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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It worked in the Golden Age because logic was usually ignored back then.

Take the similar series, Catman. Lieutenant David Merrywether talks the colonel of Fort Blister into contacting the Catman to solve a serious problem the camp is having. Catman tells the colonel not to even try to figure out who he really is, then promises to stop the trouble if the colonel will give Lt. Merrywether a two week leave. Merrywether then adopts an orphan and gets the colonel to make her camp mascot. Then she comes to his office in costume and says she's going to be Catman's sidekick. Yet the colonel still doesn't know who Catman is.

I am reminded of the 1959 series (two issues) of Simon and Kirby's The Double Life of Private Strong. This version of The Shield also had a secret identity as an Army private (for no apparent reason) who was seen as a screw-up by his sergeant. I believe it was supposed to be set in 1959 but the uniforms and other Army details seemed to be more like WWII. The only major difference from Captain America was that he had no teenage partner.

Then if Archie had sued over Spider-Man being too much like Fly-Man, Marvel could have counter sued about the Shield being too much like Captain America. Haven't read him, but Fighting American also sounds an awful lot like Cap, and he had a Bucky.

I'd guess what was then Atlas Comics declined to take legal action against Fighting American or Private Strong was that they were published when Captain America was in publication limbo and likely Martin Goodman didn't feel it was worth his time or money to pursue such an action, although in later decades Marvel Comics' legal team took action over characters who only shared a similar name to grade Z villains who had only been used once (referring the Rocketeer), among other cases.  As to that original but never published Kirby-version of Spider-Man, if Ditko's assessment was accurate, I think it was to the greater good that Lee was forced to do another take on the character, whether due to fear of a lawsuit or his own inclinations or a touch of both.  I just don't think Kirby's take would have been as much as a landmark as Ditko's became.  Kirby's particular magic was perfect for the FF & Thor and I don't think Ditko would have been very suitable for either of those but his style tailor-made for Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.  Oddly, although I prefer Kirby's rendition of the Hulk, Ditko did make significant contributions to that series as well, and maybe it helped that while the Hulk himself seems to me to have been a more Kirby-esque character, Bruce Banner was more in the Ditko mold, almost like an adult Peter Parker, a quirky genius who never seemed to get on that well with either his peers or his bosses.  

Also Atlas almost went under in 1957 and had those distribution problems for most of the 60s. I think by the time they were able to start expanding, Archie had dropped their superheroes. Probably not a good idea to hire lawyers when you're only able to get eight comics distributed.

Ron M. said:

Then if Archie had sued over Spider-Man being too much like Fly-Man, Marvel could have counter sued about the Shield being too much like Captain America. Haven't read him, but Fighting American also sounds an awful lot like Cap, and he had a Bucky.

OTOH, Archie's (MLJ's) original Shield predated Captain America by over a year.

Fred W. Hill said:

I just don't think Kirby's take would have been as much as a landmark as Ditko's became.

I couldn't agree with you more. The Fly (I refuse to call him Fly-Man) was a character that, like Fighting American and Private Strong, worked with the Simon-Kirby handling. If Spider-Man (and most of his iconic villains) hadn't been started by Ditko and handled the way Lee and Ditko handled him he never would have been at the top of the heap.

I recall reading that MLJ threatened legal action due to Cap's original shield too closely resembling part of the Shield's costume, resulting in the switch to the round shield in Cap #2, and it was in Stan Lee's first published story, a text piece in Cap #3, that the idea of Cap flinging his shield like a Frisbee and thus becoming an offensive as well as a defensive weapon was first used.

I have the Captain America Omnibus reprinting the first twelve issues. I'll have to read the first three and see if that's where he first throws his shield. So far I've only read the Red Skull story from #1 to see if George Maxon was the real Skull or not in the original story.

I never understood why Archie had two guys both called the Shield. In the 80s revival they pushed the Private Strong version, who I found much less interesting than Joe Higgins. Higgins spent several issues in jail for accidentally killing a villain. It was pretty obvious he was out of much of the story because they wanted to push the other Shield. On the other hand, it finally got the Comet out of that horrible helmet and back into his original costume and visor (which Cyclops pretty clearly copied.)

Stan's piece in issue #3 was purely text -- one of the requirements for those days for lower postage rates was at least two pages of text which I think continued into the '60s and was eventually met by using two pages worth of fan letters.  I've only read about that story, haven't actually read it and I don't how soon after that Kirby or any other artist first drew Cap throwing his mighty shield and if it was always depicted as somehow coming right back to him.  It's nearly as magical as Thor's hammer in that aspect.

