Characters Appearing: Captain America
Marvel Comics Presents #80-81 (Captain America)
Issue(s): Marvel Comics Presents #80, Marvel Comics Presents #81 (Captain America story only)
Plus, if anyone can tell a full story in 16 pages, it's Steve Ditko, one of the masters of super-compressed stories since the pre-Marvel Age days when that was the norm.
Captain America responds to a call for help from a former FBI officer named Jake Bage, now deceased, and finds himself attacked by an armored opponent named Wargod, who knocks Cap out a window with an electrified mace. Cap survives the fall, and returns to Jake's apartment and locates Jake's secret audio file on Wargod.
Jake's file points Cap to Able Electronics, a struggling company. The owner of the company is Brad Rever, and he's identified by Jake's message as an ally, Agent X-4. Brad's son Dan is upset that they won't do business with a company that is a shell corporation, since they can't guarantee that their technology won't wind up in the hands of hostile nations.
Meanwhile, a General Hager is resigning because he's upset about what he perceives to be a lack of urgency in the funding of the US military. Note also his daughter, Mora.
Senator Weason disagrees with the General.
Later, Captain America and Agent X-4 are attacked by goons sent by Wargod.
And then Wargod again.
Cap is able to block Wargod's mace, but the mace's electric jolts still transfer to Cap. So the scientists at Able Electronics rig up a device to attach to Cap's shield.
Cap later goes to talk to General Hager, who isn't a fan of Cap's vigilantism (Cap, of course has government sanction and ties with SHIELD, but i guess he did refuse to work directly for the government the way USAgent did). After the general leaves, Cap is knocked out by Mora.
Cap has already woken up by the start of the second part, though.
Cap escapes. Meanwhile, Senator Weason is kidnapped, and Brad Rever is angered to learn that his son Dan is going forward with that shady sale.
Cap tracks down Wargod and finds that both the senator and the general are prisoners.
Wargod is aware of the device that Able Electronics put in Cap's shield (presumably alerted by Dan), and disables it remotely. Then they fight.
Since Cap can't block Wargod's mace, he stops fighting, seemingly surrendering, but then flicks his shield at Wargod when the killing blow is launched.
With that blow deflected, Cap is able to tackle Wargod and remove her helmet, revealing that she is Mora.
She says she did it to end the debates about America's military power and actually do something about it.
The general's opinions haven't changed, so he and the senator will continue their debates, but Cap is happy to have stopped Mora's "might makes right" philosophy for now.
A lot of content here! This could easily have been a Golden Age era story (except the politics are a little different). It's not a great story, but it shows that it is possible to have a lot of plot points in a short number of pages. One of the things that makes this story feel quaint is the fact that Cap has so much difficulty with Wargod's mace, and even has to run away from her goons. That would never happen in a modern story. Cap would never have to run from regular goons, and he'd figure out a way to defeat Wargod (throwing his shield, for example) pretty early on. So Wargod's powers would have to be upped accordingly, and that's how you get all the power escalation that you have in comics at this time. Wargod being a tough threat because she has an electric mace makes me nostalgic, thinking back to the days when the Red Skull was a holy terror because he learned archery.
I wish it were possible to merge Ditko's layouting and storytelling ability with better scripting and more modern looking art, but for whatever reason it always seems to be a package deal. Compression seems to come hand in hand with corniness, and the price we pay for more realistic dialogue is, for some reason, splash panels and stories that need to be stretched out.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Dude and his son look exactly like Norman and Harry Osborn.
Posted by: Red Comet | December 1, 2015 11:42 PM
"I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for that meddling Cap!"
Posted by: Morgan Wick | December 2, 2015 12:36 AM
Would Cap really fall for the cigarette gas trick? Let's see, who else uses that trick all the time, hmmmm?
Posted by: kveto | December 2, 2015 1:29 AM
"I wish it were possible to merge Ditko's layouting and storytelling ability with better scripting and more modern looking art, but for whatever reason it always seems to be a package deal. Compression seems to come hand in hand with corniness, and the price we pay for more realistic dialogue is, for some reason, splash panels and stories that need to be stretched out."
Interesting observation. I tried to come up with people who subvert this claim, and the first names that came to mind are people generally considered the masters of the comic book medium or the superhero genre: Alan Moore, Neill Gaiman, Kurt Busiek...
Also, Brian K. Vaughn's Y and Saga are certainly very decompressed compared to Marvel Comics Presents, but I do think they use that decompression wisely. The series just take the time they need.
