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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Never read any of the Sleeper stories as even the later ones were published before I started regularly collecting Captain America and even the Marvel Double Feature reprints started from a later point in the TOS issues.  And as Randy says, the whole plot is rather ridiculous, a weird way to bring Cap's adventures into current times while still keeping him closely tied to his WWII exploits and continuing the battle with the Red Skull without yet bringing that Nazi baddie to the present.  Funny that since the Golden Age line of Timely/Marvel heroes were all cancelled out and for most of a decade, aside from a brief revival, none of them saw print for over a decade, they can keep their memories of having been around during the 1940s, but all the Silver Age heroes who emerged in the '60s and were integrated in a line-up that has pretty much been in continuous print for over 50 years now have collective amnesia so that they have no memories of having been around during the '60s or '70s or anymore than about 10 years prior to their most current publication date.  So not even Johnny Storm can sit around and tell younger superheroes about the time he and Ben sort of met the Beatles but had to miss the concert to catch the guys who robbed the ticket box office.

My pet theory about the Sleepers is they took 20 years to build up sufficient power to go live. It doesn't really work, as I don't know of any power system that could work like that. If they were nuclear-powered it could be the Nazis couldn't get together enough uranium together to activate them in the final days of the war.

When Cap's confrontation with the Skull happened was this supposed to be the very end of the war with Germany? The phrase "the Third Reich will live again" seems to imply that for the Skull all is lost.

Saying that Steve Rogers is a Ranger is a surprise. He had been characterized as a lowly dogface and was pushed around like Beetle Bailey. The phase "bumbling Army Ranger" is an oxymoron. The level of training and competence to become an Army Ranger (one step below Green Beret) couldn't be accomplished by someone who is also bumbling.

confession time: I've never found the Sleeper saga very compelling.

Me neither. As you say, if they had these giant robots they would have used them at the time. As for their being programmed to do certain things, in WWII programming was only beginning with cypher machines. No sophisticated programming existed. If it did, they would have used that too.

That's how he was depicted in the story. He was a part of a group of Army Rangers. It didn't make sense to me when I first read it, and it makes little sense now, especially given that his cover was supposed to be "bumbling Private Rogers".

Richard Willis said:

 

Saying that Steve Rogers is a Ranger is a surprise. He had been characterized as a lowly dogface and was pushed around like Beetle Bailey. The phase "bumbling Army Ranger" is an oxymoron. The level of training and competence to become an Army Ranger (one step below Green Beret) couldn't be accomplished by someone who is also bumbling.

All just standard early Silver Age goofiness.  It also occurs to me that as part of the Invaders, Cap was involved in stories that would have required him to take quite a bit of leave time from the army.  It could be put down to the higher ups constantly putting Private Bumbler Rogers on special assignments or maybe the retcon is that Rogers and Sgt. Duffy were doing an act for the other soldiers and Duffy was in on what was going on all along.  And it's part of the magic of Cap's shield that when he was dressed up in his army uniform, he could still somehow hide both his Cap costume and that shield under it, even somehow fitting his Cap boots under his standard army boots.

Tales of Suspense #73 - "Where Walks the Sleeper!"
Cover Date: January 1966
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby & George Tuska

The sleeper is moving forward to a rendevous with the second sleeper, and Captain America can't seem to do anything about  it. Spotting a large boulder, he throws his shield to dislodge it, bringing it down on the sleeper. It seems to bury the  robot, but as Cap goes to make sure he's finished the job, the robot attacks with an electric bolt. Seconds later, the  sleeper escapes undamaged. It continues along it's pre-programmed path. Cap realizes that following it is a waste of time,  but remembers there's a NATO base nearby. Liberating a motorcycle he finds along the road, he heads towards the base,  wondering if a missile can stop the sleeper.

Meanwhile, near the town of Telbeck, a woman named Wolfmann has hired some men to dig in the forest. The men find what seems  to be a large knob. Frau Wolfmann tells them to strike it with a shovel. There's an explosion, and the second sleeper is  awakened. It flies away, searching for something.

Cap approaches the second sleeper on his motorcycle, but the log across the chasm that serves as a makeshift bridge  shatters, and Cap barely makes it to the other side, sans motorbike. As he gets to the town, he finds the sleeper wreaking a  path of destruction--luckily the town is deserted. The sleeper seems to be vacuuming up everything in its path, so Cap  decides to stop fighting and see what happens.

