Friday, September 26, 2014

Like Father, Not Like Son


That question began a 10-issue arc in Captain America following writer/artist Jack Kirby's departure from the title, set in motion by Cap's realization that the years of his youth before he volunteered for the super-soldier experiment were suddenly years he no longer recalled. Roy Thomas began things by having Cap take himself back to his origin in that experiment. Then, following clues that led him to Newfoundland, Cap discovered a former Nazi enemy who partially restored his memory of the day he lost his partner, Bucky, while battling Zemo--a day he now knows didn't end with the fatal explosion of the drone plane and his plunge into the English Channel.

And now, after dealing with the android copy of himself known as the Ameridroid, Cap resumes the search for his identity. By now we're beginning to wonder if Cap's hearing has been affected as well as his memory, since his readers have probably been screaming "Check your army records, you dope! Your army records!" all this time. It takes seven issues for the light bulb to glow over his head, but Cap finally visits the Pentagon and takes a look at his files. What he finds, though, are more questions to add to the mystery:

But after another three issues pass, this arc at last reaches its end, as Cap makes use of the scientific knowledge of Mason Harding (yes, that Mason Harding) to probe his memories more deeply and find the answers he seeks--under the watchful eye of Nick Fury, who isn't feeling too trustworthy toward the man who invented the "Madbomb."

And so Cap's "full speed ahead" resolve begins the story of Steve Rogers, seen in Marvel history for the first time.

Cap is understandably apprehensive about his past, though we should keep in mind that Cap did have these memories at one time and still went on to become the one and only Captain America--so what we're about to see here isn't likely to be overly traumatic, at least to the degree that he was unable to deal with it or that his childhood affected his adulthood detrimentally. So we can perhaps simply look at this story as the "origin of Steve Rogers." For any other kid growing up in the late 1930s, we might regard these scenes as mundane; but the fact that we're watching the future Captain America gives them a, dare I say it, historical context.

For instance, we might expect the young Steve Rogers to have been a real go-getter, the apple of his father's eye. But we know from Steve's physical build that he might not have had the easiest childhood--and the person who more accurately fits the characteristics of the person we think of as Cap is actually his brother, Mike, who's very different from Steve in both temperament and ambition. Differences evident to a most discriminating father:

Thus, Walter Rogers distances himself from the son he regards as a disappointment--and, in turn, Steve develops a growing bitterness toward his father.

Things only grow worse in the years before World War II. Steve is preparing to attend State U., while Steve's brother, Mike, is attending a military academy. Mike's choice makes the patriotic Walter beyond proud, but only highlights the differences he sees between Mike and Steve:

Unsurprisingly, Steve benefits from the time away from home, immersing himself in the many different voices and diverse people found in a college setting. But in late 1941, his life would change forever--as tragedy strikes home, and his pacifism takes a sharp turn.

Which brings us, of course, to Steve's fateful decision, ironically brought about by the admission policies of the armed forces that Walter Rogers chided Steve for turning away from. And the moment finally comes when Captain America is able to bring all of his memories home:

Yet in a fascinating twist to this story, the effect that the experience has had on Cap has returned Steve Rogers to the world more fully than anyone could have expected. Nor is it likely to improve Harding's credibility with Fury:

For all intents and purposes, Cap's search for his identity has come to an end. (Er, much like Cap himself!) The "origin" of Steve Rogers is really nothing out of the ordinary, except of course for the extraordinary development that occurs in his life as part of "Project: Rebirth"; and his early life is equally unremarkable in a later, updated version of his origin told in 1991, where there are discrepancies. There, he grows up in the lower east side of Manhattan instead of an upper-middle-class home in Maryland; his parents are poor immigrants, Sarah and Joseph, who both died fairly early in Steve's life. Thomas, perhaps for the sake of the arc (and maybe due to the fact that he was only present to drop the first seed of the plot before exiting the book), made it seem as if this identity search was going to yield something far more ominous from his past, which doesn't seem to be the case.

