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.
I probably should have mentioned last time that, after #153-156, the Captain America and Bucky of the 1950s felll under the "care" of Cap's long-time villain Dr. Faustus. It was Faustus who molded that Cap into the fascist Grand Director of the National Force. As a final test of his loyalty, Faustus had the Grand director "kill" his Bucky but, reluctant to discard such a potentially valuable pawn, the gun was loaded with blanks.
I don't know why Jack Monroe's hair was colored black in #282. (It's correctly colored brown in this issue, with no explanation.) There was a Bucky (Fred Davis) who did have to dye his hair, but that was from blond to brown, so it's not likely there would have been any confusion there. It must have just been a simple error, but it seems an odd one to make. I wonder if the statute of limitations on '80s-style "No-Prizes" has run out...?
Cap is being kept mostly unconscious with an opium derivative, which causes him to experience vivid, dream-like hallucinations of his parents this issue and next. We learn that Steie was six years old when his father died, but this version is vastly different than the more recent version from the lead-in to the "Dimension-X" arc. Frankly, even though #281-2 was drug induced, I take this one over the latter. YMMV.
After the Constrictor adbucted cap, Jack made his way back to Bernie's apartment, then the two of them went to Sam Wilson's office. Sam is constrained from helping due to his Congressional run, but he puts them in touch with Nick Fury (despite Jack's racist comments). Meanwhile, Agt. Runciter has reported that Captain America has been captured. After confirming that Spider-Woman is unavailable, Nick fury dresses Jack up in Cap's old Nomad costume (for psychological reasons, because Nomad once handed her a stunning defeat) and sends him off to rescue Cap and foil Viper's plot.
Viper's underground HQ is beneath the small town of Hartsdale, IL (population 15,000). It is beneath an unassuming frame house, and she interacts with the townsfolk in disguise. Her plan is to release a new strain of the bubonic plague. The Constrictor, overhearing her plan, was unaware of this.
CLIFFHANGER: Nomad is lured into a trap by a mind-controlled Cap.
"Not only do they have different hair colors..."
Actually, that's the one part Viper should be most likely to relate to. As Madame Hydra, before her hair was green, it was black.
...and on this cover, Gail Runciter has her hair colored...
Dugan, who suffered a heart palpitation at the end of last issue, takes a pill and recovers, but is still in pretty rough shpe when captured by Viper's men. Constrictor stops giving the opium derivative to Cap, Nomad and Runciter in hope that they'll recover and stop Viper. Viper has pretty much learned all of SHIELD's plans from the drugged Jack Monroe, and ups her timetable. The plague virus is set to be released from three hot air balloons at the last stroke of twelve. Viper and Constrictor are in one balloon, Dugan in another, the third is empty. Constrictor turns on Viper but is pushed out of the balloon, breaking both legs. Cap jumps from a rooftop into Viper's baloon. Nomad takes down the empty one, but is reluctant to take down the other two. Cap leaps to Dugan's balloon and gets them both to safety. Nomad explodes the remaining two balloons, with the Viper still in hers. Viper had no goal other than to destroy all life on Earth. Her plan takes on new significance in the midst of a global pandemic.
I'm pretty sure it was Tony Isabella who wrote the stories involving Hydra with a long storyline that started with Foggy being recruited to join S.H.I.E.L.D. Isabella wasn't on the mag long, taking over after Gerber's run and before Wolfman took over for a fairly long run. I started collecting DD with Gerber's run and enjoyed Gerber's typical weirdness. Wolfman introduced some noir elements which I liked, but rather inconsistently. To my recall it was Shooter, with Gil Kane or Intantino on art, who began taking the mag down along some dark paths with the Purple Man storyline during which he had Heather Glenn's father commit crimes while under Kilgrave's control and then commit suicide and with Heather learning that Matt Murdock was DD. To my mind, Miller distilled the best of what had been done before, eliminated what didn't really work, and added a few new elements that made the mag unique in a way it hadn't really been before and worked well enough to make it a bestselling title for the first time ever. Shooter's run may have been a bit too dark and while Miller's tales were often dark, he also included many humorous touches so it didn't get too gloomy.
Captain Comics said:
What do you consider the first appearance of Machinesmith, Jeff? Do you count Starr Saxon?
