Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Who Was My Killer??

As disappointing as it was as a comics reader to run into an inventory story that put the brakes on a major story arc and ended up making the inventory story itself the fall guy, in retrospect it's interesting to go back and take a look at some of those stories in a different light and perhaps see how well they stand on their own. After all, such an issue was crafted as any other--only in reading it as a one-shot, you're not grumbling about a hiccup in the story you were expecting and/or the jolt of suddenly seeing a different artist's work on the character(s).

In that sense, this 1978 issue of Captain America grabs you from the start--with a striking cover by Mike Zeck that (regrettably) steals the thunder from his splash page.

In a tale by writer Peter Gillis--reportedly his first published comics work--there's a mystery element to this issue right away, since it isn't every new Cap story that starts with the title character being found floating face-up in the Hudson River--but you haven't seen the half of it. We of course don't know who or what did this to Cap, though it seems reasonably clear that the intent was to kill him; but fortunately, our two Bronx joggers who fish him out discover that he's just barely alive and lug him back to their apartment (apparently there are no ERs in the Bronx), where Cap awakens and finds that the mystery of what happened to him has only become more maddening.

Seeking answers, Cap's first thought is to head to Avengers Mansion, where his associates are just as shocked as he is at his changed appearance.

Attempting to backtrack his activities, Cap and the others review the previous evening, when the Avengers were attending a Stark International function. The only clue that Cap is able to pick up on is an encounter with what appears to be someone he knew--Al Avision, an out of the ordinary name which perhaps also raises the reader's eyebrow given how manufactured it comes across as.*  Avision's background is also in question, since he claims to know Cap from the war, though judging by his appearance his age would cast that in doubt; but Cap has another more substantive reason for doubting this man.

*(But see the comments below for the true origin of the name!)

In the following week, unfortunately, Cap's efforts to uncover the truth meet with one dead end after another. But the additional information he finally does stumble upon only serves to make him more frustrated with this puzzle, with still no inkling as to the identity of his attacker--though at this point, "tormentor" might be a more accurate description.

Finally, after reviewing the Avengers' recordings of incoming calls for the week, Cap learns that he and Avision were involved in a case of some kind, and that Avision's name was indeed a cover. And while the Avengers' recollections of the man are sparse, given that they had no direct contact with him, a little deductive reasoning goes a long way--particularly when taking Avision's youth into consideration. It's the final piece of the puzzle--and at last, the entire ordeal comes into focus for Cap.

Gen. Fist speaks of a convoy that's carrying the components of the "Madbomb," which was at the heart of a conspiracy to overthrow America's government during America's bicentennial celebration. Avision--that is, Ken Astor--was apparently captured in an operation conducted by himself and Cap and tortured for information that would give the hijackers targeting the convoy the passwords they would need to penetrate the army's security and steal the entire convoy.

As for who was responsible for the Brazilian "spider venom" that nearly ended Cap's life, it seems our old friend the Tarantula and his associate, SeƱor Suerte (a/k/a "Mister Death," which sounds more menacing than "Mister Luck"), had their sights set on the Madbomb, either to use or to sell to the highest bidder.

When Suerte stuns Cap into unconsciousness while he's engaged with the Tarantula, we learn that Cap was summarily poisoned and dumped in the river, while Astor was tortured until he gave up the codes they needed to make the heist. Thanks to Cap's super-soldier serum, his body chemistry allowed him to survive; unfortunately, as Cap said, Astor wasn't so lucky.

But all bets are off when Cap catches up to the convoy, ready to deliver a little payback.

This time, Suerte's vaunted luck doesn't help him with a head-on confrontation with Cap. As for the Tarantula, a decent fighter in his own right, the fact that this is an inventory story works against him, since we're up to the last page and this one-shot tale doesn't allow him the opportunity to make any headway against a fighting-mad Captain America.

How clever that the Madbomb concept was dusted off for this story, though there really wasn't much dust to speak of since that saga ended just two years to the month before this tale was published. Why such a dangerous device like the Madbomb was apparently only disassembled rather than destroyed left the door open for this kind of plot; and for the purposes of this particular story, Gillis would have had to bank on the Madbomb still being around in some form by the time his tale ever saw publication.

Captain America #224

Script: Peter Gillis
Pencils: Mike Zeck
Inks: Mike Esposito and John Tartaglione
Letterer: John Costanza


Justin said...

Sounds like a great story! It also seems illustrative of the superior story-telling of Marvel in that era I hear older fans talk about

Tiboldt said...

I like how Beast proves Cap's authenticity by casually bouncing his shield off the walls.

"You're the real Captain America, see. Now I'll just call Jarvis and see if we have a plasterer on retainer."

dbutler16 said...

I read this story a few years ago and didn't particularly like it. I thought the dialogue in general was bad, especially Cap's and the final battle was rushed and weak. The art was so-so. Maybe I'd have a different opinion if I re-read it now, I don't know.

Comicsfan said...

The story does leave something to be desired in all the points you raise, dbutler. While putting this post together I remember thinking, "Is this really Zeck's work? It's not what I'm used to seeing from him--is the difference really due to the inks here?" It's all par for the course for a fill-in story; but that said, there are no doubt those like Justin who might well have thought much more highly of it.

dngillikin said...

Al Avison was also the name of an artist who took over drawing Cap's adventures for Timely while Jack Kirby was serving in the army during the war.

Comicsfan said...

Thanks very much, dngillikin! That's an excellent bit of trivia which makes it likely that Gillis was giving a nod to the Golden Age Cap artist (with a slight spelling change to the name). I've revised the post to reflect the new info--much obliged.

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