Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Secret Empire, Part 1: Captain America #169

Captain America and Falcon 169
Captain America and Falcon #169 (1974)
Books examined:
Back Issue #20
CA/F #169 (January 1974 issue)

Doug: Zack Smith (author): Though Number One’s identity was never stated, the allegory was clear to readers – Captain America had just witnessed a villainous Richard Nixon taking his own life. Bereft, Cap questioned whether the values he stood for still applied in this modern America. He became a new hero, the Nomad, literally “the man without a country.” BI 20:16
Englehart: …I started shaping a story which really hadn’t started off in that direction, shaping it toward the whole thing where the president blows his brains out in the White House and Captain America is disillusioned, that America doesn’t believe in what he believes at the time. BI 20:17
Karen: That last statement is pretty much what Mark Millar was saying about Cap in Civil War. However, Cap’s reaction to the smear campaign against him in the Englehart story seems much more logical to me than his reaction during civil war. However, I have to admit he did eventually decide to act outside the law, so I suppose Millar had some justification for the way he portrayed Cap.
Doug: By the same token, do you feel that this disillusionment is somewhat reflective in Superman’s oft-characterization these days? He is (at least in the DCs that I read) constantly referred to as a “Boy Scout” and other derogatory terms (although one would hope that the virtues of the scouts would not be used to insult someone!). If we were going to draw the parallel between each company’s American icon, it would be Cap and Supes.
Other things of note: Savings account – 6% interest!!

Sharon: LOL, good eye!

Doug: How about those ‘70’s price controls/rampant inflation?
Harlem scene – slang, groovy ‘70’s fashions. Like a slice-of-life from All in the Family, Room 222, et al.
Falcon – inferiority complex. Jumped by a gang of thugs because “he ain’t joinin’ Morgan’s mob!, Cap arrives to save the day. Afterward, Sam says that he wants to “be more than a costumed athlete”; “a pet!”

Karen: I thought the inferiority complex made sense. He’s a grown man, yet teamed with Cap, he feels like a sidekick. Then again, who wouldn’t?

Sharon: Right…like Hawkeye…he often felt inferior in Steve’s presence.

Karen: Still, the Falcon is always presented as a man with dignity, pride, and loyalty to Cap.
Doug: Does Cap go through sidekicks/partners, or do sidekicks/partners go through Cap? Who wears out whom first?

Sharon: I feel the inferiority complex, while understandable, was a bit heavy-handed. In a previous issue, all of sudden Cap is amped up (with super strength). Why? Just to make Cap a more viable hero? Or was this supposed to be some sort of metaphor for the black man feeling inferior to the white man, even though they are supposed to be equals (partners)? And this feeling of inferiority is alleviated only when the black man gains more power (Falc’s wings)? (Also, were “wings” the best Wakandan technology could do?)

Doug: Cap #169 takes place at the same time as Avengers #119. When Cap says he is leaving to contact the Black Panther (at Falc’s request, because the Panther is black – Falc turns down suggested help from Hank Pym and Tony Stark), BP is with the Avengers in Rutland, Vermont at the annual Halloween Party (interesting that the cover date is January, 1974). When T’Challa arrives to pick up Falc, he’s in his trans-Atlantic cruiser for the journey to Wakanda.

Sharon: I have always found it astonishing that comic publishers did a relatively good job at keeping holiday references contemporary with the actual occurrences—since the cover dates were usually about 3 months ahead. That takes planning!

Doug: Nothing dates a comic temporally like a holiday issue!
Karen: I thought Falc’s request for Panther made sense. It also established a nice connection between the two that persists to this day.

Sharon: Karen, the two heroes are still connected today? I didn’t know that (so far in today’s comics I have just seen the Panther cavorting with Storm!)

Doug: I, too, didn’t know they had a relationship. Two angry black men??

Just an aside on the Black Panther, since he’s played a role in two of the stories we’ve thus far chosen to discuss: I have not kept up on recent developments with T’Challa, which I understand are more politicized/political. I also have not read all of the ‘70’s Jungle Action books, nor the subsequent Black Panther series. So, I don’t know if this has been addressed or not – I am struck by the wealth and technological advantages of the Wakandans, and my sense is that they’ve used their technology to assist the rest of the world, but not Africa. I keep coming back to a line from Hotel Rwanda, where Nick Nolte (playing General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN forces) says to Don Cheadle (playing Paul Rusesabagina), “They’re (the UN) not staying Paul. They think you’re dirt, you’re dung – you should spit in my face.” Then, “The West thinks you’re worthless… you’re not even a n-gger, Paul – you’re an African!” With that in my mind, I have to keep wondering why T’Challa doesn’t also (not instead of, but also) help his own?

Karen: I have been reading Black Panther since civil war, and while I am glad the character is more prominent, I don’t like the arrogance they’ve given him.

Sharon: Right. He was so kind and patient to everyone back then, in the old days; he was even nice and complimentary to Leila!

Karen: My impression is that Wakanda has pretty much isolated themselves from the world, but particularly, western cultures. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me given what we’ve seen before, but this is how they are writing him now. From what I gather, in the early part of his series, it was implied that the Wakandans even had a cure for cancer but would not share it with the world, which I think is ludicrous, knowing the previously established personality of T’Challa.

