08 May 2008

Re-Cap, Part 6: No, Not the Porcupine!

I took a break from “Re-Cap” after Steve Englehart’s tremendous arc involving Cap meeting his crazed 1950s incarnation. I knew there was no way the immediate follow-up could match that, but I can’t stay away from Silver Age comic fun for long, so back I go. . . .

To start 1973, we have a three-issue story commencing in #157 that brings a conclusion to a simmering plot about police corruption and Steve Rogers’s superior on the police force, Sgt. Muldoon. A few years back, during Stan Lee’s time as writer and Gene Colan as artist, Cap started to work as a cop as an alter ego, but the job never took off in the comics pages, probably because the busy nature of a police officer’s life makes it difficult for someone to also parade around as a costumed superhero. As issues went past, less and less attention was given to the police job, and this storyline finally puts to rest the supporting character of Sgt. Muldoon, an irascible semi-comic character who was always getting on Rogers’s case. The wrap-up isn’t at all what you might expect—but that doesn’t make the story more interesting.

On the super-villain side, there’s a pack of second-stringers who are instigating a “crime wave” at the behest of the mysterious Cowled Commander. At least, that’s what the magazine tells us they’re doing, but we never really see this massive criminal flood that’s supposed to crack-up the police force. Cap and the Falcon first encounter the Viper (no relationship to the future Madame Hydra identity—actually, she kills him so she can take the name without worries about a lawsuit), a former adman who somehow decided he’d rather dress in a snake costume and throw poison darts than work Madison Avenue. Makes sense. This dope somehow gets the best of Cap and Falc, leaving them poisoned and dying on a rooftop and the end of #157.

In #158, Cap gets the antidote (that idiot the Viper left it on the roof, of course) after straining for three pages, and this kicks off another story strand about how mixing the poison, the antidote, and the super-solider serum in Cap’s blood gives him super-human strength. This will extend beyond this story, and I wonder where they plan to take this development and how to eventually forget about it. Muldoon, suspended because of the suspicion of corruption, now claims that it must be Steve Rogers who is corrupt, because he never shows up to work. Muldoon and other angry ex-cops kidnap Rogers in his civilian identity, and then the rest of loopy villains participating in the Cowled Commander’s mellow “crime wave” take to the streets. It’s a squad of winners: Plantman, Eel, Scarecrow, and the fearsome Porcupine!

So as #159 begins, we have a villain squad that an under-performing kindergartner could take out trying to paralyze the police force. This quartet had recently battled the X-Men while working for Count Nefaria, and got their clocks soundly cleaned. I sort of dig Porcupine because of his goofy outfit—he looks like a Pagoda made of haystacks—but the writer and editors clearly know these fellows are the C-squad. Even the esteemed Cowled Commander, their boss, calls them “clowns.” If the Cowled Commander had managed to get the DC Scarecrow instead this contortionist who trains crows, they might have had something to work with.

At last, when Cap and the Falcon finally confront the Cowled Commander, they find he’s none other than . . . The Red Skull!

Oh, wait, no he’s not. For once, the mysterious mastermind isn’t the Red Skull. It’s Muldoon. Yes, indeed. Muldoon decided that the only way to get back the police department’s reputation was to create such a huge crime spree that public pressure would demand cleansing out the bad cops, and the good cops would swoop in and fix everything.

Muldoon, friend: if you want to create a crime wave, don’t hire Plantman and Porcupine to do it!

I can guess what happened here: writer Englehart didn’t know what to do with Muldoon, a leftover plot device that he inherited, so he knocked him out of the storyline by making him the villain. It’s an outrageous twist, since Muldoon could never use the subtlety of planning required for a masked mastermind, but if it means we can now move on to other plots, I’ll hang with it.

During all this, we discover that the Viper is the Eel’s brother. I don’t know why that’s important, but it pops up anyway.

Next up: A one-shot featuring the villain Solarr! And some developments in Cap’s relationship with Sharon Carter. (She’s in these last issues, but not in a significant way.) Will we find out more about Cap’s strength boost?

Last episode: Captain America vs. Captain America

Next episode: Cap Meets Solarr