Cap reaches the sleeper and makes it to the top, where he discovers a cradle for another large object. As it continues  flying around it encounters the first sleeper. It activates it's vacuum, and then two are one. Cap attempts to signal NATO  by flashing the sun off of his shield.

Elsewhere, a man walks into a pawn shop. Recognized as a Nazi by the shop owner, the man reclaims the object he pawned years  ago. He then shoots the shop owner with a gas pellet, putting him to sleep. He then approaches a statue in the middle of the  town and activates the device from the pawn shop.

Back atop the sleepers, NATO planes have caught up to the sleeper, but they don't see Cap on top. Using his shield, he  manages to protect himself against their gunfire. However, when one fires a missile, he has to jump off. The missile misses  the sleeper, as Cap falls towards the water below.

To be continued...

My rating: 4/10

How did we ever defeat the Nazi's if they had technology like this? Indestructible flying robots with electric bolts and  vacuum attacks? World War II should have been a walkover for them.

Of course, they didn't have this technology, and the idea that they could have invented such technology 20 years prior is  pretty farfetched, which is what hurts this story. It's not helping that it's easy to see where the story is being padded  out to ensure three parts.

Also, to be brutally frank, George Tuska isn't Jack Kirby. It's just not as dynamic as if Kirby had done the actual pencils  as opposed to just the layouts. Nothing against Tuska, but there's simply something lacking.

That woman named Wolfmann wasn't related to a guy named Marv was she?  Seriously, tho', this is more Golden Age style absurdist storytelling which probably didn't go over that well in the Silver Age, never mind to us older folks reading it 50 years later! Admittedly, perhaps the reputed target audience of 5 to 10 years olds likely did not give any thought to the nonsensical nature of the Red Skull creating such massive robots and then programming them to sleep for 20 years before rising to create havoc which for all the Skull new in 1945 wouldn't have benefited any Nazis at all rather than using them right away to try to turn the tide of the still ongoing war.  Most of the kids might have just thought, "ooh, Cap fighting giant robots, cool, go Cap!" Older readers might have gone, "ugh, I'll skip that, let's see what Spidey & Thor are up to this month." 

So far doesn't seem Stan & company had really figured out yet how to tell compelling solo Captain America stories, although Cap was handled much better as leader of the Kookie Quartet era Avengers, maybe because with the death of Baron Zemo, Stan no longer felt compelled to keep focusing on Cap's WWII legacy or on Cap's urgency to avenge Bucky's death.  I do think that later stories, with Kirby back on full pencils, and with the Skull revived as a modern villain and A.I.M. thrown in the mix, along with the Adaptoid and M.O.D.O.K., Cap's tales became much more interesting as escapist action fantasy fare.

The credits of the story's first instalment, in #72, attribute the layouts to Kirby and the "art" to Tuska. Nick Caputo argues here that some of the pages were inked by Carl Hubbell. He also attributes the inks of the opening four pages to Wally Wood.

Fred W. Hill said:

Admittedly, perhaps the reputed target audience of 5 to 10 years olds likely did not give any thought to the nonsensical nature ....

By 1966 Stan knew to write for the high school and college-age readers that were a large part of the Marvel readership. The younger kids could also appreciate these stories.

So far doesn't seem Stan & company had really figured out yet how to tell compelling solo Captain America stories, although Cap was handled much better as leader of the Kookie Quartet era Avengers, maybe because with the death of Baron Zemo, Stan no longer felt compelled to keep focusing on Cap's WWII legacy or on Cap's urgency to avenge Bucky's death. I do think that later stories, with Kirby back on full pencils, and with the Skull revived as a modern villain and A.I.M. thrown in the mix, along with the Adaptoid and M.O.D.O.K., Cap's tales became much more interesting as escapist action fantasy fare.

I think they were going in the wrong direction by continuing to harp on Cap's WWII origins. As you say, the Avengers stories featuring Cap were much better. I think the observation of needing supporting casts comes into play. Cap running around with only thought balloons and no interactions just doesn't work.

