Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Secret Empire, part 4: Captain America 176

Captain America #176 (1974)

Book examined:
Captain America and the Falcon #176 (August 1974)

Doug: A nice recap of Steve Rogers beginnings as Captain America. However, didn't Dr. Reinstein (lame!) used to be called Dr. Erskine? When was it changed?

Karen: I had the same thought. Also, was Cap's comment about being Manhattan-born new also?
Sharon: Probably just a you're suggesting. ADDENDUM: Apparently this is explained away in Cap #255 (and has become canon)'s revealed that at some point Erskine(who was believed to have died in an accident) adopted Reinstein as his "code name."

Doug: On page three, after Rogers is approached about participating in the experiment, what's the deal with going to the top-secret facility with the army officer in full uniform??? No wonder the Nazi agent was present! Duh! Do you have a hard time reconciling that Cap was between the ages of 18-22 during the war? While I certainly know that would have been the ages of our GI's, I just picture Cap as being older...

Karen: I feel the same way about Superman, probably since I grew up with George Reeves in reruns.

Sharon: Yes, I always thought of him as 30ish (but if he took the serum when he was in the Army, a younger age makes sense). But it was a shock in one of these issues when he comments he looks like a 20 year old college student. Would Wanda (in the early Kooky Quartet days) really have been attracted to someone who looked like a 20 year old? How old was she supposed to be?

Doug: The 2-page spread is nice, but don't you think there's a lot of wasted space there? I understand the drama of the waterfall-motif, but it could have been done just as nicely (better) on one page. We don't see sideways pages until Byrne's FF #252, but that page lay-out would have worked here.

Sharon: I thought of Steranko when I saw this. Steranko did stuff like that (cascading figures against a white background, with protagonist in the foreground). Sal's work is probably better served when he uses a more conventional approach.

Doug: Thor is definitely in character with his rationale for Cap to stay Cap -- for the glory!
Iron Man's advice, strangely enough given his modern position, is all about the obligations of heroes. Cap's defeatism plays right into Sharon's complaints about solo-Cap -- woe is me! I wonder what IM would have said next, had Falc and Sharon and Peggy Carter not burst in.

Karen: Iron Man seems to be playing the "with great power comes great responsibility" card. I thought it fit the character then, and yes, oddly, it still does! After all, despite all the things Stark has done, he thinks he did them for the greater good! I was also taken by Cap's whiny comments, about being taken for granted and how quickly people turned on him. Why is he a hero? To bask in the glow of public admiration, or to help people?

Sharon: I like the various characters' viewpoints expressed about heroism, America, duty, etc.

Doug: The Falcon recap is good. Really a nice air about the stories related -- happy times.

Karen: Falc comes off as a much more responsible guy than Cap!

Sharon: A nice interlude. Reading this arc has really made me appreciate Sam more; he's a loyal friend to Steve and interacts well with other characters like T'Challa and Peggy.

Doug: Peggy Carter would be around 53-54 in this story. Do you think she's drawn to look a little older than that? Is this for the contrast with Sharon?

Karen: Every scene with Peggy makes me cringe. I think in 177 or 178 Cap finally tells her they can't be together - but he still doesn't reveal he's Steve Rogers! Just terrible.

Sharon: She does look older...I don't have these issues in color, was her hair color changed, to be darker, in the issues after her reappearance? This sub-plot is poorly handled...Peggy is deluded and is treated as a joke; and Steve and Sharon seem cruel. I always thought Cap had more depth to him...this "predicament" just makes him seem superficial. And I love how he basically abandons both Sharon and Peggy in the preceding issues.

Doug: Englehart hits the homerun of the series with the panel at the bottom of page 15: "So when people the world over look at me -- which America am I supposed to symbolize?" Good stuff -- definitely food for thought! I also think the conclusion, while certainly giving the creators a new direction for the book and its characters, serves to show just how bad America had become -- when its enduring symbol (next to the flag and the eagle) wants no further part of it, it's bad. Bravo to Englehart for testing these waters. While not a new concept, he did stretch it out over the next several months.

Karen: While Cap's disillusionment with the government is understandable, his reactions still come off a bit whiny to me. I'm not sure if he's more upset about the smear campaign, or his government selling out. But in general, his feelings of not knowing what America stands for, and by extension, what he stands for, are certainly to be expected.

Sharon: Agreed. How exciting it must have been for SE, to have such a forum- -and apparently a lot of creative freedom- -for his ideas/opinions about life, heroism, our country, etc. I will always remember what Denny O'Neil said (about his GL/GA series); he considered his work worthwhile if his stories could reach that "bright 12 year old" out there (and inspire that 12 year old to think about things).

Doug: Englehart really pats himself on the back in the Back Issue #20 interview -- specifically for #176 and its lack of action. He claims that had not been done before -- I find that hard to believe. And, if you consider the flashback sequences, there is certainly superhero action in the tale.

Sharon: Hmmm....I find it hard to believe, too. The first thing that came to mind was the famous FF #51, "This Man, This Monster." There's no battle in that fact, the FF don't use their powers at all, except for Johnny; he's in a coffee shop showing someone he can make his thumb "flame on" (like a cigarette lighter, I guess). This is the issue in which a mad scientist takes over Ben's body and he and Reed become trapped in the Negative Zone, and the mad scientist saves Reed. The mad scientist is certainly not physically fighting the FF. This story came out in, what, 1966? How could Englehart not have known of this celebrated story, which was heralded as being so different for a superhero action book?
Then there are issues (among others I'm sure) such as FF #68 and X-Men #60; neither contained traditional, action-filled "battles"...these issues were made up of a lot of small, non-fighting scenes.
And surely Englehart was familiar with Cap #112 (1969)? The story opens with Cap presumed dead; so Iron Man reminisces about Cap. (And as Doug said about #176, in #112 the flashbacks contain the action sequences.). There must be other such "action-less" stories, too; but this is what came to mind. So to me, Englehart's assertion comes off as somewhat egotistical.
(Slightly related: a great Legion story from the Silver Age centers on several Legionnaires preparing to die--they've been poisoned--only one of them, Karate Kid, is shown in action, he wants to go down fighting...the rest of them want to spend their final moments in a different fashion and are not battling villains. A wonderful, contemplative story, and one that did not depend on a typical hero-villain slugfest to capture the reader's attention).

Karen: I looked at some of the later letter columns and found a few interesting letters. Some folks questioned the events of ish 173, particularly the whole trip to Nashville. Apparently there were problems with that after the plot was developed. Originally it was supposed to be Dallas, and then was changed to Nashville, but it was after the art was done. Marvel at least acknowledged the confusion.One writer, Peter Cucich, questions Cap's reaction to being questioned by the public. "Why shouldn't the public question the motives of "heroes"? If the American people had their present crisis of confidence earlier, we might not have a fugitive in the White House!"Another comment reminded me that thirty years later, things haven't changed much. Another writer said, "The American people are content to sit back and listen to Pete Hamill OR William F. Buckley rather than think for themselves.”

Sharon: Boy, I wish I had been reading this back then. What a shock it would have been for a young reader, to see how Watergate infected even a stalwart like Captain America! I have a copy one issue (#175), but I think I'll buy some more of these back issues...I'd really like to see what the reader reaction was. (Or maybe I'll get the dvd-rom.)

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