Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Secret Empire, part 3:Capt. America 172-175

Captain America and Falcon #172 (1974)
Books examined:
Captain America and the Falcon #172-175 (April-July 1974 issues)

Doug: Nice splash page to #172 – straight-forward camera angle, but nice figure work nonetheless.

Karen: What really struck me while reading this part is that the arrival of the X-Men seems forced. There was really no need to incorporate them into the story, as far as I can tell. Not that I mind, as I enjoy their appearances. I think Doug already mentioned that this may have been an attempt to stir up some interest in the team before bringing the X-Men back in their own book.

Sharon: Yes, I agree…it was forced…and probably done to drum up interest.

Doug: Well-choreographed fight scene on pp. 4-5; not sure the baddie would know the name of Falc’s bird-friend.

Karen: It’s interesting that Moonstone is drawn as sort of large and hulking, and with his mask off, looks almost cavemanish, yet when he talks, he’s really quite intelligent. I thought it was funny that the members of the Sanitation Squad were bemoaning how Moonstone treats them as menials –“They’re all like that now, nothing but ego and power hunger!” It must be hard being a professional henchman!

Doug: Excellent! I thought the trek to Nashville was somewhat contrived – to me, a good mystery should be a challenge, and unless I’m just dense I didn’t see Nashville coming.

Karen: OK, how the heck does Cap figure out to go to Nashville?! Because Moonstone mentions country music and there are moonrocks in Nashville? What? O-Kay…

Doug: Cap’s deduction scene was totally ridiculous.

Sharon: So I was not alone in sensing that this was purely out-of-the-blue.

Doug: Hitchhiker scene was kind of weird.

Sharon: Yes, from what I see there is no pay off to the hitchhiker scene, right? The driver does not reappear later? The length of this scene is silly!

Doug: Sharon, you’ve commented on Steve Rogers’ angst – one of the things that sticks in my mind about this era is his lack of funds. He seems like he truly belongs in a flophouse at times. They couldn’t find bus fare??

Sharon: Right...I mean, I know Marvel prided itself on “realistic” heroes but this was silly. Cap is supposed to be a responsible person, not an ill-prepared fool.

Doug: Sharon, I saw your comment about Cap’s Avengers stipend and Sam’s salary as a social worker – too true, and certainly an overlook by the creators. It just created an unnecessary scene. They could have had the same scene/emotions on a bus or train. Too, Cap couldn’t borrow a quinjet? I know Iron Man had met with Falc earlier, but still…

The footnote in CA/F #172 (April 1974) said that Banshee (who, as Karen noted was really ugly in this book -- I likened him to the Grinch here!!) last appeared in X-Men #60. That book cover dates to Sept. 1969. The license on a copyright or trademark generally expires in 7 years, so it would have been around five years when he appeared in CA/F. However, X-Men #76 (June 1972) actually reprints Banshee's first appearance from X-Men #28. In addition, GS X-Men #1 cover dates to May 1975. Perhaps my posit about the CA/F issue being a try-out is not too far off the mark, either.

I mentioned that the X-Men were perhaps on the newsstands in their blue/yellow at the time of CA/F #172. The last X-Men reprint issue in which they wore those togs was X-Men #84 in February 1974. So I was close.

Sharon: Yep…

Karen: I love how Cap, Falc, and Banshee are all running around Nashville in overcoats, with their uniform boots sticking out! Gee, that’s inconspicuous!

Sharon: Idiotic! I really find this sort of writing sloppy/rushed.

Doug: Agreed – I thought this but forgot to mention it earlier. Likewise, I always wondered how Spidey’s shirt never showed through any of the street clothes he wore. Or why Superman’s cape never bunched up under his clothes.

Sharon: About Spidey : when Romita Sr. took over as Spidey penciler, he tried to draw Peter in turtlenecks and long sleeves as much as possible, even if other characters were wearing more seasonal attire. Stan questioned this. Romita said it was more realistic considering Peter wore his Spidey suit underneath and so he'd naturally want to cover it up a much as possible. And you know, someone like Batgirl was puzzling to me --she wore miniskirts in the late 60s and early 70s as Barbara Gordon--she couldn't have possibly worn her Batgirl costume underneath her regular clothes.

Interesting that we all saw the Nashville deduction/hitchiking scenes as a flaw. It just seemed like a pointless that would have been much more at home in today's decompressed books!

Doug: Evolution of the Falcon – in the first 2-3 issues after he gets his wings, he comments several times how he has to get a start before he can “glide” – jump out of a window, off a lamppost (wasn’t that VERY strange??). However, by the end of this set of issues, Sam’s taking off from the ground, changing directions in the air – essentially flying!

Karen: I didn’t realize that originally the Falcon’s wings could only allow him to glide, not really fly.

Sharon: Neither did I.

Karen: What the hell good is that? Are you telling me that the Panther couldn’t come up with anything better than that?

Sharon: I know, that was my feeling too…after that big trip to Wakanda, that’s all Sam got??

