Characters Appearing: Bucky, Captain America, Hate Monger (Hitler), Red Skull, Sgt. Mike Duffy
Tales of Suspense #66-68 (Captain America)
Issue(s): Tales of Suspense #66, Tales of Suspense #67, Tales of Suspense #68 (Captain America stories only)
It begins with Captain America and Bucky having already been captured after a failed attempt to sneak into Germany. The Skull has Cap bound and insists on telling him his origin.
The Skull was originally a poor German boy who eventually found work as a bellhop and one day found himself waiting on Hitler.
Frustrated with the failings of his underlings and intrigued by the hatred he saw in the bellhop's eyes, Hitler decided to turn the bellhop into a perfect Nazi.
The Skull was originally trained as a stormtrooper...
...but then Hitler took over his training personally, and gave him the Red Skull outfit.
The Skull began performing missions for Hitler, and soon began acting on his ambitions to go beyond Hitler's second-in-command, a fact he apparently doesn't mind sharing with Cap.
Even in these flashbacks, the Red Skull is not able to actually be shown killing anyone.
A villain rambling off his origin story is a cliche, often justified by having the hero egg him on as a delaying tactic, but in this case it's the Red Skull who is stalling for time...
...because Cap has unknowingly swallowed a mind-control potion.
Before sending Cap on his mission, the Red Skull arranges for Cap to visit Hitler, who tries to get Cap back for the cover to Captain America Comics #1, but fails.
Cap is sent to London to kill the "the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies" (see the Chronological Placement Considerations section for more on that, though).
Meanwhile, Bucky has managed a prison escape...
...and arrives in London to help Cap snap out of his brainwashing.
With that plan having failed, the Red Skull immediately moves on to the next. He ordered a group of Nazis in England to acquire a secret weapon being built under the name of Project Vanish. Steve Rogers and Bucky happen to be on guard duty (assigned by Sgt. Duffy) when a Nazi POW escapes and manages to steal the weapon.
A quick costume change and Cap and Bucky engage the Nazi.
Cap wins by tricking the Nazi into using the experimental weapon at maximum power, which causes it to blow up.
The Red Skull's origin story is interesting, but the switch from that to the brainwashing plot and then into Project Vanish is handled abruptly.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: It was "last month" that Cap fought the original, fake Red Skull. This needs to appear before any other appearances of the actual Red Skull. That's potentially a problem, since while brainwashed, Cap is sent to execute "the Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies". That's a title that didn't exist until late 1943, but we know that the Red Skull was active and fighting Cap on saboteur missions much earlier than that. So i'm assuming that the title that the Red Skull uses isn't a formal one and that the man Cap is sent to shoot isn't Dwight Eisenhower (despite looking like him, he isn't named). The other possibility is that this takes place much later, and all Red Skull appearances that take place earlier than this are George Maxon or other duplicates, but i'd like to avoid that. Cap getting an assignment from Sgt. Duffy while in London is also a little problematic at this time but you can come up with reasons for it.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Essential Captain America vol. 1
The larger problem is the presence of American troops in London. If this takes place in late 1941 or early 1942, there shouldn't be that many troops in London. (Remember, Giant-Size Invaders takes place in December of 1941, and this probably takes place shortly before or after that.) Maybe the troops were observers.
Posted by: Michael | December 29, 2012 9:21 PM
In the real world, General Marshall appointed Eisenhower to oversee all U.S. operations in Europe (not Allied, just US) on June 11, 1942, and Ike arrived in London on June 25, 1942. Sometime between July and November 1942, Ike became Supreme Commander of Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ) which was responsible for the Allied invasion of North Africa which included elements of the US, British, and Free French forces - Operation Torch. It seems the official designation was not made until November, but unofficially Ike was in charge since July.
The US forces in that operation came from both the US (the Western Task Force under Patton) and Britain (the Central Task Force under Fredendall). AFHQ later assumed responsibility for the entire Mediterranean in February 1943 to oversee the British 8th Army in time for the invasion of Sicily and later Italy.
