So yeah, another reading project. My Luke Cage project is nearing it's end, so I figured I'd start another.
As of right now, I'm not sure how far I'm going to go with this particular project. I'll definitely be covering Tales of Suspense #59-99. I may also cover guest appearances in other books that aren't named Avengers.
With that said, let's get this show on the road.
Tales of Suspense #59 - "Captain America!"
Cover Date: November 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Captain America is stationed at Avengers Mansion awaiting any crisis situations. Jarvis leaves him a pot of coffee. As he has little to do, he looks through one of his old scrapbooks.
Meanwhile, some mobsters are planning on taking on the Avengers. Their leader has two of them stretch a chain. To prove a point, the leader--a guy named Bull--shatters the chain using karate! He explains that a chain can be broken if you find the weakest link, and that link is Captain America, since he doesn't have any super powers.
At this point, a couple of the mobsters haul in Jarvis to ask him who's minding the store. Jarvis tells them it's no secret that Captain America is there and that they could have found the information by using the telephone. Bull tells his men to get their hardware as they're going to attack Captain America. They release Jarvis.
Back at the Mansion, Cap is looking through his scrapbook when he sees a photo of his former partner, Bucky. He feels pangs of guilt. Suddenly he's attacked by the mobsters. They fight. The mobsters are well prepared, even having a man in an armored suit. They get off a lucky shot (just a graze) while Cap is waiting for his magnetically attracted shield to return. While he's knocked unconscious, they tie him up while they look for the Avengers safe.
They locate the safe and produce a torch to cut through the door. Cap regains consciousness at this point, and using the heels of his boots--which are razor sharp--he cuts through his ropes. His feet are still tied, but Cap begins to fight through the mobsters anyway until a stray flame from the torch cuts the rope around his legs free. The armored thugs grabs Cap and boasts that he won't be able to break his grip. Cap breaks his grip and knocks him out.
At this point, the rest of the gang attacks. Cap recovers his shield, and despite all of them attacking at once holds his own. The armored thug gets back in the fight, but can't touch Cap. Cap induces him to charge into a fireplace, knocking him out again. Another thug plans to launch a sleep gas capsule. Cap blocks the gun barrel with his shield and forces the gas to backfire.
Bull sends in his karate! team. However they're outmatched by Captain America. At this point, Bull charges and head-butts Cap in the mid-section. He gets in another blow before Cap fights back, dropping Bull like a side of beef. He thanks the thugs for livening up his evening and calls the police to pick them up.
My rating: 7/10
This is a good, if simplistic, reintroduction of the classic character in his first new solo story. Captain America has no powers, but he's more than a match for as many criminals one can bring to an ambush. It's fun seeing Kirby allowed to draw Cap as dynamically as possible, and the pacing is crisp and sharp.
There are some inconsistencies that are endemic to superhero stories however: why release Jarvis? If the thugs were willing to attack Cap with guns before, why tie him up instead of shooting him? Also, why doesn't Bull ever get a last name?
All things being said, though, this is a solid effort.
Captain America #108 - "The Snares of the Trapster!"
Cover Date: December 1968
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
We open on a training session for Captain America because it's all about action. However, he's interrupted by a nameless SHIELD agent (perhaps the same one from Captain America #106) who has a new assignment for the Avenger. Cap gives the agent some static, saying that he's tired of being on call all the time when he'd rather be out with his girl, particularly since said girl won't commit to him because of her devotion to SHIELD. The agent then tells Steve that SHIELD has lost track of Sharon Carter, which quickly changes Cap's tune. The agent hands him a homing device so he can track Agent 13, and Cap is in hot pursuit.
We switch scenes. A shadowy captor is interrogating Sharon about Project Fireball. She refuses to divulge any information about the project to her captor telling him that she would rather die than betray the project. She's laying down on an angled table of some sort, but doesn't appear to be bound., save for an odd white substance beneath her body. Her captor is revealed to be none other than Paste Pot Pe--, er, the Trapster.
Switching back to our hero, he's tracked the homing device to a group of derelict buildings. Sensing a trap, he's cautious as he enters a stairwell and nearly gets inundated by globs of white paste. However, in a rare instance of the Trapster out-thinking an opponent, the ne'er-do-well has coated not the stairs of the building but the pipes Cap grabbed to avoid them with paste, trapping him. Thinking Cap is helpless, the Trapster attacks only to dinf out that incapacitating his gloves isn't the same as incapacitating the man. Cap then wrenches the bar he's holding on to from the ceiling.
