I know there must have been plenty of Marvel Comics fans who were dismayed when, in the summer of 1969, that year’s crop of giant-sized annuals arrived — and they were all 100% reprint material. And perhaps I was a little disappointed, myself, as I’d very much enjoyed the brand new double-length stories and fun bonus features in the previous year’s Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers annuals (not to mention the same year’s Fantastic Four Annual #6, or 1967’s Avengers Annual #1, both of which I’m pretty sure I’d read by this time, having bought or perhaps borrowed them from a friend).
On the other hand, since I’d only been regularly reading Marvel’s output since early ’68, everything that they were reprinting was new to me. And since by this time I also understood the historical significance of Avengers #4 (March, 1964), I was hardly going to turn up my nose at the opportunity to read Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s “Captain America Joins… the Avengers!” for the cost of a mere twenty-five cents. I mean, if there was one classic Marvel tale my twelve-year-old self was eager to read, this was the one. And so, if I had any negative feelings at all regarding the Assemblers’ third “King-Size Special!” being an all-reprint issue, I think I must have gotten over them pretty quickly.
Avengers Annual #3 was, nevertheless, something of an odd duck — a comic book that really could just as easily have been presented as Captain America Annual #1, for reasons that will later become evident. But for now, we’ll turn past the finely rendered (if rather minimalist) new cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia, pausing just long enough to ponder the oddity of the “Together Again! As You Wanted Them!” blurb’s lumping in the Sub-Mariner with his Avenging antagonists, and get right into the main event:
The opening splash page lays Stan Lee’s characteristically bombastic hype on very thick, indeed — though I suspect few would consider it to have been unjustified, in this particular case. But then, the page’s text copy goes even further than the usual Marvel magniloquence in attempting to establish a sense of historic occasion, with Lee’s caption describing how both he and Kirby had worked on “the original Captain America during the Golden Age of Comics”, and how with this story “the chronicle of comicdom comes full circle, reaching a new pinnacle of greatness!”
It’s not a factually inaccurate statement, of course; Lee’s first professional script — a two-page text filler of the sort comic books used to include solely to qualify for second-class postal rates — had been for the third issue of Captain America Comics, in 1941, and he’d gone on to write a number of comic books scripts for the Sentinel of Liberty in the years that followed. But the wording of the caption suggests that Lee’s experience with the character was, if not nearly equivalent with Kirby’s, at least broadly comparable — despite the fact that Kirby (who’d drawn the spot illustrations accompanying Lee’s CAC #3 text story, incidentally) was one of the creators of Captain America — a fact that’s conspicuously absent from the splash page’s celebratory captions (as is the name of Cap’s co-creator with Kirby, Joe Simon). In retrospect, I can’t blame Lee for yielding to the impulse to commemorate the significance of this major character’s return to him personally, as well as to his collaborator, but I wish he’d felt equally compelled here to give Kirby something closer to his due for Captain America’s existence, and thus his capability of being brought back, in the first place.
The story gets off to its proper start with the second page, and a recap of the closing scene of the preceding issue, Avengers #3 — a reminder of how important issue-to-issue continuity was to the Marvel brand, from its earliest days on:
This tale of course took place in the days before Captain America’s fellow Golden Age great had been rehabilitated sufficiently to once again hold down his own feature (in Tales to Astonish), and was being handled essentially as a super-villain, if an unusually complex and even sympathetic one.
We follow the sullen, brooding prince of Atlantis until his wanderings bring him to an ice floe in the North Sea, where he encounters “an isolated tribe of Eskimos” involved in an unusual religious ritual. I’d seen this classic sequence depicted by Lee and Kirby once before, as part of a single-issue recounting of Cap’s career in Captain America #112 (Apr., 1969) — but despite the latter’s perhaps more dramatic presentation, with its liberal utilization of large panels (including a full-page splash — see left), it was still a thrill to see it play out as originally chronicled:
If Jack Kirby’s art in this story had an especially dark and blocky look to my eyes in 1969, I probably attributed this to the fact that it was, after all, five years older than the Kirby stuff I was used to seeing, and thus reflected an earlier stage in the evolution of his style. I wouldn’t have had any reason to lay the responsibility for this look at the feet of his inker, since there was no such person credited on the story’s splash page. Despite the lack of credit, however, it’s widely acknowledged today that both the cover and interiors of Avengers #4 were inked by veteran artist George Roussos.