For the uninitiated, Starr Saxon is the guy who became Machinesmith; he started out as human supervillain but for reasons I have forgotten (probably death), he uploaded his brain to a computer. And now he can move from computer to computer freely, which I assume is due to the Internet, which didn't exist when Machinesmith came into existence. I don't recall if he had this ability before the Internet, but I bet he did, because comics. At any rate, he is effectively immortal, but doesn't have a body (except the robots he builds for himself).
He's also gay. When he was introduced in Daredevil #49 (Feb 69) it was one of Barry Windsor-Smith's first art jobs, back when he was just plain old Barry Smith and he was still aping Jack Kirby. Windsor-Smith has said in numerous interviews that he intended to make Starr Saxon the first gay supervillain.
They couldn't say he was gay, because of the Comics Code probably, or maybe fear of backlash. I don't remember their reasoning.
But he was written as flamboyant and theatrical, and Smith went over the top drawing him that way. I remember reading this off the stands when I was around 10; "gay" wasn't in my lexicon yet, so I didn't catch on. But I did think "what a weirdo," but more importantly, "dumb." Because I was in a period of being really disappointed in Daredevil, because it was relentlessly mediocre. So bland and generic that even a 10-year-old knew it wasn't good.
And part of that mediocrity was that Daredevil's villains were all terrible. Stunt-Master? The guy who used the Peruvian skull as a mask? Angar the Screamer? There were more, but those are the only ones I actively remember, mainly because of their outfits. The best of DD's rogues gallery were Mr. Fear, who had basically run his course (in this incarnation), and The Jester, who was a Joker knock-off. That's not a very high bar.
So along comes a new villain ... and he's just as forgettable as the rest. I don't even remember, typing this, what Saxon's schtick was. I guess it had something to do with robotics, given his later course, but I honestly don't remember.
Isn't it great to be a comics fan? We shrug our shoulders at things that upset the pearl-clutchers ("Homosexuals in comics? Catch me, Peabody, I may swoon!"). All we care about is how it affects continuity!
The gayness was meaningless to me, but the mediocrity stuck with me. And Daredevil would continue to be awful throughout the long years between the early Romita/Wood issues and the Frank Miller revolution. The only exception I can remember is when he started battling Hydra (I think Marty Pasko was writing those) with Black Widow, and Pasko (or whoever) did a great job of world-building Hydra's internal structure, with 12 different departments headed by 12 different supervillains. I was excited to see where that would go, but I don't remember it going very far. Or maybe it moved to a different book.
Saxon made his triumphant return as Machinesmith in Marvel Two-in-One #47 in 1979. When he revealed he was the former Starr Saxon (and I don't remember when that was), I had to go look Saxon up because I had forgotten him. When I did, I said "Oh, that guy," and immediately forgot it again, because "dumb" was still my opinion, since nothing in the intervening years had arisen to change it.
But then years later, writers started actively writing Machinesmith as gay (like commenting on men's butts or whatever) and I thought, "Oh, yeah, he's the former Starr Saxon, who Barry Smith told me is gay. Guess he's still gay as a robot." I think this was in Thunderbolts, but I could be wrong. And I remembered wondering if he had been presented as gay in previous appearances, and I had just missed the references. I didn't care enough to look it up, but I remember thinking that. And I still don't know when they started writing Machinesmith as gay (aside from his intro as Saxon).
OK, enough of that. Back to Jeff's Captain America musings.
CBG used this image for its first post-9/11 issue. This issue and next, Sal Buscema returns to interior art, giving Zeck and Beatty some time to get ahead on the next storyline (I have always assumed). Dugan is promoted to Deputy Director of SHIELD. Nicj fury offers Nomad a job but he turns it down, On patrol, Cap and Nomad stop a case of domestic abuse, but the husband is not turned over the the cops. Nomad says that, in the the '50s, the perp would have been arrested despite his sob story. Cap syas things are not always so black and white.They continue on to a party Bernie is throwing.
INTERLUDE: Jeff Mace, the Patriot and former Captain America, dying of cancer (Captain America Annual #6) has a last request: he wants to see Captain America.
Back at the party, Steve Rogers hears a newscast of a man on a shooting spree on Delancy St. (Jack Kirby's old neighborhood). Of course, it's the same guy he left with his wife earlier that evening, now liquored up. He has wounded six but has so far not killed anyone. Cap confronts the man, who is holding his wife and children hostage, but is grazed by a police sniper's bullet when he tries to save the wife-beater and brings him down without killing him before the man is able to commit suicide. Let me tell you, this sub-plot hasn't aged well.
