Comics Ate My Brain

March 25, 2008

Questions And Comments After Reading Essential Cap Vol. 4

Filed under: captain america, green lantern, questions — Tom Bondurant @ 12:35 am
I bought the first Essential Captain America volume for the Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko art, not really expecting to continue with the series much farther than that. Wrong again, of course — I finished Volume 4 over the weekend, and am on the lookout for the next one.

Actually, thanks to the paperbacks of the second Kirby run, I just need to read issues 187-92 to bridge the gap. So that’s the first question: anything noteworthy happen in those six issues? Kirby seemed to start fresh, which tells me there was probably some editorially-dictated wrapping-up during that time.

The second thing I wanted to bring up is more of an observation. Much of Englehart’s run seemed pretty familiar: the Red Skull brainwashing one of Cap’s allies, the Skull working to subvert the American economy, and “new” Captain(s) America. I think Brubaker has done a great job on the title from his first issue, but I can’t help but wonder how longtime readers compare his stuff to Englehart’s.

Finally, one of the noteworthy parts of Englehart’s Green Lantern tenure was his “secret history of Star Sapphire” issue. Englehart pulled together plot elements from various Sapphire stories to link her with a new villain, and reading Cap #186, it seemed like he had already done something very similar for the Falcon.

Now, I know that Englehart isn’t credited with the script for #186 (although “John Warner” may be one of his pseudonyms, for all I know), but he is credited with the plot, so I’m willing to make the connection between CA #186 and GL #192.

Speaking of Green Lantern, I wonder to what extent the socially-aware bent of Captain America was influenced by the O’Neil/Adams issues of GL. GL was a lot more direct about its messages, but CA might not have been as particularly concerned with changing the world.

So, any thoughts, Cap fans?


  1. Be there in a bit, Tom…

    Comment by plok — March 25, 2008 @ 11:04 am

  2. John Warner is a real person. I even met him once in an occult bookshop in Greenwich Village, but we didn’t have a chance to talk. Warner created Ulysses Bloodstone and wrote Son of Satan for a while, as well as some Star Trek and Flash Gordon comics for Gold Key. Besides Cap, he also wrote Doc Savage stuff for Marvel, so the possibility of confusion with Englehart is only logical.

    Comment by RAB — March 25, 2008 @ 8:51 pm

  3. Thanks, RAB! The name “John Warner” probably reminded me of “John Harkness,” and that would have connected him to Englehart in my mind.

    Comment by Tom Bondurant — March 25, 2008 @ 10:02 pm

  4. If #186 is the comic I’m thinking it is…what follows up to the point Kirby comes on board (Admiral on deck!) is good comics, but not anything I’d call “essential”…Now I don’t know about the influence of GL/GA for sure, nor would I make a link with Star Sapphire as far as “Englehart-ism” goes (although I don’t think that would be an illegitimate link either) but you could certainly read Brubaker’s Cap as a very studied and intelligent mash note to Englehart’s run — not only are Brubaker’s themes substantially the same as the ones Englehart chose to run with, but the Winter Soldier stands in nicely for “Snap” Wilson in them…and furthermore I think he’s going somewhere with it all. Somewhere, perhaps, Englehart didn’t quite get to? Well, I don’t know, but maybe…anyway, another example of how in the right hands (as I said somewhere else recently) recapitulation doesn’t have to be mere repetition. Marvel comics have always been chock-full of thematic recapitulation, and especially the Cap title has been where these things find a nice cozy home…but where we see in Marvel’s blockbuster events a, hmm, a somewhat aphasic approach would maybe be the kindest way to put it, to that recapitulation, Brubaker manages something neater in Cap. Partners and cosmic cubes and the Red Skull, and the use of memory as a weapon…the moment Cap makes his own open-ended wish on the Cosmic Cube is a thrilling one, an act of possibilization that we haven’t yet pinned down the effects of…In short: Brubaker, maybe alone at Marvel, is doing stuff that holds to the standard of fair play with the reader, and it’s all straight out of the Seventies.With one major difference, which is that Captain America has I think always been an extraordinarily talky book, with Cap always directing the reader’s attention with either a) stirring speeches or b) pensive thoughts — anyway Cap himself has usually done a lot of contextualizing for his readers, but under Brubaker he tells us a whole lot less. And I hope that’s all supposed to be part of the plan, of course! It looks like it is. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just the style of today, maybe it’s a combination of style and intention, who knows? Still, it does give us a more diffident Cap than we’ve sometimes seen, maybe not a Cap who’s ready to ditch the red-white-and-blue — although think about it, he sort of has! — but not a Cap who finds solution in action in the Kirby mode, either.GL/GA vs. CA, as far as changing the world goes? Okay, I’ll agree, but then again neither GL nor GA are meant to emblematize America, and Steve Rogers is — he kind of is the world, so what he’s mainly got to worry about is changing himself. Which is always fun to see. God bless Brubaker, he’s taking the ball and running with it, it really is marvellous to see — now how much more appealing would his Daredevil be if it wasn’t mired in homage to Frank Miller? The only problem with Daredevil is that it’s a different ball, that he’s running with — and I know a lot of people like it, but I guess I want Mike Murdock back, just because I’m that kind of geek. I don’t want the DD who fought the Kingpin, I want the DD who fought Namor, and I think that’s okay, to want that, but I know I won’t get it…and I guess that’s okay too. But in CA I am getting what I want, hell I half expect the Viper and the Yellow Claw to show up, somewhere down the line! Like a lot of people I thought it would rock if the new Cap turned out to be the Falcon…but of course Bucky kind of is the Falcon, in this set-up. Because he’s Snap Wilson. And Brubaker’s Englehart. And we’re probably going to see a White House Suicide at some point, or at least something analogous to it. Don’t you think?Oh, and I almost made that Warner/Harness mistake too.

