I have often identified the Incredible Hulk as "my first favorite character" but I don't think I've ever mentioned that Captain America is "my second favorite character" (in sequence, not in rank). I think I probably started collecting Captain America for good and all when Hulk #231 crossed over into Captain America #230. A friend of mine had a beat up copy of Captain America #227, and this was right around the time someone sold his comic book collection to the Armchair Adventurer bookstore and I was able to fill in most issues from #114 through Kirby's mid-70s return in one swell foop. I didn't take too much effort at that point to fill in the issues I had missed from #215-229. In any case, all these things happened right around the same time to the best of my recollection, and I continued to buy every issue of Captain America for many years to come. 

I was lucky enough to have bought the Stern/Byrne run in "real time" and I was on hand for the DeMatteis/Zeck/Beatty run shortly after that. Unfortunately, those two runs were not a one-two punch; more like a one-two punch with a feint between. I prefer re-reading comics in collected editions on good paper stock rather than pulling my originals out of their boxes if at all possible. The good news is: Marvel has a great line of "Epic Collections." The bad news is: I didn't find the Captain America Epic Collection Volume 9 (reprinting #247-266 and an annual) to be a particularly good buy for me.

First of all, the DeMatteis/Zeck/Beatty team took a while to coalesce and gel. Second, the Stern/Byrne run has been collected an reprinted so often I really don't have any need to own it again. Third, between the two runs was a series of fill-ins. The DeMatteis/Zeck/Beatty run didn't really kick into high gear until #267. the best news is that the Captain America Epic Collection Volume 10 collects #267-285 (plus an annual and a crossover), the very height of the run. I've got a ton of trade credit built up at my LCS, but I was waiting until the release of v10 to get both.

The only (slightly) disappointing aspect concerning v10 is that the cover of #280 (which depicts Cap beaten and in chains) was chosen as the cover of the collection. Better choices would have been #275 (Cap in full-on action mode leaping directly at the reader) or #284 (Cap on a rooftop with the American Flag below him, flapping in the breeze).

Although it hasn't been just too long since I last read the Stern/Byrne run, approximately five years A.T. (i.e., after moving to Texas) as I like to say, when I return I plan to begin this discussion with issue #247. 

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I remember loving the Zeck covers during this period. I'd become a fan over in Master of Kung Fu, I think.

Byrne's Cap was pretty good, but he emphasized the chain mail on Cap's suit, which kinda bugged me. Unless that chain mail could repel bullets, it was just so much extra weight. (I pretended it could, just to salve my wounded suspension of disbelief. I was forever wanting superheroes to have SOME KIND of counter-measure to guns, which they were likely to face on pretty much a daily basis. I had basically written off Green Arrow and Hawkeye in this era as preposterous, given that they kept bringing arrows to gunfights.)

 But then, IIRC, Baron Blood found he couldn't bite through the chain mail, thereby justifying its existence. Finally!

#270:

The issue begins with Steve and Bernie having a frank and mature discussion about the state of their relationship. they are interrupted by a shy, middle-aged man, overweight and balding, who steps out of the shadows and introduces himself as Arnie Roth, and old friend of Steve's. Steve explains that their fathers grew up together but, after Bernie goes inside, it is confirmed that it was Arnie and Steve who grew up together, the then-muscular Arnie who played the role of protector to the then-frail "Stevie" Rogers. They drifted apart, but met during the war when Arnie served in the Navy and Steve was now muscular. Because they were friends, Arnie instantly knew his friend was Captain America but said nothing about it.

Flash-forward to the present. Arnie never married, but he has a roommate who is in trouble due to Arnie's gambling debts. Arnie asks for Captain America's help, then leads him to where Michael is being held. Just before going in, Arnie confides that he's leading Cap into a trap. Arnie had been shooting off his mouth that he knows captain America, now Michael is being held hostage against Arnie delivering Cap. Cap makes short work of the thugs inside, but has a more difficult time against the "mutate" depicted on the cover. It is Michael's mind which is animating the monster, but when Cap defeats it, Michael's mind transfers back into his own body. The mystery of who is behind this plot remains unsolved.

There are two sub-plots as well. First, Bernie helps a bag-lagy who is being accosted by three twelve-year-old boys and ends up getting in over her head; second, a "Young Watcher" is gunned down in Harlem in pursuit of a petty criminal. [We don't know this yet, but the Young Watcher is Jim Wilson, the Hulk's former sidekick and the Falcoln's nephew.]

Arnie was my first gay character in comics. My second gay character was Northstar, a year or so later. John Byrne threw out a broad hint early on, but I misinterpreted it and missed it at first, but I twigged to Arnie and Michael right away.

