Thursday, September 10, 2015

To Stalk The Spider-Man!

Considering how much of a role the criminal called Stone Face played while Captain America and the Falcon were getting their new partnership off the ground, it only makes sense that he would soon return for Round Two. But even though the man is now out on bail and plotting a new scheme, it doesn't look like it's Stone Face who has the attention of Cap and the Falcon in this power-packed two-part story from mid-1971.

Given that these three heroes are on the same side of the law, it's easy to assume that this story might go by the numbers in having them square off with each other; in other words, due to some misunderstanding between them, or the wrong conclusion being reached that Spider-Man has committed a crime and must be brought in. Indeed, with Spidey not exactly trusted by the police, it wouldn't be much of a problem to have some villain set him up to take the fall for a high-profile crime that's come to the attention of Cap and Falc. But there's more to look forward to in these issues than presumably the same song and dance that we've seen before which involves heroes coming to blows--though there's also the prospect of seeing Cap and Falc's partnership put to the test in a confrontation with a powerful opponent like Spider-Man.

Boiled down, this story has three main parts to it that help to keep the reader's attention. First, there's the Falcon's growing worry that, despite knowing how capable and effective he is in the field, the shadow of Cap's reputation and experience will always prevent his own ascendance as a costumed hero in his own right. Obviously, of course, there's also their conflict with Spider-Man, which Marvel has the good sense not to hide under a bushel and instead prominently features on both covers of these issues. And third, there's whatever Stone Face has planned, a crime lord who ran the numbers racket in Harlem and who now has designs on raising his profile considerably.

There is also a fourth angle to the story, though I hesitate to mention it; but the budding conflict between Cap and Falc which leads to the encounter with Spidey is set in motion in part because of Cap being on edge regarding his feelings for S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter, so it's at least a factor here, albeit a minor one. Writer Stan Lee gets us from Point A (Cap/Sharon) to Point B (the rift between Cap and Falc) so awkwardly that it's difficult to set aside the fact that it's Cap's worries about his standing with Sharon that bring about the Falcon's concern about being eclipsed by Cap in this partnership. In a nutshell:

  • Cap broaches the subject about his situation with Sharon, and indirectly asks Falc for feedback;
  • Falc is sympathetic, and responds as any friend would, leaving the door open for Cap to go into detail;
  • Cap takes offense at Falc attempting to lighten the mood, and shuts down;
  • Falc takes Cap's mood personally, and his mind turns to increasing his standing in this partnership so that he's not seen as second-best to Cap.

And how does this story gear up for this plot in the first place? By opening with this wince-worthy scene, where Cap and Falc return alive from a deadly mission, and apparently SHIELD Agent Carter can't handle the trauma of her love coming back safe and sound.

To Lee's mind, femininity was often signified by helplessness and the inability to bear overwhelming news, SHIELD agent or not. And since Nick Fury doesn't mind in the least that his female agents are prone to fainting--even when they're receiving good news--it would seem he and Lee are both on the same page.

So eventually we're led to the Falcon being eager to put himself on the road to being regarded with a reputation that's on equal standing with a living legend--despite the fact that it's been made plain to readers that even Cap's fellow Avengers are in awe of him and put him on a pedestal. Almost immediately, Falc spots the perfect way to accomplish his goal--by battling and capturing a virtual outlaw that even Cap has never reeled in.

It bears mentioning that both of these stories offer a side-by-side look at how different artists would interpret these characters and how they would clash--with Part 1 pencilled by Gene Colan and inked by Bill Everett, and Part 2 turned over to John Romita to both pencil and finish as he assumes regular art chores on the title. And while Colan has had an outstanding turn on Captain America, Romita's debut and subsequent issues end up being both impressive and dynamic. Naturally, the fact that he's in time to pencil Cap and Falc facing off with Spider-Man is icing on the cake.

Eventually, Falcon's methods of following Spidey can't hold a candle to web-swinging--and he's forced to disengage in order to intervene with a mugging incident. But he has his trained falcon, Redwing, tail Spider-Man in order to catch up with him later--and when he does, he makes one heck of a misjudgment in cornering the man he thinks he's nailed.

It's almost too bad that poor Harry is still a ways off from assuming the identity of the Green Goblin--otherwise, Falcon would have been in for more of a surprise than he'd bargained for. But Harry nonetheless has an ace in the hole with his roommate, who is confused as to why the Falcon (and, by extension, Cap) would be after Harry, but doesn't hesitate to come to his friend's defense. And this time, the Falcon gets the fight he expected, and then some.

As we can see, in a matchup between Falc and Spider-Man, it's no contest. Spidey's desire for answers would have to wait until this story's second part; but another element interjects itself when Stone Face, looking for his revenge, sees an opportunity to catch Falcon unawares. Falc and Cap have already made amends as far as their earlier disagreement--but Falcon has still been reticent to fully confide in Cap his reason for being on edge, and it will cost him.

(You'd think Redwing would have been just as protective when Falc was falling to Spider-Man, no?)

But what exactly is Stone Face's game here? Cap becomes aware that there may be trouble for Falc on that front when Sam Wilson's nephew drops by to warn of the crime lord's return--as well as when another visitor arrives to warn of danger.

Spider-Man, also, is on the move, attempting to settle accounts with the Falcon on his reasons for attacking him, but in the process discovering that Falc has fallen victim to Stone Face.

As for Stone Face himself, he's moved up from the numbers racket to extortion, and at the highest level of state government.

Given the charges currently pending against him, you have to hand it to Stone Face to so openly attempt this kind of power play. It's also a little convenient for Lee's story that Stone Face would still have the kind of pull with the people in Harlem he'd need to back up his threats, even after he and his organization had previously been taken down so thoroughly by Cap and the Falcon.

Speaking of whom, the Falcon must be having strong thoughts of payback toward Stone Face right about now. But even after Spider-Man has located and freed him from his captors, Falc only wants to renew his beef with Spidey--though Spider-Man discovers that it's more important for Falcon to have perspective instead of a grudge.

Enter Captain America, who hasn't been privy to this conversation but jumps to a conclusion based on his encounter with Redwing as well as what he sees of this scene. Ironically, it's the Falcon who defuses the situation and settles both the matter with Spider-Man and his own doubts.

If Stone Face is feeling a shiver up his spine about now, he has every reason. He likely would have failed in his scheme at any rate, since his pose as a "community leader" was negated by his blatant penchant toward issuing armed demands, nor would the Governor have acceded to those demands in any case. Stone Face was arguably out of his league with this scheme--and he's equally so when facing three heroes who now know who their true target is.

All looks good for the Cap/Falc partnership, for now at least; but Stone Face will likely have a host of new charges to face on his next appearance in court.  He can also likely expect quite a drubbing from our Mr. Harrison on the witness stand.

Captain America #s 137-138

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: #137, Gene Colan; #138, John Romita
Inks: #137, Bill Everett; #138, John Romita
Letterer: Artie Simek


Anonymous said...

Great issues, both.
At this point, there was still some question about Spider-man's legality and reputation (I always preferred him as an outlaw) to make a clash between he, Cap, and the Falcon plausible.
Boy, that cover on #137 is just a classic. Romita at his best. Wow. How could somebody see that on a spinner rack and not buy it.
Great review and fun to see this stuff again. I'm gonna havta revisit this post again later.

Comicsfan said...

m.p., that cover was actually rendered by Sal Buscema, with Romita being handed the baton on #138. But I think both covers did the spinner rack proud! :)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...