I agree Cap seems to work best with partners -- as in full-fledged partners rather than junior sidekicks. But at the very least in his own comics he should have a good supporting cast so that readers care about the guy under that winged mask.  As for those early ToS stories, Lee even admitted he & Kirby were going for a more Golden Age style than the other titles at the time but fortunately he finally figured out it was too out of sync with the best of Marvel's other superhero titles, thus gradually shifted to more typical Marvel Silver Age stories, although there were still far more issues wherein Steve Rogers never appeared without his mask than was the case with nearly every other secret alter ego of a Marvel superhero, aside from Thor, wherein from about Journey Into Mystery #115 on appearances by Donald Blake became ever rarer (whereas over in Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil, there were very few issues during the Silver Age and early Bronze Age wherein Peter Parker & Matt Murdock didn't show up and interact with their civilian cast.

Tales of Suspense #74 - "The Final Sleep!"
Cover Date: February 1966
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby & George Tuska

Cap breaks into the Army camp nearby, attempting to reach one General Logan, who's in charge. The soldiers there dogpile on  him in an attempt to stop him, and Cap, not wanting to fight them, surrenders. At this point General Logan shows up. He asks  Cap why he didn't just ask to see him, and Cap tells him that he got caught up in the danger. They meet.

Meanwhile, local villagers are doing their best to evacuate. The combined sleeper flies above, wreaking havoc. A wealthy man  in a limousine spots the sleeper and exits his car as his chauffeur flees. The man tells his men that  it was created to bring about the rebirth of the Third Reich. The men think it's foolish and continue running. As he stands  and salutes, the sleeper blows him away.

Cap explains to General Logan that the purpose of the sleeper is not just to fight the enemies of Nazism, but to eradicate  the human race. The Colonel taking part in the discussion thinks Cap has a screw loose, but the General understands. Cap  illustrates (literally) the configuration of the sleeper, and tells the General that it's headed for a third town to find  it's brain. The Colonel is still doubtful, but the General orders a Company sized task force for Captain America, with Cap  as it's leader, and that the men should obey all of his orders. Units of tanks, airplanes and soldiers are mobilized  immediately. The fighter jets attack, but the sleeper is too much for them. There is then an artillery barrage (or anti- aircraft, I suppose) but the sleeper easily dispatches those weapons as well.

Meanwhile in the town ahead, the third Nazi agent is preparing to activate the third sleeper. At a statue in town, he turns  one of the letters on the plaque and the third sleeper awakens. Amazingly enough, it's shaped like a skull (I'm surprised  it's not painted red). Anyway, it takes off to join the other two sleepers, and they quickly join together. General Logan  asks Captain America about the threat, and Cap tells him that he thinks the third sleeper is a giant bomb. The General then  asks what one bomb could do to his army (how quickly he forgets Nagasaki and Hiroshima). Cap tells him that the way the  sleeper is constructed that there's nothing keeping it from getting to it's objective, and that, for instance, it could fly  up to the North Pole and explode, melting the polar ice caps, or use it's force rays to drill a hole to the center of the  Earth, exploding there and causing a chain reaction that could destroy the Earth. The General says that's just a wild guess,  but Cap explains that they have to consider the possibility.

Cap grabs a flamethrower and bails out of the plane above the sleeper. Amazingly enough, he lands on the sleeper. However,  there's really no place to get a grip, but somehow he manages to grab the wing before he falls off. He plans to get to the  skull part of the sleeper and aim the flamethrower at just the right angle, musing that the flaw of the sleeper is that  it's unable to do anything it's not programmed to. He manages to get into position and activate the flamethrower, then uses  the parachute he grabbed to leap to safety. The flamethrower does the job and sets the bomb off, and the free world is  saved!

My rating: 3/10

I can buy Cap doing a lot of things that totally suspend the sense of disbelief, but defeating this "unstoppable" device  with nothing but a flamethrower and a little luck is just a little too much. If the machine can fend off attacking planes  and anti-aircraft missiles, it's hard to believe that it could be defeated by a plucky man with a flamethrower.

It's also ridiculous that the Avengers aren't part of this story either. One thinks that Thor could have stopped the sleeper  with one arm tied behind his back, and given the number of obvious civilian casualties, it seems like a no-brainer for  someone to contact them.

Finally the ending is just a little anti-climactic. With a situation like this, one expects something truly dramatic, not an  essentially harmless explosion. Anyway, it's over, and time to move on.

There are claims that the Nazis developed hoverboards and were on the verge of making cloaking devices, but these Sleepers couldn't be made even today.

Thor and Iron Man had left the Avengers by this time so Cap couldn't easily have contacted them, and the FF are in the Great Refuge, so Stan could say they couldn't have known about the Sleepers until after they were destroyed, but it seems like Cap's Kookie Quartet would have turned up to help him out.

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