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Captain America: Sam Wilson #1

CAPTAIN AMERICA: SAM WILSON #1

Capsule Review

Wings-and-a-shield is … not a great look. But this book as a whole looks just great. Artist Daniel Acuña strikes a middle ground between comic book and cartoonist style, resulting in serviceable action and superior facial expressions for a score of characters who are all unique and full of personality. The colors — which I assume Acuña did himself — are also light, nuanced, and inviting. Writer Nick Spencer gives us a Sam Wilson who adheres to his social worker roots by sticking up for the little guy, adeptly pitting him against the racist Sons of the Serpent, who are here mobilized as a vigilante patrol on America’s southern border. This new Cap isn’t nearly so well-connected as the old — in this issue alone he gets thrown off the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, and has to fly commercial … in the middle seat no less! Loved seeing Misty Knight as part of Sam’s supporting cast, and any book that gets Breitbart.com into a lather can’t be all bad!

Approachability For New Readers

Not so great. There’s a little text slug on the first page telling us that Sam Wilson has become the new Captain America, but there’s quite a bit of unexamined continuity leading into this tale.

Read #2?

Yep!

Sales Rank

#31 October

Read more about Captain America at Longbox Graveyard

Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.

 

Captain America: Sam Wilson #1

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Captain America Covers Gallery

Visit my Captain America Covers Gallery on Pinterest.

 

Captain America #224

Read my columns about Captain AmericaThe Rap On Cap, American Dream, Farewell To The King, Top Ten Captain America Villains, and celebrate Sam Wilson as the NEW Captain America in The Coming of … the Falcon!

(View all Longbox Graveyard Pinterest Galleries HERE).

The Coming Of … The Falcon!

Longbox Graveyard #132

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!”

Captain America #117-119

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.

The Coming of the Falcon

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).

Hunting the Red Skull

The Exiles fight with fearsome weapons, like a really nasty scarf.

I kid you not.

Red Skull Fighting with a Scarf

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.

Red Skull as Captain America

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!)

Red Skull as Captain America 2

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!

Red Skull gets a cab ride

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.

Meet The Falcon

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!”)

Falcon doesn't want a costume

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!

Falcon wears the costume

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).

Guy wants the Falcon to undress

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.

Falcon sparring

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!

Redwing gets in the action

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.

Red Skull with the Cosmic Cube

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!

Red Skull with the Cosmic Cube 2

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.

Red Skull saying die

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.

Sigh.

Cap beat the Red Skull

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)

The Day They Walked Away: Captain America!

Longbox Graveyard #116

Super-Blog Team-Up #2 of 6!

Welcome to a new feature: Super-Blog Team-Up, where I and a select cohort of blogging pals all tackle a similar issue on the same day. For this inaugural feature, we all look at a time when a superhero decided to hang up his mask!

For my favorite superhero — Captain America — that particular moment came in issue #176, in the summer of 1974, marking a bold high point in author Steve Englehart’s long run on the book.

Captain America #176 cover by John Romita

That 1974 date is critical to putting Cap’s decision into context, and that context can best be summarized in one word: Watergate.

Goodbye, Dick! Watergate, 1974

The greatest political scandal in American history, the Watergate affair led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, and sent the United States into a tailspin of shame, despair, and self-examination. Even as a twelve-year-old, I felt the sting of national embarrassment as the Watergate scandal dragged on and on, dominating the news cycle and providing one final, fatal flashpoint in the national debate about Nixon’s controversial terms in office.

Nixon would flee the White House in August of 1974, but Captain America’s identity crisis — sparked in no small part by Tricky Dick’s malfeasance — would continue into 1975, concluding with issue #185. It is the length of Cap’s absence from his own book — as well as the reasons why he quit, how Cap handled his own hiatus, and how the experience changed the way we regard the character — that makes this particular resignation saga unique among the many times this trope has been examined in comics.

So pervasive was Watergate that the scandal is scarcely referenced in the comics — we don’t need a reminder for why Captain America might be feeling a crisis of conscience over the country he embodies. Instead, rather than Watergate, the roots of Cap’s fateful decision reside in the “Secret Empire” story from issues #169-176. Here, Cap found his public image smeared by the “Committee to Regain America’s Principles” (an allusion to the real-life Comittee To Re-Elect The President, which was saddled with the you-can’t-make-this-up quasi-acronym of CREEP). Cap’s quest to reclaim his good name brings him face-to-face with the leader of the Secret Empire, who was, in all but name … Richard Nixon!

