When Steve Englehart came on board as the new writer for Captain America in June, 1972, your humble blogger had been a regular reader of the series for about ten months — coming on board with issue #144 — after having been an off-and-on one ever since #105, way back in June, 1968. Originally drawn in by #144’s dramatic cover by John Romita (the effect of which was unquestionably enhanced by the Falcon’s sharp new costume design, also by Romita), I’d hung around for the quite enjoyable Hydra/Kingpin/Red Skull multi-parter that had followed, as delivered by writer Gary Friedrich and a cadre of artists including Gil Kane and Sal Buscema. And when that storyline wrapped up in issue #148, I’d stayed with the book — despite the fact that the subsequent yarns concocted by Friedrich’s replacement Gerry Conway weren’t all that compelling. I suppose that inertia may have been carrying me along by that point; that, and the fact that by mid-1972 I was buying the vast majority of Marvel Comics’ superheroic output. In the context of the Marvel Universe as a whole, Captain America felt like a key title, and I didn’t want to miss anything important.
But even at that level of “eh, why not?” enthusiasm, I was apparently in a growing minority of comics buyers. According to an interview Englehart gave the fanzine Alter Ego in 2011: “Captain America had a long history, but at the time it was a failing book. Nobody knew what to do with Captain America. It was in danger of being cancelled.”
Handed the scripting assignment for the title — his third regular writing gig for Marvel, following the “Beast” strip in Amazing Adventures and Defenders — Englehart received no specific directions for turning the book around from Marvel’s newly installed editor-in-chief, Roy Thomas:
I think, when Roy gave me those two books [Defenders and Captain America]—and this is a story I think I’ve told 5000 times now — he said, “If you can make these books sell… if you can bring them in on time every month and keep doing that, then that’s great, but if you can’t we’ll fire you and get somebody who can, because we don’t have time to edit.” That was the beginning of what I considered to be a wonderful environment. You were basically given those books and told, “Here you go. Jump into the deep end of the pool. See if you can swim.” You had a great deal of freedom… In retrospect, I didn’t notice it at the time, but I’m very grateful that Roy had the sensibility to realize that comics work better if the writers and the artists get to put into a story what they want to do.
But Thomas didn’t completely leave Englehart on his own — at least, not on Captain America.
The backstory for the star-spangled Avenger’s current exploits, as established by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby way back in Avengers #4, was that Captain America had been frozen in ice near the end of World War II in 1945, and not resuscitated until 1964. But being a big fan of old comics, as well as a major continuity maven, Thomas was well aware that the company now known as Marvel had published tales of the shield-slinger well past the end of the war; indeed, the original run of Captain America Comics had lasted until 1949, after which the character was briefly revived in 1953-54. So who’d been running around in the flag suit while Steve Rogers was on ice? Having conceived this question, Thomas tossed it to Englehart as a possible springboard for his first Cap story:
That whole storyline was Roy’s suggestion. When I got that book, he said, “Here’s an idea that you might want to run with.” It was a pretty good idea. He gave me a stack of those ’50s comics and made me come up with an explanation for it. Roy was trying to ease the way into writing Cap for a guy who was still fairly new to writing comics.
I said thank you very much and made up a story to explain the 1950s Cap and Bucky… You could have ignored the 1950s stories, but that wasn’t the Marvel way. We’d paid attention to the 1940s stories, and not recognizing the 1950s stories wouldn’t have been logical.
The explanation that Englehart came up with would provide the backbone for the writer’s first four issues of Captain America, beginning with issue #153 (Sep., 1972).* First, however, he and his artistic collaborator Sal Buscema (who would remain on the book for most of the remainder of Englehart’s nearly three-year run), joined by inker Jim Mooney, needed to finish up a plotline that had begun during Gary Friedrich’s tenure and continued through Gerry Conway’s, involving S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury’s being upset with Cap over the romantic overtures shown the latter by the Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. Of course, as we’re dealing with a Marvel comic here, the tension between the two men culminates in a bout of fisticuffs that dominates the first half of Englehart’s first issue; and so, by the time the characters are able to clear the air and patch everything up, we’re already eleven pages in to the twenty-page “”Captain America — Hero or Hoax?” — and Steve Rogers is more than ready for some much needed R&R with his one true love, Sharon Carter (aka S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13):
After seeing Steve and Sharon off on their Bahamas-bound flight, Sam Wilson (aka the Falcon) heads home to his Harlem neighborhood. The next morning, he’s just stepped out of his favorite breakfast place when he sees Leila, the militant activist who is simultaneously attracted to Sam and dismissive of him as an Uncle Tom. He calls “hey” to get her attention…
“Where’ve you been, baby? I’m talkin’ about — Captain America!”
