Ron Lim vs Rik Levins, or how a teenage Captain America fan experienced his first major disappointment

It’s difficult to believe that it’s been 30 years since this happened. It was the Summer of 1991, and I experienced my first significant disappointment as a comic book fan. But first, a little background is necessary…

I’ve been a fan of Captain America from Marvel Comics ever since I read issue #278 and issue #291 when I was a kid. My father got me a one year subscription to the Captain America series in 1985, and I read those issues until they fell to pieces.

Captain America #378 by Ron Lim & Danny Bulanadi, one of the favorite issues of my teenage years

I was 13 years old in 1989 when I finally started reading the Captain America comic book on a monthly basis. This was when my father began taking me to the comic shop every week, so it became much easier to follow the series.

I really liked Kieron Dwyer’s pencils on Captain America. In 1989 Dwyer was still a young, up-and-coming artist, but even then you could see how much talent & potential he possessed.

A year later Dwyer was replaced as the penciler on Captain America by Ron Lim, whose work at the time I actually liked even better. Lim was the artist on the book from January 1990 to June 1991, drawing issues #366, #368 – 378, and #380 – 386. He was paired with Filipino artist Danny Bulanadi on inks. Lim’s penciling on Captain America was absolutely dynamic, and I immediately became a HUGE fan of his work.

Some of the best work by Lim & Bulanadi was on the seven part storyline “Streets of Poison” that ran bi-weekly in the summer of 1990. Written by Mark Gruenwald, it involved the Red Skull challenging the Kingpin for control of New York City’s illegal drug trade, with Cap getting caught in the crossfire. Lim & Bulanadi drew some amazing action sequences as Cap fought against Bullseye and Crossbones.

Cap versus Bullseye from Captain America #374 by Lim & Bulanadi

So I was incredibly disappointed when Lim left Captain America and was replaced by Rik Levins with issue #387, which was cover-dated July 1991. I felt there was an immediate, steep decline in quality, and I was really upset 😭😭😭

(Keep in mind I was a teenager, and we all know how melodramatic they can be about really trivial things!)

Lim’s departure also coincided with long-time Captain America scribe Mark Gruenwald writing 1991’s six part bi-weekly summer storyline “The Superia Stratagem” which involved the female supremacist Superia gathering together an army of super-powered female villains on an island sanctuary and attempting to sterilize the outside world. A number of Cap fans, myself included, feel this storyline was the moment when Gruenwald jumped the shark.

Making this story even more ridiculous was the fact that at one point Cap and his ally Paladin, to infiltrate the island, disguise themselves as women. Yes, really. Yes, it was as ridiculous as you can possibly imagine.

What a drag! That infamous scene from Captain America #391 by Rik Levins & Danny Bulanadi

Now, I honestly don’t know if “The Superia Stratagem” would have been any more readable if Lim had been penciling it instead of Levins. I just feel that Levins didn’t have the strength as an artist to pull off making it work. It’s also worth pointing out that Lim was still penciling the covers for “The Superia Stratagem” and they were actually quite good.

The differences between Ron Lim and Rik Levins always stood out for me when I compared these very similar sequences from Captain America #266 and #297, as seen below. The first is penciled by Lim, and it’s got so much energy, with Cap having this determined look and gritted teeth as he comes swinging into action. The second one is by Levins, and Cap just has this really bland, bored expression on his face, and from his body language it feels like he’s performing a gymnastics routine rather than fighting for his life.

A comparison of Ron Lim and Rik Levins penciling similar action sequences

I hope none of this comes across as disrespectful to Levins. I did eventually develop a certain appreciation for him. I think his work on Captain America improved, beginning with the very bizarre-yet-entertaining “Man & Wolf” storyline (yes, the one that brought us Capwolf, a subject for another time), and his last year & a half on Captain America was quite good.

I also later discovered Levins’ work on Femforce and Dragonfly and other AC Comics titles, and it was so much better. I think Levins’ contributions to AC Comics were much more personal for him (he created several characters and wrote a number of the stories) so there was probably a greater investment in it, whereas Captain America was just a paying gig. (And, yes, Levins’ work for AC Comics is also a subject for another future blog post.)

A definite improvement: Captain America #410 by Levins & Bulanadi

It’s also definitely worth noting that Levins holds the record for drawing the most consecutive issues of Captain America, having penciled #387 to #422, a total of 36 issues. That even beats out Cap’s co-creator Jack Kirby, who actually only penciled 24 consecutive issues of the series (#193 to #214 plus Annual #3 and #4, for those keeping track).