Captain America witnesses Nixon's "suicide" -- issue #175,  by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

When “Nixon” kills himself, Cap decides he’s had enough. America isn’t a country he recognizes anymore — it has become a corrupt and ambiguous place unlike the nation he fought for during World War II. After a bit of soul-searching, Cap decides to give up his identity, provoking incredulity from his fellow heroes, including a “nosey” Iron Man who appeals to Cap’s sense of duty …

Iron Man offers advice, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema -- note the "nose" on Iron Man's mask!

… as well as more personal appeals from Cap’s partner, the Falcon, and Cap’s World War II-era love interest, Peggy Carter.

Falcon Confronts Captain America, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Captain America's friends react to Cap's resignation, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

But for Cap, what was once simple is now complex. In the wake of Watergate, and the Vietnam War, America is uncertain of her place in the world … and so is Captain America.

Captain America's identity crisis, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

And so, Cap makes an impossible declaration.

Captain America Must Die! by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

So far, so good. Cap is suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing “Nixon” top himself, uncorking all his long-simmering anxiety over representing an America that has come off the rails. Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a superhero hang it up, and even twelve-year-old me knew our hero would have to reverse his decision eventually.

But the following issue makes clear that this isn’t a crisis that will be resolved quickly. Steve Rogers is resolute in his decision to give up his Captain America identity, which is as much as his partner, Sam Wilson, can take. As the Falcon, Sam would become the book’s headline hero for the next several months …

Falcon & Captain America's partnership dissolves, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

… but the name on the masthead was still, “Captain America,” and to keep the character present in his own book, Englehart developed a clever subplot where substitute heroes — with no particular powers — sought to take up the uniform, with uniformly disastrous results!

Captain America impersonator, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Man of action that he is, Steve Rogers can’t help but be involved in fisticuffs, but coming to the Falcon’s aid in a street fight backfires when Sam’s deep-seated “sidekick” insecurities are laid bare.

The Falcon tells off Captain America, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

The only person in Steve’s life who seems content with his decision is Steve’s lady love, Sharon Carter. Having resigned her job as a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, Sharon seems only to want to play house with Steve. Frankly, this isn’t Sharon Carter’s finest moment — she spends most of this saga acting frivolous, or pouting when Steve begins to reconsider his decision (and in this her behavior is in marked contrast to how Steve Gerber was writing Sharon in the contemporaneous Marvel Two-In-One #4-5, where Sharon elbowed her way into a time travel adventure with Cap and the Thing, then put it to the Badoon alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy!).

Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter are happy Captain America resigned, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Despite this dissonance, Cap’s resignation is nicely handled in the rest of the Marvel line (and it helped that Englehart was also scripting The Avengers at the time). Cap’s decision sends ripples through the Marvel Universe, prompting Steve Rogers to come under attack from the obnoxious “Golden Archer” …

The Golden Archer, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

… who proves to be Hawkeye, hoping to convince Steve to more fully examine his decision.

The Golden Archer is Hawkeye! by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

It weirded me out that under his Golden Archer mask Hawkeye was wearing … another mask! But no matter, it’s the thought that counts, and in this as in many things, Hawkeye proves the right kind of crazy, inspiring Steve Rogers to take up an entirely new identity!

Captain America gets a bright idea -- Nomad! by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Now we’re really onto something — the story has taken an unexpected turn, and Englehart revels in it (“You thought this was just a rerun of a thousand old plots.”) From the end of Captain America we are now present at the birth of a new superhero — Nomad, the man without a country!

But first, there has to be a costume montage, with a not-so-subtle Batman reference …

Nomad costume montage, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

… and who knew that Steve Rogers suffered from Cape Envy?

Steve Rogers has "Cape Envy" by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

The Nomad, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Hmm. Not a great look, Steve. That plunging neckline is especially daring, but … sheesh.

