Sunday, February 24, 2008

Great moments in Comics: Cap lays down the beats

Confession right up: I’m Canadian, and a proud and I like to think patriotic citizen. I would not want to live anywhere else on earth.

That said, I have a deep affection for Captain America that transcends all rational thought. I just love the character, the idealism, the “man out of time aspect” and the fact that he combines this with his unending quest to beat the holy hell out of Nazis, mad gods, and other evil crooks in costumes. Now, if only there were a single comic that encapsulated all of this…

Oh wait, there is!

Captain America, Vol. 1, issue 350. Written by the late, great Mark Gruenwald, with art by Kieron Dwyer.

First, a bit of background: The Commission on Superhuman Activities had told Steve Rogers that since the government created Captain America, he should work for them. Steve thinks that might not be such a good idea, as he thinks the government might try to force him do something that goes against his conscience, like conscript fellow super humans into government service. But that’s crazy, right?

Anyway, he decides to give up the Captain America identity altogether, and instead rebuilds himself and takes on a new identity as “The Captain”, wearing the stylish black uniform on the cover here. In the meantime, the Commission bring on John Walker, a guy whose physical power far exceeds that of Rogers to be the new Captain America. However, he’s well, I believe the technical term is TOTALLY FUCKING PSYCHO. For about a year and a half previous they’ve had parallel storylines, but it all comes to a head here. Now, this issue begins with a man who looks like Steve Rogers, and what’s he up to?

As we learn in the issue's back up feature (1988 SPOILER ALERT) this in fact the Red Skull, wearing a clone body of Steve's, clone bodies being the height of fashion in the late 80s and early 90s (see also: Luthor, Lex). So, what does he do with a physically perfect body?

He hires mercenaries to dress up as Cap and kills five of them every morning. BEFORE BREAKFAST.

Folks, that's super-villainy work-ethic right there. I mean, when you go out of your way to hire people to cosplay as the guy you hate and you kill a nearly a half dozen of them before your morning cup o'joe, that shows dedication to the whole "Arch-Nemesis" thing. I mean, come on, the Joker might knock off an IHOP occasionally, but he probably orders first and even then, he doesn't do it EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The scene changes, and we look in on our hero in his new(ish) identity. As the distinguished Professor Sims has noted (here and here), no true Marvel Anniversary is complete without a scene of baby endangerment. In this case, the peril is the form of an out of control newspaper delivery truck. Now, not one to be one-upped by that rich frat boy Tony Stark, our hero surpasses him.

He saves the pie


Truly, they were the Greatest Generation.

This gives Cap the confidence to finally go and talk to the Commission about the raw deal they gave him. He starts with the head of the commission, who we learn is a corrupt flunky of the Red Skull's, and well...

...apparently Washington has some really shitty telephone companies. And you think AT&T sucks NOW.

Meanwhile, what of Johnny Walker, the replacement psycho Cap? Well, he's busy.

Murdering a bunch of flunkies organized by the Skull to give him a warm up while the Skull sets up the fight we've all been waiting for...

And it's on!

Sweep the leg!

As Cap says, he's in it to win it!

and a vicious elbow strike to win Round one! But wait! What's going on here?

Apparently Cap frowns on setting helpless prisoners on fire. Go figure.

Now, Cap says he had to "harden himself to regain his fighting edge" Now, you may be wondering what his training method was. Well, in this exact order, it went

-Fought a Bear
-Defeated Viper and the deadly Serpent Society
-Slugging U.S. President Ronald Reagan

which I think says something about the Gipper that Cap had to warm up for that by fighting a bear and then taking on the deadliest snake based terrorist organization this side of COBRA.

I have no commentary that can truly capture the glory of what comes next, so I'll just give you the highlights.

I just want to say what a louse Walker is here: he whines that Cap has a unfair advantage because he's using the shield, but then he goes and tries to garrote Cap the first chance he gets. However, cheaters never prosper.

And it's over folks! Well, the Skull comes out to gloat about how clever he is, but really, how clever could he be if he left some of that skullifying dust of his in cigarette holder? I mean really, if you do something that stupid... deserve what happens to you.

And so, The Skull gets a permanent makeover, The Commission decides that Steve is simply too badass, and give him back the title, and all is well.

This was one of my favorite comics as a kid, and it holds up pretty well, Gruenwald established Cap as a principled fighter who never lost his cool and never betrayed his ideals; basically, a hero's hero who you could look up to. And seriously, we need more of that.

As a final note, I'm adding this poster; The original picture is here (and thanks to this guy). Special thanks also goes out to Chris Sims for being an inspiration and not beating me to this. I hope you've enjoyed.

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