Levins passed away in June 2010 at the much too young age of 59. In retrospect, I now consider him to be a very underrated talent, as well as a consummate professional, someone who was able to turn in good, solid work month after month. The closest Levins ever came to missing a deadline was when M.C. Wyman had to pencil the second half of Captain America#414. This in comparison to all of the high-profile “hot” artists were constantly dropping the ball and turning in late work in the early 1990s.

Having said all of that that, I nevertheless have to confess: All these years later I STILL keep hoping that one day Ron Lim will get asked to draw the monthly Captain America series again. He has occasionally returned to the character. Lim penciled the final issue of the “Heroes Reborn” run in 1997, and I can honestly tell you that I was absolutely thrilled when I picked up that issue and found he was the artist. More recently, in 2019 Lim drew the Avengers: Loki Unleashed special written by Roger Stern and, again, I snatched that baby off the shelves. It was so great to see Cap and the rest of the Avengers drawn by Lim once again.

Avengers: Loki Unleashed demonstrated that Ron Lim still draws an amazing Captain America

So if Marvel ever does give the assignment of drawing Captain America or Avengers to Ron Lim, yeah, I would definitely jump onboard to buy those comic books!

I actually met Ron Lim a couple of years ago at East Coast Comicon , and I had the opportunity to tell him that him leaving Captain America was the first time I ever experienced a crushing loss over a creator leaving a series. He explained that intially the plan was just for him to take a short break from Captain America so that he could finish penciling the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries after George Perez had to drop out halfway through. However, Marvel then asked Lim to pencil the follow-ups Infinity War and Infinity Crusade, so he never did have a chance to return to Captain America.

I made sure to let Lim know that as an adult I understood that from a career perspective it made perfect sense for him to move over to a high-profile project such as Infinity Gauntlet and its sequels. I think Lim found my anecdote amusing, and he seemed to appreciate the fact that I was such a huge fan of his work.

Wild Thing #1 cover by Ron Lim & Al Milgrom, signed by Lim… yes, I actually enjoyed this series!

Oh, yeah, having finally met Ron Lim at East Coast Comicon, what did I get signed by him? Was it an issue of Captain America or one of the Avengers-related books that he drew? Nope! It was Wild Thing #1. Yeah, I completely forgot to bring any of Lim’s work to the show to get signed, so I picked up Wild Thing #1 from one of the comic dealers. (I bought Wild Thing when it first came out in 1999, but those comics were among the ones that I got rid of when I sold off most of my collection several years ago.) At that point in time I just wanted to have Lim autograph something he drew, since I’m still a huge fan, and nowadays I care much more about creators than characters. I guess that just shows how much my priorities have changed since the Summer of 1991.

It now occurs to me that this is the perfect example of how unique our experiences as fans can be. Most other readers probably didn’t do much more than blink when Lim was replaced by Levins. But for me, I was at just the right age to really connect with the combo of Gruenwald & Lim on my absolutely favorite character, and when Lim then left the book it really felt like the apple cart was turned over, so to speak. I can now understand how it was such an unsettling experience for quite a number of fans ten years before when John Byrne left X-Men, or two decades earlier when Jack Kirby quit Marvel Comics entirely. So, yeah, it’s definitely a matter of individual perspective.

Saturday at the East Coast Comicon

For the last few months I was trying to decide if I should attend the East Coast Comicon that was going to be held on April 11th and 12th in the Meadowlands Exposition Center.  It sounded like it would be a cool show with a lot of great guests.  Unfortunately my finances were shaky, so I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I should skip it.

Then a few weeks ago 13th Dimension, who were organizing the show, announced a contest for free tickets plus Planet of the Apes action figures.  I entered the contest and then promptly forgot about it, since I was busy stressing about work and personal stuff.  That is until April 2nd when Dan Greenfield from 13th Dimension e-mailed me to let me know that I was one of the winners.  Okay, so I guess that meant I was going to the show after all!

East Coast Comicon banner by Cliff Galbraith

Michele and I went to the convention on Saturday.  Due to that aforementioned “personal stuff” both of us were exhausted and got a late start.  And once we got to the Port Authority the bus to the Meadowlands was running a half hour behind schedule.  So we didn’t get to the show until 3:30 PM, which gave us two and a half hours to try to take in as much as possible.

One of the first people we saw was cartoonist Rick Parker.  He is a really cool guy with an insane sense of humor.  I’ve met him at a few shows in the past, and we’re also friends on Facebook.  The last time I actually saw him in person was May 2011, when he was generous enough to give me a ride from the train station to the Hawthorne High School Comic Con.  I’m happy that I got to see him again after all this time.

