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?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Secret Empire, Part 2: Captain America #170-171

Captain America and Falcon
Captain America and Falcon #170 (1974)

Books examined:
Captain America 170-171

Written by Mike Friedrich over Steve Englehart’s plot. Pencils by Sal Buscema with inks by Vinnie Colletta. Covers by John Romita, Sr.

Doug: Note: As Falcon earns his wings in #171, the cover corner icon changes to reflect such. His costume also changes on the icon, though it is the same in the interiors as it had been in #170. The covers for issues #172-174 (by Gil Kane doing his best 1970’s “up your nose with a rubber hose” faces – “dynamic” was never his shortcoming; noses were!) of the series will pale in comparison to Buscema’s #169 and Romita’s work on #’s 170-171 and 175-176.

Coloring observation: for the tpb, the color reconstructionist should have chosen a different shade of blue for Cap’s eyes to differentiate them from his cowl. It’s kind of annoying. Not sure what the original colors looked like…

Karen: As I write this the day after reading it, I believe the eye color was a lighter blue.

Doug: See, the brightness of the tpb paper isn’t always for the betterment of the story, in my opinion. I just found it distracting – minor, but not a good look.

Moonstone shows up and beats the tar out of Cap, displaying powers ranging from super strength to finger-lasers to flight to invisibility. His origin later is just plain silly (the powers of the Watcher??) – a take on the formulaic “I was holding something and then BAM! it exploded and gave me powers!” situation we’ve seen everywhere from Barry Allen to Don Blake to whoever. I did, however, enjoy the dichotomous perspectives of the origin’s telling. His costume is reminiscent of Lucifer from the Silver Age X-Men, specifically as depicted in “The Origin of Professor X”.

Sharon: Good observation.

Doug: The assembled crowd wildly cheers Moonstone’s defeat of Cap – I’m just not believing that would happen. As a free agent, even with American distrust in the gov’t, I don’t see middle-class men-on-the-street turning on this icon so easily. Do you think that Cap was wrapped in the flag made him easier to drop than other heroes of the day like Elvis Presley, Reggie Jackson, Warren Beatty, or Joe Namath? Do you think this aspect of the story is realistic?

Karen: I do think the public turns on Cap pretty quickly. But then again, during that time, there was so much distrust of authority, and Cap certainly represents authority. The public can be very fickle, and there’s no denying that people love to see a hero fall.

Sharon: I thought it was kind of sudden…but then again, I much prefer this kind of storytelling to today’s (ugh!) decompression. And actually, in previous issues, Peggy Carter did mention the radio commercials, so the situation had been building up for a while.

Doug: The Black Panther/Falcon sequences strike me as odd. Not the giving of Wakandan technology to Sam Wilson – that doesn’t bother me and is believable. I was just overcome by how obnoxious Leila is. Pardon me, but here you are in this marvelous playground, you’ve never probably even been out of Harlem, and all you can do is complain about being bored?? I loved how Leila’s escort, Tanzika, ripped on her slang as well as her uneducated manner. Oh, yes – and the use of the term “fox” was priceless!! I couldn’t even begin to tell you the last time I heard that term or its derivative “foxy”! The year 1974 was near the height of “blaxploitation” films. The Stoneface scenes fit nicely into this homage and the dialogue was just as ridiculous. Richard Roundtree should have rescued Leila!! The scene where T’Challa and Falc first attempt their rescue reminds me of a cop buddy film, like Lethal Weapon. Again formulaic, but necessary to show Sam’s growing mastery of the new equipment and also his growing confidence.

Karen: I disliked Leila as a kid, and she doesn’t come across any better now! She’s just a petulant, selfish child. It also made me wonder why Falcon would be interested in this woman. You know, like that friend of yours that you think is great, but you can’t stand their significant other?

Sharon: From what I’ve seen of her so far (Cap Essentials), Leila really has little in terms of redeeming qualities. She is usually so unpleasant! I too wonder why the Falcon likes her here, other than for physical reasons; but it’s not even like they were having sex (that would have meant revealing his Sam identity to her, and she didn’t know he was Sam, right? This was back in the days when people couldn’t recognize people they knew who just happened to be dressed in skintight costumes, so she didn’t know Sam and Falc were the same guy, correct?)

Doug: As far as I know, Leila didn’t know. But, I haven’t read too many of these books outside of this storyline.

