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.

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In the early Silver Age at Marvel, once they'd come up with a popular villain for a mag, such as Dr. Doom, Magneto, Dr. Octopus, Loki, the Mandarin, Baron Zemo, Baron Mordo, the Green Goblin, etc., that villain tended to show up over and over again, usually in entirely separate stories, sometimes back to back or only a few issues apart.  When the Hulk series was revived in Tales to Astonish, a different tact was taken in having one very long multi-issue story with the Leader as the main baddie, and the same tactic was used with Mordo and Dormammu in Dr. Strange, which to my mind worked a lot better than having Mordo appearing every other issue, being defeated and popping up again with a new plan, being defeated again, and on and on.  And in the late Silver Age, most of the baddies showed up less often, maybe once every two or three years, but usually in better, and longer stories, than was the case circa '62 to '65.  Seems in Captain America, however, the Red Skull has been showing far more often than say even Dr. Doom was showing up in the F.F. and there was even long gaps of nearly two years or more between appearances of Loki in Thor and of Doc Ock and the Goblin in Spider-Man.  Granted, the Red Skull was in multi-issue stories, but they were only separated by only a few issues each time -- had even a full year gone by between Red Skull stories of the Silver and early Bronze ages since he was brought back to the modern era?  Admittedly, I don't know how often he popped up between issues 120 and 152 (representing the gap in my Cap collection), although Englehart waited about two and half years into his run before he brought the Skull into any of his stories,and I was fine with that.

Also, curious, unless my memory is faulty seems there was never any story between 1965 and 1985 in which Cap actually captures and takes the Red Skull into custody, takes off his mask, and Johann Schmidt goes on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during World War II.  Almost every time he seems to be killed in some calamity but comes right back a few issues later, like Wile E. Coyote after he's been hit by a train or a stick of TNT has blown up in his face yet again.  Well, this was all fantasy for kids ... and the young at heart (or mostly so!).

Randy Jackson said:

HE muses that now that the world thinks that Steve Rogers is dead, the people closest to him like Rick Hones and Sharon Carter will be safer.

I suppose Rick’s domino mask disguises him if you don’t look too closely, but Sharon is a SHIELD agent and anyone who cares would recognize her face. I don’t think she’s less of a target as a SHIELD agent than as “Captain America’s Girlfriend.” Why does Sharon think he’s dead? Why wouldn’t they tell her he’s alive?

I know Ron more or less said the same things, but I wrote this comment before I read Ron's.

Except very early on the villain would be presumed dead and a more or less copy would be made instead. This is most obviously seen with both Tyrannus in Hulk and Kala in Iron Man, since the Moleman is supposed to have died in FF#1. The first FF story Roy Thomas told had the three of them turn up together, which I believe was the third appearance of Tyrannus (he'd appeared in Tales to Astonish in between) and the first appearance for Kala, who suddenly no longer had that aging problem she's experienced in Tales of Suspense.

Stan has said he started the multi-part stories so that he wouldn't have to make up a new plot every issue. It definitely did make the stories better, (until they went nuts with the idea and started making plots running three years or more, long after anyone remembers what's going on or cares anymore) but it's interesting that wasn't the initial reasoning behind it. 
 
Fred W. Hill said:

In the early Silver Age at Marvel, once they'd come up with a popular villain for a mag, such as Dr. Doom, Magneto, Dr. Octopus, Loki, the Mandarin, Baron Zemo, Baron Mordo, the Green Goblin, etc., that villain tended to show up over and over again, usually in entirely separate stories, sometimes back to back or only a few issues apart.  When the Hulk series was revived in Tales to Astonish, a different tact was taken in having one very long multi-issue story with the Leader as the main baddie, and the same tactic was used with Mordo and Dormammu in Dr. Strange, which to my mind worked a lot better than having Mordo appearing every other issue, being defeated and popping up again with a new plan, being defeated again, and on and on.  And in the late Silver Age, most of the baddies showed up less often, maybe once every two or three years, but usually in better, and longer stories, than was the case circa '62 to '65.  Seems in Captain America, however, the Red Skull has been showing far more often than say even Dr. Doom was showing up in the F.F. and there was even long gaps of nearly two years or more between appearances of Loki in Thor and of Doc Ock and the Goblin in Spider-Man.  Granted, the Red Skull was in multi-issue stories, but they were only separated by only a few issues each time -- had even a full year gone by between Red Skull stories of the Silver and early Bronze ages since he was brought back to the modern era?  Admittedly, I don't know how often he popped up between issues 120 and 152 (representing the gap in my Cap collection), although Englehart waited about two and half years into his run before he brought the Skull into any of his stories,and I was fine with that.

Also, curious, unless my memory is faulty seems there was never any story between 1965 and 1985 in which Cap actually captures and takes the Red Skull into custody, takes off his mask, and Johann Schmidt goes on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during World War II.  Almost every time he seems to be killed in some calamity but comes right back a few issues later, like Wile E. Coyote after he's been hit by a train or a stick of TNT has blown up in his face yet again.  Well, this was all fantasy for kids ... and the young at heart (or mostly so!).

