Saturday, December 13, 2008

Marvel 1978 Week--Captain America #228

Sometimes when you go back in time, you find a comics franchise that's just a little bit lost.

Case in point: Captain America.

After the end of the 1970's Kirby run, it quickly became evident that the Marvel Powers-That-Be had no real idea of what the hell to do with Cap. It was the late 70s, still post-Watergate and beginning to invest heavily in the "malaise" of the Carter years. What to do with a patriotic hero, the symbol of America?

The first couple of post-Kirby issues were fill-ins or reprints, re-capping Cap's origin and history. Then, under a seemingly endless rotation of writers and artists, we proceeded on "The Search For Steve Rogers." Cap, it seems, suddenly realized he had no memories of his life before he took the super-soldier serum. So he begins a long...and long...and long quest to find out the truth about his roots. 9 issues (plus another fill-in) were spent canoodling around doing nothing (except for a couple of truly bizarre issues by Steve Gerber, which still accomplished nothing but were so nutty you didn't notice).

At the same time, Falcon had left Cap to train the "S.H.I.E.L.D. Super-Agents," and then had gone missing. And a mysterious evil organization known only as "The Corporation" was trying to destroy Cap and S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Corporation?!? Really, that's the best you could come up with? I guess to some in those days, a faceless corporation was the epitome of evil. Whatever floats your boat. Me, I would have at least given it a flippin' name...

But the bottom line is that, by December of 1978, Captain America was essentially floating aimlessly, and had become a big whiny dope. Which brings us to:

I really have nothing to say about this cover...sorry...This issue has been brought to us by:

Damned crooked credits boxes...Roger McKenzie had just come on board--this was only his third issue--and he'd hang around for 8 more, leave for a while, then come back for about 4 more, establishing a pretty sad post-Kirby record. Sal Buscema we all know, and "Espo & Tartag" are Mike Esposito and John Tartag, the inker with a Klingon name.

And since this is 1978 Captain America, we start with him brooding like a teenager with his first Cure album:

Is that Morrissey in the background?It's pretty sad days when Tony Stark has to be the one to give Cap a pep talk about how to have a happy private life...

Well, you wouldn't want to go look for your missing partner or anything, would you??But Steve is so mopey, he even invents the first Geico commercial:

Private life--so simple even a synthezoid can have oneOh, Steve...Iron Man takes Cap outside in the rain, and basically kicks him in the seat of the pants, telling him to grow up. Does it take?

Captain America has become a chick flick...Heavens, no. Cap has gone from staring out the window brooding to standing out in rain brooding. Yup, this is why I read Captain America--for maximum emo!!

Jesus,'re making ME broody hereWell, perhaps because McKenzie realizes that this is a super-hero comic and absolutely nothing has happened yet, we then get a three page sequence--THREE PAGES!!--that consist entirely of Cap saving one child from being hit by a truck. Yes, 3 pages for the "save the kid from getting hit" shtick. Lord, talk about padded...

I won't reprint those panels here, because they bore even my computer to death. But at the end we get an interesting bit:

The biggest 'DUH' in superhero historyThat's right, Rogers--Falcon is missing!! And you're standing around feeling sorry for yourself!! Great Googly Moogly!! "Busy with your own problems?!?" You were standing around brooding in a storm like Slash in the November Rain music video!!

By the way, I can pretty much guarantee that' this is the only blog post you'll ever see comparing Captain America to Slash. You're welcome.

So Cap takes off for the secret entrance to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s NY HQ, which owes more than a little to Get Smart and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.:

You think that Cap would good with a fade?
No barber chair seems innocent, McKenzie...didn't you see Sweeney Todd?!?Surprisingly, the base is deserted--except for the obligatory robot guard...

...of Dracula??
Please, sir, I prefer Defense Robert, if you don't mind......whom Cap destroys with the wussiest sound effect in comics history:

The world's first mouse-powered defense robReally? He goes "Squee" when you destroy him???