Karen: Reading it now, some of the ‘jive talk’ is just downright painful! I guess it worked at the time (or did it?). As a white kid growing up in southern California, I had only one black friend, and I don’t recall him ever talking like that. Then again, we weren’t living in Harlem!

Doug: Buscema’s splash of the Falcon and his new wings was powerful and exciting – not unlike a pose brother John might have penciled!

Sharon: I love the sheer beauty of John’s work, but Sal’s is just so much more accessible to me.

Captain America 171 Black Panther
Captain America and Falcon #171 (1974) 
Doug: Moving into #171, the plot thickened with the jailbreak. The fight scene after Cap awakened from being gassed was well choreographed. I think Sal has sometimes taken a backseat to John in form, storytelling, etc. We’ve discussed the issues of Avengers Sal penciled under Sam Grainger’s inks and how nice they looked. Even though I’m not a Colletta fan overall, there’s just enough of the backgrounds left (you know Vinnie was notorious for erasing details!) to really put some punch (ugh!) in the fight. Cap’s power, speed, and agility shine through. It is funny, however, to see the last three panels in the battle with Cap holding Number 4 by the shirt – Cap just doesn’t look menacing to me here, at least not like Batman would!

Karen: Cap even remarks along the lines that “he doesn’t realize I would never carry out those threats” or something like that. I’m just thinking, who is gonna be afraid of Cap hurting them? You know damn well he’s not going to break your arm or anything like that. Now Batman on the other hand…

Doug: I’m thinking Tony Stark is just too busy of a man to go sit in Sam Wilson’s office and wait for him to return. I’ll give Englehart/Friedrich the benefit of the doubt – since Iron Man and T’Challa had been together in Vermont in Avengers #119, I can assume that T’Challa told him where he was going and what he was doing. Perhaps their communication continued to the end of the Panther’s time with Falc.

The battle with Moonstone to conclude this part of the story was again done simply to show that the Falcon wasn’t ready for the big time yet. Cap really had no chance to show that he’d learned anything from the first Moonstone encounter, as he spent this battle trying to save Sam from splatting all over the alley. That Moonstone dropped him so easily was no surprise, and provided a cliffhanger toward issue #172.

Karen: After I read these three issues, back-to-back-to-back, the first thing that struck me was, it took me about an hour to read three comics!

Sharon: Yes, it took me a while too. And I felt it was a far more satisfying read than anything I get with today’s books, unless I read in tpb form.

Karen: With today’s books, I could read about 7 comics in that time.

Sharon: I can’t even call this reading. I call this “flipping through some pages in a store.”

Karen: We really got so much more exposition, and I think the biggest difference is, we got to read the characters’ thoughts back then. I really wish they would bring back thought balloons, not as Bendis does them, but as a way of revealing inner feelings. I miss that.

Sharon: Me too. I always felt it was an advantage comics had over, say, movies…you could show thoughts in a scene alongside spoken dialogue.

Doug: Thought balloons worked especially well in books with one main character, like Spider-Man. I always think it’s just dumb when a character says something that no one should/would want to hear.

Karen: Quentin Harderman is an interesting villain, certainly an unusual one.

Sharon: Supposed to be a play on Haldeman, right?

Karen: I assume so. The emphasis on business and government corruption is a very different storyline than we normally get in comics. I like how Harderman thinks of the public as “consumers” (when they gather around Moonstone). It’s a different kind of villainy, a far more insidious kind.

Doug: Agreed – not unlike what the Kingpin did to Daredevil when he exposed his identity and ruined his life.

Karen: Cap comes across as much more emotional here, if not downright impetuous at times, than I recall him being in the Avengers. I know we’ve talked about this a little before, how his Avengers persona is different than his solo persona, but I really could feel it in this story.

Sharon: This is what I mean! I simply cannot reconcile the solid, stolid Cap in the Avengers with this wimp as portrayed in his own feature (not just in Secret Empire, but in the preceding Cap issues I’ve read via the Essentials)… he is so emotional, needy and insecure. And his attitude toward Sharon Carter—forcing her to quit SHIELD (in an earlier issue)—and Sam—constantly questioning their partnership…well, it’s so contrary to the Cap I was used to for years in the Avengers. Granted, back then the Avengers book was not the place to show character development or the innermost personal thoughts for the Big Three (because they had their own mags), but even in the Avengers, IM flashed his sense of humor and Thor his air of divinity…Cap just seems like a different person. (I know in the early days of the original Avengers and with the Kooky Quartet, he questioned his place in today’s world, but this was not an issue after, say, 1968 or so, in the Avengers at least…he seemed very together and secure).