Captain America #115 - "Now Begins the Nightmare!"
Cover Date: July 1969
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

The Red Skull holds Captain America at gunpoint. He brags that he has the Cosmic Cube and can end Cap with a thought (why he doesn't--eh, more on this later). Cap thought that the Cube was destroyed. The Skull then demonstrates that the gun he's holding is actually the Cosmic Cube itself.  He then uses the Cube's power to put Cap into his uniform.

Captain America attacks the Red Skull, but then realizes he's been fighting an illusion. The Skull then defeats him with the Cube. The Red Skull then explains how he recovered the Cube--after being lost at sea, it washed ashore and was recovered by a poor man who used the Cube to better his life and his community. After taking the Cube by force, the Skull then uses it to demonstrate to his Exiles that he is the master. After his monologue, he then transports Captain America to another dimension.

We switch to SHIELD headquarters, where Rick asks Sharon where Captain America is. She tells him that she doesn't know, as she thinks he's miffed with her that she won't quit SHIELD as he asked her to. She then tells him that she has no time to talk now as she's busy with SHIELD work.

Rick then heads to Avengers Mansion to see if anyone has heard from Cap there. However, Yellowjacket--the Avenger on duty alert--hasn't heard from him. Desperate, Rick contacts the Teen Brigade to see if any of them know about Cap's whereabouts.

In the other dimension, Captain America is fighting for his life. The Skull continuously sends enemies to attack him in an attempt to break his spirit. The Skull then sends him on random trips to other dimensions and through space, but Cap doesn't lose hope, because he's Captain America. The Skull then tries other tricks--shrinking Captain America,  He then comes up with his ultimate plan--he learns who Cap loves most dearly, then he switches bodies with Cap. Sharon then comes out of her trance and believes she's been captured by the Red Skull.

My rating:6/10

Believe it or not, this is one of the (very) few Red Skull stories I enjoy, even though I have lots of problems with it. Here the Skull is clearly a threat of immense proportions, and you have to take him seriously.

That said...

Okay, this isn't just a problem I have with the Red Skull, it's a problem I have any time that a villain comes into possession of something like the Cosmic Cube, Infinity Gauntlet, etc. If a villain has that level of power at his disposal, there is no plausible reason for that villain not to use it immediately to vanquish his foes. If the villain doesn't do so, I can't think of a single reason to respect said villain in any future story. I can almost forgive the Skull for not using the Cube correctly the first time he had it as it was his first time possession it and he may not have been sure exactly what he could do with it, but now, especially since it's obvious he's had it for a while, it just doesn't make any sense to me that Cap isn't on a one-way trip to the heart of the sun. I know why that isn't' the case--after all, this comic is called Captain America, not the Amazing Victory of the Red Skull, but I think it's ridiculous to even make the situation possible. If the only hope to get out of the situation is the stupidity of the villain, then in my opinion, that's not a good story.

I really like this phase of Cap's mag - all the way through the Falcon stuff - a wonderful continued story (with mixed but fantastic artists!)  and it is this (and I guess the Steranko stuff) that pushed me to buy the Omnibus (#2) which is just a perfect way of reading them.

(Can you really cut out on this thread soon Randy?)

The Cap is a Hydra agent story falls under this category too. It's a case of "Wouldn't it be funny if he was on my side and didn't know he shouldn't be! Bwahaha!" Because of course Cap has never in the past overcome any use of the Cosmic Cube against him. They must be assuming nobody today ever read this story. Next Winter Soldier will turn out to be a robot made by Modok.

It is just starting to get consistently good, isn't it?

No, I need to move on. I've got two other reading projects still going, plus another couple that I want to start. It's time to let someone else take the reins.

Richard Mantle said:

(Can you really cut out on this thread soon Randy?)

The Skull continuously sends enemies to attack him in an attempt to break his spirit. The Skull then sends him on random trips to other dimensions and through space, but Cap doesn't lose hope, because he's Captain America.

In addition to this not being Red Skull Comics, I think it fits that the Skull doesn't want Cap to die heroically. He wants him to be hopeless and miserable before he dies. This is the only justification for this approach in all the comic book (and James Bond) stories. He wants Cap to realize that he is smarter/better than Cap.

Both of those ideas have been used on the Hulk.

Interesting that Thor was greatly improved by having Kirby take over the series, but Captain America got better after Kirby left.  

Also notable that when Kirby went over to DC, his New Gods series was essentially a variation of Thor, basically imagining Ragnorak having happened, as he had portrayed in Tales of Asgard, and a new group of gods arising, but now with the main hero being the adopted child of the Odin stand-in and his actual father being a far greater nemesis than Loki ever was.  And when Kirby returned to Marvel, his primary new effort was yet another variation of a modern mythos, this time inspired by Von Doniken's Chariots of the Gods non-sense, but starring a character who was reminiscent of both Thor and Orion.  Seems that from about 1965 on, Kirby's main passion had become weaving a majestic, cosmic mythos, taking inspirations from the ancient myths but putting them in a setting that was at once archaic and futuristic.  Kirby would come up with a few new interesting ideas for Captain America yarns in the late Silver Age and in his return in the mid-70s but I don't get the sense that his heart was in it as much as it was with his more cosmic/mythical epics.  And part of his frustration with Lee was that Kirby wanted to tell his stories his way without Lee's sometimes heavy editorial changes.

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