Of course, if Roussos had received a credit for his work on this story, it probably would hve been under the name of “George Bell” — the pseudonym he used for his Marvel work in the Sixties to stay out of trouble with his editors at DC Comics, who frowned on their freelancers “moonlighting” for other publishers — and I wouldn’t have been any the wiser, since I didn’t know the name George Bell from current comics. If, on the other hand, the artist’s real name had appeared in the story’s credits, my twelve-year old self might have recognized it as that of the inker of my two least-favorite issues of DC’s Justice League of America (#62 and #63, if you’re interested; no, I didn’t blog about hem) — and realized that the “dark and blocky” look of this Avengers story might not all be down to Jack Kirby. (Sorry, any George Roussos fans out there, but his style just ain’t my cuppa.)
The brief “fight” between Cap and the Avengers, though over in less than a page, nevertheless allows Lee and Kirby the opportunity to suggest just how formidable this hero — whom many if not most of their readers in 1964 would know next to nothing about — actually is.
The third panel of page 6, showing four different costumed figures (plus Thor’s hammer!) in simultaneous motion within a tightly confined space, is, I think, a minor masterpiece of clarity.
The tragic tale of Bucky Barnes’ fate was another piece of the story that I’d seen before, this time in Avengers #56, in which Cap and the Avengers of 1968 traveled back in time to witness the events firsthand (and, of course, ended up participating in them). Thanks to that story, I even knew that the mysterious Nazi villain in the first two panels of page 7 was none other than Baron Zemo. Still, there was something special about reading this original version — the stark, simple, first-hand account of a soldier, whose survivor’s guilt would drive his characterization and storylines for years to come. Indeed, this “Bucky guilt” (as Jim Steranko has called it) was such a central element in Cap’s psychological makeup for such a long time that it’s easy to forget that Lee and Kirby didn’t have to make Bucky’s death a part of his Silver Age revival — that Cap’s sidekick could have survived the war and returned home to a “normal life” (as indeed he did, in Marvel’s later “Ultimate” Universe continuity).
And speaking of creative decisions, another one made by the storytellers — to have Cap go into deep-freeze prior to the end of World War II — would soon raise continuity questions that Marvel would eventually feel compelled to address, due to the simple fact that the comic book company eventually to be known as Marvel had published Captain America stories well past the end of the war in 1945 — into the 1950’s, even.
On a more minor note, one might wonder how Cap knows that his and Bucky’s ill-fated final mission took place “more than twenty years ago”, when none of the Avengers have yet told him what year it is now; or how, on the next page, Cap is cognizant of having been frozen in ice for two decades, and even of having been worshiped by Inuits, when he was actually unconscious for all that time. Yes, one might well wonder… or, one might cut the creators of one of the Marvel Universe’s most important foundational tales some slack, and let those fifty-five-year-old missteps slide. Let’s go with the latter, OK?
As I recall, even as a young reader I had trouble buying the notion that not a single member of the press voices the suspicion that, hey, maybe these weird statue things are the Avengers somehow — or that after the news hounds and camera jockeys have all cleared off, and Captain America finally emerges from below decks to find himself “alone”, he doesn’t have the slightest clue that something may have gone wrong. Another misstep, I guess, but whattya gonna do.
The “man out of time” moments here, brief as they are, firmly set the direction for another aspect of how Lee, Kirby, and their successors will characterize Captain America going forward.
The panel depicting Cap admiring the United Nations headquarters building (constructed 1948-52), wondering at the meaning of a structure “with all the world’s flags arrayed around it”, is especially poignant.
Fifty years ago, in July, 1969, this scene depicting Captain America’s first encounter with Rick Jones was of great interest to my younger self. As I’ve written in previous posts, I’d first made Rick’s acquaintance in Captain America #110, the Stan Lee-Jim Steranko classic in which Rick finally (though briefly) became Cap’s partner — an idea first floated in this very scene — and I’d been dismayed by recent developments in both Captain America and Captain Marvel, as Rick, mistakenly believing himself to have been rejected as a partner by Cap (it was really the Red Skull in Cap’s body), decamped from Avengers Mansion and hit the road, ultimately becoming “Billy Batson” to the Kree soldier Captain Mar-Vell’s, um, “Captain Marvel”. Learning here for the first time that Rick didn’t just kind of resemble the late Bucky, but in fact looked (and even sounded) “like his twin brother”, or “Bucky’s double” — giving his partnership with Cap even more of a meant-to-be aspect — probably just made my sour attitude over those just-happened events even sourer.
