I had another appreciation column lined up but with the news this week, I just had to get this off my chest. Never, ever, have I felt so cheated and upset over a comic book as I did when I got to the last page of that issue of Captain America.
What? Hell, no, I’m not talking about that Nick Spencer thing that came out a couple of days ago. I’m a trades-only guy on Marvel books any more, though I imagine I’ll eventually get to it. Still kind of working my way through Brubaker and Remender.
No, I’m talking about Captain America #112, that came out in January of 1969. I was seven years old. That book goddamn traumatized me, and I can’t help but remember that as I read all the comics pundits freaking out this week over Spencer’s big twist– because that was nothing. THIS was bad. #112 took me years— seriously– to get over.
And why, exactly, did it freak me the hell out? Because it was my first-ever issue of Captain America, and– I couldn’t believe it– he was, apparently, DEAD.
Now, I was used to lying come-on bullshit on the COVERS. I was a DC kid, after all. That same month I’d gotten an issue of Superboy, and he was blind. Not a hoax, not an Imaginary Story, this one ‘really happened.’ But it was all over by the end of the issue. It was just a grumpy old guy that had slapped some sort of skintight microcomupter S-emblem over the real one on the chest while pretending to be a fisherman in distress.
This caused Superboy’s heat vision to flare out unexpectedly and so, to preserve the lives and safety of everyone in Smallville, he had to wear special lead shades that blocked the deadly rays and coincidentally served as a blindfold. Nowhere was the scene on the cover in the actual story. But we did get to see blind Superboy with Krypto as a seeing-eye dog. That was adequate for readers of the time; Robbins and Brown got us there, sort of, so we didn’t feel cheated.
And honestly, the Superboy comic was always kind of nuts. No other DC book was so fond of the Everything you Know Is Wrong/It’s All Over and No Turning Back school of storytelling. Hell, Clark quit or was forced to stop being Superboy three different times between #160 and #170; a typical ten-issue run. Each time in separate done-in-one stories, not an ongoing plot.
One of these days I’ll get to the column about the amazing hot mess of crazy that was the Frank Robbins/Bob Brown run on that title. But the larger point here is, as a seven-year-old regular reader of superhero adventures whose comic collection (well, really, it was more of a pile) was now well into double digits, I knew that the covers were a come-on, and the splash page often was too.
But the Captain America thing… it wasn’t on the cover. I’d bought it, thinking ALBUM meant, I dunno, something extra special. Which I guess it was. But it was because Cap was DEAD, and it kept going. This wasn’t DC where the twist was revealed eight pages in. Cap was really dead. Iron Man totally was carrying on like it was the real thing.
All the way to the end. Captain America was no more. This was the new status quo.
It’s impossible to put across how vividly I remember this. It’s one of my earliest comics-reading memories. I was sprawled on the rug reading while Mom and Dad sat sedately on the couch behind me watching television. We were at a hotel on the coast, I think Lincoln City, and it was too rainy to go to the beach so I’d been allowed a comic book when Dad made his beer run. I knew better than to swear in front of my parents a few feet away, but my eyes got bigger and bigger as I read and by the end of the story my little seven-year-old brain was vibrating with shock, betrayal, and a big ol’ helping of raging WHAT THE FUCK on endless repeat.
See, it wasn’t a cover come-on or a symbolic hype splash page like DC. The Marvels I’d seen always used the splash as panel one, in medias res. Also, I was seven, not the middle-aged connoisseur of pop culture writing these words today. So I was completely convinced of the con. This was… my God… THE LAST CAPTAIN AMERICA STORY.
Understand that this was, by every marker I knew from the fifteen or twenty comics I owned– mostly DC 80-page Giants– REAL. Not ‘imaginary,’ not ‘continued,’ nothing. Those of you that came to comics in the age of the internet, that started getting comics from a specialty retailer in the eighties… you have NO IDEA. The idea of “It’ll all be explained next issue” was not really out there in comics culture yet. Comics were, generally, not acquired in runs; the idea of coming back every month was not only not a thing, it rarely was possible in those days. Nobody was jaded.
I sure the hell wasn’t, not at age seven. I had no clue that the thing had been a hasty fill-in, the equivalent of a TV rerun or clip show, commissioned because Jim Steranko had apparently killed Cap the previous month and wasn’t around to explain it. In my head, my DC-trained collector hypothesis was that this Special Album Issue (Done in one, remember, not “to be continued”– I had learned to check for that) was some kind of flash-forward, that next issue and all the issues to follow would eventually lead to this. Cap dead in a river.
And since there was no comics shop, no pull list, no way to get the next issue, and I sure the hell wasn’t going to take any chances buying more Captain America after THAT experience anyway, that was my belief for at least the next seven or eight years. My next issue of Cap was six years later, when I scored #187 and #188 while on another vacation– Mount Hood, spring of 1975.
I was swinging back to Marvel in those days– not sure why, but I was a little older and I was just more interested in their stuff, I guess. Also I was a little more mobile in those days, often secretly bicycling out of my allowed range to a drugstore that carried comics. Though it wasn’t until the fall of that same year that I really got into any kind of regular buying habits.
It was at least another decade until I learned about the whole Steranko deadline kerfuffle and another decade after THAT before I got to read the rest of those issues. But there was at least fifteen years there where I assumed that the flash-forward theory I’d formed at seven was true; I’d always assumed it was Jack Kirby breaking the toys right before he left.
And you know what? I got over it. In the years since then, I got over Cap dying at least two other times. I got over putting a different guy in the suit. I got over the death of Sharon Carter. I got over all the different things that have been ‘done’ to Steve Rogers over the years. And even the ones that bugged the shit out of me– I HATED the idea of killing Sharon, seriously– eventually got walked back.
So, when I see the entire comics internet– and even respected SF authors that should know better– blogging and tweeting and carrying on that they are VERY UPSET over WHAT THAT NICK SPENCER DID, I just snort. Especially when they add that Kirby would never have done that to Cap’s loyal fans.
Screw that. Stan and Jack did something just as bad to me when I was seven. And it took years to get over it. Though I did eventually forgive them.
What Spencer, and Remender, and Brubaker, and Waid and Gruenwald and Englehart and everyone else did all the other times we thought something truly wrongheaded was the new normal? Pfft. They still have to beat what that eulogy issue did to mess with my head way back when. Nothing else has come close, except maybe the death of Gwen Stacy.
But I got over that one too. Guys, this is how ongoing adventure serials WORK. They’re TRYING to shake you up and get you invested. It’s what you do when you have long-running serial adventure characters. Hell, I did it myself in my story in this particular Holmes anthology, a tale of the first real fight Holmes and Watson had. And I did it gleefully.
So I guess what I’m saying is… Spencer? Your big new twist? BRING IT. Let’s see what you’ve got. It can’t possibly be as bad as what happened in 1969. And even if it is, I have a lot more of these under my belt now. I think I can manage. And so will Cap.
See you next week.
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