12 October 2007

Re-Cap, Part 3: Captain America #1(00)

I have stayed silent on the “Re-Cap” series of Captain America reviews for a spell, as I finished up Cap’s run on Tales of Suspense, which he shared with Iron Man. However, in 1968 the restrictions that publisher Martin Goodman had placed on the number of titles that Marvel Comics could release were eased, and there was now room to move Iron Man to his own comic book and change Tales of Suspense into Captain America, starting with the hundredth issue.

Which means that the first issue of Captain America in his own Silver Age magazine is #100, which has caused some confusion among later readers. Adding to the confusion, the storyline of the inaugural issue carries over from the cliffhanger conclusion of the last issue of Tales of Suspense. This issue can therefore hardly be considered a “fresh start,” but nonetheless writer Stan Lee and co-plotter/artist Jack Kirby pull out all the stops to make Cap’s first full solo issue since the 1950s a major deal. The cover not only has Cap, it also includes the Black Panther, Sub-Mariner, Agent 13 (Sharon Carter), and the original Avengers. Never mind that Subby and the Avengers only briefly feature in a flashback . . . Jack and Stan want you to know that Captain America is a mega-player in the Marvel Universe, and here’s his own mag and back-up crew to prove it! (Oh, and please buy it. That’s the real message of any cover.)

Immediately we plunge into not one but two summaries of “what has gone before . . .”

Fitting an issue #1(00), the first few pages re-tell how Captain America arrived in the modern era. This originally appeared in The Avengers #4, the first appearance of the Silver Age Cap, but Kirby re-draws the story to get new readers up to speed—and it looks better than it did in Avengers #4. Steve Rogers lays in suspended animation in an ice slab in the North, where natives worship him. Then the generally ticked-off Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, shows up and tosses the human popsicle into the water. That’ll show ‘em, huh? The Avengers, patrolling in a sub to track down Namor after an encounter in Avengers #3, find the floating Captain America and revive him. Welcome to the ‘60s Cap. Grab some go-go boots.

End of re-cap #1. Also the last we see of the Avengers or the Sub-Mariner in this issue. They had to earn their cover spot, right?

Now, re-cap #2. It turns out that all the above was a flashback Cap experienced while lying semi-conscious in Wakanda, where he and the Black Panther are prisoners of the supposedly revived Baron Zemo. Quickly, Cap recalls how he got here in the last two issues of Tales of Suspense: a summons from T’Challa, the ruler of Wakanda who also adventures as the way-cool superhero the Black Panther, to aid his fight against Baron Zemo and his space super-laser. But now a young woman, an agent of Zemo, holds a gun on Captain America, under orders from the Baron to shoot the Star-Spangled Avenger. Cap thinks the girl looks familiar, and she should: she is actually Sharon Carter, Agent 13 of SHIELD, undercover trying to destroy Zemo's organization. She can’t blow her cover . . . she has to shoot Captain America, the man she loves.

Yep, we’re five pages into this and Stan has already had to toss a billion dialogue balloons and narrator boxes at us to get us up to speed. He even has to explain re-doing Cap’s intro from Avengers #4 as a hook for new readers. Hey, they gotta set this up somehow.

A couple of things to point out:
  • This obviously isn’t the real Zemo, who died in The Avengers #15. Cap even buried the body with his own hands. Marvel has already revived supposedly dead villains—the Red Skull has come back twice and will do so a third time in the next issue—but Zemo really perished in a rock slide caused by one of his own weapons and has astonishingly remained dead over the ensuing forty years. He’s made plenty of appearances in retro-World War II comics, like The Invaders, but in present continuity, his body lies a-molding in its grave. (His son, however, marches on with the Baronial title.) Any reader of the last issue of Tales of Suspense would know this Zemo is a fake because Cap even noticed that Zemo seemed to act differently. Bingo! Got an impostor here. And when Cap at last tears off the mask and finds the villain is nobody more important than Zemo’s pilot, it causes just a touch of disappointment and disbelief.
  • Sharon Carter doesn’t have a name yet. She appeared thirty issues ago, and Stan and Jack still haven’t given her a name—even though she’s Cap’s love interest, fer cryin’ out loud. This will be solved in issue #103, but why did it take so long? This “Agent 13” business gets pretty annoying. Can’t Cap just flat-out ask her what her name is? I’ve heard about shy, but sheesh! You two are in love—get her name!
  • Dig the close-up of the gun Sharon carries in the full-page panel on pg. 5! Nobody could draw nutty technology like Jack Kirby.
  • The Black Panther rocks.
The action epic now begins as Sharon (uh, Agent 13) purposely fires over Captain America’s head, and Cap and Black Panther leap into battle-mode to dish out damage to the pseudo-Zemo’s flunkies. Cap learns the Zemo’s female agent is actually the girl with whom he is madly in love (even though he doesn’t know her name). Then a completely far-out Jack Kirby robot called the Destructor dukes it out with our three heroes, and Cap triumphantly reveals that Zemo is just some dopey pilot who got lucky. The forces of the fake Zemo surrender, and the merciful T’Challa offers them a fair trial in Wakanda.

The issue comes to a close with the promise that, of course, the Red Skull will return to life in the next issue. Also, Cap offers his spot in the Avengers to the Black Panther, who apparently can take time off from running a major country to hang with a superhero group in New York. Not that I’m complaining, because as I said above, the Black Panther rocks.

Last episode: Captain America DVD-ROM Fights On!

Next episode: A One-Shot Captain America Glut