Sam can’t believe his ears at first, but he quickly realizes that Leila’s dead serious. Still, he put Steve Rogers on a plane the day before, so what’s going on here? After a short return home to change clothes (and to pick up his other crime-fighting partner, the falcon Redwing), he heads back out to look for some answers…
Leery of letting “Cap” tag him again (“He’s the strongest foe I’ve ever faced!”), Falc is gratified to discover his foe has a weak midsection — and a glass jaw…
“This is all real!” And with that confident declaration, the first chapter of our story comes to an end — to be followed up on one month later.
Captain America #154 picks up right where #153 ends, as inker John Verpoorten joins Englehart and Buscema for “The Falcon Fights Alone!” That title fits this second chapter of our story like, well, a falconry glove — especially in its early pages, as Sam Wilson puts up a valiant fight against these strange doppelgängers of both Steve Rogers and his long-dead (okay, long-thought dead) original partner, Bucky Barnes. Inevitably, however, our hero finds himself overmatched, as “Bucky”, like “Cap”, is unnaturally strong — and ultimately, he succumbs to their blows, falling unconscious at their feet.
“Good work, li’l partner!” “Cap” congratulates “Bucky” as the two stand over the Falcon’s prone, senseless form. “Now we’ll make him tell us where that mug calling himself Captain America is hiding. Even if it means — torture!”
The two boys who’ve witnessed the savage beatdown of the Falcon, Chunky and Jody, race to the office of the latter’s uncle; unfortunately (at least in this instance), Jody’s uncle is one Sam Wilson — and he’s not answering his door, for obvious reasons. Wondering where to turn next, the boys espy Leila, who’s out for a walk with Rafe Michel — another militant activist, as well as Sam’s rival for Leila’s affections. “Rafe’s a honcho on this block, Chunky!” Jody tells his friend. “I bet he can help!”
But upon hearing that the Falcon is in trouble, Rafe is unmoved. “Who needs that boot-lickin’ jiver?”
Acquiescing to the will of his neighbors, Rafe agrees to pull together a group to attempt to rescue Falcon. Meanwhile, at Tyler’s Warehouse…
Soon afterwards, there’s a knock at the door. “Bucky” goes to see who it is, cracking the door open just enough to take a quick peek — and then…
“…but we got the numbers, man — and you can’t take us all forever!” Indeed, “Bucky”‘s superior strength is ultimately no more proof against overwhelming odds than his astonishment at this show of uppitiness from “the coloreds” — and he goes down.
At this point, the previously confident “Captain America” begins to become a bit anxious…
I’d love to tell you that I caught the clue spotted by Falc when I first read this comic back in July, 1972, considering how obvious it appears in retrospect… but I honestly can’t remember whether I did or not.
Once the Falcon gets his wind back, he asks his rescuers to spread the word that the man they just fought is not the true Captain America — and then he’s off again in pursuit of the impostor and his partner. It’s a search that ultimately proves fruitless, however, at which point Falc decides he needs to call Cap and let him know what’s going on. But when he phones the hotel in the Bahamas where he knows Steve and Sharon are staying, he learns that they’ve departed for a remote island called Mosca Cay, and can’t be contacted.
Realizing that he’ll have to fly down there himself to warn his partner, Falcon decides to let Cap’s teammates in the Avengers know about the situation, and to ask them to be on the lookout for the fake Captain America while he’s gone. He then heads over to Avengers Mansion, where, after showing his I.D. at the door to the team’s butler, Jarvis, he’s welcomed inside…
OK, so might issue #154’s cover be considered somewhat misleading, seeing as how the Avengers only appear on the story’s final two pages? Yeah, I think that’s fair — although I don’t recall being irked about it at the time I first read this comic, fifty years and one month ago. I tended to forgive that sort of thing when the story was really good — and this one met that criterion.
Another month’s passage brings us to August, 1972, and to the ostensible topic of this blog post, Captain America #155… though before we go any further, I encourage you to scroll back up to the top of the page to take another look at this issue’s highly memorable cover by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney.
All done? Then it’s on with our story:
We’ll pause at the credits box long enough to note that this issue brings us another change of inker, as Frank McLaughlin comes aboard, and… hmm, what’s this about “a special tip of the winged cowl to Johnny Romita“? Time will tell, I suppose…
As Steve races down the beach after the mysterious boy, his thoughts race as well: “I know it can’t be he — I know it! I’m over believing he’ll ever return — but as God is my witness, that looked like Bucky!”