    Comment by plok — March 26, 2008 @ 9:26 am

  5. I was hoping to get a good response from you, plok, so thanks! I haven’t been reading Brubaker’s Daredevil, partly because I’m not as interested in the character and partly for the reasons you mention. When Brubaker pinned the subprime-mortgage crisis on the Red Skull, I thought that was inspired, but then I saw that the economy was in the tank during Englehart’s run, and that got me thinking. I had forgotten about the copious uses of the Cosmic Cube, but then again the Cube was never too far away in the late ’60s/early ’70s Cap. And oh Lord yes, can Cap talk! If I didn’t have a no-Essentials rule for the Sunday Soliloquies, I’d have those covered for months!I kind-of see where the Winter Soldier stands in for “Snap” Wilson, in terms of coming out from Cap’s shadow, but I don’t know if I can see it much farther than that. The old comics had the Falcon dealing with racial politics, naturally, which isn’t quite the same thing as Bucky’s acclamation to modern times (which has been accomplished, I presume, by now) or the WS’s perceived inadequacies. When Bucky compares himself to Steve, it’s not quite the same as the Falcon lamenting his lack of status.As for GL and GA — well, of course they don’t explicitly represent America, but they did represent two sides of it. Specifically, I’d say that each illustrated a different aspect of the idealist’s struggle with the realities of society. GL believed in the power of the benign authority figures for whom he acted. GA believed that the country could solve its own problems, but not while good men did nothing. I don’t think that they map well to Cap and the Falcon — for one thing, there’s very little “Green Arrow” in those old CAs — but anytime an early ’70s superhero hits the open road, I guess I want to make the comparison.