Posted by: Berend | December 2, 2015 1:47 AM
I think the compression/decompression dynamic in American mainstream comics is largely a product of the format. For a long time, the writers and artists had to do a self-contained story in 24 pages or less, which limited the more expressive and experimental things they could do within the format, like splash pages, odd page compositions, etc. (Of course some artists like Steranko still managed to do those things, but I think most cases compression and artistic conservatism went hand in hand.) But when those limitations began loosen up, when the writers and artists were allowed to do stories which ran for 10 issues or more, stories that were merely a part of a bigger whole ("writing for the trade"), not to mention graphic novels, it's understandable that they indulged in this freedom, and decompression was the result. But here in Europe, where the standard for comic books is not a monthly 24 page issue but a yearly "album" that's normally at least 62 pages long (and also significantly larger than American comic books), the compression/decompression thing is pretty much a non-issue. At least since the 1960s, European artists have typically used both decompression and compression within the same book, from big splash pages to tightly scripted multi-panel pages.
Posted by: Tuomas | December 2, 2015 2:51 AM
I have a real fondness for this story, for a few reasons...
First, in the early 1990s I was a HUGE fan of Captain America. At that point in time he really was my absolute favorite comic boom character. So it was a genuine thrill to see him in a story written & penciled by Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.
Second, as Fnord points out, Ditko is both the plotter and the scripter. Usually the only times Ditko has ever scripted himself are on his Objectivist-inspired works, such as his Question and Mr. A stories. As far as I can recall, pretty much all of the Marvel and DC superhero stories that he plotted & penciled were scripted by other people. So this story is an interesting glimpse at seeing how Ditko goes about writing dialogue for a thoroughly mainstream character such as Captain America.
Third, Terry Austin is one of my all time favorite inkers / embellishers / finishers. It was great to see him ink Ditko on this short serial, and the artwork turned out great.
Yes, as Fnord points out, Cap is written as uncharacteristically outmatched by run-of-the-mill goons. But you can always say that this story is set a few short months after he awoke from suspended animation and was still getting his bearings. That fits the Silver Age tone of Ditko's penciling quite well.
By the way, that oddball sculpture of a blindfolded, gagged, deafened human head that Ditko draws here reminds me more than a bit of the bondage / fetish artwork of Eric Stanton that Ditko provided uncredited assists on in the 1960s. But good luck getting Ditko to acknowledge those collaborations. So I seriously doubt Ditko drew that sculpture as any sort of nod to those adult comics.
One last thing... Red Comet, do not tell John Byrne that any of the characters in this story resemble Norman Osborn, otherwise he'll be unable to resist the urge to write a story revealing them as long-lost relatives!
Posted by: Ben Herman | December 2, 2015 8:36 PM
Can somebody please help me with something- can Cap's and USAgent's shields protect them from electricity or not? Because in Wonder Man 4, Splice's vibranium suit protects him from Wonder Man's fists but not getting electrocuted and in this issue, Cap's shield is useless against the electric mace. But in other stories, they seem to have no problem with electrical attacks.
Posted by: Michael | December 2, 2015 11:23 PM
For what it's worth, Cap is able to use his shield to deflect a zap from Electro in Amazing Spider-Man #187. But maybe the vibranium only absorbs a percentage of the electrical damage, and the repeated blows from Wargod in this story are too much for Cap to handle. In ASM #187, after Cap deflects that zap, the next panel shows Spider-Man swinging in to kick Electro, so maybe that gave Cap a minute to recover.
Posted by: fnord12 | December 3, 2015 7:41 AM
I had no idea Steve Ditko ever scripted any stories for Marvel. Wow. It makes sense that he'd pick Captain America as the character to write. I'm tempted to look for these issues now.
Compression isn't universally hand-in-hand with corniness, although I agree with the basic argument that we haven't seen much of it yet. Alan Moore set up long stories in "Swamp Thing," "Watchmen" and "From Hell" but could turn out some of the most brilliant 8-page stories ever told without sacrificing anything. Dave Sim wrote and drew 1200-page graphic novels, but when he needed to do two single issue 20-page stories to set up the last big "Cerebus" storyline, they were concise - perhaps the wrong word given the amount of narration, but you'd have to read them to get what I mean - hilarious, and chock-full of story.
Posted by: ChrisW | December 7, 2015 9:28 PM
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