At the end of the issue, Steve is finally able to say the three words to Bernie that she said tio him back in #268.
This cover is another example (like that of #280) of taking a lame villain and making him menacing. the story itself is a direct sequel to Captain America Annual #6.
Cap visits Jeff Mace in his luxury apartment-turned-hospice, but he is sleeping and his doctor is reluctant to wake him at this time. Nomad has secretly followed Cap but, when he spots a mechanical device trailing Cap, decides to follow that instead. It leads him to the Porcupine, who is attempting to demonstate his battle suit in order to sell it to the new Secret Empire. Porcupine defeats Nomad easily.
Meanwhile, Bernie has changed her song from "I love you" to "I want you." Just as she and Steve are about to have sex (presumably for the first time), Josh and Mike burst in, without knocking, with a pizza. then Steve takes a call. It is Jarvis from Avengers Mansion relaying the message from Mace's doctor: "It's time." On his way and pressed for time, he is accosted by the Porcupine holding Nomad hostage. Nomad regains consciousness and they beat him together, Cap leaving Nomad in charge while he continues on his mission.
He gets to Mace's apartment just in time to be with him when he passes away. Appropriately, this volume ends, not with the death of the Captain America, but of a Captain America. Many of these "Epic" volumes reprint text material prepared for other sources (either the original comics or previous collections), but this is the only one I know of which features an afterword (by Ralph Macchio) written specifically for the Epic volume. that's a good place to pause this discussion for the time being. I'll be back upon the publication of the Marvel Masterworks reprinting #215-230.
I thought of a few more things to say...
This almost brings the DeMatties/Zeck era to a close. Issues #286-288 bring the [original]Deathlok series to a close, and #289 is "Assistant Editors' Month" (the less said about that the better). After that, Shooter pulled Zeck off Captain America for his own pet project (at least that's what I always assumed happened). I was content to wait a year in the hope Zeck would be reassigned, but he never returned (to the book's interiors). Maybe he was ready to leave, I don't know.
1983 was the year "Deathlok" continuity broke off from the main stream, so it was 1983 it had to be dealt with, even though Deathlok no longer had an ongoing series and, last we saw, had been destroyed. #286-288 have been collected in Deathlok's Marvel Masterworks volume and would be better off dealt with in a Deathlok discussion someday, although I did just read the parts of the story set in 1983. I almost typed "the 20th century," but even the "future" parts take place in the far-flung year of 1991. It's funny: we're now more in the future in comparison to 1991 than 1991 was then.
After #289, the new creative team eventually settled to be Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary, neither one of whom I liked, at least not on Captain America. Here Captain America was my "second favorite character," and I soon found his title unreadable. Gruenwald stayed on the title a good long time but, once I dropped it, I stayed away until the Waid run. Years later I discovered Paul Neary's earlier work and I liked that, so maybe it's time I re-evaluated that run...? Most of the issues I skipped are available in "Epic" format.
I much enjoyed the DeMatties/Zeck run myself and also wasn't too thrilled with the Gruenwald era. I kept on collecting for another year or so, but eventually stopped, maybe sometime in '85 & '86. It is rather funny contemplating all the stories from the 1970s & '80s set in the then "near" future, up to the early 2000s, now a decade or more in our past. Aside from Deathlok, that mainly also involved Killraven, as well as Vance Astro taking off for a distant planet in the 1980s. We still have quite a ways to go to get to the era the original Guardians of the Galaxy was set in, about another 1,000 year from now, when the likelihood of anyone recalling how Gerber & Milgrom or another writer or artist of the 20th century described life in the 31st! Even when initially published, the Deathlok & Killraven/War of the World series had to be taken as being set in different universes from mainstream Marvel as all the other supercharacters were long gone, which even given real world aging of the mainstream Marvel universe of 1974, at least a few would still been in at least as good shape in the '00s as the Howlers of World War II were in the early '80s, and none of the Howlers were even super-human, although Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones still appeared remarkably young for characters who should have been in their late 50s or early 60s. Of course, they'd already come up with the Infinity Formula to explain Nick Fury's youthfulness, a solution I regarded as more problematic than useful as long as Marvel also kept using other WWII era characters, including Baron Strucker. Even Baron Zemo II, shown to have been a young child (but well past toddler-hood) during WWII, would now have to be at least 80 years old.
A later issue of Thunderbolts established that Zemo had a revitalizing/rejuvenation formula that both he and his son took to explain their extended prime of their lives.