Another Cap Nap?
By R. D. Flavin
I remember, when you were down
And you needed a helping hand
I came to feed you
But now that I need you
You won't give me a second glance
Now I'm calling all citizens from all over the world
This is Captain America* calling
I bailed you out when you were down on your knees
So will you catch me now I'm falling...
From “Catch Me Now I'm Falling” by The Kinks (Arista AS 0458, Sep. 1979)
*Captain America™ was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (with a shout-out to Harry Shorten and Irv Novick) and is legally owned and/or leased by Marvel Entertainment, Inc. and many others.
Strange Tales # 114, Nov. 1963; Avengers Vol. 1, #4, Mar. 1964; Tales of Suspense #59, Nov. 1964.
If I’m to believe my older brother, Tom, and I’ve no good reason not to (other than past derogatory and untrue remarks about Jamie Lee Curtis), I was taught to read with comic books when I was four years old. My memory seems to be missing much of those several months at Fort Lee, Virginia, though at five years old, when we moved to New Jersey, memories of reading Journey Into Mystery with The Mighty Thor comics survive and still excite and inspire. Oh, at home were westerns, CARtoons and Hot Rod Cartoons magazines (with the irreverent art of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and his Rat Fink character), the occasional Superman or Batman comic, but it was the new Marvel line of superheroes (the “Marvel Universe” with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron-Man, etc.) which saved me again and again from the enemies of childhood: Boredom, Banal Monotony, and the dreaded Nothing-To-Do. It was the end of 1963, I’d just started kindergarten, my dad was on his first tour of Vietnam, President Kennedy was assassinated, and the “new” Marvel superheroes were joined by an “old” Marvel superhero from World War II, Captain America. It was respect at first sight.
During 1964 and 1965, new comics were bought by my two older brothers, Tom and Rob, and bundles of older comics were brought home every week or so by my dad from the Fort Monmouth thrift-store or local bargain stores and flea-markets. Reading the adventures of Thor, especially the back-up series “Tales of Asgard” in Journey Into Mystery,” required looking up Norse gods and goddesses (and underlining their names in green pencil) in the family’s Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, and motivated me to embark on my first research trip to a library to better understand Norse mythology. The tales of Thor, the thunder god, would sometimes switch from mythopoeic ancient history to current times on the same page, while Captain America stories took place in either the present or during WWII. Though I’m all for battling demons, giants, trolls, interdimensional beings, aliens, and socially challenged supervillians, there’s just something about fighting Nazis that has always been appealing to me. Maybe it’s because demons, giants, trolls, aliens, interdimensional beings, and socially challenged supervillians are supposed to be really evil, but Nazis are just plain ...real.
Fantasy Masterpieces #4, Aug. 1966; Marvel Superheroes: Capt. America Ep. #1, Fall 1966; Captain Action ‘Captain America’ 1966-1968.
In 1966, Tom had graduated high school, joined the Marines, and the family moved back to Munich, Germany (we’d been there from 1958 to 1961; I’d been wee young and have only a single memory at three years old standing in a crowd looking up at the Rathaus-Glockenspiel). As military housing wasn’t yet available, my dad decided we’d do the tourist bit and took the family to picturesque Lake Chiemsee in the Bavarian Alps and an Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) hotel that overlooked the water. On a journey of exploration around the hotel, I stopped at a newsstand and began looking at the comic books that were for sale. One special title, Fantasy Masterpieces, featured reprints of three old Captain America stories from when my dad was around my age. The stories were from Captain America #4, June 1941, didn’t show Cap taking on Nazis (we wouldn’t officially attack Germany until after they declared war on us later in December), but did feature Cap’s young sidekick, Bucky, a character I wasn’t that familiar with.