So why is the HQ deserted??

Because massive underground explosions in Manhattan will NEVER be noticedApparently, unannounced, massive demolition activity in the middle of the night is OK in New York City? I guess if you're S.H.I.E.L.D. it is.

Because of this stupidity, Cap is trapped:

S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't yet invented the Emergency Don't Blow-Up Yet buttonAnd he's not alone!!

Why hide him from us--he's on the cover, dammit!!Who could it be? Well, if you happened to miss looking at the cover:

That sound effect shouldn't be taken out of context
Man, this guy is *such* an Iron man villain...We get a couple of shots to establish how tough (chortle) the Constrictor is...

You know, heroes don't lie that'd think that villains would learn to start believing them on this kind of thing...
Hint--this attempt to detroy Cap's shield fails...before Cap turns the tables on him with simple acrobatics:

I'm not going to say what that looks like
You'd think a whip based villain would have come up with some defense against his whips being tied together...But it was too late...

So S.H.I.E.L.D. really sucks hereSPOILER ALERT: They survive.

I shouldn't be too harsh on this's just the latest in what was over a year of time-killing and belly-scratching because nobody at Marvel seemed to know what to do with the Star Spangled Avenger. (Here's a hint of what you do with Cap...who says I never have anything nice to say about Geoff Johns?).

Everything was so meandering and navel-gazing and broody that even I wasn't buying Cap, and I was a Marvel Zombie by this point. Which is rather a shame, because Cap was actually getting better treatment in the pages of the Avengers, so we know it could be done. Happier days would come, but not for awhile.

It's too bad I didn't do Marvel 1978 week a few months earlier, or I could have done this issue:

Take that, Gerald Way!!Yes, that cover scene really happens, 30 years before Umbrella Academy. Also in that issue, Cap is chased through his apartment by a remote controlled Volkswagon Beetle. And no, his apartment wasn't on the ground floor. Oh, Steve Gerber, you mad genius, you.


Surprisingly, no scene even 1/1000th as cool as this EVER took place on the TV show they're pimpingPeter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #25 was, well, nuts. There wasn't a terribly strong continuity between the 2 Spidey titles back then, and Bill Mantlo just ran wild, in a fun way. As you can see from the cover this issue featured the Masked Marauder and the Tri-Man (don't ask). Unseen on the cover are the fact that it guest stars the White Tiger, and more significantly, it was the debut appearance of Carrion.

Sure, Carrion was a decrepit clone of Professor Miles Warren, who had been the Jackyl and made clones of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, so Carrion is a step towards the madness of the Clone Saga. Forget about that. What's most significant is that Carrion got me a post card from Mantlo, which was a pretty big thrill. They had a letters page contest to guess Carrion's identity, and even though my guess was wrong, I got a postcard in the mail. All it said was "Nope," with Mantlo's signature...and for all I know he had some intern do them...but it was still a pretty exciting moment in my young life.

So that's Marvel 1978 week. Hope you had as much fun as I did...


Johnny Bacardi said...

Actually, John "Tartag"'s full name was John Tartaglione; he was a semi-regular inker at Marvel back in the day. Also, "squee" is a little in-joke; that was the noise that the robots in Magnus: Robot Fighter always made when Magnus would karate chop 'em into the scrap heap.

snell said...

I did know Tartaglione's full name, Johnny, but I couldn't resist the Klingon joke.

Magnus reference or not, "squee" is still a wussy sound effect.

Anonymous said...

I am LOVING this "look back" series. I owned MANY of these issues, being a high school junior, total nerd, and Marvel zombie at that time.

I'm sure it is a lot of work, but it is well worth it in my never-very-humble opinion. Please do another series like this some time in the future.

googum said...

Loved 1978 week: this issue, and yesterday's Spidey, were sold in three-packs, from Whitman? Loved them to death, so much that I probably read them to nubs.

The Cap one led to a crossover with Hulk, that took me like twenty years to finish reading...