Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Less Super Super-Soldier

I'm not sure what writer Steve Englehart's intention was when he gave Captain America super-strength (as a result of being poisoned by the Viper). My impression of those stories was that he initially wanted to highlight the Falcon's characterization by showing how he'd react to Cap's augmented status and how it would affect their crime-fighting partnership. And this one scene should sum that up for you pretty well:

And after the scuffle, when Cap tries to reassure the Falcon, things finally come to a head:

As a result, and with Cap's help, the Falcon hooks up with the Black Panther to see if the Panther's scientific resources can come up with something to augment the Falcon's abilities in order to more balance his standing with Cap. And the Panther delivers:

So that takes care of the Falcon--and the adventures of himself and Cap take on a more balanced feel, as expected. But when artist/writer Jack Kirby takes the reins of Cap's book, he retains some elements of prior storylines but disregards others--an example of the latter being Cap's super-strength, which for all intents and purposes never happened, with Kirby preferring Cap to rely on his own abilities which have served him so well over the years and admittedly made a better "fit" for the character. Yet Kirby not only keeps the Falcon around, but his artificial wings are in full display--wings which would never have come into existence had it not been for Cap's super-strength.

At any rate, shortly after Kirby's run on the book ends, the issue of Cap's absent super-strength is brought up and addressed in a letters page response:

"...what about that extra super-strength Cap gained a couple of years back? Should he keep (regain) it, or do you prefer the 'mere' perfect fighting-machine of an earlier period. Roy, Don, and Sal would truly appreciate hearing from as many Cap-boosters as possible on the subject--and as quickly as possible, too, before they commit themselves either way! We'll try to devote a letters-page in a couple of months (about #221 or thereabouts) [Ed.: four issues away] primarily to comments for and against Cap's super-strength... and who knows? We may even give away a nostalgia-producing no-prize or two!"

A nice bone to throw to readers, if a bit insulting, since it's probably safe to say that the minds of alternating writers Roy Thomas and Don Glut had already been made up.  Because in the very next issue, the matter of Cap's super-strength is quietly disposed of, with just a few tidy words:

At the same time, Cap's partnership with the Falcon was also allowed to fade into the background and was eventually purged from the book entirely, with Falcon accepting an assignment to train SHIELD's "super-agent" team. The book's title was adjusted accordingly--back to simply Captain America--five issues later, after readers were given sufficient time to see and get used to Cap adventuring on his own. Presumably Falcon's exit was made in accordance with new writer Steve Gerber's wish to shake things up in the book, as another helpful letters page response makes clear:

"Steve feels that most of the supporting players in earlier issues of CA&F--Sharon Carter, the Agents of Shield, etc.--have about had their day. He would like to endow the magazine with a new cast of characters, a different type of plotline, and, generally, a whole new look to see it gracefully into the 1980's."

As for Cap's super-strength, I don't recall seeing any of those solicited letters from readers appearing in subsequent letters pages, so we can probably assume that they were pitched into the trash on sight, given how awkward it would have looked to publish them when a decision on the matter had already been made months before.  Nor did it seem that anyone minded that Cap was back to "super-soldier" level in fighting strength, which still made for dynamic fight scenes.  Captain America in my opinion works best in a story when he prevails by his strength of character rather than a punch to the jaw--because getting that punch to connect to the jaw means having Cap overcome the odds being stacked against him, combined with a fighting spirit that's fueled by an innate responsibility to save lives and to do the right thing.  There's a difference between "Captain America prevails" and "Captain America mows down the opposition," and in that respect there's really no need for super-strength in this super-soldier.


Kid said...

I never really minded the super-strength too much. After all, he was the first 'super' soldier, so enhanced strength (at least stronger than an ordinary man) was kind of implicit to a degree.

Comicsfan said...

Yes, I think "enhanced" strength is a good way to describe his original (and current) level. And in a way it emphasizes how added "super" strength makes Cap less unique than his counterparts.