Racing back to our hotel room, I found my dad and excitedly told him about the comic, grabbed him by the hand, and led him to the newsstand. The large grin on my face soon turned to a tapered smirk, as my dad immediately pointed out that the comic had a cover price of 25¢ (regular comics had jumped from 10¢ to 12¢ at the top of 1963 and my dad was still coming to terms with the increase), and looking around to see if there were enough other G.I. dads and their sons within earshot (there were), he argued that I could buy two regular comics for the price of this single one. “Dad, it’s got more pages,” I countered. “But, you could get two comics instead of one,” he re-phrased his point. “It’s got old Captain America stories in it, Dad,” I said, appealing to nostalgia. “You could get two new comics with new stories instead of one with old stories,” he re-phrased his point yet again. It was the first of many such occasions to come, as I got what I wanted after a pleading period and all I had to do is repeatedly promise not to annoy my mother for the coming week. Sometimes it was two weeks or a month, though it never mattered as I believe I never went more than a couple of days without getting into some smallish type of trouble...
Over the next year and a half, I didn’t get a chance to get that many brand new comics, but I was able to keep up with various Marvel titles a few months after they were originally published by ...trading. In the Perlacher Forest military housing complex (apartment buildings for noncoms and duplex ranch-style homes for officers), there was a wonderful tradition, now surely discontinued, of kids going door-to-door, knocking, saying “Trade!” as the door opened, and having a busy (read: “relaxing”) G.I. leave a stack of comics in the hallway with the order, “Leave the same amount you take!” It was ...cool. A brand new comic or three every month, a bundle of old comics at the McGraw Kaserne thrift-shop every few weeks, with a couple of afternoons a week knocking on doors, add radio with old programs from the ‘40's and ‘50's, and it was a kid’s life without television (there were no English language broadcasts while we were stationed in Germany – my mom was forced to watch daily soap-operas with the sound turned down and I managed to sit through zwei Christmas showings of Rudolph, das Rentier mit der Roten Nase).
The night we left Kennedy International Airport for Germany, I remember being dragged away from a waiting-area television which was showing either the first or second episode of the Adam West and Burt Ward Batman series. It would take several years of searching out odd-hour reruns for missed episodes of Batman, Star Trek, and The Marvel Superheroes, a new animated television program featuring rotating segments of "Captain America," "The Incredible Hulk," "The Invincible Iron Man," "The Mighty Thor," and "Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner." Okay, maybe more than several years...
During the summer of 1967, my dad received orders for a second tour of Vietnam. Tom was already over there, so it seemed normal to me and Rob (but not Mom) that he’d go too. We got dumped in the middle of Kansas, at the recently closed Schilling Air Force Base, along with several hundreds of dependents of every branch of the military (grouped into their own service sub-divisions, e.g. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines). Being back in the States allowed me to catch up on television, there was a 7-11 store within walking distance which sold new comics (and also the short-lived The Spectacular Spider-Man 35¢ magazine series) and also an on-base thrift-store which sold bundles of older comics at 15 or so for 25¢. I remember getting a lot of stuff for Christmas that year – especially a Captain Action boy-doll with a few superhero costumes, and a huge Captain Action's Silver Streak Amphibian toy which had trouble fitting into a bathtub. Tom got back first, paid a visit, and eventually made his home outside of Chicago in Indiana, then my dad returned and he got stationed once more at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.
Captain America: The Great Gold Steal by Ted White with an introduction by Stan Lee. New York: Bantam Books, Jul. 1968; Avengers Vol. 1, #56, Sep. 1968; Captain America #109, Jan. 1969; Captain America #110, Feb. 1969.
One Saturday morning, after I accompanied my dad on a Signal Corps work-related trip to Fort Monmouth, we headed off to nearby Long Branch on a couple of errands. At a pharmacy, while my dad was filling a prescription, I saw a revolving display rack of paperback books for sale next to the magazine and newspaper shelves. There was a paperback novel with a cover that had a painting of Captain America on it. It was the coolest art I’d ever seen. Sure, I was all nerdy giggly on the inside, but I tried to present a request to my father with as much serious affectation as I could. “50¢?” he asked, adding, “You could get two 25¢ comics or four regular comic books...” “It’s a novel, Dad, and I think it’s time I start reading something other than comic books,” I replied. After he stopped laughing, I can’t remember the exact profanity my dad used, but I do recall holding out my hand for two quarters and having to promise to read the paperback from start to finish.
