Saturday, September 14, 2013

When Legends Clash!

When we last checked in on Captain America, Cap and his partner, the Falcon, along with SHIELD agent Sharon Carter, learned the incredible origin of another "Cap"--this one going into action in the 1950s, after discovering a lost written record of the super-soldier formula and using it to empower both himself as well as a youthful protege who would take the identity of his partner, Bucky. And the two went on to emulate their heroes and fight crime in their own era, on the way to establishing a legend of their own. But the procedure which gave them their power was incomplete, and in time the serum began to damage their minds--bringing on paranoia and schizophrenia, and making them see enemies of America practically everywhere.

The U.S. government had no choice but to capture them, putting them in suspended animation until a cure for their condition could be found. But, finding their premature release in 1972, they resumed their activities and found one further item to add to their agenda--the removal of the '70s Captain America, whom they regarded as a traitor to America.

In the final installment to this story, writer Steve Englehart has thus set the stage for a final showdown between this hate-filled, near-insane duo, and the real Captain America, who has been captured along with Sharon and the Falcon and been made aware of the other Cap's origin as well as his plans to kill them once they've returned to the states. And now, as their plane comes in for a landing near the shores of Miami Beach, we're all finally here at this story's conclusion.

Gee, Cap seemed to know my lead-in, even before I wrote it! I have to plead guilty to intentionally smoothing the transition between that last paragraph and Cap's explosive entrance, because those of you who read this story in its entirety know that this sequence originally read a little oddly. Some wording had been omitted from the prior panel, which alert readers Larry Baum and Dick Marx from California brought to the attention of the Cap team on a subsequent letters page:

In fact, there are several things in this issue which made it seem it was all wrapped up rather hurriedly--but we'll touch on those as we come to them. Let's just get to the fighting, shall we?

An "atom-blaster," which the 1950s Cap probably confiscated from one of his bizarre enemies of that period. I'm assuming he and Bucky found it along with the rest of their gear in the same building (or maybe even the same room) as the equipment that put the two of them in deep freeze--but I couldn't begin to tell you why the government thought it would be a good idea to store this weapon (along with any others Cap might have had in his arsenal) in the same location, rather than transferring everything elsewhere. Another odd panel here provides for the Falcon to rip part of the fake Cap's uniform--specifically, the back part, which the Falcon himself pointed out gave away that this Cap was an impostor, since it lacked the red and white stripes that wrapped completely around the uniform of the real Cap. That would accommodate this cover caption from, of all people, the Falcon, from whom such words would otherwise have sounded ridiculous:

But if this wasn't a factor, what, then, would be the point? I mean, a shredded uniform is as much of a dead giveaway as the lack of a striped pattern; but aside from that, there's no place in this installment of the story where the costume oversight is used to put any of the parties at an advantage or disadvantage.

At any rate, our combatants find that a rocking sea plane isn't the best place to settle a fight:

The real Cap manages to disarm his counterpart--and so the '50s pair decides to postpone this showdown until circumstances are more ideal, which falls in line with their tactics to date. But they don't depart before issuing a formal challenge, to make sure the '70s Cap follows and doesn't elude them again:

I can't help but make the observation of how strange it is to see Cap and Bucky flee from the authorities, in particular a scene where American servicemen have been injured and are fighting for their lives--when they would normally be among the first into the water to render assistance. It seems that, as twisted as they have become, they only have eyes for their vendetta.

And so the team of Cap, the Falcon, and Sharon head for the Torch of Friendship. But the '50s Cap again demonstrates how he's calling the shots in this matter, by sending Bucky to split up this team so that he and the '70s Cap can face off alone:

And split Cap does--another odd direction of the plot, supposedly excused by Cap thinking "There goes the idea of fighting as a team--but the decision wasn't ours to make." Yet--it was. Since Cap and Bucky have obligingly split their forces with this move, why don't our threesome avoid splitting up and simply take down Bucky together, and then proceed to confront the '50s Cap in force? I realize that the story demands the drama of the two Caps battling it out by themselves--but it makes little sense for Englehart to have Cap, Falc, and Sharon in a major scene about deciding to battle as a team, only to disregard it at the first opportunity without explanation.

Still, seeing Sharon and the Falcon team up against Bucky is sheer eye candy, thanks to artist Sal Buscema:

("Women have changed a lot since the 1950s...just like everyone else--right, Falcon?" Sorry, I'm drawing a blank on Sharon's subtle reference here. Anybody care to chime in on what she's getting at? Perhaps racial barriers?)

But now it's time for the main event. Cap, with his nifty Avengers I.D., has managed to get the police to cordon off the area around the Torch of Friendship, and he heads in to confront the man who has no intention of letting both of them walk out of there alive.