No matter. Cap — I mean Nomad — is soon in action, and his new costume scarcely survives its shakedown cruise. Cap learns that capes are reserved for DC superheroes …

Nomad in action, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

… but Steve’s fashion crime isn’t severe enough to cost him his Avengers membership, as the team is eager to welcome him back, whatever his identity.

Nomad and the Avengers, by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

Alas, things go from bad to worse for Steve, as the Nomad soon bottoms out, battling against … the Gamecock? Oh, Steve, say it isn’t so!

Nomad vs. The Gamecock, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

Still, Steve seems to have had genuine affection for his alter-alter ego, and might have remained the Nomad indefinitely, but he would soon learn that Captain America wasn’t something he could just pack away in a box.

The public’s confusion over Cap’s decision would come to weigh heavily on Steve, who did himself no favors by renouncing his identity while Cap was still under a cloud from the Secret Empire’s smear campaign …

Nomad wrestles with his conscience, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

… and so powerful a symbol was Captain America that aspiring heroes could not leave it alone. First played for laughs, Englehart’s subplot about the substitute Captain Americas took an exceedingly grim turn when the last of Cap’s stand-ins was gruesomely murdered by the Red Skull!

Captain America crucified by Red Skull, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

The Red Skull’s reappearance sparks another identity crisis for Steve. At first he seems to cleave even more strongly to his Nomad identity, but in the span of a few panels, Steve has an epiphany about the power of symbols, as well as his own central role in the pinnacle of symbolism — the “American Dream.”

Nomad reconsiders his identity, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

And just like that, Steve realizes that Captain America isn’t a symbol of America as it had become, but instead a symbol of America as it should be.

Nomad makes his decision, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

And so Captain America was reborn!

Captain America reborn, by Steve Englehart & Frank Robbins

In short order, Cap would put paid to the Red Skull and restore his good name. With Captain America restored to the Marvel Universe, Steve Englehart would depart the book, but he made a mark on the character that few creators can equal. By positioning Captain America as the guardian of the American dream, Englehart simultaneously insulated the character from future political scandals, and elevated the character to mythic status. Captain America because Marvel’s elder statesman, more purely heroic than ever before, and occupying the role of the one superhero in the world that everyone could agree was truly … super.

In giving up his Captain America identity, Steve Rogers finally discovered what Captain America was all about. There would be dozens of different takes on the character in the years ahead (Jack Kirby’s idiosyncratic take on Cap in his 1970s return to Marvel would commence within a year), but Cap’s role as the voice of moral conscience would be core to the character, echoing down through the ages, lending additional authority to countless “Cap speeches” and possibly reaching it’s ultimate expression when Cap chose to side with the spirit of America over the letter of the law in Marvel’s 2006 “Civil War” event.

That will do it for my look at the day Captain America walked away, but our Super-Blog Team-Up continues over at Flodo’s Page, where Super-Blog Team-Up #3 (of 6) looks at the time Green Lantern told the Guardians of Oa to take their ring and shove it! And be sure to check out all the articles in our “Day They Walked Away” Super-Blog Team-Up series …

#1 Silver Age Senstations: The Thing
#2 LongBox Graveyard: Captain America
#3 Flodo’s Page: Green Lantern
#4 SuperHero Satellite: Superman
#5 Chasing Amazing: Spider-Man
#6 Fantastiverse: Hank Pym … COMING SOON!

And you can always see the latest Super-Blog Team-Up project on the team’s very own page.

Thanks for reading! Share your thoughts on Cap calling it quits — and on all our Super-Blog Team-Up efforts — in the comments section, below!

Read The Collection: Amazon

NEXT WEEK: #117 Top Ten Superhero Lairs!

The Coming of … The Falcon!

The Coming of … The Falcon!

My new Dollar Box column is now live over at StashMyComic.com. This month I break with tradition and review not one … not two … but three issues in one column with The Coming of the Falcon!

This is the Falcon’s origin story from Captain America #117-119. It features some great Gene Colan art, the Red Skull, the Cosmic Cube, the aforementioned Falcon, and one of the goofiest and most convoluted Silver Age Captain America stories you will ever read!

Save yourself the pain of sorting through the originals and get up-to-speed on all things Falcon over at the Dollar Box! Thanks, as always, to StashMyComics.com for hosting my column!

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