Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Looking back at Captain America

I haven't bothered looking things up. This is just my personal recollections abut Cap in the comics.

The Silver Age of comics is usually defined as beginning when the Flash was created as a new character but inspired by the Golden Age version. He was followed by Green Lantern and some others. All of these were published by DC but Timely Comics decided to follow DC's lead. At the same time they changed their name to Marvel Comics.

Marvel's first creation, the Fantastic Four, included a Silver Age version of the Human Torch. By the third issue of the FF, the Sub-Mariner had been introduced but, in this case, it was the original character instead of a new version.

It didn't take Stan Lee long to test the waters for bringing back the third of Timely's big three heroes. Captain America made a guest appearance in the Human Torch's solo strip. As it turned out, it wasn't the real Cap, just an acrobat using Cap's identity to get close to a car that he wanted to steal.

The real Captain America finally appeared in Avengers #4 when the Sub-Mariner chanced on some Eskimos worshiping a figure frozen in ice. The Sub-Mariner threw a temper tantrum and tossed the figure into the ocean where it drifted south and began melting. It was found by the Avengers who were hunting the Sub-Mariner. The figure was, of course, Captain America, who had been in suspended animation until the heat of the Avengers' submarine thawed him out.

Cap joined the Avengers and became the leader a couple of years later when the founding members quit. Cap also received a solo strip, sharing Tales of Suspense with Iron Man.

Cap made a guest appearance in an early issue of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. This was also the first real appearance of his side-kick, Bucky. Stan Lee hated side-kicks so Bucky died in the same event that froze Cap.

When Cap first appeared, Iron Man added some gimmicks to his shield so that it returned automatically. He could even control its flight. This only lasted a couple of issues. Cap explained that he threw that stuff out because it ruined the shield's balance.

At first Cap struggled to find a direction. In his first few appearances he fought groups of criminals. This was followed by an origin issue and a return to WWII (complete with Bucky).

The strip returned to the present with Cap realizing that it was the anniversary of the Red Skull's death. Sure enough, some of the Skull's agents activated the Sleepers - three robots that were designed to destroy the world. Obviously, Cap stopped them.

It eventually turned out that the Skull had also been preserved in suspended animation. Just think of the irony if his Sleepers had succeeded in avenging his death when he hadn't actually died.

Cap began running into a SHIELD agent called Agent X who reminded him of his lost love, Peggy Carter. She eventually turned out to be Peggy's sister Sharon.

After Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD was canceled, the whole organization moved in with Cap for a while with Cap taking the unofficial role of special troubleshooter.

At one point Rick Jones became the new Bucky in a few issues done by Jim Steranko. Stan still didn't like teen side-kicks and dropped Rick as soon as he took over the writing again.

The Cosmic Cube began in Captain America. It was created by AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) but the Red Skull managed to get it a couple of times. The second time he used it to exchange bodies with Captain America. Then he watched Cap run from the police and some ex-Nazis who had a grudge against the Skull. Along the way Cap ran into Sam Wilson and convinced him to become a super hero - the Falcon. At first the Falcon was just an acrobat with a trained falcon but later his costume was redesigned so that he could fly.

The book became an official team-up between Cap and the Falcon. Sharon Carter was the unofficial third member of the partnership.

Stan finally left the comic for good. Steve Englehart took over and answered the burning question of who was the Captain America during the 1950s? (Actually, I think that Roy Thomas was the only one who really cared. Thomas spent years working out the exact chronology of who wore the Captain America costume when.) It turned out that the government used a new version of the Super Soldier Serum to create a new Captain America and Bucky during the 1950s. The serum was defective and they became irrational so the government put them in suspended animation until the 1970s.)

Englehart made some significant changes to the characters. At some point Cap's identity as Steve Rogers had become public so he adopted the identity of Roger Stevens and got a job with the NYCPD. He also gained mild super strength (Englehart insisted that he was returning Cap to his original levels).

The most significant event came when Cap and the Falcon foiled an attempt by President Nixon to take over the country. Cap resigned as Captain America and became the Nomad (the 1950s Bucky later took this role). There was a sub-plot with various people attempting to take Rogers's place as Captain America and failing. Eventually Steve Rogers returned to the role.

The Red Skull captured the Falcon and revealed that he was really "Snap Wilson", a petty criminal. The Skull had given Snap a new personality when he had the Cosmic Cube. Honestly, I'm not sure how this was resolved.

Jack Kirby returned to Marvel and took over Captain America as writer/artist. The Falcon was dropped along with the Snap Wilson plotline. Sharon Carter vanished (even though she was a Kirby creation) and Cap's strength returned to normal. Kirby didn't stay long.

In the late 1970s, writers were figuring out what made Captain America unique. In the Avengers, Jim Shooter defined him as the hero who would never give up. Other writers added that he was the one man who would fight for dreams. By the early 1980s, Cap had changed from an acrobat wrapped in a flag to a real symbol.

After a stint with writer J. M. Dematties which I didn't care for, Cap came into his own. Publication was increased from monthly to fifteen issues per year with biweekly issues during the Summer. This was a very productive time with writer Mark Gruenwald writing the comic from 1985-1995. DeMatties had killed off the Red Skull but Gruenwald brought him back in a body cloned from Steve Rogers. He also invented Crossbones, the Skull's principle agent (get it: Skull and Crossbones?).

Sharon Carter disappeared and was presumed dead so Cap began a relationship with Diamondback, a reformed criminal.

In one of the Summer story arches, some drugs bonded with Cap's blood, making him perpetually angry. The only cure was a complete blood transfusion. This meant that Cap tied at a normal rate.

In one plot that now seems trite, someone in the White House discovered that the government owned the trademark to "Captain America". They informed Cap that he would be answerable to them. Instead he resigned and began calling himself "The Captain" and carrying a silver shield provided by Tony Stark. A new Captain America was recruited. Eventually President Reagan found out what was going on and ordered the Captain America identity be returned to Steve Rogers. (In an issue of the Avengers, an alien erased all knowledge of Captain America's secret identity.)

Cap also lost his shield for a while. It dropped into the Atlantic.

Eventually his Super Soldier enhancements began to break down and Cap started to die. Tony Stark provided a version of his Iron Man armor to provide life support but Cap eventually died.

He got over it, of course and was reunited with Sharon Carter who was peeved that he forgot all about her for a decade. They fought the Red Skull who had gotten the Cosmic Cube for the third time.

This incarnation lasted five or six years before Cap died again. This time he was blown up. He returned, of course.

Marvel's cross-continuity event, the Civil War, starred Captain America as the leader of the forces that resisted registering with the government. At the end of the war he was killed again, this time by a brainwashed Sharon Carter.

For decades there were only a few constants in the Marvel Universe. The biggest one was that Bucky died. That was finally reversed. It turned out that he was saved by the USSR, given cyborg parts, and kept frozen until they needed him to kill someone. He became the new Captain America.

Steve Rogers was brought to life, yet again and currently heads SHIELD.

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