Sure, the non-fifth grade world was fascinated with the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Jackie and Ari getting married in Greece, and the ongoing war against the communists in Vietnam, however I was occupied with playing baseball, growing Sea Monkeys, and learning more about Captain America. I’d been closely following the Roy Thomas and John Buscema run on The Avengers and the stories and art just kept getting better and better. In The Avengers Vol. 1 #56, “Death Be Not Proud,” Cap calls on the Black Panther, Hawkeye, Goliath and the Wasp to assist him in re-activating a time machine built by Doctor Doom to return to the end of WWII and the day Cap and Bucky tried to stop Baron Zemo from launching an experimental drone plane. The incident had been briefly described in The Avengers Vol. 1 #4 (“Captain America Joins... The Avengers!” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), but the Thomas and Buscema story added more details and a great deal of pathos toward Cap’s loss of his younger partner. I understood death (or thought so, at the time), yet it was Cap’s emotional suffering which puzzled me. Bucky’s death wasn’t Cap’s fault, so why did he feel so bad?
In the same month as “Death Be Not Proud,” Marvel released Captain America #105 which contained “In the Name of Batroc,” a tale featuring Cap taking on Batroc, the Swordsman, and the Living Laser. Kirby’s new large-stroke art was beginning to hit its stride and Lee was still driving home the sensitivities of his characters. The tale began with Steve Rogers viewing archival film of Captain America and Bucky from WWII. After the film ended, Steve’s self-recrimination at Bucky’s death was spread over a few panels of thought-balloons: “He begged me to let him be my partner... and I agreed! I should have known better! My life was too dangerous! I lived... and still live... with death dogging my heels at every second! I had no right to ask him to share the hazards! I’ve no right... ever to ask anyone... to share the risks I must take!” I was reminded of Spidey grieving over the death of his Uncle Ben, but Cap’s loss was different.
Marvel has always been considerate to its new readers and every few years or so re-tells the origin of each of its characters. Previously, I’d read a pretty decent origin of Cap and Bucky (Tales of Suspense #63, Mar. 1965; “The Origin of Captain America” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) and was familiar with the basics, i.e. scrawny Steve Rogers being 4-F, volunteering for an experiment with an Einstein-looking scientist, a super-soldier serum, murder of scientist, Captain America being “born,” and a state-side Private Steve Rogers is discovered to be Captain America by the camp “mascot,” Bucky Barnes, who then becomes his sidekick and partner. Lee and Kirby re-told Cap’s origin again in Captain America #109 (Jan. 1969; “The Hero That Was!”) with such new details as “Vita-Rays” being used in conjunction with the super-soldier serum and that Bucky’s dad had been a soldier, killed in action someplace, and as Bucky was an orphan, he was adopted by the Army regiment as a “mascot.” I didn’t think Kirby’s art or the Captain America series could get any better – I was wrong.
The very next issue, Captain America #110 (Feb. 1969; “No Longer Alone!” by Stan Lee and Jim Steranko), changed how I approached comic books. Lee’s story brought back Rick Jones, an early sidekick of Bruce Banner/The Hulk, also an “unofficial” member of the Avengers through the first sixteen issues (featured on several covers and even listed on The Avengers #5 as part of “Captain America and Rick Jones”), and appeared alongside Cap in Tales of Suspense before the stories switched to a WWII setting and featured Bucky (TOS #63-71). Steranko’s art? In fourth grade, I stole a Pall Mall cigarette from my mother, smoked it in a crawl-space beneath an abandoned Air Force barracks, it made me feel dizzy and things moved slowly for several minutes, and I didn’t smoke again for a couple of years. Steranko’s art made me feel dizzy, as well, but I wanted more immediately! If I had to pick a favorite comic book, chances are Captain America #110 would be in the top three.
Captain America #111? The story and art continued from CA #110 with Rick Jones donning Bucky’s costume and taking his place at Cap’s side. Then, agents of HYDRA show up, kidnap Rick, Cap figures out what’s happening and lets loose with some deep regret at publically revealing his secret identity (Tales of Suspense # 95; Nov. 1967), while Cap is tracking down HYDRA, Rick escapes, and at the end of the issue the reader witnesses “Cap” diving from a rooftop into some water through a proverbial hail storm of bullets fired by HYDRA guns. And, just for the fun of it, the final panels show the police dragging a bullet-ridden Captain America costume from the water along with... a life-like mask of Steve Rogers! But then, as the reader was prompted to ask, “Who was the REAL Captain America?”
