Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cap On The Beat

Many of us remember that Captain America worked for a time as a police officer in the NYPD, though it's that "for a time" part that usually trips us up, perhaps because the times when Cap was on duty as a cop were relatively sparse. Yet that didn't prevent this dramatic cover from seeing the light of day:

And while Steve Rogers indeed made a choice here, it wasn't so much a choice of vocations as it was a choice to moonlight. For other heroes who slip out from their normal lives to suit up and fight crime, whether employed or not, that's no big deal in the world of comics--but Cap's situation is unique in that he doesn't yet have a "day job," nor does he have a private life to speak of in this post-war world. His only other obligations or responsibilities lie with his life as an Avenger, though his association with the team was no substitute for a life of his own. Consequently, an offer to become a police officer meant giving Steve ties to a normal life that he had been deprived of up to this point, as well as being able to relate to and connect with the man on the street in ways that his celebrity status as Captain America couldn't offer him. Not quite a "turning point," as the issue's cover would have us believe--more like a pivot.

But, how did that offer come about--and why? Thanks to a number of disappearances involving police officers as well as local citizens, the police commissioner summons Cap to propose that he go undercover as a cop in order to solve the mystery:

Of course a rookie cop who reports to the police commissioner on even a semi-regular basis is a rather glaring flaw in a plan meant to seamlessly blend Rogers with the other cops on the force. Regardless, Cap's mind is elsewhere, seeing this assignment as something more long-term that will at last allow Steve Rogers to live again:

Given that this book's title is Captain America and not Steve Rogers, Citizen On Patrol, it seems unlikely that writer Stan Lee would want to risk readers' interest and indulge Rogers' train of thought here to bring about a genuine "turning point," choosing instead to perhaps shift Cap in this kind of direction for no more than a few issues before pulling the plug. Realistically, the dual occupation would also be difficult to maintain without stretching its credibility. Even with the Commissioner in the know about Officer Rogers being Captain America, how does a cop justify ducking out of the line of duty--especially as often as this cop would need to in order to go into action as Cap--without witnesses or his fellow officers calling him out on it?

But, first things first: the undercover assignment of finding out what happened to the disappearing people. Lee doesn't miss the opportunity of having Rogers pass muster of his fellow officers as well as that of his crusty superior, Sgt. Muldoon, who reminds both Rogers and ourselves of the hard-riding Sgt. Duffy from his old army days:

Once he's on the beat, Ofc. Rogers, even now, prepares to take action as Captain America if need be. But first he finds he needs to pass a different kind of inspection from the dressing-down Muldoon offered--that of a street gang, whose members will discover the rookie cop to be more trouble than they'd bargained for:

Thanks to the intervention of Rev. Garcia, the gang makes tracks. But it turns out the Reverend will offer Rogers his first lead of the case he's been assigned to, when sounds of a scuffle are heard, followed by the Reverend's disappearance:

Yes, the Grey Gargoyle, whose scheme to hijack "Element X" draws in not only Cap and the Falcon but S.H.I.E.L.D. as well in a four-part story. By its end, we'll see the Gargoyle foiled, and Cap reunited with Sharon Carter.

For all intents and purposes, Rogers' job with the police force has been accomplished--but apparently behind the scenes, he's made his intentions known to the Commissioner to remain a cop, since he seems more than willing to continue in the role by pitching in with Rev. Garcia:

It would be six issues before we'd see Ofc. Rogers again, as Captain America has his hands full with no less than Hydra, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Red Skull, and Batroc. To top it off, he gets a cushy transfer to partner with another officer in a patrol car, much to the consternation of his salty superior, Muldoon:

Batroc, of course, would eventually get that "snap-brim hat" handed to him, courtesy of Cap--while Cap would go on to become embroiled in conflicts with a parallel-dimension version of the Stranger, as well as with the Scorpion and Mr. Hyde.