This is the kind of story (a friend from Steve Rogers' childhood, I mean) that could not be told today. In 1982 Arnie would have been pushing 60, but today would be almost 100!

#271:

A fill-in issue, probably an inventory issue, by David Anthoby Kraft and Paul Kupperberg. As you can tell by the cover, the subject is professional wrestling. When i was in elementary school, Sunday mornings meant one thing: Wrestling at the Chase on KPLR TV. (My mother would have preferred Sunday school, but that's another matter.) By the time I was in junior high, my Saturday nights meant Saturday Night Live at 10:30, The Three Stooges at midnight, then, if I could stay awake, Wrestling at the Chase at 1:30. If I couldn't stay awake, there was always the Sunday morning rebroadcast. My favorite wrestler at the time was probably Dick the Bruiser. He'd been around since the '50s, known then as "The Missing Link." I once wrote a comparison/contrast essay about professional wrestlers and figure skaters when I was in high school. I continued to be a wrestling fan right up until the time it became popular, then i lost interest.

This is my first time reading this issue since it was first published. Bernie is a big fan, but Steve is kind of a snob about it. King Arthur is a manager, crippled in the ring. His wrestler is Jumping Jack Flash, the opponent is Mister X. (See cover.) When jumping Jack Flash is killed in the ring, Captain America becomes involved. King Arthur approaches Cap with an offer which strains my willing suspension of disbelief. Mister X approached King Arthur with a "trial by honor." Mister X would fight a wrestler of King Arthur's choosing and if Mister X won he would go free, if he lost he'd stand trial. Cap and King Arthur hit it off and Cap agrees, vowing to win.

Cap does win, and underneath the mask Mister X is revealed to be Ray Deacon, falsely accused and convicted of being the serial killer "Midnight Slasher" and who served five years before the real killer was caught. But there's something off in the fighting style of the man Cap wrestled and the one accused of killing Jumping Jack Flash, which Cap confirms by comparing footage from his own fight to previous bouts. [SPOILER] Turns out, King Authur is dealing in illegal anabolic steroids which have also cured his injury, and he is the actual killer. [END SPOILER] The story isn't really all that good and, in context of Dematteis' ongoing arc, serves only as an interruption. Best to be skipped over. 

Aw man, you're bringing back old times!  I had a dog named Bruiser.  He was built like a tank and named after Guess Who.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

My favorite wrestler at the time was probably Dick the Bruiser.

I wonder if it was a homage to Superman #155?

#272:

Forget the fill-in, this issue takes place later the same night as #270. Captain America is on his way to the hospital to be there for Sam, when a woman runs into the rain-slicked road in front of his motorcycle. He swerves to miss her, but loses control of his bike and wrenches his shoulder. The woman has run from a cab, inside of which the driver's throat has been slit, very sloppily at that.

Proceeding to the hospital, Steve finds Sam there with Leila (his girlfriend), Sarah (his sister) and Jody (another nephew). Jody tells how he and his cousin, Jim, tried to stop a robbery earlier, and Jim was shot four times. Steve tries to comfort Sam, but Sam lashes out in helpless frustration. He leaves and Steve leaves soon after, but not before noticing how much Leila has mellowed over the years. From this point, Captain America and the falcon's stories are told in parallel.

The Falcon finds a young man on a rooftop, badly beaten and stoned out of his mind. Before he can help, Falcon must fight off a few gang members who have it in for "Little Angel." Once Falcon has fought them off, he discovers Little Angel has fled. He catches up at just about the time Little Angel's mother finds him. Angel's real name is Raymond Curtis, and his mother, Diane, invites the Falcon into their apartment for some coffee. Soon after they put him to bed, he awakens screaming. He has finally remembered that he shot a Young Watcher earlier that night and the rest of his gang were afraid he'd squeal. When the Falcon finds out that it was Raymond who shot Jim he nearly beats him, but stops himself at the last minute.

Meanwhile, Cap is being trailed by the same cloaked and hooded figure who killed the cab driver earlier. In a replay of what happened earlier, the mystery man runs in front of Cap bike. Cap does not lose control this time, however, and chases the man up to a rooftop. There he discovers the man is in control of a mischief of rats. (That's the collective noun; I just Googled it.) The man removes his cloak to reveal that he is not a "man" at all, but some sort of human/rat hybrid called "Vermin." Vermin reveals that he was created by the same person who kidnapped and mutated Arnie Roth's roommate Michael. Cap leaps from one roof to another to escape the rats. Vermin follows, but falls and is apparently knocked unconscious. He is faking, though, because as soon as Cap stands over him, Vermin viciously bites him on the leg. Captain America begins to beat him, but stops himself just as Falcon had earlier.

they regroup back at the hospital where they learn Jim has passed the danger point. Sam reveals that he has been approached by the school board to run for Congress, and he has decided to do it.