Jack Kirby came back for Captain America #112, an “album” issue of highlights from Cap’s career, delivering great art on what’s said to have been an extremely tight deadline. Steranko returned for Captain America #113, amazing art, Cap was never dead, as it was just a means to regain “Steve Rogers” as Cap’s secret identity. Then, Steranko left, John Romita and John Buscema filled in for two issues, and Gene Colan began a nearly two year long run as penciller. A lot happened in those two years – we moved a lot, Rick Jones left one captain for another, Bucky stayed dead, and Sam Wilson, the Falcon, became Cap’s new partner.
Captain America’s Weird Tales #74, Oct. 1949; Captain America: Republic Pictures, Feb. 1944; Captain America #1, Mar. 1941.
We left New Jersey in the summer of 1969 and moved to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas for six months. My dad needed to take a special telephone switch exchange course, which apparently only the Air Force offered, before being assigned to Fort Clayton in the Panama Canal Zone for a year and a half. While Germany didn’t have any English language television broadcasts for U.S. troops and their dependents when we were there, Panama offered something like three or four hours of programming every evening. Usually we were treated to a half-hour of news followed by Bonanza repeats or a movie, though being outside the States, the Powers That Be granted us the privilege of watching '"The Fight of the Century" between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier live from Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971. Yeah, just like in Germany, everyone read a lot and pretty much anything and everything. I got my first pair of glasses down in Panama. And, as a spray of air freshener follows a trip to the bathroom, I also lost my first pair of glasses in Panama.
At the end of May, 1971, my brother, Rob, graduated from high school and my dad’s tour of duty in Panama came to an end soon afterwards. Rob had wanted to stay in Panama with his girlfriend, there was screaming and plenty of door slamming, but a few weeks later we were back in the States outside of Miami in a cheap hotel. At a nearby restaurant over breakfast (French toast and sausage, I believe), Mom was uncharacteristically chilly and distant. After I finished eating, she told me Rob was upset over not being able to stay in Panama, she was having problems with my dad and was going to return to Chicago with Rob, ...and I would stay with my dad. Less than an hour later, a taxi took my mom and my brother away. At least I got to keep Samantha, the Siamese cat. Dad stepped up, as dads have been known to do from time to time, and tried to make the loss of half of our family a bearable thing. Yeah, he bought me lots of comic books, junk food and soda-pop.
My dad told me that we’d be driving up the East Coast, making a few stops, and then he’d be free and clear of the Army and we’d head off to Michigan to visit his side of the family. It was a slow drive, it seemed we stopped a lot for food and bathroom breaks, we chatted a bit, but neither of us were in a talking mood without Mom and Rob around. After a couple of days, we arrived in Washington, D.C. Dad did his thing, whatever that was, and then asked me if there was anything in our nation’s capital that I’d like to see. Sure, visiting the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, or anyplace around the National Mall would have been most cool, but I asked to go to the Library of Congress. “Why would you want to go there?” my dad asked. “Because they’re supposed to have the best collection of printed stuff around,” I replied, “and, ...I’d like to see some really old comic books!” I can still see my dad’s grin.
Okay, so we go to the Library of Congress (we left Sam in a hotel room in the suburbs). Big, granite, and more big. To my dad’s credit, he tried his best to keep a straight face while I asked this ancient research librarian dude how I’d go about looking at our nation’s collection of comic books. I was told most of the comic books were unavailable for viewing, as they were being photographed for archival purposes, but the librarian promised to have a look around and provide me with something. We waited several minutes, hands in pockets and walking back and forth trying not to look like we were waiting on comic books, and then the research librarian returned with a medium-sized cardboard box. “I won’t make you wear gloves to look at these,” he said, “but, I will ask you to be careful turning the pages.” I agreed, took the box, and ran to the nearest empty table and started going through the comics. It was a small, but impressive collection. There were some low numbered Superman and Batman, Detective Comics in the 40s and 50s, and lots of Whiz and Captain Marvel Adventures. One comic stood out from the rest – it was an early Marvel comic and it featured Captain America fighting the Red Skull in Hell! “Dad! Dad! I gotta have this!” I pleaded. “I could put it under my shirt, we could walk out, no one would suspect a thing, and I’d have this really valuable comic that I’d save forever and ever! Please? Could you look the other way for a minute?” My dad put the copy of Captain America’s Weird Tales #74 back in the box and returned all the comics to the research librarian. Then, we went and had hot dogs and spent a couple of hours walking around the Smithsonian. It would've been so easy...
