Monday, October 14, 2013

Captain America and Rick--Partners Again!

Occasionally, we'll see an instance in a Marvel story where Rick Jones, legendary "hanger-on" of the Avengers, the Hulk, and Captain America, brings up his former association with Cap and training as his partner, usually right before he uses that training to get him out of a jam. Yet, those stories seldom if ever mention how short the duration was of Rick's fighting alongside Cap, really only amounting to about three or four issues of fighting Hydra goons and A.I.M. together. You might say Rick's "training" was more a result of eagerness and learning by example, with Cap pretty much shouting out tactics and moves as they fought. As a result, Rick was certainly never in Bucky's class as a fighter, nor was his short-lived rep as Cap's partner really worth much on paper.

We know that partnership came to an end when Cap regained a secret identity for himself and decided to build a life for that new identity. Before things came to a head in that respect, we got some nice battle scenes of Cap and Rick in battle with Hydra, which would involve the Avengers before it was all over. But thanks to a well-planned scheme between the Space Phantom and the Grim Reaper, which inadvertently reawakens memories within Cap that had been erased, we learned that Cap and Rick's battle with Hydra at Drearcliff Cemetery didn't really end as Cap thought it did, but played out more extensively--which gives us another look at the Cap/Rick partnership in action:

So before the Space Phantom shows up to spoil things, let's take a look at the last punches thrown from the partnership that might have been:

Captain America and Rick, together again!

As we see so far, writer Steve Englehart, along with artists George Tuska and Dave Cockrum, strike a nice balance of putting Rick in peril while allowing him his share of the fight. Rick of course isn't the whirlwind Cap is in a battle against these kinds of odds and weaponry, yet we have to give him credit for hanging in there and standing up to his commitment.

Though speaking of that weaponry, not even these two can be ready for everything hurled at them:

Since Cap is recalling these memories in bits and pieces, we're forced to jump around a bit--but in the Avengers story in which Cap revisits this battle, where the team is pursuing a lead on the missing Quicksilver, we see that Cap and Rick discover the same camouflaged entrance to a Hydra lair on the lower east side that Hawkeye has fallen into. All the pieces of the puzzle are being assembled by Englehart, and he ties in Cap's situation in these fascinating memory flashbacks:

Keep that in mind, the next time you're trapped in an elevator: never rip the wiring out of the button panel and cross any exposed wires, or THERE'LL BE AN EXPLOSION. Elevator companies always make a point of posting notice of the maximum weight allowed in a car--I don't know why they don't mention something like that. Or maybe Hydra has a low tolerance for lackeys who can't get out of a stuck elevator.

Anyway, Cap and Rick are hell on wheels from this point on. It certainly looks like Rick is pulling his weight, doesn't it? He's in this fight all the way with Cap, and he thinks fast on his feet. But both of these men find that Hydra's lair is packed with traps. From fake doors:

To anti-gravity snares:

To invisibility devices:

This trap definitely proves to be the deadliest to the pair. But fortunately, their bolt leads to a kitchen, where Cap spots their salvation among some common pantry items:

But, good grief, Hydra isn't through yet. Up next, would you believe:

Rick of course has no way of knowing that the person behind the mask is no longer Madame Hydra, but the Space Phantom, who has armed this contingent of Hydra with his own advanced weaponry. But the fact that Cap and Rick have overcome it every step of the way speaks even more highly of their nascent partnership. Even shrunken, the team is cooking on all cylinders, finally managing to wrap things up:

Once Cap unmasks the "Supreme Hydra," his recollections end--though we find out later that the Phantom takes them both off guard and proceeds to wipe their memories of the battle in order to further a grander scheme. Yet Englehart's story within a story has given us a priceless look at the potential of a Cap/Rick partnership which was never really allowed to flourish in Captain America. Once it fizzled there, Rick would eventually go on to hook up with another captain (though initially a teaming that had him sitting on the sidelines in the Negative Zone)--while Cap would find a new partnership with the Falcon.  Unfortunately, there was one other partnership which Marvel failed to pursue:  Dave Cockrum inking Tuska's pencils, which was simply stunning here.


B Smith said...

Agreed - Cockrum's inks on Tuska's pencils was a fascinating combination. And the more-considered than usual use of colour made it even more of a standout ie shades of yellow and green to indicate that flashback is about to be entered, next panel a paler shade of the usual colours of costumes etc, then the standard colouring....and reverse for when the flashback's about to finish. I seem to recall reading somewhere that Steve Englehart (who you may recall started out a san artist himself) may have had a hand in this particular issue.

Have to admit the one puzzling aspect of those flashback sequences was using Tuska at all...about 18 months earlier, Fantastic Four #108 did a story cobbled together from Jack Kirby's pencils, with John Buscema filling in the framing sequences...when this Avengers issue came along, one might have wondered whether this was a similar situation...?

Comicsfan said...

B, thanks for those excellent observations about the varied use of coloring for the flashbacks (as you say, a really nice way to handle the sequences), as well as that of Tuska's work perhaps being grandfathered in. As seamless as everything turned out, I think it all made for a very cool issue.

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