Tales from the Longbox – Captain America #253-254 (1981)

Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

Captain America #253-254
Writer: Roger Stern
Plot: Roger Stern/John Byrne
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: Joe Rubinstein

The teaming up of Roger Stern and John Byrne was one of those key 1980s pairings in which the sum of their total was greater than their parts. Roger Stern was writing The Incredible Hulk and editing the Uncanny X-Men while John Byrne was hitting a creative peak with Chris Claremont on the Uncanny X-Men.

Everything about Captain America #253 screamed horror, from its creepy cover to it’s atmospheric opening to its cliffhanger ending. It started with a murder in England, apparently the work of a deadly slasher who had left the victim drained of blood. The prolog had a wonderful Hammer Horror feel to it and you couldn’t help but look for Peter Cushing to walk on to one of the panels and make a cameo.

Then we joined the hero of the title in America and we got a slice of life from him before a call from England prompted him to go overseas. After a review of 1940s nostalgia and a reunion with his old Invaders teammates, who haven’t aged as gracefully as Cap, he investigated the tomb of Baron Blood. There he discovered that Blood has been on the loose for over a decade! And what made this story more dramatic was that it was a family affair since Baron Blood was the brother to the World War II hero Union Jack.

Baron Blood took the offensive and attacked our Star-Spangled hero. Cap got lucky and fended off his vampire foe in Captain America #254. Working with his former Invaders teammates, Cap lured Baron Blood out and defeated him. The end was disturbing and chilling as Cap was forced to use his shield to decapitate the vampire to ultimately end the vampiric threat. (Although it’s hard to keep a good Marvel vampire down as Baron Blood has resurfaced several times since that encounter).

While Stern and Byrne created a wonderfully atmospheric tale, the story was really about Captain America the man, and the relationships he had made and held dear. This story was dedicated to Frank Robbins, the artist who first drew the adventures of the Invaders and designed the look of Union Jack and Baron Blood.

Jason Shayer has been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.

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