Doug: Do you think Cap played not necessarily himself, but a role on the Avengers? Do you think his various scribes (Stan, Friedrich, Englehart, etc.) chose to use the solo book to explore the man and not the mythos?

Karen: But he’d also just come off some big stuff in his book, like defeating the insane 50s Cap, so I suppose he had a lot to deal with. I think maybe Englehart just tends to write his heroes a bit more emotional than a lot of other writers (like his take on the Vision for example).

Sharon: IMO, it wasn’t just Englehart writing him like this…as I’ve mentioned in some prior emails, Cap in his own book seemed to be pretty much an emotional wreck for a while, stretching back to when Stan was writing him.

Doug: I don’t like the feeling when I wake up and can’t remember what day it is – I can’t even comprehend what it would be like to be “Rip van Winkle”!

Sharon: It’s like in every other issue, Cap wanted to renounce his identity (so “Steve Rogers could live!”), or was bemoaning that he had no friends (hello? What about Hawkeye, for one? ), and supposedly, he had no real it's like, he didn’t want to live in Avengers Mansion and preferred a seedy hotel room instead? Why?

Doug: Do you suppose in some way he didn’t feel worthy? Even after his WWII experiences, he perhaps still thought of himself as the guy with the humble background – wanted to do well but wasn’t qualified. Also, given that Rogers chosen vocation was artist, do you suppose that attraction to the arts made him a more passionate/emotional person?)

Sharon: He wanted Sharon Carter to give up her career (and he succeeded, at least during this timeframe), plus he was constantly questioning his partnership with Sam. This was not the Avengers stalwart I’d grown up with. This portrayal of Cap was so at odds with how he appeared in (one example) the Kree-Skrull War, where he was calm and in charge and allaying everyone else’s fears.

Doug: As you say, it was a war. Cap is at home in that environment – it’s who the mask and shield are.

Karen: I enjoyed the Sal Buscema art; I thought (and still think) it suited the book. Just good solid storytelling.

Sharon: I agree, he’s such a solid artist…generally does pretty good characters (a great Black Panther IMO) and as you’ve noted, his storytelling skills are great. He is a good example of someone who doesn’t just draw pretty pictures for effect; he moves a story along at a pace that really engages the reader (well, me anyway! )

Doug: I really enjoyed his Marvel Team-Ups!

Sharon: The only thing that bothered me was his overuse of the “character’s hand on someone else’s shoulder” pose…but maybe if I’d read these issues singly (instead of in a couple of sittings), I wouldn’t have noticed the frequent use of this pose.
I think these three issues contain a good blend of a provocative story and solid artwork, even if the plot contained some contrivances and the message was somewhat heavy-handed.

Doug: As I said, a little decompression might have been a good thing.

Sharon: To me this storyline so far seems like a culmination of several years’ worth of Cap stories…he’s always questioned his pertinence in a modern, changing society (see the famous Gene Colan illustrated sequence that opens Cap #122), and like America, he’s gone through several changes himself (as mentioned, an Easy Rider stage; he’s “died” on previous occasions, etc.). The questioning of his existence, what he stands for, the deaths and resurrections, the rises and falls--yes, even his relationships with his allies--have always been a part of the Cap character (and continue to this day)…I guess these ebbs and flows mirror America’s. Englehart daringly tied Cap’s situation to real events, but I think the basic elements were always present.

Doug: Here are the notes from Englehart’s website, concerning not only these issues but the entire arc. Here is the link to the actual site:

169-171: Mike Friedrich scripted the second half of the first issue and all of the next two from my plots; I was moving to California.
173: The X-Men - still guest stars without a book of their own.
175: People often ask if Marvel hassled me for the political vibe in this series and others, and the honest answer is that they almost never did. It was a wonderful place to be creative. Here, I intended to say the President was Nixon, but wasn't sure if Marvel would allow it and so censored myself - probably unnecessarily.
176: An equally daring issue in a different way: there was no action at all. Steve Rogers broods on the roof of
Avengers Mansion and various heroes come talk to him about his decision. But the emotional content was intense.

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...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...