A few moments later, “Steve” steps out of the palms and beckons to the waiting Sharon: “Hey, come here! Look what I found!”
As Englehart’s narration tells us, Sharon Carter is capable of outrunning almost any man — but this isn’t just any man. “This is a bundle of superhuman madness, spurred by his private devils… He is unstoppable –”
The Falcon has just enough time to apologize to Sharon for not arriving sooner before “Steve” is back on his feet, and the fight is on. Of course, being sexist as well as racist, the false Cap is supremely confident about the eventual outcome. “Listen, boy,” he tells Falc, “we took Captain America! We can take a darkie and a frail!”
We’ll pause here to note that in its original 1972 printing, most of the coloring distinction between the sunburned real Steve (and Sharon) and the non-sunburned fake Steve (and Bucky) was lost — or as Steve Englehart put it in his 2013 introduction to Marvel Masterworks — Captain America, Vol. 7, “someone at the coloring center up in Connecticut ‘fixed it’ for us…” The reprint/digital version we’ve used for this post has, obviously, fixed the “fix”.
To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not 100% sure that my fifteen-year-old self had known before this moment that there even was a “Captain America of the 1950’s!” Perhaps I’d come across a reprinted story or two, or seen a reference to those stories in a letters column. But even if I hadn’t, I’m pretty sure I picked up pretty quickly on what Englehart and co. were up to here — and if I still didn’t get it, what they had coming up just a few pages later would make it absolutely clear.**
In Germany, our still-unnamed Cap-stan*** made a deep dive into the archives of Nazi records. After poring over obscure documents for weeks, he was perusing “the 1941 files of a supposedly minor espionage officer” when he made a stunning discovery:
It’s not at all clear who the bespectacled, gray-haired government official who gives Cap-stan the go-ahead is supposed to be (if indeed he’s supposed to be a “real” person at all); for years I’d assumed that it was supposed to be President Harry S. Truman, although this gent doesn’t look all that much like him. But Truman left office in January, 1953 — and while that plays okay for the first part of our flashback, it doesn’t work at all for the later scenes. So, I dunno.
The next step for Cap-stan, who was determined that the American public should believe he was the original Captain America, was more research. Eventually, he was able to dig up our Cap’s real name, as well as information about what he’d looked and sounded like. From there, the would-be super-soldier had his own name legally changed to “Steven Rogers” — and then…
When you think about it, it’s pretty remarkable how Bucky Barnes lookalikes kept turning up in the Marvel Universe — there was this guy**** in the Fifties, then Rick Jones in the Sixties…
The editorial note above is spot-on, as we’re about to get a nice helping of panels straight from the first Captain America story published as part of his brief mid-’50s revival. Young Men #24’s “Back from the Dead!” was drawn by a then twenty-three-year-old John Romita (hence the acknowledgement on this issue’s opening page); its writer is uncredited, though Don Rico has been suggested as a likely candidate (both for this and the other fifteen ’50s Cap tales, all of which were drawn by Romita). As best as I can determine, with the exceptions of a pair of quotation marks dropped around a “we”, and some minor editing to a single narrative caption, not a word of this material’s original text has been changed for its presentation here.
As you can probably guess, in the original story there’s no suggestion that “Professor Steve Rogers” and “Bucky” are anybody other than the same Captain America and Bucky who fought the Nazis in the Big One.
At this point, Englehart and Buscema are required to drop a new page in between the fourth and fifth pages of the 1953 Young Men tale, because… well, you’ll see.
The montage in the first panel above effectively hits the highlights from the run of Captain America stories that appeared in Young Men (issues #24-28), Men’s Adventure (#27-28) and Captain America (#76-78) in 1953 and 1954. Everything from the last panel forward, however, is all Englehart and Buscema — and all new information.
Did the nameless anti-communist who released the ’50s Cap and Bucky back into the wild get busted later for his malfeasance? I expect he did, although I don’t believe we’re ever shown or told that for sure.
Before leaving the flashback sequence and returning to the main, “present day” (i.e., 1972) portion of our narrative, let’s take a moment to consider what we’ve just read — beginning with some commentary from Steve Englehart’s 2011 Alter Ego interview regarding how he saw the differences between the “real” Captain America and his “replacement”:
This guy, the 1950s Cap, was a reflection of what was going on in the 1950s. He wouldn’t have been a Roosevelt, New Deal liberal (for the times) type young man. The 1950s Captain America was older than Steve Rogers would have been in 1940, very anti-Communist, and I’m sure that the writers of those 1950s comics were pitching to that type of an audience. That’s what was out there. Twenty years later, an older, more seasoned Captain America of the 1970s was appalled by that stuff. Using those contrasts in men was an easy way to shape that story.
