Captain America #217-221
Issue(s): Captain America #217, Captain America #218, Captain America #219, Captain America #220, Captain America #221
I don't have Roy Thomas' debut in Captain America #215 (but god help me, i'm going to need to get it to confirm some of this for myself) (and issue #216 was a fill-in reprint issue, btw), but we get some clues about what's happening here from a letter in issue #219.
The letter writer, Robert Bruce Braley, quotes Steve Rogers, from issue #215: "I was alive, and in a state of suspended animation which, even today, I can't explain." Braley continues, "It's been pretty firmly established that the ice was what kept Steve in suspended animation (no matter how unlikely that seems), while the super-soldier serum kept him alive."
It hasn't really been firmly established that ice kept Cap alive for two decades. That's just what everyone has assumed. Actually, it was probably the peculiar interaction of the ice on his super-soldier body which did it... and the mere fact that Steve Rogers survived hardly means he could explain his survival.
If you thought that was some really unnecessary parsing, i'm right there with you. The solution to this "problem" is going to be worse than you can imagine, however.
Braley (the issue #219 lettercol consists entirely of his letter and Marvel's response) also gives us a clue on the reason for the upcoming Steve Gerber retcon (concluding in issue #225) as well. He quotes Cap from #215 again:
When I was trying to remember my past - who I was before I walked thru that door to drink the super-soldier formula at the age of 20 back in '41 - I suddenly realized - that I didn't know!
Braley reminds us that Captain America #176 did indeed show some of Cap's childhood. He also notes some errors regarding the date and age when Rogers became Cap. But to me, the real question is why is Roy Thomas trying to establish that Steve Rogers has some kind of mysterious, forgotten, past? The response is that this will all be explained. But believe me, we won't like the explanation.
So we start out with Captain America and the Falcon heading to the SHIELD HQ to begin the investigation on Cap's lack of memories. Thomas brings back barber shop from the Strange Tales day, although the way they operate suggest they're not too concerned about blowing their cover.
Nick Fury tells Cap and Sam that they're working out the details on the Corporation, which was introduced at the end of Jack Kirby's run.
Fury also reveals that SHIELD has assembled their own group of Super-Agents to fight the Corporation's super-agents (such as the Night Flyer). The group is on the uninspired side, including two new characters, Blue Streak, and Vamp.
Blue Streak is a roller-skate themed hero, and i think that's all i need to say about that. Vamp (It's said that Fury originally wanted to call her "Femme Force") is less gimicky, and doesn't even have a real costume. She's got a belt that lets her use the powers of her opponents against them. There will later be a much more interesting revelation about her that i'm going to spoil now: she'll turn out to actually be one of the Corporation's super-agents, the creature called Animus.
The other two characters are from Roy Thomas' Fantastic Four run.
The Texas Twister was part of the weird 'Frightful Four recruitment drive' story in Fantastic Four #177. And Marvel Boy is also a new character, but he's based on the original 1950s version (or "the 1950s Super", as he weirdly puts it) that Thomas brought back and then killed off in Fantastic Four #164-165. He'll eventually get revamped as Quasar, a character with some real longevity. But right now it's just Thomas' Golden Age obsession showing through (there's not even a direct connection between this character and the original; it's said that he got his powers from "Tony Stark's crew". It'll later be said that he received the power bands of the one who died in that Fantastic Four arc.)
Fury wants Cap to lead the Super-Agents of SHIELD. When Cap refuses, a fight breaks out.
After a few pages of fighting, Cap calls it off, revealing that he was just testing them. It was pretty stupid of Cap to start a fight like that, and i suspect that later writers have a little mocking fun with it, because the next like 6 times that these guys meet Cap again, they inevitably get into an argument and then start wondering if Cap is trying to test them again, and a fight breaks out. As it is, though, Cap suggests that the Falcon lead the team.
Overall, the Super-Agents are a logical idea and a lot could have been done with them. The Falcon as leader/trainer had potential as well. Unfortunately, nothing really gets done with them, and the Falcon portion of the plot is abandoned almost immediately.
Anyway, Cap leaves SHIELD and we see that he's being observed by the Corporation, specifically Kligger and Veda from the Kirby story in #213.
Veda runs up to Cap, setting up a situation where it looks like he's two-timing Sharon Carter. Then they attacked by goons in green and orange costumes.
Veda reveals that she knows Cap's secret identity, and he takes her to the Avengers Mansion to find out why. It turns out she is the daughter of a woman that Cap knew in World War II.
Iron Man walks in on them as they're getting a little close, and IM mistakenly calls her Sharon, setting off an uncomfortable moment.
Meanwhile Sharon heads to SHIELD headquarters, looking for the Falcon. She finds him training the Super-Agents.
Iron Man mentions that he's got some work to do on the old Avengers submarine. This is the sub that the Avengers were on when they found Cap way back in the beginning. Cap leaves Vera behind (the sub is off limits to civilians) and pokes around in the sub until he finds a tape of the events of that day and hears that he was found off the coast of Newfoundland. Apparently that's important, although i'm not clear why. He was in Europe, Zemo launched an experimental airplane, and thanks to the final efforts of Cap and Bucky, the plane crashed somewhere on the way to America. Cap's body was frozen. Newfoundland is as good a place as any for it to pop up again. But Cap thinks it's a clue and decides to go to Newfoundland.