As for how Cap's memories of his childhood vanished in the first place--well, with so many chefs in this kitchen, it seems that no one ever got around to making that clear. We're left to assume that the loss of these memories was due to exposure from Lyle Dekker's nerve gas in that plane explosion over Newfoundland in 1944--the same gas that placed him in suspended animation and caused him to forget the events that took place immediately after Bucky's death. But if that's the case, that would mean that in all the years since Cap's revival, he's never once let his thoughts drift back to his childhood only to realize that those memories weren't there.

At any rate, rest assured that Cap's regression was only temporary, wearing off in a moment of crisis where he embraces his past along with his present:

Uh, Cap--you're talking to a robot, which couldn't care less. But welcome back.

Captain America #225

Script: Steve Gerber
Layouts: Sal Buscema
Finishers: Mike Esposito and John Tartaglione
Letterer: Irv Watanabe


Anonymous said...

I've been waiting with interest for this post because I was recently reading that Captain America's parents were Irish immigrants which I didn't remember at all - but I wasn't reading any Marvel comics from 1983-2007 so if that newer version only comes from 1991 then that would explain it. The newer version is clearly an attempt to make him much less privileged but making him the son of poor Irish immigrants who die young is really piling on the misery and pushes things too far in the other direction.

david_b said...

Still one of the LAMEST origin revisits ever.

And small annoyance, but why does Cap launch that big tool with the wide, blunt end first..? Wouldn't it have made more sense for the narrow pole-end to pierce the robot more easier..?

I got excited by Sal's welcomed art (I REALLY did..), but the story was laughably insipid and lame.

Anonymous said...

Not to belabor the point but there's just such a bad taste to this examination of Steven Grant Rogers' childhood. To be roughly the age he would be, that 18-19 range, Freshman in college, he would have been born 1922-23ish. His family seems to have been roughly untouched by the Great Depression. I also didn't get a sense that with 15 years in the State Department either they or his dad spent any time abroad. And a civil servant position doesn't quite lead to idyllic homes.

Other minor points. Mike has a glove, Walter has a glove, Stevie has NO glove yet Walter gets mad when he chunks Stevie the ball and Stevie misses it!?! He's got no glove, Dude, or does that not matter? Redikalous, just redikalous.
Mike slides in safe where exactly? Every home plate I've ever seen has the pointy part towards the catcher, I see nothing that makes me think that's home plate. Again, redikalous.

And did I miss a time jump? Mike was at the Naval Academy and then stationed at Pearl Harbor? How long was Steve in college?

Last point, this is about the reboot of the reboot. Rogers as the son of Irish immigrants. I don't know many first generation children who don't have at least some accent. Nothing in Steve's portrayal has ever hinted that he has one, Irish or otherwise. And I would defer to Colin on this, but how many Irish carry the last name Rogers?

Now, what was that about a catnap? Oh, bad.

The Prowler (son of a daughter of a an immigrant).

Comicsfan said...

As all have noted in one way or another, this origin of Steve Rogers didn't appear to have a lot of thought put into its execution, either in terms of details or the actual story arc. The story initially set in motion by Roy Thomas had a number of writers and contributors trickling down from the one issue he scripted (which only got the ball rolling on its last page)--Don Glut, David Kraft, Steve Gerber, Peter Gillis, and Roger McKenzie, who all presumably were working from (or at least familiar with) Thomas's plot. How tightly structured and detailed that plot was, or how closely this string of other writers adhered to or compared notes on it, is anyone's guess. The general sense seems to be that it was hastily put in place, and wrapped up as time permitted (i.e., while dealing with a number of other plots shuffled in). I'd been wondering why the effort was made to give Rogers a different origin later, and specifically why this one was essentially ignored--my layman's guess is that there might have been too little substance here for Fabian Nicieza's newer series to work with.

Anonymous said...

Actually, this origin was retconned in Captain America 247, less than 2 years after it came out. The reason was because every other depiction of Captain America's origin, including the start of this arc that you linked to, established that Steve volunteered for the super-soldier formula before Pearl Harbor. So this origin was written off as memory implants.

Comicsfan said...

Thanks, Anon, that's good to know! And it doesn't seem that anyone will shed a tear over this origin's demise. ;)

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