This is very useful for understanding the thinking behind Englehart’s framing of the 1950s Cap and Bucky as fanatical anti-communists/right-wing extremists/racists/sexists/bigots-in-general — a framing that I believe is entirely valid, in the context of the writer’s creative process. But it’s probably not all that useful as a commentary on the actual changes in America’s sociopolitical climate from the 1940s to the 1970s, especially as reflected in the nation’s comic books (not that I am saying that Englehart himself necessarily intended it as such).
Yes, the strident fervor of the anti-communism on view in the 1953-54 stories of “Captain America… Commie Smasher!” — fervor which sometimes seems to shade into overt racism, as in the panel shown at right, with its reference to Cap’s Communist enemies as “yellow scum” — is undeniable. (UPDATE, 8/15/22: As pointed out by reader Cornelius Featherjaw in his comment below, it’s possible [and, upon reflection, even likely], that “yellow” is being used here in the sense of “cowardly”, rather than as a racial epithet. Still, the latter interpretation is at least within the realm of possibility, especially given that the setting of the story the panel comes from [“Come to the Commies!” in Captain America Comics #76] is Southeast Asia.) But it’s not all that different from the fervor against the “Japanazis” that characterized the adventures of Cap and other superheroes during “the good war” — and it’s not like that conflict didn’t inspire the demonization and racial caricaturing of America’s enemies, especially the non-white ones. As early as Captain America Comics #5 (Aug., 1941) — a comic published a full seven months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor — our hero’s creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, were putting our hero up against Japanese foes described (and depicted) as “sinister-looking Orientals”, And by July, 1942, Simon and Kirby’s successors (including the artists who’ve been credited for the panel from Captain America Comics #18 shown at right: Al Avison, Syd Shores, and George Klein) were evidently comfortable with portraying “Paw, the mad Japanese genius” as literally inhuman, with pointed ears and fangs.
By comparison, the visual depiction of the “Red” Asian enemy in most of the Romita-illustrated ’50s Cap stories is quite restrained, if not completely benign. And more than one of the stories are at pains to point out that not all “yellow” people are “scum”. In Captain America #77 (Jul., 1954), we see Cap working closely with a policeman in New York’s Chinatown who nobly protects his community of “law-abiding” Chinese-Americans; while in CA #78 (Sep., 1954), ordinary Chinese people are depicted as being decent, “honest” folks who have the misfortune to be ruled by evil men. Sure, the attitudes of Cap and the other white Americans in these stories are rife with condescension and paternalism; nevertheless, I’d call their portrayal of Asian people an improvement over the monstrous looking Japanese villains seen in some Captain America stories of the 1940s.
And as we move forward from the Fifties into the Sixties, it can hardly be said that militant anti-communist themes disappear from the pages of Marvel’s comics. While Captain America himself would largely manage to stay out of the Vietnam War (though whether his non-involvement was for good or ill was a topic of lively debate in the letters pages), with the exceptions of two brief rescue missions — the first in Tales of Suspense #61 (Jan., 1965), the second in Captain America #125 (May, 1970) — his fellow Avenger Iron Man was a different matter entirely, as the armored hero’s origin, as well as many of his early adventures and adversaries, were steeped in “Red Menace” tropes. Yet another Avenger, the mighty Thor, fought communists in a couple of his early adventures as well; even as late as 1969, in Thor #168-170, the God of Thunder had to deal with an attack on New York City by the Thermal Man, a “humanoidal engine of destruction” devised by the Chinese military to invade the United States.and “bring America to its knees”. Only three years separated that Stan Lee-Jack Kirby story from CA #155’s “The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America”; and while that seemed like a long time to my fifteen-year-old self back in the summer of ’72 — and perhaps seemed like a long time to the then-twenty-five-year-old Steve Englehart, as well — it wasn’t really all that long at all.