Tales of Suspense #72 - "The Sleeper Shall Awake!"
Cover Date: December 1965
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby & George Tuska

Returning to the current time, we discover that Cap has been regaling his fellow Avengers (the "kooky quartet") with his old  stories from World War Two. Asked about the desertion charges, Cap explains that the high brass who knew who he was and  created a cover story for him stating that he had been sent to get Captain America to destroy the V2 rocket (which I'm sure  made NOBODY at all suspicious as to why a bumbling Army Ranger would be contacted to do such a thing). Hawkeye asks what  happened to Bucky, and cap tells him that Bucky was lost on a mission, but doesn't go into details. Wanda suggests that  Hawkeye drop the subject as Cap leaves, but Hawkeye says that he should be over Bucky's death by now (yeah, Hawkeye was  really sensitive back then). Wanda tells him that Cap will never be over it, as he blames himself for Bucky's death.

Following Cap, we find out that Wanda's right, as Cap is lamenting that he brought Bucky with him on that final mission.  He's attempting to sleep but he can't get the memories out of his mind. He sees (hallucinates) the image of the Red Skull on  his ceiling telling him that the final battle has not yet been fought, and that now, 20 years later, he shall prevail.

Cap flashes back to the war, where he's fighting his way through the Skull's troops in an effort to get to him. He chases  the Skull down. The Skull plans to throw a grenade at him, but Cap knocks it out of his hand with his shield before the  Skull can throw it. The grenade blows up in the Skull's face, but he isn't killed due to armor in his uniform. Cap stands  over the defeeated Skull, who tells him that he isn't defeated yet, as the sleepers will carry on for him. He tells Cap  they're hidden in Germany, waiting for "der tag", which is apparently the code name for the Nazi plan that Cap was sent to  smash. Before losing consciousness, the Skull tells Cap that there are three sleepers, and that when they awake, the Third  Reich will live again. Before Cap can take the Skull in as a prisoner, an air raid blows up the building they were in,  separating the two.

Cap awakes, realizing now that the reason he couldn't get the memories out of his mind was that today is the day the  sleepers are to awake. He retrieves the box of documents he got from the Skull all those years ago (and why were they not  turned over to the Allied brass?), realizing now what the documents mean. Listed on the documents within are the names of  several agents, each given the task of awakening a sleeper on the day, which happens to be today. Cap doesn't know if the  Skull survived, but he does know that he has to stop this plot.

In Bavaria, a group of men have been summoned by Herr von Kimmer, one of the names on the list. When Von Kimmer opens the  door, he's dressed in his old uniform from the war. He tells the men that tonight the Third Reich shall live again. He leads  the men to a field where a large rock stands. He tells the men that there are reels of cable hidden in the bushes, and wrap  them around the rock. He then has the men pull the rock down, revealing an opening behind it. As he and the men wait, the  sleeper emerges, a giant robot that goes on a rampage as it was designed to.

Meanwhile, Cap parachutes out of a plane over Bavaria. Landing, he spots people fleeing like refugees with all of their  belongings. He wonders why, and heads to investigate. He hears monstrous footsteps in the distance, and finally discovers  the sleeper when he gets to town. He attempts to shatter the dome at the top of the robot where the controls are, but it's  shatterproof. The robot is able to fire bolts of electricity from it's hands, and Cap narrowly escapes a blast.

Realizing he's just not capable of dealing with the sleeper right now, Cap retreats, and the robot goes back to it's pre- programmed mission. He stops to think, and realizes that there were supposed to be three sleepers.

In another town called Telbeck, a woman named Erica Wolfmann calls to arrange for some men to do some digging. It's time to  awaken the second sleeper.

To be continued...

My rating: 5/10

confession time: I've never found the Sleeper saga very compelling. The whole thing just seems tremendously improbable to  me, particularly in that it's Captain America who has to stop them--by himself. It makes zero sense to me why he wouldn't  call in the Avengers to help, especially once he understands what the threat happens to be. Also, why wait 20 years to use  the Sleepers? If they were that powerful, wouldn't it have made much more sense to use them in 1944? There's some solid  action, but for me it's not enough to save this story.

When the Sleeper Wakes/The Sleeper Awakes is an H.G. Wells title.

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