Then, Cap sees an opportunity to do what he really should have done long before now--attempt to explain that he's the original Captain America. But he's waited too long, because the insanity that has gripped this man and his young partner isn't going to cope any better with the truth than it did with what they originally thought was treason:

Finally, Cap has a moment to mull over this man's beginnings, and feel a profound sense of connection to his own:

And yet, as he's done on other occasions, Englehart leaps before he looks in this otherwise well-written panel, seemingly forgetting his own previous writing in this story. For one thing, he's already stated in Part 3 that the government conducted extensive background checks on the '50s Steve Rogers before green-lighting him for the super-soldier injection, so the fact that the original Cap supposedly had no such checks performed on himself is inapplicable. Also, the "fatal flaw" he muses about--the cause of Rogers' madness and subsequent actions--was the omission of the application of vita-rays following the injection of the serum into the '50s Rogers, a problem which didn't apply to the original Cap.

In essence: what reason does Cap have to stand here brooding about dodging the bullets that brought this man to ruin? Granted, he might take a moment to ponder how much the '50s Steve Rogers admired him and only sought to carry on his legacy before things took a tragic turn--but that's really as far as it goes. This was a misuse of the super-soldier experiment--no more, no less. Though Cap seems insistent on applying the worst-case scenario:

The 1950s Cap made a few more interesting appearances in later issues of Captain America, most notably during writer Ed Brubaker's run on the book. As for Bucky, he became the new Nomad after Steve Rogers dropped the identity, though Nomad would later be assassinated by the Winter Soldier--a/k/a the first Bucky, in a rather shocking example of the circle closing. But I remember Englehart's story much more for its expert and bold reworking of the 1950s Captain America and Bucky characters, and consequently giving us not one but two such legends from the '40s and '50s, even if the latter's legend died before it was really born.


Anonymous said...

The symbolism is kinda' heavy here, isn't it? Englehart was matched only by Gerber in laying on social or political commentary.
I'm not complaining; I tend to agree with them. An interesting issue written by Englehart is Supervillian Team-Up #7, in which the Sub-mariner (of all people) has an extended soliloquy where he muses on the merits of American political and military intervention in the world, a debate which has flared up again recently.
I like the Falcon. Englehart went a long way into making him an interesting character. I don't think the comic would've worked without him. M.P.

Edo Bosnar said...

Anon, what struck me even more about that issue of SVTU was Henry Kissinger getting all chummy with Dr. Doom.

Anonymous said...

Struck me too, but hard to imagine anyone Kissinger wouldn't have gotten in bed with. Still, I guess if it prevented W.W.3..or at least delayed another brushfire war...whaddaya expect from a student of Bismark.
It's hard to talk about Englehart and not refer to 70's American politics. The comic I mentioned above has as an intelligent take on America's role as I've read anywhere, including the N.Y. Times. As a former history teacher, I strongly recommend it. (Also, I'm a big fan of 70's Marvel. Great art by Herb Trimpe, and one of the best fight scenes in comics. Nuff said.)

Hube said...

Englehart and many of the writers of 60s-70s Marvel did a way better job of addressing politics than the current crop of creators. With the Secret Empire arc Steve dealt with a then-almost universally despised Nixon, and many creators did a terrific job with social and civil rights.

On the other hand, contemporary guys like Mark Waid and Ed Brubaker attempt to make villains out of mainly ordinary folks (in Brubaker's case, people like Tea Partiers), and/or use a mainstream media narrative about an issue despite its [many] basic flaws and even outright falsehoods (Waid in recent Daredevil).

maw maw said...

Completely off topic, but this was Sam Rosen's final work as letterer. He lived another 20 years, but retired from comics. It has been suggested in print that he had a nervous breakdown.

Judging from the last few pages, Rosen (whose work was flawless, as always), didn't complete the issue...the final pages resemble Morrie Kuramoto's work (though uncredited).

Comicsfan said...

The Rosen brothers were undeniably masters of their craft and professionals in every sense of the word--and, from what I understand, very well-liked and respected by their colleagues. Their contribution to comics cannot be overstated.

maw maw said...

I encountered Joe Rosen's work in the late 1960s, when he was the primary letterer for Harvey Comics. Little did I know that he had been active in the field for nearly three decades, and would do phenomenal work for three more decades. Big Bro Sam did great work on Will Eisner's The Spirit. I think (if my eyes don't deceive me) that he lettered the Green Lantern reboot in 1956. Sam's Silver Age work was unparalleled, however. Despite the presence of Artie Simek, Sam Rosen got the lion's share of the important stuff at Marvel after he became full time in 1963.

maw maw said...

Flash reboot. Sorry. Best to check my facts if I post after midnight.