Rick retrieves all or most of the photos snapped at the dock an hour or so ago — how, we’re not shown or told — and soon he and Cap are giving then the once-over. Of course, it’s Cap whose eagle-eye spots a vital clue:
Cap’s absolute certainty that a camera resembling a gun couldn’t have been developed in the two decades he’s been on ice isn’t really credible; and it’s not even necessary for the story, since Rick could have easily confirmed the device’s un-camera-ness.
Soon, Rick’s Teen Brigade cohorts are combing the city for dark-haired guys in hats and sunglasses, and feeding their leads back to Rick and Cap:
As they show Captain America handily taking down a whole gaggle of gunsels armed with nothing but his shield, Lee and Kirby offer 1964’s readers further evidence of this old-time, non-super-powered hero’s estimable prowess.
Wow, Cap’s not even fazed by meeting a space alien! I guess he must have battled at least a few foes that were more interesting than your standard-issue Axis soldiers, back in his day.
The space alien in question is a member of the race that would eventually be dubbed the D’bari — though they may be best known by the colloquial appellation “the Asparagus People”. Outside of Avengers #4, they’re probably best remembered for having been all but wiped out by the Dark Phoenix, when she destroyed their sun in X-Men #135 (July, 1980). (Fun factoid: the name of the D’bari castaway we meet here would, many years later, be revealed to be “Vuk”, which would also be the name given to the D’bari leader played by Jessica Chastain in the 2019 film Dark Phoenix — although the movie’s evil, shape-changing aliens have virtually nothing in common with their comic-book antecedents, and were presumably only given the names “D’bari” and “Vuk” as a nod to the original source material.)
“Sub-Mariner! I seem to remember that name from the dim past!” I imagine that at this point Lee and Kirby weren’t sure just how much of Cap’s and Namor’s Golden Age histories should be considered to have “really happened” in the modern Marvel Universe they were building, and so were purposefully keeping things rather ambiguous regarding the extent (or even the existence) of the two characters’ past relationship. (They may or may not have recalled that Cap and Subby had shared story space back in the old days only as members of the All-Winners Squad, whose stories weren’t published until after World War II ended — though, of course, later, retroactive continuity would reveal that they’d been teammates through most of the war itself, as members of the Invaders.)
And speaking of the Sub-Mariner — Namor has been monitoring events from his castle on the ocean floor via an “undersea scanner”, and is thus aware when the D’bari gentleman — let’s go ahead and just call him Vuk, OK? — frees the Avengers. Realizing his plan has failed, he resolves to take the fight directly to the Avengers once more.
Using a handheld TV monitor to help him pinpoint the sunken spacecraft’s exact location, Thor directs his hammer to emit powerful magnetic waves which soon dislodge the vessel from the seabed. Cool! Then, while Vuk descends into the deep to make the necessary repairs, the Avengers settle back to wait…
Iron Man manages to repel Namor with his “transistor-powered magnetic repulser” ray; but operating at full power, those dang transistors run out of juice within a panel or two, and Subby quickly has the Armored Avenger on the ropes:
As Namor leaps to the attack, Lee and Kirby turn their attention to the two heroes we haven’t seen since the Atlanteans’ initial assault on page 17 — well, to one of them, anyway:
Shooting back up to giant size, Hank Pym comes to the aid of Iron Man, who’s been beset by a group of Atlantean warriors. Once the duo subdues those guys, they head off to help Thor against the Sub-Mariner. Meanwhile, the Wasp is… um, still “dizzy and exhausted” from her exertions in the final panel of page 18, I guess (sigh).
Believing the explosion to be a massive undersea earthquake, Namor declares victory and orders his troops back to the depths, certain that the Avengers will be destroyed in the cataclysm — and somewhat regretful that such “worthy foes” will meet such an end, rather than (it’s implied) dying gloriously in battle at his and his warriors’ hands.
But, of course, he’s wrong — it’s not an earthquake, but rather Vuk’s spaceship, blasting off from the ocean floor. By the time the interstellar craft breaks the water’s surface, however, Subby and company have cleared the area.
And that’s that. Save for changing the word “next” (as in “next issue”) to “each” in the final caption, this re-presentation of “Captain America Joins… the Avengers!” signs off just as the original one did, back in Avengers #4. And why not?
