For most of the eighties and early nineties, Captain America had a singular voice writing his adventures. However, as a new creative team took over, they pumped something new into the franchise, resulting in one of the most beloved stories in the character’s history.
In 1995, a legendary ten year run on Captain America came to an end. Mark Gruenwald had chronicled the adventures of Steve Rogers since 1985’s issue #307 and continued writing the series until #443, only using a fill-in for a single issue of the run and one annual in that time. Gruenwald’s run is well regarded for what it added to Captain America’s mythology.
The series was often cheesy – this was the era where the super soldier serum was bonded to drugs, making him an addict and the infamous Cap-Wolf after all – but it was entertaining. Unfortunately, it came to an end with a whimper as Gruenwald put Steve Rogers in power armor as the super soldier serum broke down and started to kill him. After ten years the run ended with Steve Rogers assumed dead.
The following issue in #444 began a run that is perhaps one of the most well loved in the character’s history from Mark Waid and Ron Garney as well as a rotating team of inkers, colorists and letterers, including Mike Sellers, Scott Koblish, Denis Rodier, Mike Manley, John Kalisz, and John Costanza. With Steve assumed dead, the Avengers were faced with a hostage crisis where the only demand was Captain America himself. The team proceeded to do their best to diffuse the situation while honoring their dead friend and ally. However, of course Captain America wasn’t dead as revealed on the final page.
The story arc that followed showed Captain America at his best- a character who would always do the right thing. The story found him forced to team up with the Red Skull to stop an even greater evil from claiming the Cosmic Cube. Naturally when the Skull betrays him, Captain America has to fight even greater odds to overcome his oldest foe.
Waid was a young star on the rise at the time, having made his mark on The Flash at DC, and moving into his biggest Marvel project to date with this series. He set the stage for the modern Captain America, depicting a hero that honored his past but was always moving forward and always did the right thing. The plot was fast paced and exciting, and restored several important pieces to Cap’s world.
Garney’s art still looks incredible, even though his style has evolved greatly in the last twenty-five years. He has a clean, high energy style. He depicts Steve as a larger than life figure, but paradoxically always frames him in such a way that he feels human and relatable.
This is a story every Marvel fan should read. It’s one of Cap’s best and a great example of how a back to basics approach also could feel fresh and exciting. It’s a shame this run was cut short in favor of the horrendous Rob Liefeld run after less than a year. However, Marvel did come to their senses and after that failed experiment, they hired Waid and Garney to relaunch the series.
Just goes to show that there is some justice in this world.
Captain America: Operation Rebirth is available now from Marvel Comics.