The Coming Of … The Falcon!
Welcome back to The Dollar Box, a where I look at comics with an original cover price of a dollar or less. This month I break format to review not one but three comics … and these aren’t exactly classic comics. But these are still fun comics — if for all the wrong reasons — with superior art, an A-list villain, and the first appearance of a mid-major Marvel character … who might not be so “mid” anymore, following news that Sam Wilson — the Falcon — is the new Captain America!
So without further apology, I present Captain America #117-119 — “The Coming of … The Falcon!”
There’s a whole goofy backstory to this particular tale, but have no fear, True Believer — it’s all summed up on the splash page to Captain America #117, which is nakedly expository even by Stan Lee standards.
OK, so the Red Skull has used the power of the Cosmic Cube to swap bodies with Captain America, and has teleported our hero to the “Isle of the Exiles,” which is inhabited by foes of the Red Skull, who will take a dim view of “Cap Skull” appearing in their midst. Got it? Good! Because if that goes down hard, break out the bourbon! There’s a lot more to swallow …
… starting with the Exiles, the aforementioned villains of this issue. Among Jack Kirby’s lesser creations, the Exiles were introduced in Tales of Suspense #41. They’re a group of would-be world conquerors and former allies of the Red Skull, and boy, do these guys like to carry a grudge. They have names, and powers after a fashion, but I won’t burden you with them. Suffice to say that their leader is a guy in a wheelchair who gets pushed around on a beach (which must really make everyone cranky).
The Exiles fight with fearsome weapons, like a really nasty scarf.
I kid you not.
The Red Skull is particularly amused to see his Cap-self waltz around with these tools, but then makes a mistake they covered on the first day of class in Supervillain 101, tuning out on Cap’s struggles before his opponent’s inevitable demise.
Yep, that’s right up there with leaving Batman alone in a death trap, or leaving the self-destruct lever to your secret base in the “up” position right next to the coat hook. I might charitably allow that the limitless power afforded by the Cosmic Cube has made the Red Skull careless, but it’s probably more accurate to say that writing this story in fifteen minutes or less made Stan Lee careless.
But maybe we can forgive the Red Skull his indulgence. This is a man with a plan!
Hitting the streets of Manhattan in the body of Captain America, the Skull laughs behind-hand at the unreserved affection afforded Captain America.
(Or maybe this is the way Cap really feels about his fans. Wouldn’t THAT make for a story!)
Yes, the Red Skull is on the loose in Captain America’s body, performing unspeakable acts of evil, like stiffing a cabbie on his fare!
Is there no bottom to the Red Skull’s villainy??
After checking into a hotel under Cap’s name, we leave the skull to run up a big room service tab — which I’m sure the scoundrel has no intention of paying — and return to Exile Island, where Cap/Skull has been rescued from scarf welts on his bum by the timely intercession of a mysterious falcon.
And this, my friends, is the first handshake between Steve Rogers and his soon-to-be-partner, Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon. You can be forgiven for not recognizing our heroes, given that Cap is in the body of the Red Skull, and that he’s removed his Red Skull mask and given himself a disguise with mud “just like he used to do in World War II.”
I swear to you, friends, I am not making this up.
Not missing a beat, Cap does what any brain-swapped superhero would do when meeting a big city brother and his pet bird on a remote island — he tells Sam that he needs to don a costume, call himself the Falcon, and fight crime! (“Don’t knock it, fella! It’s been known to work!”)
It all seems rather sudden, and Stan and Gene must have realized as much, because they’ve reached the end of the issue without actually introducing the character promised on the cover! To redress the oversight, the final panel of issue #117 is a kind of suit-up montage, giving us a look at the Falcon and warning us not to miss the next issue!
The month between issues does nothing to dissuade Cap from his crazy plan, and so confident is the body-swapped Sentinel of Liberty that Sam decides to go along with it.
“Stranger things have happened, Sam!”
(No, they haven’t).
If it’s training time, then there’s only one solution — montage! In the space of a page or two, Sam Wilson is … The Falcon!