I think that when I first read this story in 1969, it already felt a little dated to me — though not unpleasantly so — and it certainly shows its age today, with another half-century behind it. Nevertheless, I believe it still packs enough wonder, action, and heart to justify its status as a classic, and not only for historical reasons.
And now we’ll move on to the first of this annual’s three back-up features — not one of which is technically an Avengers tale. Thereby hangs the reason for my earlier suggestion that this comic could as easily have been published as Captain America Annual #1 as Avengers Annual #3, since all three back-ups are reprints of Cap solo stories from early in his Tales of Suspense run.
Assuming that Marvel wanted to put out an Avengers annual in 1969 rather than a Captain America one because, well, they’d already published two of the former — and that they’d also already decided that 1969’s annuals wold all be all-reprint — why did they choose to fill over half the book’s pages with non-Avengers material? It’s especially odd when one considers that Cap had formally resigned from active service from the team nearly two years ago (in issue #47); though he’d shown up a few times since then (most notably in the aforementioned #56 and its immediate follow-up, Avengers Annual #2), he hadn’t been a regular presence in the book in quite a while.
It’s pure speculation on my part, but I imagine the thinking could have gone like this: Marvel had already reprinted the first three issues of Avengers over the last several years (in Marvel Tales #2, Marvel Super-Heroes #1, and Marvel Super-Heroes #21, respectively). It was obviously logical to move on to #4 next; and that issue’s story, featuring the return of Captain America, was certainly enough of an event to anchor an annual. But what could they do with the remaining thirty pages? Reprinting another old Avengers story would still leave them with space left to fill, and it probably seemed too early to recycle pin-up feature pages from the Assemblers’ annuals of the previous two years. On the other hand, those “Captain America” stories in Tales of Suspense were just ten pages each; three of them would do the trick nicely. And if they picked three from the run of tales set in World War II (which had also featured Bucky), the package would pair thematically well with the preceding Avengers #4 story, which told how the war ended for both Cap and his partner. And then, if that trio of short stories also happened to feature Captain America’s greatest arch-foe, the Red skull — and if one of them happened to be the Red Skull’s own origin story — well, that would be perfect, wouldn’t it? Hey, it makes sense to me.
However the decision-making went, the package described above is, indeed, what Marvel ultimately went with. Thus, the remainder of Avengers Annual #3 is given over to a three-part storyline, originally published in Tales of Suspense #66 – 68 (1965), that pits Captain America and Bucky against the Red Skull. The story’s first chapter actually presents a tale within a tale, as Lee and Kirby (joined by Chic Stone on inks) offer readers “The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull” — an origin story that had in fact never been chronicled before, despite the Nazi villain’s having a provenance as old as Cap and Bucky themselves, all three having been introduced (and presumably created) by the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in Captain America Comics #1 (March, 1941).
At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve come in at the middle of a story already in progress — but that’s not actually the case. Although the “Red Skull” had appeared in the previous issue of Tales of Suspense, #65, that particular baddie had turned out to be someone only posing as the true Skull — who both meets Captain America for the first time, and makes his “modern” Marvel Comics debut, in this story.
ToS #65’s tale — itself a Lee-and-Kirby adaptation of a Simon-and-Kirby story from Captain America Comics #1 (though unfortunately not credited as such*) — had ended with the false Skull defeated, and Cap and Bucky at liberty. How the Sentinel of Liberty came to be in his present predicament is revealed to readers by the characters’ dialogue on the next page:
Throughout this ten-pager, the Skull’s narration regularly gets interrupted — either by Cap or by the Skull himself — so that the two can roughhouse for a bit. These scenes do little to nothing to advance the storyline (Cap never comes close to actually escaping), but they do allow Lee and Kirby to show their hero in action within its pages, thereby avoiding any later reader complaints that Captain America didn’t actually do anything in the “Captain America” strip that month.
