Welcome to The Dollar Box, where I review single issues or short runs of comics where the cover price is a dollar or less.
I already extolled the virtues of Strange Tales while reviewing the classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run of Doctor Strange, but that literally told only half the story. Strange Tales was a two-character book in those days, and it was a happy problem to have when the Doctor Strange backup feature outshined the headlining Human Torch. Rather than promote their Sorcerer Supreme to top billing, Marvel moved to bolster the book by introducing Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., as the lead feature in Strange Tales #135.
Marvel was never one to miss a trend, and with Bondmania stirring up superspy excitement around the world, it was only natural that The House of Ideas come up with their own secret agent man. To lead their answer to U.N.C.L.E., Marvel recruited Sgt. Nick Fury (late of the Howling Commandos), promoted him to Colonel, and dropped him in the deep end of running the Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-enforcement Division.
One of the things that makes this story sing is its brevity. Checking in at a taut twelve pages, there’s no room for exposition — like the best James Bond movies, the action is fast-paced and a little weird, racing from one exciting set piece to another before the audience can register how unlikely everything is. In “The Man For The Job”, a bewildered Nick Fury doesn’t have time to extinguish his stogie before he’s stripped down to his skivvies and installed in a Life Model Decoy Master Mold, on a timetable so tight that Fury’s artificial body doubles start to get knocked off by the bad guys before Fury is even informed that he’s been mechanically cloned!
One page later, and Fury is getting napalmed in his Porsche; a page after that and the Porsche has folded up her wheels and taken off into the sky.
And the page after that, we’re introduced to the masters behind all this mayhem, as HYDRA makes it’s first Marvel Universe appearance. I love HYDRA — they’re the perfect supervillain goon squad, clad in their cultish baggy uniforms, and seeming to welcome casualties just so they can break out their signature phrase — “Cut off a limb, and two shall take it’s place! HAIL HYDRA!”
No sooner has HYDRA completed their pajama party than we are back with Fury in the secret base of S.H.I.E.L.D., where Nick tries to resist getting dragooned into running the operation, claiming he’s still a sergeant at heart, and way out of his league… until his battle-honed instincts detect a hidden HYDRA bomb, which Fury throws out the window of the headquarters, sparking one of the greatest reveals in Marvel Comics history.
So there you go… in twelve pages, Stan Lee and (especially) Jack Kirby blow our minds at least five times, create the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, give birth to not one but TWO super-secret spy organizations, and introduce a character that half a century later is still prowling the Marvel Universe, now a big-screen movie hero played by Samuel L. Jackson.
And King Kirby pre-imagines the Transport Safety Administration, too!
Not a bad day at the office. And a great single-issue story!
The cruel irony of The Dollar Box is that you will never find these issues in a real “dollar box,” provided such a thing even exists any more. Nope, these classics will cost you a lot more than a buck (and if you do find one for a dollar, be sure to buy it and mail it to me — I’m good for that dollar, I swear!). With a cover price of twelve cents, a near mint copy of Strange Tales #135 can run two hundred dollars or more! If you want to read this fine tale, you can hunt up a back issue, read a reprint, or check out a digital copy as part of a Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited Subscription!
This article original appeared at StashMyComics.com.
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #104 Longbox Soapbox (Summer 2013 edition)
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A superhero is only so great as the costumed crazies he gets to battle. The rich rogues galleries of heroes like Batman and Spider-Man undoubtably contribute to those characters’ enduring appeal. I’d even argue that someone like the Flash would unambiguously be a second-tier hero (instead of a quasi-A-lister) if he didn’t command a roster of memorable villains to call his own.
Captain America is definitely an A-list hero, but is this due more to his iconic costume and role in comics history, or to his collection of super-powered rivals? Read on for my list of the Top Ten Captain America Villains, and then let me know how you think Cap’s most dastardly enemies stack up!
10) The Grand Director
He has a complicated history, and owes his origin to a publication quirk, but the concept behind the Grand Director lets him squeak onto my list at #10.
Captain America has had two major publication periods — the wartime books published from 1941-1949, and the modern reintroduction of the character commencing with Avengers #4 in 1964. But in-between, Cap experienced a brief revival in the 1950s, which was not considered part of Marvel history until Steve Englehart resurrected the character for an early-1970s story, depicting him as a paranoid, ultra-patriotic double of our star-spangled hero. Driven mad by the cut-rate Super Soldier serum that gave him his powers, this forgotten Captain America became a vessel for all of America’s worst excesses in the McCarthy era of the 1950s.
