12 May 2008

Re-Cap, Part 8: The Fury of Yellow Claw

Captain America and the Falcon #161–#167 brings in a mess o’ overlapping conflicts for our two heroes. What writer Steve Englehart really does excellently in this run of issues is intertwine the various running plots with a steady stream of adversaries. The bad guys come and go, some easier than others, but the background drama keeps building.

Let’s see what we’ve got here for running stories:
  1. Cap still has his super-strength, and Falcon still feels inadequate because of it.

  2. An ad campaign is attempting to besmirch Cap’s reputation.

  3. Cap’s World War II lover, Peggy, returns, but her amnesia makes her still think a life with Cap is possible. But he’s in love with her younger sister Sharon.
The last item begins in #161 and #162, “The Macabre Secret of Sharon Carter!” After Cap and Falcon call a temporary reinstatement of their partnership following the ruckus of the last issues, they have to track down Cap’s missing girlfriend. Cap just can’t take her “Dear John” letter at face value, and wants some answers! This leads to the Carter estate and an encounter with Doctor Faustus, a way cool villain (last seen in issue #107) who uses psychology to damage his foes. It turns out that Doctor Faustus has Sharon’s older sister Peggy, Cap’s love from the Big One, captive and hopes she’ll crack watching all the torments that he puts Cap ‘n’ Co. through and give him some means of breaking the hero. You would think he would just kill him since he has him captive, but I guess Faustus just isn’t that sort of guy. Our heroes win through Faustus’s mind games and hallucinations, and the mentally damaged Peggy is free for the first time in years—but now we’ve got the problem mentioned above. How can Cap tell her that he’s in love with her sister?

Issue #163 introduces one of Captain America’s most frequent villain teams, the Serpent Squad. This collection of snake-themed supervillains (or at least ophidiform, as an eel isn’t a snake) will appear in many permutations over the years, but this first group is a bit understaffed and underpowered: Cobra (originally of Thor’s rogues gallery), Eel, and his brother Viper. Viper is turning into a wonderful goofball, spouting silly Madison Avenue slogans as he fights. He also starts the evil ad campaign against Cap when he calls up a sleazy friend in the business and asks him to go on the attack against the good captain. Apparently his friend doesn’t need any payment, just Viper’s suggestion, to go ahead with this. The first indications of this won’t appear for another two issues… and it will eventually spiral into the Secret Empire storyline. The Serpent Squad attacks while Cap and Falcon are still at the Carter’s mansion. Cap gets his hands scorched from the Eel’s electrified costume, and still manages to best most the Squad with both hands bandaged and useless.

The next issue sets up the Yellow Claw story, but is otherwise an experimental stand-alone with guest artist Allan Weiss bringing a shady, grotesque style to what’s essentially a horror story. Horror comics had turned into big business for Marvel in the early 1970s, and the influence crept into the superhero titles as well. Falcon heeds a letter for help sent from an old friend now serving time in prison. It’s a trap, however: the prisoners have all been turned into werewolves waiting to feast on Captain America! Their leader is the sultry Deadly Nightshade, and she captures Falcon and injects him with the serum so that Cap has to face a very hirsute and angry version of his partner. Yellow Claw makes a quick appearance at the end when its clear that Nightshade as botched the job for which he hired her. Nick Fury and SHIELD show up in time to discover that, indeed, their old adversary had returned. (Oh, and Falcon recovers from the werewolf transformation. Didn’t want you to worry.)

This brings us to the three-issue arc starring the evil Yellow Claw. Yellow Claw is an adversary in the “Yellow Peril” style: sinister Asiatic world-conqueror. Sax Rohmer popularized this type of villain with his Fu-Manchu novels, and the pulps mined the trope for everything it was worth (the Shadow had his fill of them, most famously Shiwan Khan). By the 1970s this cliché was turning unfashionable, but Marvel still trots out one of its oldies for another go-round. Yellow Claw predates the Marvel Silver age, first appearing in his own magazine in 1956, under the Atlas imprint of what would eventually settled down as Marvel Comics. Yellow Claw ran only four issues, but Jack Kirby drew three of them, and some of the characters would cross over into SHIELD in Strange Tales during the Silver Age. A robot version of Yellow Claw designed by Doctor Doom menaced the boys in SHIELD in 1967, but it isn’t until this run in Captain American and the Falcon that the real Yellow Claw resurfaces.

And does he ever bring the pulp! Cap fights giant killer spiders in #165, a scorpion-like nasty and re-animated mummies in #166, and escapes a classic death-trap in #167. Yellow Claw resurrects his traitorous niece (a story element from the old Yellow Claw comic) and imbues here with the spirit of an Egyptian Queen so she will faithfully serve him, and together they plan to rule the world! [Cue insane evil laugh. I don’t want to bother to try to phonetically to spell it.] Yellow Claw tries to takeover the SHIELD Helicarrier, but it turns out his niece has gotten just a bit overambitious for his own good.

In the midst of all this, Peggy still moons for Cap, Steve Rogers gets evicted from his apartment and has to crash at Sam’s place, and newspaper ads are trying to drag our hero’s name through the muck.

However, we have to take a short break from further developments in these ongoing plots: the next issue is a one-shot with guest writer Roy Thomas that introduces one of the Marvel Universe’s most important villains.

Last episode: Cap Meets Solarr

Next episode: Power Records Presents . . .