Bearing all this history in mind, I think we’d be well-advised to maintain a distinction between “the Captain America of the 1950s” that appeared in comics published by Marvel in 1953 and 1954, and the one that was conceived of and written about by Englehart in 1972 — and not only because the latter suffers from chemically-induced “schizophrenic paranoia” (although that’s obviously the device by which the writer can justify how and why his “Fifties-Cap” and “Fifties-Bucky” are so much more extreme in both attitude and behavior than the originals ever were). While we’re at it, the same should probably hold true for the Cap of the 1940s and the Cap of the 1960s as well — by which I mean to say that the actual content of the comics of those eras, and what Englehart thought about that content, are two different things — though in terms of the inspiration it provided for the writer to tell his own stories, the latter may be considered just as “real”, in its own way.
And now, having said all that, we return at last to our narrative, where Fifties-Cap has just completed recounting his and Fifties-Bucky’s backstory…
OK, time for another historical note (but a much briefer one this time, I promise). I imagine that Englehart came across the lack-of-stripes-on-the-back bit while thumbing through the “stack of those ’50s comics” that Roy Thomas had given him. But while it’s true that Cap’s costume didn’t have such stripes in 1953-54 (see left for an example from Young Men #26), he didn’t always have them in the 1940s, either — as shown in the panel at right (drawn by Jack Kirby and Reed Crandall), which comes from Captain America Comics #2 (Apr., 1941). (Kirby seems to have altered that particular costume detail [in Cap’s first issue, he did have the stripes going all around his torso] at the same time that he upgraded Cap’s shield from the original triangular model to the round design we all know and love.) So while the Falcon is correct about the “real McCoy” Cap sporting stripes all the way ’round in the present day, in going with the blue-back look Fifties-Cap was also correct in following the example of his ’40s predecessor and idol — i.e., that same “real” Steve Rogers.
But let’s move on, shall we? After Fifties-Cap backhands Falc, he angrily stalks away, declaring “You’re against me, like all commie scum! Have your little laugh — but see if you’re still smiling when I kill you!” However, as soon as our three stalwart heroes are alone…
It was pretty thoughtful of the bad guys to bring Steve and Sharon’s suitcase along, don’t you think? Otherwise, they’d be stuck in their swimwear as we roll on into September, 1972, and the conclusion of our tale in Captain America #156 (as presented by the continuing team of Englehart, Buscema, and McLaughlin).
As “Two into One Won’t Go!” begins, Cap, Falc, and Agent 13 are preparing to surprise their erstwhile captors — but then Cap realizes that the aircraft they’re in is making its descent, and opts to wait until they’ve safely landed before resuming hostilities. Once the seaplane is resting on the surface of the ocean besides the city of Miami Beach (“The closest big city I could get to,” Fifties-Cap explains), however, the fight is on:
The false Cap and Bucky emerge onto the seaplane’s wing, with the true Cap right behind. The two Captains America then grapple over Fifties-Cap’s gun, while Fifties-Bucky struggles to find his balance…
Cap would prefer to pursue his would-be replacement and end this all right now — but his aid, as well as the Falcon’s and Sharon’s, is needed to help rescue the crew of the destroyed Coast Guard vessel; and so it’s sometime later that the trio are at last able to cross Biscayne Bay and head for the Torch of Friendship monument in downtown Miami for the final showdown…
For all Falc’s bravado, Fifties-Bucky is still stronger than he is, thanks to the super-soldier serum — and he’s able to repel the Falcon’s assault. Luckily, Sam Wilson isn’t alone…
Meanwhile, at the site of the Torch in Bayfront Park, Captain America asks the police to hold the curious crowds back while he proceeds on to what “could be the toughest battle of my life!”
Throughout this whole storyline, we’ve seen Fifties-Cap’s shield and costume — the emblems that identify him visually as Captain America — deteriorate ever further. It’s a very direct sort of symbolism that Englehart makes even more obvious by having the real Cap taunt the impostor over his “materials” that “are too cheap to fool anybody!”
In September, 1972, my fifteen-year-old self was hardly unfamiliar with the idea of “super-patriotism” — after all, a whole three years earlier I’d read Mad #129’s “Primer of Bigots, Extremists, and Other Loose Ends”, with its memorable couplet defining a Super-Patriot as “someone who loves his country/While hating 93% of the people in it”. Indeed, I’d probably even encountered similar characters — i.e., vicious bigots who claimed to represent the interests of “real” Americans — in Marvel comics stories before this one. But to see such ideas expressed in the familiarly heroic form of Captain America? That was unprecedented — and something that was only possible now for a reason that, on the face of it, might seem counterintuitive, if not outright contradictory.
That reason? Nothing more or less than the willingness of Steve Englehart to consider afresh what it might mean in the present day for Captain America to be not just another highly-skilled street-level fighter — albeit one who chose to dress up in the stars-and-stripes, rather than as a bat, devil, or some other such — but an actual, living symbol of America.
