Thursday, October 18, 2012

Don't Expedite The Epiphany

Don't forget to grab your cape for this

Marvel Trivia Question

Who is this eager beaver, and how many issues did he appear in before disappearing for good?

You'll probably know our caped crusader better in his original uniform:

There was a period in the life of Steve Rogers when, in his identity of Captain America, he became disillusioned with the ways of Washington and the power plays of the higher-level politicians there--culminating in an incident where one of those politicians, unmasked as a criminal mastermind of the Secret Empire, committed suicide right before his eyes. His faith in his government shaken to the core, Cap gave up his identity as a living symbol of America and went into retirement.

A short time later, he had an encounter with a disguised Hawkeye, where the marksman suggested that he simply take on a new super-hero identity--one without ties to the USA image, in which he could continue helping people. Rogers, missing his life of adventure, followed through on the suggestion, and thus was born the Nomad (appropriately, "the man without a country"). At the time, he still had enhanced super-strength in addition to his training as an acrobat and a tactical soldier--so, despite the somewhat generic costume he made for himself, his budding career certainly had potential.

Unfortunately, his attempt at solving his first case--foiling a plot of the newly reformed Serpent Squad--ended somewhat embarrassingly:

Still, the Nomad pressed on--pursuing the Serpent Squad case and eventually stopping them, as well as accompanying the Avengers on one of their cases. But while investigating the disappearance of the Falcon, he was to be greeted with another visual shock which the Falcon's bird, Redwing, led him to:

Roscoe Simmons, a young kid who had assumed the Cap identity under the supervision of the Falcon, was captured and brutally put to death by the Red Skull, who was furious at discovering his captured foe was an imposter. It was enough to cause Rogers to come to terms with his identity crisis:

And it was exit Nomad and re-enter Captain America, after just a four-issue run. And believe me, the above panels considerably boil down the decision making process the reader had to slog through--two pages of small panels filled with nothing but Nomad coming to a rushed-through self-realization. Yov've probably never seen a career (or, in this case, a story arc) wrapped up more quickly--as if the next issue simply had to have Cap back in costume again from page one. Which, as it happened, page one of that next issue indeed made clear:

This sudden about-face of Steve Rogers, given his convictions in his role as the Nomad, was enough to give a reader virtual whiplash--particularly in light of how happy Steve seemed to be in this new identity. Sure, there was some minor backlash from the Falcon when Cap went off the grid, being disappointed with Steve's initial decision to retire; and when Steve decided to go back to adventuring as Nomad, his girlfriend, Sharon Carter, was equally put out, since she'd seen his retirement as a chance for the two of them to start a life together. But it was obvious that those concerns were secondary next to the prospect of becoming the Nomad.

So why the rush to wrap up the arc? One concern, of course, had to be the return of co-creator Jack Kirby to the title--writing and drawing a "bicentennial" series of stories that obviously required Cap to be back in full operation, as well as fully on board again with his staunch embrace of America. Kirby picking up the reins also necessitated long-time scripter Steve Englehart leaving the title, so whatever story threads had already been set in motion had to be concluded. Kirby's tenure wasn't due to begin for another nine months yet--but that translated to only nine issues for any loose ends to be tied up. In this case, that meant the Red Skull's threat had to be dealt with, as well as a convoluted plot of the Skull's that revealed how it was he who had actually positioned the Falcon to be Cap's partner. Since the Falcon was going to figure prominently in Kirby's stories, that plot had to be put to rest.

(As an aside, one can only wonder how Kirby's rather disappointing run on Captain America would have been enhanced with Englehart staying to script the stories and tweak the plots.)

Consequently, the character of Nomad was given the "bum's rush" and swept abruptly out the door, having really worked on only one case--one-and-a-half, if you count his brief search for Sam Wilson. And quite the revolving door at that, given the shuffling of creative talent going on behind the scenes. Regular artist Sal Buscema had left shortly before the Nomad stories ended and was replaced with Frank Robbins, whose artwork was unfortunately the polar opposite of Buscema's dependable pacing and more realistic character appearances. When Cap was brought back, veteran artist Herb Trimpe was tapped to do the story rather than Robbins (and did an exceptional job on both the story and Cap, as if he'd been drawing the book for years). Then Robbins again, then Buscema again, then back to Robbins. The book was obviously in a holding pattern, on two fronts: filling the gap before Kirby's arrival, and minimizing the damage of Robbins' take on the character.

Nomad was doubtlessly meant to have just a brief run as a character, given that people are presumably buying Captain America to see and read about Captain America, not his stand-in. Even if it's Steve Rogers behind the mask of Nomad, there are no colorful stars and stripes anywhere on his Nomad costume, and no red-white-and-blue shield flying through the air--and, yes, no assuredness that only comes with Captain America's ideals. Nomad just sort of--hops and swings around, doing somersaults and punching. Which is almost exactly what Cap does, but with the difference that Nomad is less eye-catching and of course with a lack of symbolism. So Steve's honeymoon with being free of the burden of Cap's ideals and responsibilities had to end fairly quickly, as unsustainable as Nomad was in this book. I suppose I was just expecting his realization of his true calling to come in gradual steps. Instead, in a dizzying two-page monologue, we went from this:

to this:

 ...quicker than you could say "star-spangled banner."

Though when you can't even be bothered to cut down the kid who was killed and strung up in your costume before you go rushing off to suit up again, maybe leap-frogging to your epiphany isn't the most level-headed way to settle your identity crisis.


Anonymous said...

The first comics i remember buying were Sterenko'S CA and what I remember most is Sal Buscema. He drew what CA looked like for me... Never go into Robbins.

Jon H said...

"No capes!" - Edna Mode