Karen: Thankfully, it seems he transitioned into full-fledged flight eventually.

Doug: Englehart did a good job portraying Banshee’s sonic scream, specifically that while in flight he couldn’t talk.
The splash to #173 again has some nice figure work and show’s Sal’s dynamic pencils. Throughout this story I do not care for Marvel Girl’s pointed mask with the “undergrad” costume (and when did hers show all the cleavage?) – the form-fitting cowl is what I associate with this look.

Sharon: In the early days of the X-Men, with the old uniforms, it seemed her face gear was constantly changing…cowl to mask and back and forth…I guess it depended on what the artist (Kirby, Toth, Roth/Heck) felt like drawing…

Doug: In #173, would it be too stereotypical of me to assume that the black agent with SHIELD is Gabe Jones? Because if he is, that doesn’t really jibe with Gabe’s explanation of his infiltration of the Secret Empire as related in #175.

Karen: What about Englehart and his jive talk – it really is painful. And Falcon’s calling Marvel Girl “Marvel Mama” is really one of the worst! It’s kind of funny and kind of disturbing all at the same time.

Doug: Yeah, Karen – Falc really said “Marvel Mama”. Honkeys shouldn’t write ebonics…

Sharon: Ridiculous. I know Englehart was considered a “new” kind of writer, and I give him credit for his themes, but his dialogue has always seemed to me to be self-conscious.

Doug: This is definitely one aspect of the story that does not hold up.

Karen: We see a common mistake involving Cyclops and his eye beams here, as he uses his beams to ignite the ground cover. Why people at Marvel could not keep it straight that his beams were force beams, not fire beams, is beyond me.

Sharon: Again, sloppy. Englehart didn’t do his research.
Doug: Editors??

Doug: The infiltration of Brand was kind of fun – reminded me of Avengers #141-144.

Karen: yeah, I noticed the Brand Corporation – introduced (I believe) in the Beast stories by Englehart in Amazing Adventures, and later seen in the Serpent Crown story as Doug said.
Karen: Cap’s situation with Peggy Carter always seemed very cruel to me. Why did he let it drag on with her? That’s another example of how Cap differs in his own book from the rock-steady, responsible Cap of Avengers.

Sharon: Yes, I’m glad you mentioned Peggy. I was appalled at her role during this time. What are we to conclude, that Cap is that superficial? I thought the way this situation was handled in Subby #8 (with the normally aging Betty Dean) really conveyed the poignancy of such a situation, with much more class. I mean, Peggy is treated like a joke throughout. Why wouldn’t Cap address it, except to whisper to Sharon? And Sharon C had the balls to fall for someone she knows her sister knew? At the conclusion of this arc I’ll probably have more to say about this.

Doug: Peggy is so fawning over Cap, like she is just some sort of drone. Sharon is portrayed as the obvious choice for Cap. Very superficial, as the only thing Sharon would have over Peggy is looks – Cap and Peggy have a shared life, so much more in common.

Thanks again to Shiryu for the bootlegs he sent me: I had no idea that the Secret Empire had appeared before in Tales to Astonish. I looked up the issues, just to take a look-see. I didn’t read the stories. Like in the flashback that Gabe Jones relates to Cap in #175, the SE appeared first in the Hulk side of the magazine, then in the Sub-Mariner side. Their hoods were read with what looked like heavy black eyeglasses drawn onto the hoods. The design in these Cap issues was much better looking.

How about the ugly rocket that the X-Men were flying at the end of #173? Thank goodness the Blackbird came along later (although they seemed to total it every other issue there for awhile in the All-New, All-Different X-Men!).

Since this was a re-read for me, I had a really hard time picturing Richard Nixon as Number 1. I know Nixon was somewhat of a megalomaniac, certainly corrupt, etc. But the language, expressions, physique, etc. just never screamed “Tricky Dick” to me. Even in the last scene when Cap rips his hood off, I couldn’t find it believable that it would be Nixon upon whom Cap gazed.

Karen: Cap’s speech early in the issue really stuck with me. It seems so applicable to current times – maybe all times: “I’ve seen the big lie technique – say something loud enough, often enough, and it’ll sound like the truth. But I considered it a tool of totalitarian governments and not possible here in America.”
While some of this story seems hokey today, I do appreciate how Englehart works to show how Cap is struggling with his changing perceptions of America and especially his government. It may not seem like anything earth-shattering today, but I think for its time it really was special.

Captain America 175 Secret Empire
Captain America and Falcon #175 (1974)
Doug: Agreed – this would be done much better today by authors who would take more care with the details, making it a little more believable, etc. But thematically, Englehart was really cutting edge with this story. It doesn’t get the attention that the Superman story with JFK gets, but perhaps it should. I suppose because it was never directly stated that Number 1 was Nixon leaves it off any great “true political story” type of list.

Karen: Another thing: Why would the Secret Empire use the word ‘salaam’? It’s Arabic for peace! That makes no sense to me.

