Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Scourge Of The Commies

We got quite the introduction of the "real" Captain America in Parts 1 and 2 of his story--only to find "Cap" (and his partner, "Bucky") heading off on a mission of murder to find his modern-day counterpart, with the Falcon in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, as Part 3 opens, we find out all too quickly who got there first:

Give these twisted men credit--they know their business. They may be crazed, but they're canny and battle-savvy enough to make a credible Cap/Bucky team--experienced, always on the same page, and knowledgeable enough about tactics to lure their targets with deception rather than wage an all-out battle, all in the unshakeable belief that they're fighting for a just cause.

But they have one more loose end to tie up on this beach--Sharon Carter, who the imposter-Cap plans to lure into a trap in the same way that Bucky did, using the familiarity of his features. Only he slips up in one respect, and this trained SHIELD agent spots it before it's too late: the Steve Rogers she was with was sunburned, and this man isn't. And she bolts, with her pursuers hot on her heels:

With the Falcon's timely arrival in the nick of time (well, at least for Sharon), the four-way battle paves the way for the story we've been waiting for to finally be divulged:

Given their fearlessness and willingness to meet this fight head-on, it's almost believable that Sharon and the Falcon might be something of a match for this pair, with their combined knowledge of skill and tactics. But their foes know teamwork just as well, while also bolstered by super-strength--and they quite simply overwhelm our underdogs:

And so finally, we learn just who it is behind the face and the voice of this "Steve Rogers," with one bold, incredible statement:

As writer Steve Englehart explains, the idea for this story was proposed by another Marvel mainstay, from a fascinating premise:

"Roy Thomas had been thinking about the Captain America who appeared in Timely (Marvel) books in the 1950s. Marvel's Cap was supposed to have been frozen in ice during that time, so who was that man in the flag suit? He asked me that question as he handed me the book, and I ran with it for my four-issue initial story."

Thus, we learn of a boy in 1945 who learns of the presumed deaths of both Cap and Bucky that year, news which has a profound effect on the direction of his life from that point on:

(Don't look so shocked--the Daily Bugle had been cranking out the news well before 1945. Maybe Jonah Jameson was a reporter or perhaps even a copywriter at the time.)

Our would-be Cap was interested in digging a little deeper for information on his idol (alright, we can probably say he was obsessed at this point), so he flew to Germany to investigate intelligence reports and old Nazi records stored by the allies. But it was the files of an espionage officer named Maj. Kerfoot that would provide the most shocking find of all:

Englehart has thus thrown a new wrinkle into the super-soldier experiment that created Captain America: that even though it was never divulged, Dr. Erskine (or Professor Reinstein, take your pick) wrote down his formula for the serum--a written record which was subsequently stolen by one of Kerfoot's spies and delivered (transmitted, I'm assuming) to his superior before that man was uncovered and killed during the actual experiment. Kerfoot himself was killed in a bomb blast the next day--and the written record of the formula was, for all intents and purposes, lost. Until early in 1953, when our friend stumbles onto it and strikes a deal with the U.S. government that's non-negotiable:

But this guy is going the whole nine yards, intending to become his idol in every way possible:

Unfortunately, the government then pulls the rug out from under him when the Korean War ends in mid-1953, and he's told that a symbol of national interest like "Captain America" would be too provocative in the current climate. And so, following his government's wishes to put aside his plans, the new "Steve Rogers" takes a professorship at the Lee School, an academy in Connecticut, where he runs into a young hero worshipper who happens to use a very familiar name for himself:

And Rogers finds himself spilling his life's history to this kid--a boy who, if he hasn't exactly met Captain America, has just found the next best thing. Eventually, though, he has a costume prepared for Rogers and pleads for more:

So what finally galvanizes Rogers to take up the mantle of Cap and go into action? It's here that Englehart weaves in an actual story from a 1953 comic book, Young Men #24, which features a tale about the return of Captain America:

In this story (drawn by John Romita, according to the Marvel wikia), Rogers and Bucky are of course the originals, since the circumstances of Cap's return in The Avengers were still to be written--yet for the purpose of Englehart's story, the new Rogers and his dedicated friend, as stand-ins for the originals, fit like a glove into the actual events of the story:

It takes only a little skillful back-and-forth between the contemporary tale and the original to make Rogers' explanation feasible. Though there are some revisions. For instance, you'll notice Bucky suiting up with Rogers, which would make sense given that the original Bucky only had normal strength as Cap's sidekick and Cap let him tag along anyway--but seemingly on a whim, Rogers offers to inject him with the serum, as well:

You'll also remember that in Part 1, the Falcon mentions that this new Cap is noticeably stronger than the original Cap. We know that the original Cap didn't have "super"-strength--that was yet to come in a later storyline. So it's a mystery why this new Cap is able to register super-strength, given that he's injecting himself with the same serum. I could buy he and Bucky ending up with something like the enhanced strength that the original presumably has--but we really get no further explanation on the subject.

Regardless, our new heroes are now ready for action in their first adventure:

And again, it only takes come clever adjustment in the original story to make it seem like these two are going into action for the first time:

Once the menace of the Red Skull is dealt with, these two begin to carve their own legend, all the while piggybacking on that of the original duo. Captain America Comics ended in early 1950, with this issue of Young Men published just before 1954--and so this legend would only have the brief continuation of the book's run later that year in which to flourish:

But things went horribly wrong for this pair, when they developed schizophrenic tendencies and began seeing enemies of America practically everywhere. The government had no choice but to step in:

Which finally brings us back to 1972, where a disgruntled worker at a certain storage facility decides that the current-day Captain America has taken his eye off the communist ball, and that he knows just the right duo for the job:

And so Rogers' tale to his captives has ended. By the way, what about that clue to his identity that the Falcon spotted in Part 2 of this story? Englehart now reveals it, for what it's worth:

As we touched on last time, this observation really didn't "identify" this man--it just confirmed him as an imposter, which was old news for Falc by that time. Interestingly enough, though, the halfway striped pattern the Falcon refers to was also worn by the Cap in Captain America Comics even in issues published in the early 1940s, a discrepancy not dealt with by Englehart's adaptation.

Once the murderous Cap stomps out, the original Cap has already freed himself from his bonds and then does the same for Falc and Sharon. And since we're at the issue's end, everything is being set up for a final confrontation in the next issue--Captain America vs. Captain America. The strange part is the opportunity that the original Cap chooses not to take:  to end this fight before it begins. It's made clear that the 1950s Cap doesn't realize that he's captured the original--the very man he idolized and devoted his entire life to imitating. That's an opening too great to pass up. The original Cap has taken time before to calmly reach with words those he's battled--why not here and now? The situation is tailor-made for that kind of conversation. And yet, ending the issue with fists clenched in resolve is clearly the way we're going:

Instead, Cap waits until the next issue to try to reach this man--well after they've already been locked in battle.  And it's indeed a battle of legends that's about to erupt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Roy Thomas as a supervillain does not surprise me. Englehart was kinda the Hunter S. Thompson of Marvel comics.