Our next stop was New Jersey, though I can’t say whether it was Army retirement related or just so my dad could look up a couple of buddies. The stop was wicked memorable, however, as one night my dad drove Samantha and me into a drive-in movie theater, left us in the car with a box of Twinkies, and went across the street to a tavern for some refreshments. As I watched Night of the Living Dead, Sam would lick the cream filling from the Twinkies and I’d eat the sponge cake. Good times. Really good times.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better (read: good weird), they did. The next thing I knew, we're across the bridge in New York City. My dad made a couple of stops, again, I’m not really sure if they were Army retirement related (the day before we left for Germany, we’d made a mad dash to catch a cruise ship heading to Europe, but it was leaving the dock as we arrived – that’s all I can recall about a possible NYC and military connection), and just like Washington, D.C., my dad asked me if there was any place in the Big Apple I’d like to visit. “Sure,” I answered immediately, “625 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022.” “What’s there?” he asked. “Headquarters...,” I replied, climbing into the backseat and beginning to go through my stuff.
We found a parking garage, lied to Sam that we wouldn’t be gone long, and hit the sidewalks of New York City. At 625 Madison, we strolled through the front doors and approached the building receptionist/security guard. “How may I help you?” we were asked. “We’re here to visit Marvel Comics,” I answered. The “Do you have an appointment?” follow-up question could have frightened away a lesser mortal, but not me. With my dad keeping quit and smirking, I proceeded to detail how I’d traveled all over the world because of the Army, just separated from my mom and brother, my cat was very confused, and that I’d really like to visit Marvel Comics and say “Hello and thanks for the fine work!” There was a brief phone call and we were told to take an elevator upstairs.
Maybe there were other rooms and offices I didn’t see, but I’ve lived in one bedroom apartments that seemed bigger than the area used to create Marvel comics in mid-1971. Actually, I only saw two rooms, but I can’t attest that more space existed. The first, and larger, room was a squeezed together and exquisitely cool work-space with a half-dozen cubicles and a few medium sized tables. At the back of the room ...was the editors office.
My father and I were greeted by Marie Severin, who acted as hostess and tour-guide for our brief stay. I was familiar with her work as a colorist, had some knowledge that she occasionally did some pencils for titles I didn’t follow (e.g. Millie the Model?), but had no idea as to the amount of layout work she did where she wasn’t credited. She gave me a pencil layout cover sketch for Conan #8. This impressed me greatly, so I relaxed and tried to be friendly. I inquired about her brother, John Severin, who had moved to Colorado and she seemed excited that some kid off the street would know about her brother’s recent change of residence. Then, she took me on the “tour,” for lack of a better description, which in actuality amounted to turning around and being introduced to Herb Trimpe, then John Romita, and finally to Bill Everett. Trimpe and Romita each gave me autographed cover proofs, and I was able to pick out a copy of Amazing Adventures from a briefcase I had brought with me (he’d inked either a Kazar or an Inhumans story) for him to sign.
Finally, I was introduced to the editor’s office. While I had spent a few minutes causally chatting with each of the artists I’d just met, in the editor’s office it was a little different. Stan “The Man” Lee wasn’t around and Roy Thomas was holding court. Before him, on the desk, were a couple of Conan paperbacks and we joked about trying to get Frank Frazetta to work for Marvel. Beside him stood this big guy with a smile on his face that could have sold the Brooklyn Bridge several times over – Neal Adams. Yeah, I went all geek twitchy and tried not to mention how much I was enjoying his artwork on Deadman and Batman. I turned to Roy Thomas and promised I wouldn’t discuss the “Despicable Competition,” which, of course, was Marvel-code for D.C. comics. And that, as they say, was that.