As Englehart would explain in the Marvel Masterworks intro I quoted from earlier, in the early 1970s everyone still seemed stuck on the idea that Captain America was eternally bound to the 1940s; he was “the Living Legend of World War II”, an avatar of patriotism designed for a time when the nation faced an existential threat. in the opinion of the hero’s new writer, however, this mindset had ultimately caused Steve Rogers to lose his way:
…No one writer had done it, or even intended to do it; it was, to my mind, simply that people had always looked at him as something from another era, and so not supposed to be as much ours as all the other Marvel heroes. Cap was an icon. Cap was from the 1940s. Cap was both alien and untouchable.
…With Cap, there was always a gap. He had lived in an era we didn’t know. Was there anything that could bridge that gap and connect his first era to his second? Well, he did have that flag on his chest…
But to go there, I’d have to say that the flag stood for something special, and that was not a popular position in the midst of the Vietnam War. I mean, I could just “say” it — “America is great, and I, Captain America, believe that” — but all I’d get was a character very few readers would like… That didn’t solve anything.
But y’know, that flag could also stand for the American ideals… the part of America that most Americans believe in. It wouldn’t then matter that the American reality had gone wrong. Whatever the people in the current America were doing, the spirit of America was something special, and it transcended the current time.
In fact, by transcending the era, it was just as valid in 1940, when Cap was created… American ideals could be the thread that ran through Cap’s complete history.
What if I wondered, Captain America stopped pretending he didn’t have a flag on his chest? Not by “saying” it, but by acting like someone who really believed it.
From the perspective of half a century later, Steve Englehart’s crucial insight may seem all too obvious. But I’m not sure it was, really. And if it does seem inevitable in hindsight, perhaps that’s simply because, in making it work, Englehart set a precedent that virtually everyone who’s successfully written Captain America since him has followed.
Of course, it was hardly a given that the author’s approach would make such an impact right out of the gate as it did with this four-part storyline — a storyline that was almost providentially dropped in his lap by an editor who probably didn’t have anything more serious in mind than ironing out a troublesome bit of Marvel Universe discontinuity. But as things worked out, Steve Englehart got to plant his thematic flag (if you’ll pardon the expression) with a story that set his conception of what “the spirit of America” was in bold relief by demonstrating what he thought it wasn’t. It’s a story that, in representing the conflict between two competing visions of America as a slugfest between two muscular men in red, white, and blue, had something meaningful to say to comics readers, as indeed it still does to this very day.
It was also a Captain America story that would be hard for Englehart to top, though he ultimately did so (even if it took a while)… but that, of course, is a discussion we’ll have to have in another post, at another time.
For a second 50th anniversary take on Captain America #153-156, please check out “Two Into One Won’t Go!” — a recent post by crustymud (who also frequently graces this venue with his comments) at his blog, The Crusty Curmudgeon’s Comic Classics.
*As it turned out, Englehart didn’t entirely answer Thomas’s question, since — as we’ll soon see — his solution only addressed the Captain America adventures published in the mid-’50s, leaving the mystery of who starred in all those Cap tales that had come out between 1945 and 1949 unresolved. Rather than deal with the issue at that time (see the “don’t have time to edit” comment quoted earlier), Thomas waited five years or so, then wrote his own story that revealed the existence of not just one, but two other Captains America who’d filled the role between Steve Rogers and “50s Cap”. This tale appeared in What If #4 (Aug., 1977), and despite the fact that that series generally dealt with alternate realities, this entry was (and still is, to the best of my knowledge) straight-up Earth-616 canon. (Yeah, it was confusing forty-five years ago, too.)
**I may not have been the only person in the vicinity for whom the existence of a 1950s-era Captain America was news, either. Was the real Steve Rogers aware before this moment that he’d had a stand-in (or three) in the years between his going into the ice and coming out of it? As we’ll soon see, it wasn’t exactly what you’d call a secret, and it sure seems like the kind of thing that would have come up sometime between 1964 and 1972. But Englehart’s script skates past this question — and is pretty nimble in doing so, if I’m going to be honest, since I don’t remember being at all bothered by this bit when I first read this story a half-century ago.
***In later years, it would be revealed that the Man Who Would Be Captain America was born William Burnside; but Englehart’s script never gives him a name other than “Steve Rogers”, and we’re going to stick with that.
****As with his mentor, it would be years later before “’50s Bucky” got a real name: Jack Monroe.