claims Betsy Ross as his all-time favorite fashion designer ... Captain America!

‘Captain America’ No. 1 (March 1941)Jack Kirby andJoe Simon, original artists

THIS is where it all began! Months before the U.S. entered the fray, Timely publisher Martin Goodman gave co-creators Simon and Kirby the go-ahead to have their spanking new star-spangled hero land one square on Hitler’s jaw!! And I think we all know by now that he sure had it coming! Not a bad way to launch a career, not a bad way at all...

‘Strange Tales’ No. 114
(November 1963)
Kirby and Dick Ayers, original artists
This is where it all began for ME! I was 10 at the time, and though
I’d never heard of the good Captain before, I was immediately intrigued
by the cover blurb that boasted his bona fides! Only...if he was such a
good guy, why was he fighting the junior member of the Fantastic Four?
Well, mainly cuz he WASN’T the real Captain America at all but an
impostor, some loser named Carl Zante, a.k.a. The Acrobat. Only, if he was
such a loser, how exactly was he able to fool everyone into thinking he
was the legendary WW II hero for more than like, five minutes? A
question left eternally unanswered. ...
‘The Avengers’ No. 4
(March 1964)
Kirby and George Roussos, original artists
... because a few short months later, in the pages of the fourth issue of
Marvel Comics’ new team-up title, ‘The Avengers,’ Stan Lee and Kirby
proudly brought back the genuine item. Oh, sure, they had to defrost him
first, but he was the real true honest-to-gosh Cap!!
My then-11-year-old heart swooned boyishly,
and pretty much from that point on, America’s
first (and for a long time, only) Super Soldier has been my very
favorite costumed character!!
Tales of Suspense’ #59
(November 1964)
Kirby and Chic Stone, original artists
Imagine then, my delight at good ol’ Cap getting a series of his own,
commencing with the 59th issue of ‘Tales of Suspense’!! His
bookmate -- Tony-In-A-Tin-Can -- may’ve been less than enthused, however,
since the covers of the previous few issues sported a large ‘Power of
Iron Man’ logo, as well as 18 full story pages for Stark’s
heart-stopping (literally) antics. Sharing space in ‘TOS’ with his
Avenging teammate cut into all that.
(Gee, I wonder if THAT’S what drove
him to drink? ..)
‘Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos’ No. 13
(December 1964)
Kirby and Stone, original artists
I LOVE Jack Kirby and Chic Stone’s original cover for this issue of
Sgt. Fury, absolutely love it!! Hard to believe Cap isn’t the actual
star of this book -- though, in truth, if only for this single issue,
clearly he was! And as a bonus, for all us youthful True Believers, we
were afforded our first chance to eyeball Cap’s presumably deceased
sidekick, Bucky, in wartime action! Plus, you had your Pinky Pinkerton,
too -- what’s not to like? ...
‘Tales of Suspense’ No. 74
(February 1966)
Kirby and Frank Giacoia, original artists
Let’s see if I understand this: The Red Skull --the most nefarious imaginary
Nazi this side of Col. Klink -- set in motion a plan whereby, 20
years after the war ended, three giant robots called ‘sleepers’ would
assemble themselves into one massive instrument of Earth-shattering
destruction, and only Captain America -- a guy with slightly less
super-powers than even Daredevil
-- could stop it?
OK, I’m sold.
Hey, back in those days, Stan Lee could sell me ANYTHING -- and I wasn’t
alone, trust me!
There are more Cap memories on the way, check back here next Sunday as I finish my personal pledge of allegiance to the Star-Spangled Avenger with cover re-dos of John Buscema, Jim Steranko and Jim Lee. What about Captain America here in the 21st century? Yeah, I’ve heard the news: Cap’s dead. And a miraculously revived Bucky has taken his place. All fine and dandy, but truth to
tell, I no longer follow the Sentinel of Liberty’s exploits, no matter who is holding the pen. But that’s cool, because I still have all my old comics (well, most of ‘em anyway), and happily, they’re nearly as much fun to read as they ever were!

(Except I still can’t figure out how Zante could fool everyone for so long -- and still have less of a
successful criminal career than even The Porcupine? ...)

Before I sign off, a quick reminder that I take commissions (even, fear not, non-Marvel covers).
All the pertinent info can be found over the sales page of my website. You can also find info on the recently published Image Comics collection, ‘The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Omnibus’ OK, OK -- enough with the hard sell already. Hope you had fun, friends, cuz I know I did!!

So til next time, adios, amigos!!
-- Fred Hembeck


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CREDITS: Artwork by Fred Hembeck, characters are trademarks of Marvel Comics. Nick Fury image courtesy of Marvel.