The Trapster attacks again with his "all-powerful" paste gun but fails to hit our hero. Cap smashes through the paste wall and goes in search of the Trapster, who baits Cap by telling him that he's going to toy with him before defeating him (even in 1968, was there anyone who couldn't figure out how this was going to go?). Anyway, the Trapster has gimmicked the building with traps, and it's up to Captain America to navigate through those traps to find Sharon.
Surprisingly enough, Cap does actually fall into one of the traps, falling through a trap door onto a trap of a turntable covered with paste. A push of a button sets the turntable and Captain America whirling around and around. Sharon begs the Trapster to stop and he tells her he will if she tells him the secret of Project Fireball. She won't tell him, and he's about to set the turntable to ultra-psycho-vomit mode when his control panel blows up. He goes in search of Captain America. Unluckily for him, he finds Captain America.
Somehow, the Trapster gets a good shot in and is able to recover his paste gun. However, Cap shows him just how "all-powerful" the gun is by severing it's supply line. However, the Trapster is actually somewhat competent in this story, and manages to catch Cap in another trap--this one a clear cylinder falling from the ceiling and filling with paste. Once the paste has covered most of Captain America's body, the Trapster releases the tube and taunts the Avenger by telling him who's paying him to find out about Project Fireball--one Johann Schmidt, aka the Red Skull(sigh). The Trapster then sprays the paste covering Cap with a quick hardening compound--big mistake, as it makes the paste brittle and Cap is easily able to escape.
This time things run to form and Captain America wipes the floor with the Trapster before going off to find Sharon. He finds her lying on the table still and discovers it's an LMD. The real Sharon then reveals herself and it turns out that she's been sabotaging the Trapster's traps and technology all along. However, despite the tearful reunion, somehow the Trapster escapes, because you just can't keep a good villain down (and yes, I typed that sentence with a straight face).
My rating: 7/10
They used the Trapster? What, the Matador, Leapfrog and Plantman were unavailable? They had to pull out the big guns?
I keed, I keed. I actually like the Trapster as an utter and complete loser of a supervillain who easily could have been one of the wealthier men in the Marvel Universe if he'd stayed straight, patented his pastes and started his own corporation.
Sure, this story has a lot of flaws--the Trapster lasting longer than 3 panels against Captain America is remarkable at best--but it's simple and basic, the artwork is good, and it's ultimately a solid story. Shame the Red Skull is looming--again.
Always odd seeing The Trapster or the Wizard working alone, since they're so closely connected with the Frightful Four. Sandman had the good sense to keep making enough solo appearances that it's not odd seeing him by himself.
Kirby had previously done stories using the Sandman and the Wizard individually in Fantastic Four. The Sandman escaped prison in #57 and returned in a new costume in #61. The story ran to #63, and teamed him up with Blastaar for its conclusion. The Wizard's turn came in #78, where his power glove was introduced. He had another one in #81, which DC Indexes says came out a week after the Cap-Trapster story.
The Sandman had to make up for being beaten his first time out by a high school kid with a vacuum cleaner, and even nearly took out the Fantastic Four all by his lonesome, but then he got turned into a glass statue while duking it out with the Hulk. Good days and bad. Since his days as Paste Pot Pete trying to glue Johnny Storm to one spot, I'm only aware of one other story wherein the Trapster went up against someone solo, and that in Daredevil if memory serves.
Also Strange Tales #124, where he went up against the Torch and the Thing. (I wouldn't have thought of this; Supermegamonkey reminded me of it.) His Frightful Four costume was a better version of the bulky one he wore there, and was further modified for the second Frightful Four story in Fantastic Four #38, where he renamed himself the Trapster.
The agent then tells Steve that SHIELD has lost track of Sharon Carter, which quickly changes Cap's tune. The agent hands him a homing device so he can track Agent 13, and Cap is in hot pursuit.
So SHIELD can't track Sharon Carter but they give Cap a device that can track her? Oh-kay.
The way it was portrayed in this series, SHIELD without Cap back then was kind of like Rann without Adam Strange.
SHIELD is pretty much just Q here. The good equivalent of AIM.
Captain America #109 - "The Hero That Was!"
Cover Date: January 1969
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
We flashback to 1944 and watch Captain America and Bucky complete an assignment shortly before Bucky's death. Cap is telling Nick Fury the story. Fury asks Cap how he trained to become a one man army, giving Steve an excuse to tell his origin (I don't think I need to recap this).