Later, the character would be given a white spook suit and become the Grand Director, who is less interesting than a Red-baiting Captain America impersonator (who would be less interesting than a legitimately Red-baiting Captain America, but we can’t have everything). It’s all a bit of a muddle and serves to suppress that first awesome concept.
Continuity aside, the Grand Director is ultimately a tragic figure — a fallen hero manipulated into betraying everything he held dear by the next entry in my Top Ten List …
9) Doctor Faustus
A master of mind-control, mastermind of the neo-Nazi National Force, and the evil agent who twisted and manipulated the Grand Director for his own foul purposes, Doctor Faustus still may not have made this list but for a singular act of villainy. He does have deep roots in Cap’s history (having first appeared in Captain America #107), but with this subtle psychological powers, Dr. Faustus is little more than a second-rate Mysterio (without the groovy Steve Ditko costume).
I don’t care if he has a monocle and an Austrian accent … Doctor Faustus is pretty lame. But he did turn Sharon Carter into an unwitting pawn in Ed Brubaker’s Death of Captain America saga, and if you can punch the ticket of your arch-nemesis, then you get on the list!
(But he’s still a second-rate Mysterio!)
8) Baron Strucker
The first of several Nazis on this list, Baron Strucker might have been whistled up out of central casting — he has a monocle AND a Heidelberg fencing scar!
First appearing in 1964′s Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos #5, and eventually coming to lead HYDRA, Baron Strucker might more properly be considered a foe of Nick Fury and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he’s battled Cap a time or two, and he also provides an excuse to show a bit of Steranko art, from that era when Strucker was undoubtably at his coolest.
Will Baron Strucker figure in Joss Whedon’s pending S.H.I.E.L.D. television series? The movie side of the Marvel Universe isn’t so deeply connected with World War II as the comics upon which is it based, so it seems unlikely that Strucker will appear in anything like his original form … but in a world where the Guardians of the Galaxy are getting their own movie, anything is possible! Hail HYDRA!
This is kind of a cheat, as I don’t really think of M.O.D.O.K. as a Captain America villain. But there is no denying that the “Mental Organism Designed Only For Killing” made his debut in the pages of a Captain America story in Tales of Suspense #93-94.
Any list is made better by M.O.D.O.K., and so everyone’s favorite hyper-encephalotic floating acronym gets the nod (though at a lower seeding than he might otherwise command!)
Batroc is definitely Captain America’s most ridiculous recurring foe (and that’s saying a lot, considering some of the names on this list), but no survey of Cap’s arch-enemies would be complete without him.
First appearing in Tales of Suspense #75, Batroc is a mercenary and a master of savate, the art of French foot fighting! That’s right, French foot fighting! Portrayed as something of a swashbuckler with his own code of honor, Batroc is more light-hearted than the Nazi psychopaths that make up most of Cap’s opposition … and no matter what his crimes, it is hard to hold a grudge against anyone with such an out-rageous Franch acc-cent, non?
Maybe Marvel will sober-up the character for his pending appearance in 2014′s Captain America: The Winter Soldier film, given that UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre has been cast to play him, but to me, Batroc will always be that goofy bearded guy bouncing around in purple tights …
5) Winter Soldier
And since we’re talking about pending Captain America films, it’s time to take a look at the Winter Soldier, who checks in at #5 on my list.
For decades, the death of Captain America’s wartime partner, Bucky Barnes, was one of the third rails of comic book storytelling. Other heroes might take on the identity of Bucky, or Bucky might seemingly come back from the dead (before being unmasked as an impostor or a robot or whatever), but the original version of Bucky was dead as Caesar, and permanently so.
At least, he was until Ed Brubaker came along.
Brubaker’s Winter Soldier arc stands out among the finest in Captain America history. In the best kind of revisionist storytelling, Brubaker reveals that Bucky wasn’t killed outright in the final days of World War II when he plunged into the English Channel from an exploding rocket, but that instead his body was recovered by Soviet agents, and that Bucky became a dreaded sleeper agent assassin during the Cold War — the Winter Soldier!
Though he would go on to become a hero commanding his own series (but not before his appearance in Winter Kills earned a spot in my list of Top Single Issue Stories), the Winter Soldier is initially a bad guy, a pawn in the Red Skull’s plan to destroy Captain America. As such, the Winter Soldier proves one of Captain America’s greatest foes, a murderously dangerous opponent who turns our hero’s heart against him. He’s a great character, and would rank higher on this list if he’d remained a villain. I’m curious to see how this character transitions to film in new summer’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier!
4) Arnim Zola
I’ve enthused about Arnim Zola in a recent Longbox Graveyard column, so I won’t go into great depth about him here. Jack Kirby’s last great contribution to the Captain America mythos is one of Cap’s weirdest foes, obsessed as he is with creating and manipulating life, and his freaky appearance is among the most bizarre in all of comics.