My dad had been silent for just about the entire “tour,” grinning at his son having such a good time. Indeed, it was a very good time...
Over the next couple of years I was able to get my father’s interest in comics by showing him copies of Skywald’s The Heap, C. C. Beck’s revival of Captain Marvel in D.C.’s Shazam, and Warren’s The Spirit magazine, all characters he’d read either when he was young or when he was in Korea. He never could get used to paying more than 10¢ for a comic book and would undoubtedly be most upset at today’s prices of $2.99, $3.99, and up.
Captain America #261, Sep. 1981.
Comics helped me learn how to read, improved my grammar (I won a spelling bee in third grade by correctly spelling ‘amazing’ thanks to reading The Amazing Spider-Man comics), introduced me to the study of mythology, ...and in the early 1970s they made me aware of ...social concerns.
Marvel began to address substance abuse with a three issue story arc that ran in The Amazing Spider-Man #96 - #98 (May - July 1971) in which Harry Osborn, the Green Goblin’s son, had a bad LSD experience. Not to be outdone, a few months later D.C. contributed two issues which dealt with Speedy, Green Arrow’s young partner, having a problem with heroin addiction (Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow #85 and #86, September and November 1971). Yeah, definitely not the usual “funny book” material.
Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, the creative team responsible for Speedy’s heroin problem, continued to deal with such matters of social concern as racism, pollution and ecology. The story “...And Through Him Save A World (Green Lantern co-starring Green Arrow #89, May 1972) featured an eco-terrorist who looked like a blonde Jesus and gets crucified behind the jet engine of an airplane. I’d say that the story affected my concern for the environment more than any classroom poster presentation. A scene which had the eco-terrorist painting a corporate office with icky green pollution has always stayed with me. I’ve often day-dreamed that it’d be nice to become a humorist, instead of a terrorist, and change the world through comedy, though unfortunately I’ve never been funny enough.
Marvel would go on to remind everyone that alcohol is often abused or misused just like hard drugs. They’d previously established the possibility of having one of their major characters become an alcoholic with Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, who was the epitome of a genius, gazillionaire, womanizing playboy who always had a drink in his hand. Stark encountered a number of problematic situations he couldn’t immediately solve and, as happens all too often in the non-comic book world, turned to alcohol as a way to cope. He became a drunk (Iron Man #120 – 128, March – November 1979).
Marvel had depicted their pre-Timely Comics (Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1)) superhero, Prince Namor of Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner, as becoming a disheveled, amnesiac bum before Johnny Storm, the Human Torch from The Fantastic Four comics, gave him a hot shave, with the implied behavior befitting the Bowery of New York City as being a gathering place for alcoholics who couldn’t fall any further. Ditto, the origin of Dr. Strange, a world-class surgeon who one night imbibed too much and got into a car crash which resulted in a Chappaquiddick event that changed his life. Alcohol, as Marvel reminded us, could hurt and kill as sure and as deadly as hard drugs. Cap found out about the hazards of alcohol inebriation, as well.
One evening, Steve Rogers was having drinks with Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon. Blonde white guy kicking back with his black guy good friend, they step outside and, ‘cause something has to happen, they’re beset upon by chump bad guys. Rogers and Wilson didn’t need their costumes and accessories as Captain America and the Falcon to take on the chumps. However, because Cap had a few drinks (“a few glasses of vino”), he decided that being the designated superhero was more important than getting sloshed and he’d limit his alcohol consumption in the future to a safe and careful drinking level (one glass?).
I’ve always overlooked Cap’s “super powers,” that is, his super-soldier serum enhancements. Yeah, he’s got an impossibly cool vibranium shield and has increased healing abilities, but what he brings to the table (i.e. the “fight”) is agility, highly trained strategic combat maneuvers, and ...his heart. Nice guy, that Steve Rogers. I’ve always respected ol’ Winghead because the character seemed like such a good, normal guy.