Yes, it’s a cheesy origin, and the first African-American superhero in comics deserved better than meeting his date with destiny after answering a want ad for a falconer on a remote tropical island (which happens all the time, of course). In the scheme of things, though, maybe we should have been satisfied … Steve Englehart would later reveal that Sam was a mobbed-up pimp who had his memories manipulated by the Cosmic Cube. Later still, the Falcon would become a mutant (during those halcyon days when Marvel made everyone into mutants) before going back to … I dunno.
I really can’t tell you what the Falcon’s origin is supposed to be.
Let’s never speak of this again.
With his training montage complete, the Falcon and Cap/Skull win their return engagement with the still hopelessly-lame Exiles. Stan channels his Sgt. Fury days by busting out an “Ach Du Lieber!” so you know it is ON!
With issue #119, our fortunes improve — a little — as the Red Skull tires of this body-swapping nonsense. Resuming his true form, the Skull constructs a Bavarian stronghold through the power of the Cosmic Cube, then summons Cap/Skull and the Falcon to meet their final doom.
And the Skull is not messing around this time. Even Redwing — the Falcon’s “accursed bird” — isn’t safe from the Red Skull’s vengeance!
Thus begins a rather silly fight between the Skull, Falcon, and Cap, which sees the Red Skull restore Cap to his correct form (just because he wants to), before using the unlimited power of converting wishes-into-reality to trap poor Redwing in a birdcage.
Still, the addition of an A-list villain like the Red Skull can’t help but raise the rent of this wobbly tale.
Unfortunately, no sooner does the story start to groove along to fist city with our colorfully costumed characters than it is over, and right out of left field. A subplot running through these issues is finally resolved, as Modok — entirely off-stage, mind you — creates a MacGuffin that nullifies the Cosmic Cube, which he just happens to activate when the Skull was about to blast our heroes into atoms.
Sorry, Cap, it wasn’t “fate” that punched the Red Skull’s ticket, but rather the most heavy-handed of story conceits, a genuine deus ex machina. (Modok Ex Machina?) Either way, it’s an unsatisfying end to an uneven tale. Maybe Stan wrote himself into a corner and didn’t know how to conclude his story, or maybe he was just exhausted after three issues of body-swapping silliness. I know I’m exhausted just from reading it!
Which seems like as good a reason as any to bring this month’s Dollar Box to a close. I’ve probably been a little too hard on Captain America #117-119. Goofy as it is, the first appearance of the Falcon drives the price of #117 — despite that .15 cover price — up past the $20.00 mark, and the later two issues will set you back five or ten dollars, as well. After all, these issues feature fine Gene Colan art, and some good scenery-chewing from the Red Skull. You also get the Cosmic Cube and a cameo from Modok. It’s probably not that much sillier than the usual Silver Age story … but even so, I doubt even Ed Brubaker could make this tale seem reasonable in a modern context.
And maybe that’s OK. Maybe it’s kind of a wonderful thing that the Falcon traces his origin to answering an ad for a falconer wanted on a remote island inhabited by costumed Nazi war criminals, and that he received his superhero training from a body-swapped Captain America inhabiting the disguised body of an unmasked Red Skull.
Yeah, sure it is …
(This article originally appeared at Stash My Comics).
NEXT WEEK: #133 Longbox Soapbox (Summer 2014)
Posted on June 4, 2014, in The Dollar Box and tagged Captain America, Falcon, Gene Colan, Red Skull, Sam Wilson, Stan Lee. Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.
Wow, gotta get myself one of those vicious scarves!
Yeah, this story was plumb dumb. When the Red Skull first switched bodies with Cap, Cap for some reason didn’t think to take the Skull mask off right away, which I think should’ve been Step #1. I think even I woulda thought of that, and I’m no genius!
But noooo. He had to invade Avengers Mansion wearing that stupid mask, which practically got him killed.
At least Cap coulda got a little payback when he was inhabiting the Skull’s body by punching himself in the dick a few times. That would’ve given the Skull something to think about when they switched bodies back.
That nut punch notion is making lemonade out of lemons! (though I am mixing fruit metaphors, for sure).