Like many of Cap’s great villains, this character lives on through the Marvel Captain America movie franchise, though in a substantially more conventional form. We can only hope actor Toby Jones will soon elect to transform himself into the Arnim Zola we all know and loathe …
3) Baron Zemo
For reasons too tedious to list (though Wikipedia is undaunted), Baron Zemo is actually two different bad guys … a Captain America foe introduced in the early days of The Avengers and Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos, and then that same character’s son, re-introduced in The Avengers decades later. To be honest, up until now I thought they were the same guy!
But maybe false memories are integral to this character. After all, he wasn’t created until 1964, but thanks to Marvel’s mania for continuity and its continual reinvention of history, Baron Zemo is responsible for one of the most heinous acts in Captain America history. No, it wasn’t that Baron Zemo was a Nazi who wore a purple bathrobe. It wasn’t even that he founded the Masters of Evil!
No … it was Baron Zemo who killed Bucky Barnes back in World War Two!
(Plus, his mask is glued to his face. Don’t ask).
Now I must note that the order of appearance of Baron Zemo and Arnim Zola created some controversy before this list we even published! In fact, this entire column was inspired by a particularly spirited exchange on my Twitter stream:
Ever the gentleman, John Gholson delivered with this illustration of … Arnim Zemo!
Thanks, John! And for more of John’s work, please visit his Gutters & Panels blog.
2) Red Skull
The Red Skull is more than just a top Captain America villain — he’s one of the premiere villains in the Marvel Universe. He first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 back in 1941, and he’s been Cap’s arch-nemesis ever since, battling our hero throughout World War II and returning from seeming death to bedevil Cap in the present era. He even wielded the Cosmic Cube before Thanos was a glimmer in his mother’s eye! The Red Skull co-headlined Super-Villain Team-Up for awhile, and he was memorably portrayed on the big screen by Hugo Weaving in 2011′s Captain America: The First Avenger.
As Captain America’s polar opposite, the Red Skull is clearly one of Cap’s greatest foes — a Fascist thug and murderous mastermind to oppose our freedom-loving hero. He’s also a badass, with no real superpowers — the Red Skull holds his own with fear gas and an endless string of minions that he holds in a grip of terror. Plus, the Red Skull brings along a whole host of lesser villains that might very well have made this list on their own, like Crossbones, Sin, Mother Night, and the enigmatic Sleepers.
With a resume like that, you’d expect the Red Skull to top this list!
Who could possibly be worse than the Red Skull?
1) Adolph Hitler!
That’s right … the only bad guy who could possibly be worse than the Red Skull is the Red Skull’s creator — Adolph Hitler!
I don’t mean to trivialize a real mass murderer by including him in a comic book top ten list, but Hitler is so interwoven into the Marvel Universe that he might as well be a supervillain at this point. Plus, if a couple of crazy kids named Kirby and Simon hadn’t decided to introduce a certain new red, white, and blue comic hero by having him sock Hitler on the chin, I probably wouldn’t be writing this list today.
Keep those colors flying, Cap!
What do you think of my top ten list of Captain America’s most fearsome foes? Did I snub anyone? Overrate someone? How do Cap’s villains rate against the greatest bad guys in comics history? Sound off in comments, below!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #98 Iron Fan
MORE LONGBOX GRAVEYARD TOP TEN LISTS
- Top Ten Instagram Superheroes
- Top Ten Manliest Superheroes
- Top Ten Longbox Graveyard Articles (Year One!)
- Superhero Music Top Ten
- Top Single Issue Stories
- Top Ten Marvel Comics Characters
- Top Ten DC Comics Characters
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part I)
- Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Part II)
- Top Ten One Hundreds
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- Pictures and details from the Captain America: Winter Soldier set (nerditis.com)
- Batroc the Leaper Possibly in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (comicvine.com)
Additional Longbox Graveyard Panel Galleries:
- Jack Kirby’s Gadgets of S.H.I.E.L.D. (And HYDRA, Too!)
- Steve Ditko’s Strange Faces (Doctor Strange)
- To Me, My Board! (Silver Surfer)
- Avengers Assemble! (Avengers)
- Thanos! (Avengers Mystery Villain)
- Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Faces (Spider-Man)
- Holy Hannah! (Silver Age Catch Phrase)
- Made It! (That Was Close!)
- Nick Fury By Steranko (1960s Super-Spy Coolness)
- Button Men (A Finger-Span From Destruction!)
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #95 Top Ten Spider-Man Battles (Pt. 2)
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