Ultimates Vol.1, #8, Nov. 2002.
Putting a human face on super-humans has long been a Marvel Comics' forte. Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, is portrayed as a superhero with problems – real world difficulties like family issues, social uncomfortability, underemployment and its economic consequences, plus those insidious supervillians who want to do bad things to your gray-haired aunt, your girlfriend, and your pets (if you have any...).
Hank Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and currently doing a twisted homage to the Wasp, is the super-genius who feels he's never accorded the respect shown to, say, Tony Stark (Iron Man) or Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four). His emotional insecurities went full blown with the Yellowjacket persona, as he became cocky, self-assured, and proposed to and married Janet van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp. Pym's an insecure leader. Smart man, a hero, a superhero, but ...a fellow with problems.
In Marvel’s “Ultimate Universe,” Pym flipped out and very seriously hurt his wife, Janet. She had shrunk down to Wasp-size to avoid her angry husband, who then attacked with an army of ants and a can of bug-spray. Hitting women when they don’t deserve it ...is debatable. When they don’t deserve it? Punk and unconscionable. Cap didn’t like how Pym treated his wife. Wow, ouch, and more ...wow. Funny books?
Pym fled the Big Apple and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,” he showed up in Chicago across the street from where John Dillinger was shot and killed by the F.B.I. That gin-joint across the street? That would the Red Lion Pub, at #446 North Lincoln Avenue, a fine tavern for good drink, great food, and an upstairs area that’s so cool, it’d be the perfect spot for a wedding. Ah, Cap, I hope ya’ took him outside first!
Captain America Vol. 5, #25, Mar. 2007.
Since his creation, Marvel has put Captain America through many narrative developments befitting a costumed superhero from the genre’s earliest period who maintains publication currency. Comic books are no different than other types of fiction and religions with a fantastic or fantasy foundation (or, as sequential graphics, the near global examples of parietal and portable rock art). Characters are sometimes made to do such especially impossible things like ...come back from the dead. However, with the exception of only a few costumed superheroes and associated characters, most comic book deaths are soon amended (“retconned” < retroactive continuity), were faked, or it was all a mistake. Cap’s been thought “dead” a few times already, but that didn’t stop Marvel from using the narrative device again.
A couple of years ago, Captain America was killed by various assassins. With a graphic finality reminiscent of both the first bullet which struck President Kennedy and the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald at the hand of Jack Ruby, Cap was shot dead. With both The First Avenger: Captain America and The Avengers movies in the big-screen pipeline (pre-production), few, if anyone, believed Marvel would keep Steve Rogers dead ...for long.
The narrative offered by writer, Ed Brubaker, is solid enough, in that by necessity it utilizes characters who have long concerned themselves with Cap’s “death” (e.g. Nazi psychopath Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. the Red Skull, the criminal psychiatrist, Dr. Johann Fennhoff Faustus, the mad geneticist, Arnim Zola), as well as Cap’s girlfriend, Sharon Carter, Agent 13 of S.H.I.E.L.D., America’s top-secret law-enforcement agency. While the territory seems familiar, Brubaker admirably combines such quasi-scientific geekiness as unstable tachyon fields and a holding of Cap “unstuck in time,” with patriotic pathos and a convincing atmosphere of friends assisting friends. Yeah, Captain America is our Sentinel of Liberty, but Steve Rogers is also a dear and trusted friend whose absence is perceived as both sad and wrong. In the imagining of the Deliration Camorra (“D.C. comics”), the world may “need” Superman, though in the Marvel Universe, things just seem better with Cap around.
Admitting that over the years I’ve taken more than a couple of Cap naps and avoided following the Captain America comic book series with regularity, is embarrassing, yet true. I’d gotten bored with certain story-lines, some artists didn’t impress me, and, of course, there’s that all intrusive phenomenological reality we call ...life. While I’m not quite at the level of Wolfe’s You Can't Go Home Again, I do very much miss the magic and the message of such superheroes as Captain America. Loss and death is an inevitability in the real world, but thanks to comics ...the miracle of the “happy ending” exists. Welcome back, Cap!
Keeping The Cave safe for Bats,