Clearly Cap has made no "fateful choice" here, in regard to hanging up his shield in favor of a badge. And while the Commissioner is undoubtedly smoothing the waters for Ofc. Rogers as far as his disappearances and absences from duty, imagine what his behavior must look like to his fellow officers. Meanwhile, the book has transitioned through two writers following Lee's departure, Gary Friedrich and Gerry Conway, before finally passing the baton to Steve Englehart--and Englehart now begins to deal with the feelings and suspicions of Rogers' colleagues on the police force, coinciding with Sgt. Muldoon now suspended from duty pending an Internal Affairs investigation:

A slight oversight by Englehart, but a pivotal one, as it was Muldoon's Captain (probably on orders of the Commissioner), not Muldoon, who arranged for Rogers' transfer to Bob Courtney's patrol car. And it sets in motion the involvement of these two men in Rogers' affairs:

In the interim, Cap and the Falcon become involved in the appearance of the Captain America from the 1950s. Once things are back to normal, the Commissioner advises Cap of a new crime wave--and an equally new crime czar, whose activities have caused the Department to investigate a few of their own (such as Muldoon). And in the discussion, Cap begins to realize that his life as a police officer is no longer the welcome distraction it once was:

Cap and the Falcon then encounter the Viper, whose poison interacts with Cap's super-soldier serum in his bloodstream to eventually give Cap super-strength. But before that reaction stabilizes, Cap's adverse reaction to the poison makes him easy prey for Muldoon and Courtney, who have taken matters into their own hands in order to prove Muldoon's innocence of the charges against him:

When his super-strength kicks in, Rogers breaks free of his confinement--and later, Cap and Falcon trail a few of the Cowled Commander's subordinates to their lair, where they finally face the villain himself:

Cap's strength enables himself and Falc to escape the Commander's deadly trap. And when they corner the Commander, his true identity is shocking, to say the least:

(The Falcon has "bird-like eyes"? Try to get hold of yourself, Mr. Englehart.)

Muldoon's ambitions and lapses of judgment all feel a bit rushed, given the dedicated cop that he's often been hailed as by his men as well as by Cap. On the other hand, it's likely that such repeated praising was picked up on by Englehart and used to provide this twist ending to both the crime wave and the Cowled Commander.

From this point, Officer Steve Rogers becomes a quickly fading memory in this book, as Englehart turns his focus to both Cap and the Falcon and their adventures. With Englehart directing the action, it becomes clear that Cap's life is far too busy for any dalliance with the rewards that a life as a police officer might bring to him in terms of a more stable private life for Steve Rogers. It's not until twenty issues later, just as Cap is about to adopt the identity of the Nomad, when it occurs to him to sever those ties altogether:

The really strange part in this hurried two-panel closure to this chapter of Rogers' life is that it occurs just when he's looking for some direction to his life after having given up his identity as Captain America. Good lord, does he need a road map? I would think it would have been obvious to him. Flailing about for some sort of purpose for himself? Maybe a new career in law enforcement, perhaps? One that didn't involve national ideals? Something that lets him have a normal relationship with his girlfriend? A job that he's already gone to the trouble of embedding himself in, but found that it was in conflict with his duties as Cap? A job that once seemed so important and satisfying to him? With all of these clues flying right by him, something tells me that Patrolman Rogers would never have made Detective.

(This post covers events from Captain America #s 139-180.)


Anonymous said...

Batroc the Leaper strolls right by Cap wearing a hat and sunglasses, and Cap says, "Hmmm. That guy looks familiar."
I mean, c'mon now, Cap. Batroc didn't even bother to shave off his distinctive facial hair. It's not like the guy's hard to pick out in a lineup. All he did was put on a hat and sunglasses! I do that every day.
So far I haven't fooled anybody.

Anonymous said...

Sgt. Muldoon is a real cliche - the New York Irish-American cop (he even has red hair) who's tough but fair and dedicated to the job. When the Falcon points out that Muldoon wanted to get rich it's as if the readers needed to be reminded he was actually the bad guy. In one of the first panels Cap is sitting on top of a truck with a big G on the side - so that's where the G on Galactus' chest went to, it looks the right size too :)

Comicsfan said...

Colin, your observation about the Falcon's comment to Muldoon is a fair point as to how rushed to press Muldoon's incrimination felt to read. Between Muldoon and the Commissioner, I suppose there was no one else to pin down as the Cowled Commander, since all the clues pointed to someone within the Department. For Muldoon to dress up as a throwback to the Secret Empire, as well as put characters like the Plantman, the Porcupine, and the Eel on his payroll, such behavior was so out of character for the officer we knew that we probably did need some help from Englehart to believe he was guilty of such a conspiracy. And what about Ofc. Courtney--is he just going to walk? Not even charged with aiding and abetting?