The plot of this story is so disjointed that I can’t imagine Stan and Gene discussed it longer than it took to ride the elevator down to the lobby at the beginning of a holiday weekend. Just a really lazy effort on the story side.
Great review. I really did laugh out loud more than once courtesy of snappy writing.
The resilience of these characters comes out in how they transcend even the goofiest origins. I thought Falcon was great in Captain America 2 …
Colan’s Red Skull looks so palpably evil in the savage, distorted geometry of his face. I love that over-the-top Stan Lee dialogue about no longer being amused as the Skull undergoes a searing transformation. And that panel of Sam saying “You know it, man,” is awesome.
Trust you to find the good in everything, Mars!
Colan is good no matter what, and I think no one drew a better Red Skull.
This was the stage in the game where Stan Lee would basically give his artists something like a half-dozen sentence description of the plot over the phone and then leave it to them to pencil an entire issue from that. Gene Colan admitted on more than one occasion in interviews that when working in this manner, he would engage in quite a bit of improvisation, throw in these long action sequences and then suddenly realize that he only had two or three pages left to wrap up the story, so he’d cram as much as possible into them. It appears that Captain America #s 117to 119 were examples of this.
That said, damn, this has got to be one of the Red Skull’s most utterly unimaginative, petty uses of the Cosmic Cube. He has an artifact that is capable of altering the very fabric of reality, of making him into a literal god. And what does he do with it? After a promising start wherein he swaps bodies with Cap, the Skull then spends the next four issues casually waltzing around Manhattan acting smug while leaving it up to a gang of geriatric Fascists to finish off his arch enemy. Definitely not one of his more memorable schemes!
Yes … unfortunately this is one of the times where the “Marvel Method” gave us less than the sum-of-the-parts. The sudden end of that first issue does very much seem that it was rushed for space — thanks for that anecdote about Gene getting caught short in his page count, that makes perfect sense in this case.
I suppose the remarkable thing about Marvel in this era is not that this kind of story got into print, but that it didn’t happen a lot more often … and even for all its warts, it’s still an enjoyable superhero yarn. I’m sure both men considered it thoroughly disposable and would have fainted dead over if you suggested this story would be mined for a $700M USD motion picture. (And come to think of it, that’s the most unlikely aspect of all!)
It’s not like everyone could be Jack Kirby or pretend to perform half as well without him. Colan probably had to start with much less than a dozen words from Lee and these didn’t even make it up as a mockery of a plot. Talk about inspiration… At least, we got beautiful pictures and cinematic action which was what I always expected from Gene the Dean!
I recall reading once where Stan Lee said Gene Colan could make a hand gripping a doorknob seem the most exciting and tension-filled panel in a comic (and he could!). Not examined was the subtext of WHY that should have to be the case in the first place!
I loved such a scene from Tales of Suspense where Tony Stark is reaching for a door with a close up on the doorknob. I pretty sure Lee was talking about that one. Have to find the issue number now…
Groovy! Let me know if you find it (and a scan, or it didn’t happen!)
Got it: that’s Tales of Suspense #79, page 3!
Gene Colan drew a whole page in which Tony opens door… and I love it!
Incidentally… How do I upload a scan?
Or you can get a scan from Comixology… It’s one of the 3 sample pages for this issue.
Let me dig out a scan the next time I open up my Marvel digital sub … I sense a “Gene Colan Doorknob” post coming up!
Another contender is Daredevil #20 page 5 but I still stand for TOS #79 page 3!
Doing a little Google snooping I see several reference to Stan Lee’s “doorknob” comment re: Gene Colan’s art, but it seems there’s no consensus about which page he meant (and that there are several contenders) … that’s why I see a post in the offing!
Who needs Google when you have me?
TOS #79 page 3, I said… TOS, it is!
I am very curious as to what Cap majored in when he went to college.
He was an art student, to judge by later continuity, but that never really felt like a fit. I make him out a more practical type — business, finance, maybe engineering.
Also, using a scarf as a weapon worked for the 4th Doctor, so I reckon it is ok for a Captain America comic. These comics, not being exactly good other than Colan’s good work, are still very fun.
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