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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#258:

Whereas I have read this issue more than once since it was first published, it's probably been 30 years since I read it last. With the addition of penciler Mike Zeck this issue, the title moves one step closer to the definitive creative team of the '80s, but it's not there yet. The story is plotted by Chris Claremont, who also scripted the first 12 pages. The last 10 pages are scripted by David Michelinie and, in retrospect, is easy to see why the story was divided up this way. 

Claremont obviously put a lot of research about firefighters and arson into this story. The fruit of that research is prominently on display in the first half of the issue, then Michelinie takes over for the second half, which deals with the arsonist, Blockbuster, who wears a high-tech suit. (Michelinie even manages to work in a plug for his Iron Man.) 

On a more personal level, this reading project is really opening the floodgates of my memory. First, #251 reminded me of the Glenn Miller concert given by my high school jazz band; then the mention of Oklahoma! and Oh, Calcutta! in #253 reminded me of my senior trip. This issue open with Steve Rogers and Bernie Rosenthal dancing at Roseland, and even gave its address: 52nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. That's another place I made sure to visit on my senior trip. 

#259:

Still not quite the '80s dream team, this issue is by Jim Shooter (plot), David Michelinie (script) and Mike Zeck (pencils). The villain this issue is Dr. Octopus (who wants to steal Captain America's shield), but the best part of the story is the human interest angle. Ray Coulson, a former soldier Cap met during the war, writes Cap c/o Avengers Mansion asking for help with his son. Jon has robbed the till of his father's motorcycle shop (Ray was a courier during the war and went on to open a garage after returning home) and has joined a motorcycle gang called The Huns.

Cap goes to their place but must prove himself (by taking the full force of twin Harley Davidsons pulling him in opposite directions) before the Huns will allow him to talk to Jon. As the contest proceeds, Doc Ock (who has been following Cap all issue) breaks in, and Cap wins the contest before fighting Octopus. On the ropes, Doc Ock offers the gang members $1000 apiece to help him but, because Cap passed their test, they refuse. Cap delivers Ray's message to his son, then leaves.

A few days later, Jon shows up and presents a motorcycle he built from scratch himself to Cap as a gift. this is the motorcycle Cap would ride for years to come.

Good issue.

This was a great story. I believe that the Coulsons would appear again as Cap really started his motorcycle phase here!

But seeing Doctor Octopus outside a Spider-Man story was mind-boggling! Yes, I know other Spider-Foes battled other heroes (Electro, Sandman, Kraven as examples) but Doc Ock? It's almost like Otto is cheating on Spidey!

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.

"What do you consider the first appearance of Machinesmith, Jeff? Do you count Starr Saxon?"

Good question. As I indicated, I had completely forgotten that Machinesmith was formerly Mr. Fear until I re-read #249. Similarly, despite having re-read those Daredevil issues as recently as last year and posting a discussion of them, I had also forgotten that Mr. Fear was once Starr Saxon until you brought it up. I guess I was thinking of Marvel Two-In-One #47 as his "first" appearance. (That's going to be released in Marvel Masterworks format soon, BTW; it was solicited for September, but all the MMWs have been delayed.) I collected and read Thunderbolts in tpb and I have likely read the issue(s) you refer to, but I'll be damned if I remember them.

Actually, that's an interesting superpower itself; from Starr Saxon to Mr. Fear to Machinesmith, the ability to transfer from one lame identity to another yet be completely forgettable in all of them!

And speaking f gay characters in Captain America, there's another, better, one coming up in #270, so stick around.

Looking forward to it.

If I'm reading your post correctly, you have Saxon becoming Fear and then Machinesmith. But he was actually Mr. Fear first, and his big reveal as NOT Zoltan Drago (the first Mr. Fear) was part of Saxon's big theatrical turn. To tell you the truth, at that point in Daredevil history I no longer cared, and it meant nothing to me. And since being Mr. Fear has become a meaningless title -- there have been four so far -- it means even less now.

Also, I finally Googled Starr Saxon and Wikipedia spells his name Star and not Starr. I was sure that that "Starr" was the spelling, because spellings stick in my head. And someone as theatrical as Saxon wouldn't have an ordinary spelling. But maybe I'm wrong. And I'm not motivated enough to pull out the originals and check.

"I finally Googled Starr Saxon and Wikipedia spells his name Star and not Starr."

The Wikipedia entry for Machinesmith uses the "Starr" spelling throughout: "Machinesmith (Samuel "Starr" Saxon) is a fictional supervillain appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics..."

"[Y]ou have Saxon becoming Fear and then Machinesmith. But he was actually Mr. Fear first..."