Rick Parker East Coast Comicon

Rudy Nebres was another guest.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big fan of his work.  He was at the show with his family.  He and his wife are always friendly.  This time I also met his son Mel, who I’m friends with on Facebook.  It’s always nice when you get to actually meet FB friends in person.

One of the guests I was really looking forward to meeting was Arthur Adams.  I’ve been a fan of his work for years but I’d never met him before.  Adams’ work is amazing.  He puts an absolutely insane amount of detail into his art.  Michele wasn’t familiar with Adams, but once she some of his work she was instantly impressed.

I brought along a few comics for Adams to sign, along with The Official Godzilla Compendium, for which he contributed a number of illustrations.  Adams is a lifelong fan of Godzilla.  He also really enjoys drawing gorillas.  Given those two passions, I mentioned to him that it was too bad Toho Studios does not like to have their Godzilla character appear in crossovers, because he would be the perfect guy to illustrate a graphic novel version of King Kong vs. Godzilla.  Adams actually responded that in the mid-1990s when he was involved with the Godzilla comic published by Dark Horse he pitched a “Superman vs. Godzilla” crossover.  DC Comics was all for it, but Toho had zero interest, and so it went nowhere.  Too bad, that could have been amazing.

Arthur Adams East Coast Comicon

Another creator I was happy to see at the convention was Ann Nocenti.  I’ve reviewed some of her work on this blog before.  Nocenti is one of the most distinctive writers in the comic book biz.  She brought with her unique sensibilities and an unconventional outlook when she began writing for Marvel Comics in the 1980s, which led to a number of memorable stories.  I look back very fondly on her run writing Daredevil in the late 1980s.

I’ve actually met Nocenti before, a couple of years ago when she was doing a signing at Jim Hanley’s Universe.  But that was pretty crowded, and I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to her.  At the East Coast Comicon there was much more of an opportunity to share my thoughts about her work and ask her some questions.  Nocenti was definitely very generous with her time.

Ann Nocenti East Coast Comicon

Also among the guests who Michele and I got to meet  were underground cartoonist John Holstrom, current Heathcliff comic strip creator Peter Gallagher, the amazingly funny Fred Hembeck, longtime Marvel writer & artist Bob Budiansky, and Ren & Stimpy co-creator Bob Camp.  There were a bunch of other guests there, as well, but we just didn’t have enough time to catch everyone.

I was glad that at towards the end of the show I did have a few moments to stop by Eric Talbot‘s table.  Talbot has a long association with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book.  I was a huge fan of the series back in high school, and I fondly remember his work on it.  Most of my collection is packed away in storage but I was able to bring along a few issues of the more recent Tales of the TMNT anthology series that he contributed to and have those autographed.  I wish I could have afforded to get a sketch from Talbot because he was drawing some amazing pieces at the show.

Eric Talbot East Coast Comicon

Fortunately I was able to obtain one sketch at the convention.  Rudy Nebres drew a beautiful pencil head sketch of Vampirella for me.  I’ve really enjoyed his work on the character in the past so I was happy to be able to get this.

Actually It’s been a while since I’ve been to a convention and gotten more than one or two pieces of artwork, anyway.  I guess nowadays, with my finances being more limited, I’m concentrating on quality over quantity.

Vampirella Rudy Nebres

There were a lot of cosplayers at the convention.  Some of the costumes were fantastic.  Since we were rushing around Michele unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to take too many pictures.  As we were on our way out, though, she was able to take a great photo of this “Spider-Family.”  From left to right that’s Venom, Scarlet Spider, Spider-Woman aka Spider-Gwen and the original Spider-Man.

Spider-Man cosplayers East Coast Comicon

Oh, yes, one last thing… Michele is a huge fan of Planet of the Apes.  Last year she rented all the movies from the original series and we watched them over a five day stretch.

In addition to winning two tickets to the convention, I also won two Planet of the Apes action figures.  One was Charlton Heston himself, Colonel Taylor, who wishes those damn dirty apes would keep their paws to themselves.  The other was a gorilla soldier who looks ready to hunt down some of those pesky humans.  Sadly neither figure came with a half-buried Statue of Liberty, but despite that deficiency they are still very cool.  Of course I gave them to Michele, who I knew would appreciate them.

Planet of the Apes action figures East Coast Comicon

Despite only getting to the convention for less than half a day, and being on a really tight budget, Michele and I both had  a lot of fun.  Hopefully we will be able to make it again next year.

A big “thank you” to 13th Dimension publisher Cliff Galbraith for organizing the East Coast Comicon.  By the way, that’s his artwork on the cool banner up top of Darth Vader cosplaying as Doctor Doom.

(All photos are courtesy of Michele Witchipoo and her wonderful smartphone.)