Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Return of the Real Captain America

There's a lot happening in Captain America #153 before you even get to the main event of what would become a very memorable four-part story. First, there's a major disagreement to be worked out between Cap and Nick Fury. Then, we see Cap and Sharon Carter going on a well-deserved vacation to the Bahamas (while also finding out that SHIELD Agent Carter is loaded with dough, though that's another story), as well as discovering the comforting thought that Captain America has no qualms whatsoever about calling in sick to his Steve Rogers job with the police department. (Maybe he's only passionately committed to helping others when it comes to the Avengers, unlike the Black Panther.) We also find out that Rogers was spotted by his police partner, Officer Courtney, deserting his shift (as well as his police uniform) the prior night--all in the name of duty, no doubt, but not the kind of duty that Courtney is concerned about.

So writer Steve Englehart stays pretty busy for the first twenty-something pages of the issue--wrapping things up from a prior conflict, laying some character groundwork, stirring up some difficulty with Rogers' status as a police patrolman, as well as opening the door to an upcoming battle with a crime czar called the Cowled Commander (not to be confused with the Crimson Cowl). As for the Falcon, once Rogers and Carter are on their way he's out patrolling the city solo, when he spots his sometime-girlfriend, Leila, cozying up to another guy. Through her, he hears about some disturbing incidents: a man resembling Cap, who's beating up random people in Harlem.

As Leila storms off, the Falcon eventually discovers that Leila was right:

The Falcon is stunned by several things at this point. One is that this man has Steve Rogers' voice--and using it with racist overtones, calling the Falcon "boy" as he attacks. And as the Falcon defends himself, he finds that this Captain America has super-strength:

But when the Falcon has the advantage, however briefly, he discovers the most shocking surprise of all:

Yet the Falcon isn't done with surprising revelations. Another one now enters the fray, and it will prove a shock to us, as well:

So what the heck is going on?? This man is Steve Rogers, in both appearance and voice, and claiming to be the "real" Captain America. And standing beside him is his youthful partner from the war, long presumed dead. There are enough mysteries here to fill one of those trash cans--and with two super-strong opponents now facing him, the Falcon may not have the time to connect the dots.

With the Falcon already reeling from the attacks against him, it doesn't take long for "Cap" and "Bucky" to regain the advantage and take him down again. And while he tries to pull himself together, we learn a little more about this twisted pair, at least as far as their lack of character is concerned:

Fortunately, Redwing, the Falcon's--er, falcon, attacks and keeps both of these madmen distracted, giving Falcon a much-needed breather. And when he pulls himself to his feet, these two discover that the Falcon isn't going down without one hell of a fight:

But it is two against one--more to the point, it's two super-powered foes the Falcon is up against. And given the beating he's already taken, he can see the writing on this wall:

Things don't look too good for the Falcon right now. But they look great for artist Sal Buscema, who, after about half a year on Captain America, has nicely settled into his stint as regular artist on the book and has virtually created a new standard for its characters and the look of the book as a whole. Now that we've segued into part 2 of this story, you can't help but *ahem* marvel at Buscema's story flow, as well as Englehart's chemistry with this long-time Marvel artist. It's obvious that both men are taking the time to make both Cap and the Falcon interesting and compelling, as well as to make their respective worlds an integral part of their lives.

And we probably have the Falcon's name sharing the masthead to thank for that--because it's no longer all about Cap anymore, since there are now so many characters to provide story material. For instance, we'd usually find characters like Rafe Michel, Leila Taylor, Sharon Carter, et al. amounting to little more than background characters, making way for the more immense plots that Cap would be involved in as well as for Cap himself; but just look at how Englehart and Buscema blend these additional characters in with each story. Leila, in particular, becomes one of my favorites--opinionated, flawed, sharp, and assertive, she's a character who should never be wasted by being given throw-away lines or minimal scenes.

In fact, we're about to see just how much these other characters can add to the story, when the Falcon's captors make off with him to a warehouse in Harlem to get information from him on Cap's whereabouts. Their capture of the Falcon has been witnessed by two local boys, who spread the word in order to organize a rescue:

And so the plan is on. And at the warehouse, Buscema and Englehart explode with an amazing fight scene, with the civilians just as interesting to keep track of as anyone in costume:

This combination interrogation/battle has given us valuable insight into this pair, and Englehart has struck a fascinating balance: we can't dismiss these men as simply "fakes" at this stage of the story (at least in the fullest sense of the word), but neither can we dismiss their flawed nature and actions. Bucky being dealt with is a good example--he's a kid partner loyal to his fellow "hero," but those traits are negated by his irrational hate and perhaps insanity. We're pulling more for his attackers, rather than the image of the bygone hero he represents.

As for "Cap," he's thinking on his feet, even in the middle of this brawl:

And as his captor throws himself back into the fray, Englehart makes an odd scripting choice in terms of the Falcon "recognizing" the man in Cap's uniform:

And I put it that way because, to skip ahead a bit, whatever the Falcon has seen doesn't actually give him (or us) this man's identity nor the origin of his role as "Captain America." We'll learn how this clue connects to both later, yes--but Englehart has only planted this seed for the reader to recall at the time when all is revealed. The Falcon, however, still remains clueless as far as specifics, because at this point he really has no idea what to do with the clue or even how to regard it. All it's really done for him is to confirm that this man is indeed an imposter--which he (and we) already knew--though, given the way Englehart has scripted it, it comes across instead as if the Falcon now has all the answers.

So, since he doesn't have the information he needs, the Falcon now scours the town for the pair's whereabouts. There's no shortage of information outlets for him in Harlem from the disreputable sources he's aware of--but since they all come up practically empty, he decides his best course of action is to head to the Bahamas and warn the real Cap personally. But before he takes off, he decides to enlist some high-powered help to be on the lookout for the imposter locally. Only it turns out Falc's quarry has been hiding in plain sight in order to obtain the location of his target:

Of course, since this book is called Captain America and the Falcon, and since this drama is of a personal nature, these final panels are the end of the Avengers' involvement, where in any sane world the team would head south with Falc to help Cap and nab these two loonies. For one thing, if this is indeed a "race" to get to Steve Rogers first, how about sticking with the people who have really fast quinjets? Also, since the Falcon is outnumbered by two foes with super-strength who have proven they can take him out, wouldn't you want the Avengers in tow? Why would they want to stay behind, anyway? And why would the Falcon let them?

Though I'm afraid that's the only spoiler you'll get from me on what goes down in the next issue. I'll just add that the Falcon gets all the information on this pair he wants--as will the rest of us, when we finally learn the incredible origin of the other Captain America.


Super-Duper ToyBox said...


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic run! Englehart and Buscema at the top of their games.

Anonymous said...

Those are the issues that got me hooked on comics. Was 7 y.o. or so, did not get any of the sub-text but those were great comics to me.