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Can Steve Rogers triumph over the combined motorized might of Hell’s Satan’s Angels — and his own demons? – Captain America #128

October 14, 2013

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Marvel’s resident man out of time himself, Captain America, struggled for a long while to find his way in the strange world he woke up in — the world he never made, as it were. Though thawing out in the new millennium with its internet and smartphones would be tough in a science-fictionish way for Steve Rogers, the 1960s milieu he worked away around in after the Avengers depopsicled him was even more bizarre, as hippies and their counterculture tried to tear down the stiff society that the old-timey Captain called home. We all empathize with him and his plight, even if we can’t fully comprehend his Rip Van Winkle/Awakenings tribulations.

His internal struggle is never more on display than it is in this issue. And, twist of twists, in the end he finds himself battling to protect the very longhairs that think he and his upright world are so totally Squaresville.  

Written by Stan Lee, with spectacular artwork from the always pure Gene Colan and ever-able Dick Ayes, the tale starts with Rogers wandering the streets of New York, his head down, his hands jammed in his pockets, wondering if there’s a place for Captain America in the 1960s — even in the red, white and blue nation that gave him his nom de guerre. Though the Lee wordplay is as always a bit forced (if enjoyable in its own imitable way), the Colan/Ayers artwork is at its peak in these early, shadowy pages, bringing out the dark inner turmoil that’s eating away and Steve. For instance — and revel in the senses-shattering cameos by W.C. Fields and Clark Gable:

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Gable looks great under Colan’s ministrations. Fields? It seems doubtful that he’d look great under anyones.

The poster that the youngsters are gawping at and mocking is, much to Steve’s horror, one of Captain America. This rocket-sleds him deeper into his noirish depression (you half expect a Saigon, I can’t believe I’m still in Saigon), and when he gets back to his apartment he can’t get out of his Captain America duds (worn, as usual and improbably, under his street clothes) fast enough — please note the dialogue:

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One of two things is going here with the words coming out of Rogers’ mouth. Either he’s trying way, way too hard to approximate the lingo of modern 1960s America, or Lee is. I’m betting on the latter, and it sort of undermines the whole angle of a man who doesn’t belong. Even more than the exclamation marks.

Anyway, he picks himself up to go on a quest to find himself. First up he buys a motorcycle, and this triggers a downer flashback for him(what doesn’t at this point?), one that Lee had to dance and finagle around to pre-empt all the No-Prize submissions:

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Motorcycle purchased and vision quest barely begun, Rogers runs into a cop who doesn’t take kindly to bikers, gets locked up, and when a local gang hears about it, they decide to bust him out:

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Yes, these are the Satan’s “Don’t Call Us Hell’s” Angels promised by the cover. (Really, shouldn’t they be Mephisto’s Angels?) They duly tear down the wall of the jail and set Rogers free, but injure a policeman while making their getaway. Now it’s decision time for Rogers: does he stand idly by while the Angels wreak their brand of Wild Ones mayhem on law-abiding citizens? Does he don the garb again, anachronism mockery be damned?

The decision is made all the more urgent by the Angels riding off to attack a Woodstickish music festival, which features hippie musicians, some of whom were last seen karate chopping the Flash. You can see the Angels approaching in the distance in the panel below, and I’ll be honest — I really don’t know who to root for here:

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What happens? Captain America comes to the defense of young hipsters, the very people who would laugh and sneer at his folksy, upright ways. What a guy, you know? Colan’s fluid style is uniquely suited to Captain America’s shield-sling brand of combat, as seen in the sequence below:

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SPLANG! indeed.

The story ends with a moral lesson, a short lecture from Cap to the Angels about the error of their ways, and maybe, just maybe, he’s found a little more comfort in his thawed out skin. And we’re left with a great story, mainly thanks to the spectacular art from Colan and Ayers. Both are more remembered for their work on other Marvel titles — The Tomb of Dracula and Sgt. Fury, respectively — but what they did with Captain America’s solo adventures is as pristine as anything else they turned out in the House of Ideas heyday. The deep shadows in this issue would even look good in the ghastly black and white Essentials reprints (this issue can be found in Essential Captain America #3). Theirs wasn’t the definitive Steve Rogers, but he rarely looked better, even when Jack Kirby had him vaulting over cars in a New York traffic jam. And even when he was down in the dumps.

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