#273:

Two of my first comics were Marvel Double Feature #2 (reprinting the Captain America story from Tales of Suspense #78) and Nick Fury and his Agents of SHIELD #1 (reprinting a pair of Nick Fury stories from Strange Tales edited into one). Just as the originals had been released together, so too were the reprints, and story elements crossed over from one title to the other. I had been a Nick Fury fan from that time (1973) right up through the recent two-parter in Captain America #265-266 (1982). But, ironically, my first "Howling Commandos" (#273-274) was destined to be their last. To this day, I still haven't read all that many more Howling Commandos stories. 

This is another story, like the introduction of Arnie Roth in #270, would not be possible to tell today. Whereas it was possible that WWII vets might turn up hearty and hale in 1982, it wouldn't be feasible today. (Marvel has jumped through several hoops to make such things "believable" without straining readers' willing sense of disbelief, but we need not go into those here.) As the story begins, Hydra crashes a Howlers reunion, kidnapping Happy Sam Sawyer. Captain America, Nick Fury and the former Howlers who are now SHIELD agents leave the retired, civilian Howlers behind, and set off to rescue General Sawyer. 

The next morning, an apparently brainwashed Sawyer leads a sneak Hydra takeover of Grand rapids AFB in order to gain control of a SAC aerial command center, one of three special planes loaded with gear designed to direct and launch nuclear missiles, and scheduled to land at the base shortly. Cap and Fury's squad are taken by surprise and captured, but the civilian Howlers have launched an unauthorized mission of their own using Reb Ralston's authority as a member of the U.S. Senate Arms Committee. "General Sawyer" is revealed to be an LMD, the Supreme Hydra is revealed to be Baron Strucker, and Hydra gets away with the SAC aerial command center.

QUOTE OF THE ISSUE: "You're glib--but so was Hitler. Liek every other tyrant, your lust for power masks your true motive--fear of a free society! For, with freedom, man has pride, dignity and a sense of destiny! Your fear causes you to arrogantly mock those concepts! You seek to reduce mankind to your own level! But against every despot there has always arisen a champion of liberty! that is why i exist--and why men like me shall always win!" 

#274:

Strucker needs the command codes from General Sawyer in order to go ahead with his plan, but Happy Sam suffers a heart attack before Strucker can force them from him. Strucker directs the B-52 to Hydra Island, but by this time, SHIELD has got a fix on it. While SHIELD and the Howlers attack, Sam Sawyer dons a Hydra uniform and, although on his last legs, sets off to help. Strucker is revealed to be a LMD, but one with the actual Baron's memories and personality. Seeing that the Strucker LMD is set to self-destruct, Sawyer throws himself on it, saving the day but mortally wounded in the process. He dies in Nick fury's arms. Hydra Island sinks into the sea, and the next day General Sawyer is laid to rest in Arlington National Cenetary.

CAPTAIN AMERICA ANNUAL #6:

Jack Kirby's Mister Buda from Captain America's Bicentennial Battles (re-branded here as The Controller, a member of the Elders of the Universe), gather the four men who have been Captain America from across the decades to send them on a final mission. This is normally the kind of story that would fire my imagination, but this one leaves me cold. It is written by regular series writer J.M. DeMatties but, as with the fill-in in #271, I see it as more of an interruption to the building arc than as a complement to it. the lackluster art is by Ron Wilson, whose style I usually like more than I do here, perhaps because the Vince Colletta's anemic inking. In any case, it would read better by skipping pages 22-37 and 2/3 of p.38. 

The Scarcrow escapes from Captain America (Steve rogers, that is) in the opening pages, but will be used to better effect in #280. The focus character is Jeff Mace (formerly the Patriot), but he, too, will be used to better effect in a later issue (#284). 

#275:

First, let me say, of all the DeMatheis/Zeck/Beatty issues, this is my favorite. Second, there is no way my words will ever be able to do it justice. Third, I am, however, going to progress the discussion of some of the sub-plots. Fourth, let's take a brief look at the logo... This is the original logo of Captain America comics, last seen on the anniversary issue, #255. This time. however, it will stick around for nine years, then resurface in 2005 for another three year run.