One result of my doing the requisite research for this blog that I didn’t anticipate back when I started the project, in 2015, is that I occasionally discover that old comic-book stories I thought were still firmly in canon either aren’t any longer, or have been so extensively retconned as to be all but invalidated, at least in terms of their authors’ original intent. Today’s post provides another good example, as I didn’t realize prior to consulting an especially arcane reference source (cough, Wikipedia, cough) that a 2011 miniseries by Greg Pak (writer) and Mirko Colak (artist) called Red Skull: Incarnate had elaborated on the origin story first told in Tales of Suspense #66; and that, among other changes, the man who would one day be the Red Skull was revealed to not have been working as a bellboy in that hotel by happenstance — he had positioned himself there, for the sole purpose of meeting Adolf Hitler and ingratiating himself to him. He’d even manipulated his supposed best friend into attempting to assassinate Hitler, so that the future Skull could “save” the Nazi leader, killing his “friend” in the process.
Having stumbled upon this information, I’ve since gone back and read the story which is its source. Red Skull: Incarnate has a lot to recommend it (not the least of which are David Aja’s brilliant propaganda poster-inspired covers). Pak and Colak have done their homework on the rise of fascism in post-World War I Germany, and they skillfully weave actual historical events in with the fictional story of the Skull’s formative years in an absorbing, psychologically convincing narrative. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I still prefer Lee and Kirby’s simpler, more elemental version. For this reader, their depiction of this nameless, faceless bellboy’s chance encounter with Hitler has a resonance bordering on the mythic, which Pak and Colak’s account of a ruthless psychopath contriving to create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for himself just can’t match.
The three-panel sequence in which the bellboy and Hitler meet face-to-face for the first time is another minor masterpiece. As the silent young man slowly bows his head to the German dictator, the latter’s facial expressions and body language gradually become more agitated, signifying his growing dominance over this “cringing, trembling, subservient nobody”. Simultaneous with this visualization of the characters’ changing relationship, the text of Hitler’s dialogue details his thought process as he comes to the fateful decision to make the bellboy “a perfect Nazi” Together, pictures and words combine to tell the whole story in a way that neither could do on their own. For me, the power of this sequence is evidenced by the fact that, for the past fifty years, these panels have been the first images that come to my mind whenever I think about the Red Skull’s origin tale.
Along the same line: in my post last month about Captain America #118, I described my younger self’s confusion over the pains taken in that issue (and in the other installments of the multi-issue storyline of which it’s a part) not to show the Skull’s true face; e.g., when Cap, who’s been trapped in the Skull’s body by the power of the Cosmic Cube, finally takes off the villain’s mask, he immediately conceals the Skull’s true features (which we never see) with a disguise. Reading Avengers Annual #3, however, my twelve-year-old self finally understood the purpose of Stan Lee and his collaborators in keeping the Skull’s face, as well as his name, unknown. These narrative devices supported the theme of the Skull having originally been a “nobody”, a cipher; they helped to signify that his identity before he came under Hitler’s direct influence was completely irrelevant to what the Fuehrer then made of him. Later creators would, of course, reveal the Skull’s face as well as his name, Johann Schmidt; perhaps they had good creative reasons for doing so, but it’s hard not to feel that something was lost with those choices, along with whatever might have been gained.
Continuing his tale, the Skull relates to Captain America how he was trained and drilled as a conventional storm trooper, until Hitler, exasperated by his underling’s lack of imagination, took his new protégé‘s training into his own hands — beginning by providing the former bellboy with a new uniform, as well as a unique mask:
Since we don’t actually see the buttons being blasted off the unfortunate instructor’s jacket, it seems a pretty good bet that that wasn’t what Kirby intended to draw — that Kirby in fact meant to have the Skull kill the guy — and that Lee, for whatever reason, softened the incident through the dialogue he wrote for Hitler at the scripting stage.
After another interlude of inconsequential tussling with the still-bound Captain America, the Skull moves on to the final segment of his narrative, as he describes his exploits during the early days of the war:
As Cap sinks helplessly to the floor, unconscious, we realize that all this while that the Skull’s been telling our hero his life story, he’s been biding his time, waiting for the potion he’d had secretly administered to take effect:
This sequence of Cap saluting the Third Reich got referenced and shared quite a bit a couple of years ago, when Marvel was in the middle of the “Secret Empire” crossover event, as a way of demonstrating that the spectacle of Captain America declaring his loyalty to Hydra (or the equivalent) wasn’t exactly new. The point was valid, though of course there was considerable difference in how the idea was executed on these two occasions.
The next chapter of the storyline, reprinted from Tales of Suspense #67, saw Chic Stone replaced on inks by Frank Giacoia (using the pseudonym of “Frank Ray”); Giacoia would ink the third and final chapter as well.