    Comment by Tom Bondurant — March 27, 2008 @ 1:41 am

  6. Naturally, Tom! Why there’s nothing so American as a motorcycle, is there?No, but seriously — where you’ve got a dialectical tension, as in GL/GA…that isn’t what you’ve got with Cap and Falc, and I didn’t mean to suggest it was. What I was saying is, it’s a beautiful thing really, Steve Rogers in his own person can represent the tensions present in the country called “America”…in other words there’s no dialectic, there’s just Steve. Man out of time. Like America is an ideal seemingly out of time. So Sam Wilson isn’t an antithesis, he’s a component…But pardon me, I ramble. I wanted to clear up the Bucky/Falcon thing, because I probably didn’t stress enough before that it’s all about the Cosmic Cube, memory, and wishing.”Snap” Wilson is an identity retroactively inserted into the Falcon. By the Cosmic Cube, under the control of the unfathomable evil intentions of the Red Skull. So is it really “real”? It was an identity made by the Cosmic Cube…or was it? Who’s real, Sam or Snap? Are we really believing the Red Skull, when he says what he’s done? Just to screw with Captain America, mind you…so what would you do, to screw with Cap? If you were the Red Skull. “Snap” is the most awful of “BAD” black Americans, and “Sam” is the “BEST” of black Americans. I don’t know; you tell me. What would the Red Skull do? “Bucky” Barnes, similarly, is an identity retroactively inserted into “The Winter Soldier” (read carefully!) by the one-and-only wish on the Cosmic Cube that it’s imaginable for Captain America to ever make. Not that he says “Be Bucky!” But he doesn’t say don’t be Bucky, and that’s definitely part of the wish. And prior to this we can’t be certain that the Winter Soldier is Bucky, but he thinks he is. But whatever he was, he was wished on by the Cosmic Cube! He, no less than Sam/Snap, was made.It’s a damn deep clever game Brubaker is playing here, I’ll tell ya.So it isn’t “coming out from under the shadow”. It’s not about Falc or Bucky. It’s about Cap. He used to ask himself, in those halcyon days of the Seventies Englehart run, how much just by being there he deformed the world. Hey, just as though he was a sort of Cosmic Cube himself! And now, since (impossibly!!! But Bru made it work!!!) he’s laid his hands on the actual Cosmic Cube (re-read: flawed Cosmic Cube) and made a wish…Well, come on, this is the best revisitation in the world of the Red Skull saying “we’re not that different, Captain America, although you wish we were…” This is what I mean by Brubaker taking the ball and running with it: America in the postwar era is always going to face the exact same identity crisis no matter where it goes or what costume it wears. Will America deform the world? Can America trust anything?In a 2008 context, Falc is solid as a rock. But Bucky isn’t; and so Cap isn’t. Oh, Tom, I urge you strongly to re-read Brubaker’s cap from the beginning, looking for Englehartisms…it’s only because Cap isn’t as talky as he once was that they’re hard to find.And by the way: your Friday Night Fights, Sunday Night Soliloquies? They’re my favourites.I hope that clears that up. Snap; Bucky; they’re the same now, whatever Cap might wish, because they’re both products of the Cosmic Cube. But which identity’s real?It’s almost like a paper I once wrote on Titus Andronicus.Tom! You know I’m always reading, right? I may not always comment, but I’m always reading.

    Comment by plok — March 27, 2008 @ 9:32 am

  7. Okay, now I’ve got it. I do want to re-read Brubaker’s run at some point. There are definitely clues and Easter eggs — Carla at B@N did a post showing that Sharon’s gun wasn’t what it first appeared to be — so when I get some time, definitely!And thanks for the support in general. I’m always reading your stuff too.

    Comment by Tom Bondurant — March 27, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  8. Well, at least somebody is…Of course, I just had to get it completely backwards, up there: according to the Red Skull it was Sam who was the fake, and Snap who was the genuine article.But then he would say that, wouldn’t he?

    Comment by plok — March 28, 2008 @ 12:54 am

  9. And, “Cap as Cosmic Cube…”You know, it always amazes me, and maybe Kirby had it right: when you really, really look at the Cap book, it’s a “Marvel Cosmic” title. It really is unique. I’ve been talking for some time about the necessary place the Defenders filled in the MU, the marginal place, the demi-monde, where all the side-connections can be found…but Cap works for that, too, and very well. “What’s out there?” Ask Captain America.Brubaker incorporates that, as well.Hey, would you say that’s an unrecognized core value of the Cap title? Adventuring into the unknown. I wonder how far back one could trace that tendency, in Marvel publication. Of course outside Marvel I think it probably goes all the way back to Buck Rogers…

    Comment by plok — March 28, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  10. I liked it better when you had “Snap” and “Sam” the other way around, plok.See, on the one hand, I appreciated the idea that the Skull had Cap pegged so well that he was able to create his adversary’s ideal partner, the perfect epitome of liberal racial harmony Cap couldn’t help but embrace without question. I admired how Englehart, as is his wont, turned the logical gaps and glaring plot holes in the Falcon’s origin into a whole new story that enriched what came before rather than undoing it.But “Snap” Wilson just utterly sucked. I can’t begin to express how much I loathed that stuff. At the time, I genuinely believed and hoped that the “Snap” persona would ultimately be revealed as the fraud created by the Red Skull. To my knowledge, that never happened…but for a moment, you had me hoping it was true and I’d simply missed it. Which just goes to show how deep my dislike of that idea runs, even after all these years…

    Comment by RAB — March 29, 2008 @ 6:01 am

  11. Well, maybe it’s true anyway! Sam Wilson really met Steve Rogers on that island, and the Red Skull laid “Snap” Wilson on top of him, or even mixed him in ’til Sam and Snap couldn’t be disentangled. A Nazi’s idea of a black American that would wound the weak Captain America, by saying “this is the reality” — I mean look at Snap.I find that plausible.Especially since then it blows up in the Skull’s face: Snap’s capable of heroism, too, despite what a Nazi thinks of “bad” black men and “what the reality is”.Well, is there anything that says that couldn’t’ve been the way it went down? Either way, the Skull’s story would be the same…Let’s just say that’s what happened, RAB!

    Comment by plok — March 29, 2008 @ 6:11 am

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