In this issue, Captain America apologizes to SHIELD technician Runciter for his rudeness to her in #268. He refers to her as "Ms." this time, she insists that he call her "Gail," and her attraction to him is explicit. Despite that fact that I once had a J.A.P. girlfriend (PC NOTE: Her description, not mine) who looked almost exactly like Bernie, I was always on "team Runciter" rather than "team Rosenthal." 

While Steve, Bernie and Mrs. Kapplebaum were leisurely strolling home from the grocery store, they pass Temple Beth-Ohr which has been vandalized. Anna is extremely upset, but Steve takes it in stride, saying, "This is a random incident! and i doubt if 'Nazi animals' had anything to do with it! Most laikely, it was a gang of stupid, destructive kids with time on their hands and no brains in their heads!" For me, that attitude explains how Captain America was able to keep his cool back in #259 when confronted John Coulson in his motorcycle gangs' hideout, its "symbols or moral decay that adorn its interior walls: Swastikas and crosses that chill[ed] the Avenger's soul." 

Rabbi Kessler takes exception, however. "I'm afraid I must disagree with your, my friend," he says. "these incidents are far from random! they've been on the upswing in America... desecration of temples and Jewish cemetaries... a resurgence of anti-semetic groups..." Bernie adds, "Even if it was just a gang of kids, Steve--doesn't the fact that this was their idea of 'fun' say something about what's been going on?"  Anna says, "Exactly! And I'll be all the publicity that Nazi rally out on Long Island has gotten helped inspire this!" Does any of this sound familiar in 2020? 

Finally, Steve remarks, "I agree that these neo-Nazis are a vile breed--but, if we deny them their rights, where do we draw the line? who decides which belifs are acceptable and which aren't? A free society has to allow all ideas--both noble and ignoble--freedom of expression!" Before the issue is over, he will have the opportunity to put that credo to the test when confronted by a racist publisher.

Before I get to the quotation with which I will conclude this post, let me advance a few more sub-plots.

The mastermind behind all of cap's recent troubles is shown, but not yet revealed. His is, however, shown in the company of Jack Kirby's Arnim Zola.

The leader of the aforementioned Long Island Nazi rally is introduced: "Swirling within [yesterday's] shadows are visions of loves lost, horrors endured, joys experienced. Some shun those yesterdays... some pine for them. and some try desperately to recreate them." Not to put too fine a point on it, but doesn't that sound like the MAGA movement?

Sam Wilson officially declares himself a candidate for congressman. A journalist named Williams from The Daily Bugle brings up his past history as "Snap" Wilson. It should be noted that Mr. Wiliams is black, so no racial bias should be inferred. 

(There's some "super-hero" stuff, too.)

Finally, the leader of the anti-Nazi movement, Sammy Bernstein, is introduced, who just so happens to be Bernie Rosenthal's ex-husband, which comes as a surprise to everyone. It is noted that the media and the police outnumber the anti-Nazi protestors, Steve notes, "Why... there are only a handful of them! If there had been no counter-rally, the news media probably would have ignored them! We're handing these fools free publicity!" (That also sounds familiar to me in 2020.) The leaders of the two movements eventually come to blows, causing Captain America to intercede and leading to my...

QUOTE OF THE ISSUE: "All my life I've had a habit of making speeches. Some people have criticized me for it. they may be right. Because I cannot express with words the horror I feel at seeing what you've done here today! don't you realize that, in your attack, you've attacked your own freedom as well? The freedom that guarantees all ideas--both noble and ignoble--the expression that is imperative if our society is to survive!

"YOU! [addressing Sammy Bernstein] Can't you see that--in stooping to your enemy's level--you're being made over in his image--that you're becoming the very thing you loathe?

"And YOU! [addressing the neo-Nazi leader] In your fear and ignorance you deny reality! Rewrite history! I wish i could take you back with me to the day we liberated Diebenwald--let you smell the stomach-turning stench of death--let you see the mountains of corpses left behind by the corrupt madmen and murderers you idolize! 

"You two aren't interested in the truth--are you? "

Then, my favorite part of my favorite issue. Bernie, who has been listening, compares Captain America's words to those Steve Rogers said earlier and suddenly knows...

CLIFFHANGER: "Steve Rogers is... CAPTAIN AMERICA!"

Speeches, they get you every time!

That's why Batman does his spooky voice bit!

Plus I feel that Steve downplays the Ne-Nazi vandalism because he can't believe that it could happen in America. Indeed, it's hardly a major threat in his eyes, though I have no doubt that he would stop if he saw them actually committing the vandalism. 

Many people were and are not happy with Jewish/Israeli "aggression" i.e. fighting back. It's uncomfortable and brings up the horrors of the past. We believe ourselves beyond them but they're always just around the corner in the shadows.

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