While the Skull and his lackeys continue to put the mind-controlled Cap through his paces, the story checks in with young Bucky Barnes — who, with other prisoners, has just been lined up in front of a firing squad. Gulp!
Smart kid, that Bucky! As the prisoners’ uprising gets into full swing, Bucky begins searching for his partner. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Berlin, Adolf Hitler has just announced that he’ll entertain no visitors today. “I must be alone! I must think! I must plan!”
“How could you do did to your lovink Fuehrer??” With this scene, Lee and Kirby’s characterization of Hitler veers into satirical territory, joining a tradition of resistance through ridicule going back at least to Charlie Chaplin’s Adenoid Hynkel.
Bucky follows the German soldiers to the building where the forthcoming operation is being staged. From hiding, he ambushes a lone soldier, and then surreptitiously takes his place:
Before the group can reach the study, Bucky lashes out against his “comrades”. He calls to Cap, trying to bring his mentor back to his senses, but Cap still shows no sign of recognizing him. Then, while Bucky battles on, a small group of the commandos breaks away with Cap, and proceeds on to the Allied general’s study:
Yikes! Thankfully, my twelve-year-old self didn’t have to wait a month for the resolution to this cliffhanger, unlike the readers of its original presentation in Tales of Suspense #68; nope, I just had to turn the page:
The “security boys” then arrive, just in time for the mopping up; and Cap and Bucky receive the thanks of a grateful Supreme Allied Commander (who’s never named, though the likeliest historical candidate appears to be Dwight D. Eisenhower):
At this point, the storyline of the Red Skull’s plot to use Captain America against the Allied forces essentially ends, and a new episode begins — for while the planned attack on “Project Vanish” is an initiative of the Red Skull, we don’t actually see the villain again in this ten-pager.
This time, the Skull’s plot involves his planting a covert operative among German POWs being held at a base in northern England. And wouldn’t you know it, when this operative is ready to put the plan into action, the two American grunts who’re assigned to his guard detail just happen to be — Private Steve Rogers and “company mascot” Bucky Barnes! What are the odds, I ask you?
Once the gas dissipates, Steve and Bucky pursue the escaped prisoner into the surrounding woods. There, the trail leads our heroes to a mysterious, solitary house:
Yeah, I think a matter-disintegration ray would be a pretty valuable weapon, for either the Allies or the Axis. I wonder why there’s nothing about it in any of the WWII history books?
Taking cover in the woods, Steve quickly changes into Captain America and goes into action against the Nazi agent, while Bucky goes (reluctantly) for reinforcements:
A tank shell lands near the Sentinel of Liberty, knocking him off his feet — and also temporarily numbing his legs, so that he’s unable to prevent the spy from taking a shot at one of the American armored vehicles:
“Don’t set it to full intensity!” And please, don’t fling me in that brier patch!
“They’ll never work on it again!” I guess that unknown soldier was right on that score, because, to the best of my knowledge, the United States military has to this very day never deployed a matter-disintegration ray weapon — not even in the Marvel Universe.
“…today there is no Steve Rogers!” It’s a curiously downbeat, though of course accurate statement to include in the new closing caption that wraps up both this reprinting of “The Sentinel and the Spy” and the larger overall package, Avengers Annual #3, itself. Whoever wrote it appears to have had Captain America #113, in which Cap effectively “killed off” his Steve Rogers identity, very much on his mind; if the caption’s author was Stan Lee, that would be understandable, as that particular plot development appears to have been the brainchild of Lee’s then-collaborator Jim Steranko, and Lee himself seems not to have quite figured out where to go with it yet (at least, that’s my impression).
As for the reference to Captain America being the “spearhead of the mighty Avengers!!” — well, that’s a little odd, too, since, as we noted earlier in this post, Cap hadn’t been a regular member of the team for almost two years, let alone its “spearhead”. But then, Lee — or Roy Thomas, or whoever else wrote that caption copy — was almost certainly aware that in the very next issue of Avengers, #69, the Living Legend of World War II would in fact… ah, but that’s for another post, I think, on another day. See you next month, alright?
