Book Reviews

Book Review: Captain America in the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection

This glorious collection showcasing the origins and key stories of Captain America is a must have for any Marvel fan!

Book: Captain America: The Penguin Classics Marvel Collection

Publication date: 14th June 2022

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Penguin. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: violence, injury, and death; Nazis (as villains); some medical scenes.

It is impossible to imagine American popular culture without Marvel Comics. For decades, Marvel has published groundbreaking visual narratives that sustain attention on multiple levels: as metaphors for the experience of difference and otherness; as meditations on the fluid nature of identity; and as high-water marks in the artistic tradition of American cartooning, to name a few.

Drawing upon multiple comic book series, this collection includes Captain America’s very first appearances from 1941 alongside key examples of his first solo stories of the 1960s, in which Steve Rogers, the newly resurrected hero of World War II, searches to find his place in a new and unfamiliar world. As the contents reveal, the transformations of this American icon thus mark parallel transformations in the nation itself.

A foreword by Gene Luen Yang and scholarly introductions and apparatus by Ben Saunders offer further insight into the enduring significance of Captain America and classic Marvel comics.

First things first, this is a really well-presented book in terms of its physical style – it’s a tall, chunky paperback with the slick Penguin Classics branding that makes it feel really sturdy and respectable on the shelf. Even more fancy are the special hardback editions of this series, which with their bright colours, shiny foils, and added extra artwork are fabulous collector’s items; but the more subdued paperbacks are still extremely nice! The interiors are lovely, too – the comics look really crisp and bright, and the size is perfect for making the most of the detail and readability without being too unwieldy.

Fans of Captain America will no doubt be thrilled to have such a comprehensive collection of his origin and re-origin stories all in one place; I’ve actually never read any of the original Marvel Comics before, so this was all new to me! It’s perfect for dipping into and reading one story arc at a time, but it’s also really interesting to compare the similarities and differences of his various appearances over time. I was surprised by how funny some of the stories were! They’re a really interesting snapshot of the superhero genre as a whole, and of the character – obviously there’s a fair bit of jumping around, so it feels more like individual adventures than a single developing arc, but I think the appeal is more in the meta-textual approach, getting glimpses of Cap under different writers, artists, and times.

There’s a decent amount of prose reading included as well as the comics themselves, with three introductions/forewords that lay out the relevant history of Marvel and Captain America, as well as sections interspersed through the comics that give brief updates about how Captain America as a concept and brand developed, and three appendices including an afterword from Jim Steranko, all of which make for interesting reading. I really love to see how the actual production of stories works behind the scenes, so these were a really nice touch for me – I particularly enjoyed learning about the constant struggles the writers had with keeping the character and his plots modern, when he seems so rooted in mid-century history.

If you’re a Marvel fan, or interested in the history of superheroes in general, this is definitely a series you want to get reading! Four out of five cats!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Captain America in the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection

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