If we take the Skull's comment loosely that Cap is to kill the "supreme commander of the allied armies", we can interpret this to mean not SHAEF, but AFHQ. This would place the comic sometime between July and November 1942.
In any case, it's highly unlikely Cap's first meeting with Maxon was only "last month". Cap's first meeting with the Maxon skull was clearly before the US entered the war. Perhaps Cap met the Maxon Skull multiple times on the home front?
Posted by: Chris | December 30, 2012 2:17 AM
The larger problem is this- in Giant-Size Invaders 1, Cap mentions having teamed up with the Human Torch to fight the Red Skull. Giant-Size Invaders 1 takes place in December of 1941. If we assume that they were talking about the real Red Skull, this has to take place in December of 1941. I suppose they could have been talking about the Maxon Red Skull but then we have to assume that the real Skull waited half a year to confront Cap in person.
Posted by: Michael | December 30, 2012 9:35 AM
My placement here assumes that this takes place before US involvement in the war. The sequence is meant to be that Cap fights the imposter Red Skull, realizes he's a fake, and then goes in search of the real one. If Cap was fighting a fake Red Skull for two+ years it doesn't make sense that he would suddenly decide that it was a fake. Storywise, this really ought to be the second time that Cap encounters a Red Skull. I also don't like deciding by myself that all of the Red Skull's early appearances were really the fake one; it's the equivalent of deciding that a character was a Skrull because i can't figure out how to make an appearance fit.
So i'm treating all these references to real world events as topical. You guys have already helped me with a Golden Age addendum to the rule for topical references. In this case, we assume that the "supreme commander" that the Red Skull sends Cap after is an important general but maybe not Ike and not the head of SHAEF or even AFHQ. Maybe he's just helping work out some details around Lend-Lease. And Sgt. Duffy and the other American troops are in London for observation or training or whatever else.
Posted by: fnord12 | December 30, 2012 1:43 PM
This issue is so obviously meant to take place during the war that I think the wrong thing to do is place it before the US entered the war simply because of one panel. The clear intention of Stan was to place this story after the US was involved. The Maxon Skull was the Skull found on the home front instead of the one in Europe. I have no problem distinguishing the two. Obviously Stan never bothered to think the chronology through; he just wanted a follow up to the adaption of the previous month's story in Suspense. But it's your website so use what you feel best.
Posted by: Chris | December 30, 2012 3:03 PM
One solution - though not necessarily the best one - is to simply assume that the exact events of the war didn't take place in the Marvel universe exactly the same way they did in the real world (a safe assumption as soon as you introduce costumed heroes and villains into the mix anyway).
So while we can legitimately say "This military position didn't officially exist until such-and-such a time in real world history," there's no explicit reason why it couldn't have been established earlier in the Marvel universe (unless dates actually are explicitly spelled out in a different issue).
I know the ideal is to assume every real world historical event happens at the exact same time in the Marvel universe (meaning their history is additive instead of subtractive or shifted) for clarity's sake, but that doesn't necessarily need to be the case.
Posted by: ParanoidObsessive | July 14, 2014 5:01 PM
This may be the first Red Skull story I ever read because it was reprinted in Bring on the Bad Guys - my first introduction to a lot of classic villains, and especially their early classic stories. I always loved the casual way the Skull sits down and talks to Cap.
Posted by: Erik Beck | December 3, 2014 10:55 AM
I guess it really couldn't be helped, the way Marvel stories were plotted and scripted back then, but that panel with the Skull "blasting every button off his jacket" bugs the hell out of me. The dialogue is so obviously at cross-purposes with the artwork. Kirby clearly intended for the Skull to be shooting that guy and thought that having it take place off-panel was enough to satisfy the Comics Code (and the editor). Hell, it even could have been left a little amibiguous, with the dialogue neither confirming nor denying the killing. Stan Lee, however, felt he needed to soften the scene and did so with some hideously contradictory scripting. I'm not saying he was wrong to have cold feet; I would just rather the panel had been redrawn.
Posted by: JP | May 10, 2015 10:11 PM
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