*In the mid-Sixties, Marvel went to some lengths never to mention the name of Joe Simon — neither as the co-creator of Captain America, nor even as a freelance writer — going so far as to alter the original artwork on reprints to remove his (and Kirby’s) credit, as in the reprint from Captain America Comics #7 (Oct., 1941) shown below, in both its original version and re-presentation in Fantasy Masterpieces #6 (Dec., 1966):
As detailed in Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, John Morrow’s Kirby & Lee: Stuf’ Said!, and elsewhere, these moves were made in anticipation of Simon filing suit for the legal rights to Captain America when the initial 28-year copyright term on the character’s first appearance ran out in 1969. Simon would in fact receive a settlement late that year, though only after two years of discovery, during which time Kirby filed a deposition in favor of Marvel’s claim of ownership.
Alan, I can certainly identify with how much of a thrill it must have been for you to read this annual in 1969. I was a HUGE fan of Captain America when I was a kid & teen in the 1980s and 90s. There were basically no trade paperbacks at that time, so reading current issues of Cap’s series, I was always seeing tantalizing reference to his time serving during World War II, and how he was frozen in suspended animation in a iceberg for decades, and how the Avengers rescued him several years before. In 1992 Cap #400 came out, and it contained a reprint of Avengers #4. I was really thrilled to be able to read it. Several goofy moments aside (those reporters really look foolish not to realize the Avengers have actually been turned into statues) it was a fun story, and I’m glad I got to read it.
Then a year or two later I found a copy of the Marvel Masterworks volume that reprinted the Cap stories from Tales of Suspense #59-81, and I forked over what was the then-extravagant price of thirty five bucks for it. (Hey, when you’re in high school you usually don’t have too much money!) Again it was great to be able to read those classic Cap solo stories from the mid 1960s by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and friends.
By this time Kirby had sadly passed away, and I never did get to meet Stan Lee, but I did get that Masterworks volume autographed by Dick Ayers, John Romita, Joe Sinnott and George Tuska, which was a huge thrill.
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This Cap-centric annual is even more strange because, as you’ve pointed out in several other Avengers posts, Stan Lee did not want Cap featured in the Avengers. Granted that was for continuity concerns with Cap’s own mag, but highlighting his exploits under the Avengers’ title, raising fans’ expectations that he was a regular member of the team is just odd.
I don’t think that it’s odd that Cap says that he dimly remembered the Sub Mariner. Even if Cap and Subby never met during WWII (before Thomas retconned through the Invaders), Cap certainly would have heard of Namor because in the early 40s Namor had attacked New York City on a few occasions, mixing it up with the Human Torch. Those events would have made headlines that Cap would likely have seen even if he wasn’t living in New York. In fact, it’s much more odd for Namor not to have recognized Captain America because surely Namor would have heard and seen pictures of Cap even had they not met during the war. My attempt at a No-Prize here would be to suggest that this was still close to when Namor was cured of his amnesia in FF#4 and he still hadn’t recovered his full memory yet.
Although this story goes a few pages beyond the 20 page standard for 1969, it certainly is one of the best “one and done” stories ever made given everything that happens in it. I consider the whole bit about how much Rick reminds Cap of Bucky and wanting Rick to be his partner at this point to be a function of Cap’s just waking up feeling guilty and seeing and thinking what he wants to see and think at the moment (sorry, I know how much you liked the Cap/Rick team-up).
What I REALLY hated about this book was when Namor threatened to kill Rick if the Avengers moved towards him. This reminded me of what Narcran did with Aquagirl in “The Search for Mera” series you blogged about. Namor would never avoid battle by threatening to kill a harmless boy. Where is the regalness, the honor, the dignity that Namor was always known for?
The patriarchical culture REALLY rears its ugly head on the middle of page 23. First, the Wasp explains her absence by saying that she was doing what any woman would do during a crisis, powdering her nose. In the next panel, the Wasp talks about writing in her diary. Finally, in the panel after that, when Captain America implies that he will accept an offer to join the Avengers, Thor says “spoken with honor and dignity like a man!” Of course, Thor would probably always say that as part of his character, although I would hope that Sif would then put him in his place. Finally, it is odd that Iron Man (or even the other Avengers) would be so anxious to offer Cap membership in the Avengers a couple of panels after Iron Man chides Cap for not getting involved in the fighting until Rick was endangered.
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After rereading my comments, I should add that I certainly realize that the story I’m writing about was a six year old reprint. Some of my comments might make it seem like I don’t.
Stuart, for what it’s worth, I didn’t get that idea from your comments. I’m happy to publish your clarification, though! 🙂
Avengers #4 – page 5 panel 2 … Cap’s face looks like it came straight out of a Golden Age book, doesn’t it?
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