He runs into goons similar to the ones he fought earlier. They're wearing purple and yellow instead of orange and green, but it's the same style.
While he's fighting the goons, he casually mentions that his super-strength has faded away and he's back to his old power levels.
I suppose this is more of a confirmation than a revelation. Writers (especially Kirby) have basically been ignoring his super-strength for a while.
After fighting his way through the goons, he encounters a General Dekker. It's someone that he's met before, but he doesn't remember the details due to an unexplained explosion. Dekker has created a giant Captain America robot.
I originally read issue #218 without owning the surrounding issues. And in my original review i wrote this:
I'm not sure where they're going with this. It seems like they're suggesting that Cap had been dethawed from the ice sometime in between the fight with Baron Zemo and then was subsequently refrozen. That would be a bad move.
That is indeed where we're heading, but first, issue #219 takes one of Roy Thomas' world famous detours. It's all about the first time Cap met Drekker, during World War II. The issue is, i guess, a tribute to the Captain America movie serials published during WWII.
The characters run through some objections about how the movie differs from reality (you can read about the differences in the Wikipedia entry i linked to, too), and then circumstances cause the real Cap to have to play himself in the serial. The special effects guy is Lyle Dekker, and he turns out to be a Nazi saboteur. Dekker is presumed drowned at the end of the flashback. Since then he's been in Newfoundland working on his Ameridroid
The cover of #219 indicates the Corporation is involved with the filming of the movie, but that's not true. They weren't even around in the 1940s when the movie was being filmed.
With that out of the way, we can get back to ruining Captain America's Silver Age origin. The story is that the plane that Cap and Bucky were on crashed over the English Channel (the first version of this story, in Avengers #4, states clearly that Cap struck the water over the coast of Newfoundland, but i think this whole retcon is because Thomas doesn't think that was feasible) and then Cap was retrieved by Drekker's men and brought to Newfoundland. Cap fought his way past Drekker's goons and then escaped in a plane loaded with nerve gas. The plane was then shot down and Cap falls into the waters off Newfoundland. It was the nerve gas, you see, that put Cap in suspended animation (and also removed his memories of the incident).
And now we have "explained" something that never needed any explaining. I really don't get it. This story dilutes the original Silver Age origin, which was powerful and simple: Cap and Bucky were seemingly killed stopping a dire plot by Baron Zemo. Cap was later revived. Full stop. Now Cap is saddled with repressed memories and the fact that he had two major failures within a short period of time. Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyy?
From there, on to the Ameridroid. Drekker drains Captain America's super-soldier "energy" and abilities...
...and puts that and his own mind into the giant Cap robot. He goes on a little rampage in Newfoundland. The bizarreness of this, illustrated competently by Sal Buscema, almost makes up for the terrible retcon that got us here.
But then Drekker realizes he feels like a freak inside the body of a giant Captain America robot and gives up, which is a nice twist by Gerber, who has now taken over the writing.
The main story ends with Cap returning home to his apartment and falling asleep after realizing that the adventures and revelations he had in Newfoundland haven't resolved his pre-Captain America memory loss issues, which should scare us because it means even more retcons ahead.
In the back-up for issue #220, the Falcon fights a new villain who has kidnapped his bird, Redwing.
The villain, Mortimer Freebish, is deliberately depicted as a loser - he winds up defeating himself by shooting a blinding "Opti-arrow" while forgetting that he's not wearing protective eyegear. He also can't decide if he should call himself Arrowsmith or Arrow Ace, and thinks he's on his way to becoming the "greatest super-villain this side of Dr. Doom".
I guess the story's meant to be humorous, but despite the attempt, putting the Falcon up against this guy is just demeaning to everyone.
So, in summary, a really pointless and damaging retcon by a semi-absentee Roy Thomas, but we do get Quasar and the Ameridroid out of the mess.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP places this arc after the Korvac saga, but there's a footnote in that series that references Captain America #218's confirmation that Cap has lost his super-strength, so i prefer to place these issues prior to that.
Despite the fact that the Falcon seems to be back on the streets and not working with the SHIELD Super-Agents in issue #220's back-up story, the MCP places him there directly after his appearance in Cap #218. Cap will soon learn that the Falcon abandoned his position as leader of the Super-Agents.
The back-up in issue #221 takes place between Avengers #14 and #15. I've placed an entry for that in its proper spot.
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: N/A
Inbound References (8): show
The Falcon disappears from the book for quite a while after this issue. Sharon Carter had previously disappeared for over a year just prior to, and during, Kirby's run.
Don Glut was continuing a plot started by Roy Thomas during his extremely brief time on the book. Steve Gerber would take over quickly from Glut,and stay just briefly enough to make the "Cap's mysterious past" plot an even bigger mess.
"Hero" probably just fell off that one word balloon of Marvel Man's by accident during production. And thanks to the continuing Alan Moore Marvelman/Miracleman various legal dramas, everyone's forgotten that that was Quasar's original superhero name.
Quasar was supposed to get a Marvel Premiere of his own in late 1979 explaining how the wristbands worked, but it never happened.
Cap's new origin appears to have been immediately forgotten. In one of the letter pages, a reader notes that after he was revived by the Nazi, Cap should have been sad that Bucky died as he was in Avengers #4.
Not sure if it was the same letter, but in a letter column Marvel admitted that it wasn't Cap in that flashback.
FOOM#19 stated that Roy Thomas intended the SHIELD Super-Agents to have their own book.
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