Sharon: I didn’t know, or consider any of this (Wakanda not helping the rest of Africa). Wow…I agree, Doug and Karen; this really puts a different spin on things. I know in an older issue of the Avengers, T’Challa mentions he cannot use Wakanda’s riches for anything other than his country, but still…

Doug: So where do you think Wakanda aligns politically? They are not a democracy, although we would assume they have a benevolent gov’t. They certainly aren’t Communist nor Third World. They are industrialized and advanced educationally. Hmmm…
Civil War predecessor? “In fact, recognized legal agencies are hardly ever involved in Captain America’s headlong pursuit of his individual concept of law and order. He is unwelcome, for example, at SHIELD. Who is Captain America? He wraps himself in our nation’s proud flag, yet no one in our government is responsible – or will take responsibility for – his actions.” Interesting take on Cap as the system personified – stick it to The Man! Is he representative of America – had he taken any stand on Vietnam; or against the counterculture? Who does he represent? – seems ambiguous, and Englehart/Friedrich pulled it off that while Cap himself might say he represents America, just what America was in 1974 was certainly open to discussion… Englehart said, “But the problem wasn’t just Stan. Everybody was having difficulty with a character who was supposed to be a patriotic example of America when the Vietnam War was going on and when people were very much up in arms about what America was doing, and so forth, and it was like nobody was able to wrap his mind around doing a patriotic character in a sort of anti-American time.” BI 20:17

Karen: Certainly Englehart was in an unenviable position coming on to the Cap book. How do you write a patriotic character at a time when patriotism is unfashionable? I think he came up with a great solution, and one that has stood the test of time: Cap stand for the ideals of America, not for any administration or political party.

Sharon: Even under Stan, Cap had questioned his relevance (first in the Avengers, then in his own book). Cap even went through an Easy Rider phase in the #120s of his book.
Karen: Doug, I do think you are on to something when you wonder if this was a civil war predecessor. Although Quesada has admitted he’s never read the Secret Empire saga (!), I think Millar must have. I just think his interpretation of how Cap would react to the Registration act, and SHIELD trying to bully him into being an enforcer, was way off. As we saw with Englehart’s story, Cap tried to stay within the letter of the law. Even when he was broken out of jail, he refused to go, and even protected the policemen who were holding him! I think this version of Cap, when faced with the details of civil war, would’ve at least gone on TV or even gone to court to fight the registration act.

Doug: It might have made a nice drama to watch Cap try to drum up the funds for extended litigation. We might have heard from folks in the Marvel Universe who supported the heroes. Of course, there might have been some in industry who supported them just because they got the contracts to do the clean-up!

Karen: He might’ve wound up going underground, but it wouldn’t have been his first recourse.
Doug: I loved that the enemy is a group entitled “The Committee to Regain America’s Principles” – that’s not even tongue-in-cheek!!
Karen: I took this as Englehart’s version of CREEP – the Nixon Committee to Re-Elect the President. How they could run with an acronym like that I’ll never understand!

Sharon: It was pretty obvious and hilarious! The Code must have been napping…

Doug: Did it strike you that Cap was too easily sucked into the propaganda?

Sharon: Yes.

Doug: He really becomes the bad guys’ dupe all too easily. Also, the people seem to have no qualms about turning on this American icon. Does this truly reflect the times? Were we really that cynical? I suppose we were. But it seems to me that Englehart/Friedrich bring this to the fore a little too quickly – perhaps a little foreshadowing in #169 and then drop the shoe in #170… oh, wait – am I really advocating decompression???? Someone shoot me now. Please.

Sharon: LOL

Karen: I have to say I was surprised that for at least two of these stories, Friedrich was the actual scripter – I always recalled them as being Englehart stories – and I suppose the plot was his – but I never gave Friedrich any credit. (Just as an aside, Mike Friedrich is a labor organizer now!)

Doug: The Tumbler was pretty lame – I’d not seen his first appearance from Tales of Suspense. To me, he was just Batroc the Leaper without the great French accent! However, he served here mainly as a disposable villain and plot device. Moonstone is introduced (unnamed in a last couple-of-panels cameo) – perhaps a character that actually reached a more memorable run in a female incarnation during the Under Siege storyline. The cover to this book, by the way, was reminiscent of several DD covers/splashes of the era, with the sequential photos of action.

Doug: As far as the title, “When a Legend Dies!”, I’m really unsure as to the meaning. One could read into it that it’s about Falcon leaving the life/role he had. One could read into it that it’s about Cap being defamed and the luster of his character lost. And, it is not out of the question that the title foreshadows the entire storyline (certainly knowing the end as I read the beginning is helpful here!) and “the legend” is American trust, supremacy, faith in leaders, etc.

Sharon: The title probably works as one size fits all for all the scenarios you mention. And as mentioned, it was one of Marvel’s popular titles; they used it often (not just for Avengers #81’s cover). I’d like to state for the record that my very first impression upon starting Cap #169 was amazement at the title, for “When a Legend Dies” is the exact same title used on the cover of Avengers #81 (the issue we recently discussed!). (Though in the Avengers story itself, on the splash page, the title somehow morphs to “When Dies A Legend!”) I know, I know; it's one of those recyclable titles, such as “When Titans Clash” and its variants...

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