Sharon: Yes…I guess they had no fact checkers back then and no one questioned any foreign terms/phrases used by the writers.

Doug: Editors????

Karen: I’m a bit confused regarding who Number One really was supposed to be. I had always thought, and read, that he was supposed to be Nixon, but he calls Watergate “fortuitous”.

Sharon: Maybe the writer was using fortuitous in its real, original sense, meaning “by chance”–and not (as most people use it today) to mean “fortunate." Though I doubt Englehart knows the word’s shades of meaning.

Karen: Was he really supposed to be the disgraced President, or was that a later thought?

Sharon: Like you and Doug say, the reader has to “assume” it’s Nixon…honestly, if I’d read this back in ’74, I might not have made the connection immediately (except for the White House bit).

Doug: It was interesting that Xavier could communicate telepathically with Falc but not Cap.

Sharon: This is absurd. In the 60s, Xavier was shown to have communicated with anyone telepathically.

Doug: Falc’s question about whether or not he might be a mutant caught me off-guard; I’m sure, unlike Xavier suggested, that it was not further discussed.

Karen: I’m unsure as to whether it was ever resolved if Falc was really a mutant or not. I guess I could dig out my OHOTMU books, but I’m too lazy!

Doug: Do you suppose they intended to come back to the Falcon’s question about whether or not he was a mutant?
I thought the 2-page splash of the captured mutants was less-than-inspired art by Sal – very disappointing given his strength throughout this series. George Perez did wonders for the Beast, did he not??

Sharon: Sal drew the last issue of X-Men #66, the last issue before the cancellation…he did a wonderful job in #66, IMO (inked by Grainger). In #66, Sal displayed a real facility with the characters…I was soooo disappointed when I read in #66’s letter column that this was the last issue!

Karen: I noticed that Prof. X explains the possible costume gaffe of Cyclops and Marvel Girl wearing their older costumes. It seems like this was just written in to cover a mistake.

Sharon: That was my feeling, too; that Cyke and MG were drawn in their old costumes by mistake. So pains were taken to “explain” it away.

Doug: I guess I missed the explanation – Angel was in his old costume, too. In one panel he was shown in a cowl, but in another his blond hair was exposed.

Karen: On a side note, the comics had ads for those bronze Spidey, Hulk, and Conan medallions that I always wanted but never got. Maybe I should check E-Bay!

Doug: Can you even imagine trying to land a flying saucer in the middle of DC? Have you been there lately, with the snipers visible atop the White House and the Capitol? Anti-aircraft fire would take any unidentified vehicle right out of the sky.

Karen: I love the homage to the classic film “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, with the SE flying saucer landing on the White House lawn. Funny, you just don’t hear the term “flying saucer” much any more, but I recall as a kid in the 70s, flying saucers and UFOs were still pretty popular.
There’s an ad in here for a comic that I don’t think ever appeared. It’s Giant-Size Superteams #1, featuring the Defenders. I’ll have to look this one up!

Doug: I am pretty sure that magazine never existed. Sounds like a DC title! Sal redeemed himself for the lame X-Men group shot with the killer splash of Cap taking out Moonstone, right through a tree!

I wonder, if I’d been high school or college-aged when this story first appeared, how I’d have reacted to it? There’s really no doubt that it was Richard Nixon who was Number 1. Given that this was near the height of the Watergate scandal, I wonder how the story was received? Karen, since you have the Cap DVD-ROM, could you look up some of the letters pages from issues 177-79 and let us know what the readership’s comments were?

Sharon: Yes…Nixon resigned some months later in the summer 1974…

Karen: So the implication at the end is that Number One was indeed the President. His lust for power leads to his destruction, much as it was Nixon’s downfall in the real world, although thankfully he didn’t kill himself. I was too young when I first read these stories to really appreciate them. But today I can see how what Englehart was doing was really controversial and challenged a lot of people’s beliefs.
Sharon: Yes, I commend him-SE- for ambition and ideas. But the execution is something else…

Doug: Agreed.

Karen: He brought real-world politics into comics. While that seems common place now, what with Civil War practically lifting all its concepts from current events, it certainly was ground-breaking in 1974. I was planning to look at those letters pages Doug! I’ll let you both know what I find.

Doug: As a superhero story there are obviously some cheesy parts to this, but overall it’s pretty good. Lots of action, some intrigue, and pretty good guest-stars. And to think they pulled it off without a truly major villain. I thought they did a good job of leaving each issue with a cliffhanger, and the action generally segued well month-to-month.

The change in the Falcon was welcome, although in terms of character development there wasn’t really time to address how Sam now felt in relation to Cap – were they now equals in his eyes?


Suko said...

Very cool concept!

Sharon, at least I remember acting out The Fantastic Four.

I will subscribe to this site.

Karen said...

Hey Suko,we're glad you have enjoyed our blog. We're having a lot of fun doing it. Coming up after the Celestial Madonna: the first appearance of Galactus and the Silver Surfer!

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