He was the second Mr. Fear and there was a big theatrical turn, but he had appeared as himself first. Again, according to Wikipedia: "The character first appeared in Daredevil #49 (February 1969),and briefly appeared as a character to have used the Mister Fear identity shortly thereafter in Daredevil #54 (July 1969). The character first appeared as Machinesmith in Marvel Two-in-One #47 (January 1979)."

After our exchange yesterday I (briefly) considered a discussion tracing the development of Starr Saxon to Mr. Fear to Machinesmith, but I (quickly) changed my mind.

#260:

Here's another one I've read only once, when it was first released. Despite the distinctive cover, the story itself is not all that memorable. It is a sequel to Tales of Suspense #62, in which a sentimental prison warden programs his state-of-the art, magnetic, voice activated security door to open to the words "Captain America." The "neat idea" behind this story is "What if a prisoner just happens to say those words?"

ASIDE: This concept itself sparks an idea of my own (not that I've ever want to see such a story). Ever since the security of SHIELD's midtown "barber shop" HQ was breached, they moved to a new location with a holographic wall in a dead end alley. there's not going to be any thru vehicular traffic, but what happens when a homeless wino tries to bed down against the holographic wall for the night? But I digress.

#261 is a fill-in by by Al Milgrom and Alan Kupperburg. I described the story as unmemorable but, in fact, I did remember the premise described above. what i didn't recall was the human interest angle of the story. It was only a matter of time before some prisoner said the words "Captain America" and the security gates opened up. when that eventually happened, the prison guards quelled the escape attempt quite easily, but when word of it became public, it cast doubt on the security system of the prison in general. The "sentimental" warden for forced to resign, and his replacement engaged Captain America himself to attempt an escape.

I question the story logic of imprisoning Captain America in his costume, because that only draws attention to what he's trying to accomplish. Consequently, when he does attempt to escape, there's a slew of prisoners (including "Thumper" and "Deacon" from TOS for continuity freaks) who follow behind him. the human interest angle of story is young prisoner Tony Zack, who had fallen under the influence of Thumper. The theme of the story is prisoner reform, and it's better than i remember. Honestly, it reminds me quite a bit of the kind of inventory stories that once populated the pages of Marvel Fanfare

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Here's another one I've read only once, when it was first released. Despite the distinctive cover, the story itself is not all that memorable. It is a sequel to Tales of Suspense #62, in which a sentimental prison warden programs his state-of-the art, magnetic, voice activated security door to open to the words "Captain America." The "neat idea" behind this story is "What if a prisoner just happens to say those words?"

The question this raises in my mind: Just how many days -- no, hours -- would it take after activation before somebody accidentally said those very common words and got the door open?

In "comic book time" or "real time"?

I used to have a program i wrote which translated on to the other, but 1) I no longer have it, and 2) it's 15 years out of date (not that I even know how it's been since the beginning of the "Marvel Age" in comic book time).

"Real Time" is easy to figure, though: 16 years.

#261:

For all intents and purposes, this is the "dream team" of the '80s: J.M. de Matteis and Mike Zeck. (The only missing element is inker John Beatty.) This was an incredibly important issue to me. At the time, I could not have known this was the first issue of the definitive Captain America of the '80s, but it nevertheless a personal milestone in regard to  Marvel continuity. As I mentioned previously, I bought a sizable run of Captain America backissues in 1977, and my first issue collecting the series was #217. #261 not only brings together "Nomad" from my run of backissues, but also (although not depicted on the cover) Lyle Dekker (the "Ameridroid") from #218-220. (I also thought that the "Together Again--For the First Time!" cover blurb was much more clever than I do today.) Not only is Lyle Dekker (the "Ameridroid") reintroduced as the "pupil" this issue, but there is also a mysterious cloaked figure known as "teacher," the leader of the mysterious "Nihilist Order." 

On a more personal level for me,  I found the splash page, depicting a white guy (Steve Rogers) and two black guys (Sam Wilson and Josh Cooper) socializing together as somewhat, well... remarkable. Memorable. Noteworthy. Any of those words will do. I grew up in a racist family. Not so much my nuclear family, but my extended family? Yeah. Although I wouldn't have thought so at the time, the fact that this splash page struck me so kind of proves it. 

After three glasses of wine, the trio of friends come upon a mugging: two white guys attacking a black guy. While Josh goes to summon help, Steve and Sam lend a more direct hand. Steve throws a trashcan lid at one of the muggers (in lieu of a shiled), then vows never to let that much alcohol into his system again. As far as I know, he hasn't yet. 

This issue is what I have considered for many years to be the first issue of the best run since Stern and Byrne. 

When I started reading Captain America, it was right before he became Nomad. I missed a couple of issues and he went back to being Cap again! So I missed much of his run as "The Man Without a Country" so his "return" here struck a chord with me!

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