My rating: 7/10
There's little to say about this good or bad. Cap's origin is pretty good, there's a lot of action, etc. The art is nice. In all honesty, when I saw this was going to be a recap of his origin, I nearly decided just to move on to the next issue, but then I figured I might as well be thorough.
Note that it hasn't quite been four years yet since we got the last retelling of his origin. Stan is still assuming readers quit comics after four or five years and an all new audience takes over.
Captain America #110 - "The Hero That Was!"
Cover Date: February 1969
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jim Steranko
Steve Rogers is wandering around New York at night. He lights up a cigarette(?) when suddenly the Hulk bursts through a nearby wall. The Hulk is being pursued by the military, and Steve changes to Captain America.
The military shoots the Hulk with a shell made of pure ionic energy. We see a shadowy figure watching who wants to protect the Hulk. Captain America appears and takes over the military operation. He tells the soldiers to stay back and regroup while he investigates. The shadowy figure--Rick Jones--calls out to him, telling him that if the Hulk wakes up he'll be uncontrollable.
The Hulk revives and attacks Captain America as Rick attempts to talk him down. Rick intervenes and seems to be getting through to the Hulk, but then the Hulk grabs him. Grabbing a lamp post, the Hulk hurls it like a javelin at the ionic cannon, destroying it. Captain America rushes in to save Rick, and the Hulk leaps away. Rick has been knocked unconscious, and Cap declares that he must never go near the Hulk again.
A little later, as Cap is brooding, Rick surprises him. He's found one of Bucky's old costumes in a closet and decided to try it on. Cap tries to tell him that no one can ever be his partner again, but Rick rejects his logic. Rick then tells Cap what Dick Grayson probably tells Bruce Wayne from time to time--you're not the only one to ever lose someone, so get off your soapbox and move on. Cap relents and decides to take Rick on as a partner.
At this point an alarm goes off and Cap tells Rick to put on his mask, as they're about to go on a mission (without any additional training for Rick). The alarm leads them to the sewers, which they investigate. As it turns out, it's a small Hydra army, and there's a brouhaha. Captain America suddenly realizes that Rick hasn't had enough training, but the youngster seems to be holding his own. However, Cap sees one of the Hydra goons aiming a gun at Rick and orders him to retreat. Hydra goes in pursuit of Rick as a stun ray takes down Captain America.
Madame Hydra orders Cap's destruction and a Hydra agent wearing a power vest attempts to do so, but this is Captain America, after all, so that doesn't work, and Cap manages to escape.
We switch to Rick, who's annoyed that Cap sent him away just to protect him. He decides to double back but realizes that Hydra is on his tail. He decided to hide in a manhole opening above the agents, and amazingly enough none of them look up. After they leave, Rick doubles back only to see the agent in the power vest talking to Madame Hydra. The agent has Cap's shield, and claims to have killed him. He also wants the shield, which Madame Hydra grants him.
Rick rushes in to attack them, but it turns out that the agent wearing the power vest is none other than Captain America, He fights off the other Hydra agents by smashing open a water pipe as Rick confronts Madame Hydra. However, he doesn't have the experience or training he needs to deal with her, and she captures him with her whip. As she attempts to toss Rick into the quickly flooding sewer, Cap manags to save him while she escapes. Rick apologizes to Cap, saying that he would have caught them all if he hadn't been in the way, but Captain America tells him he did a good job.
My rating: 7/10
If I was complaining about thin plots before, this one really takes the cake. Everything that happens in this story seems to have zero reasoning behind it--why is the Hulk in New York city? Why is Hydra attacking now?
That being said, I really enjoyed this for a number of reasons. While I have a great deal of respect for Jack Kirby as an artist and an idea man, I'm really diggings Steranko's Eisner-influenced art here. Lots of action, extremely dynamic and fluid. Also, I'm very okay with Rick Jones taking the role of Bucky (short-lived as it will be) as I've always liked the character and it makes sense. This is a nice start for a new direction, and also signals decreased melodrama for the title.
Looks like it was Steranko's idea for Rick to be Cap's partner, since he joins up with Cap here but is gone right after Steranko leaves. The Hulk looks like he did in the ads for the Hulk Special, with the glaring eyes and clenched teeth, which were drawn by Steranko, rather than the way he looked in the actual Hulk Special cover, which had been drastically redrawn by Marie Severin. (And he only drew the cover, not the contents of the special.) I think he really wanted to draw the Hulk, but somebody (Stan?) thought his version looked too violent.
The melodrama is back when Rick dreams/hallucinates Bucky, who turns into a skeleton, is keeping him from really being Cap's partner, in I believe the next issue.