As I wrote about last time, it was getting a pair of Marvel comics that put me off of the brand for several years. One was an issue of THOR, and the other was this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA. I should mention, for context, that this is the final part of Steve Englehart’s long Watergate/Secret Empire/Nomad sequence, an absolute classic in the character’s history. But with that said, I hated this comic book, and didn’t quite understand it–and I don’t think it’s too difficult to see why.
For one thing, the artwork in the issue was done by the idiosyncratic Frank Robbins. He was a master illustrator, but modern super heroes were not his greatest forte. His figures tended to lurch awkwardly across the page, contorted into weird poses, and his style had a scratchy almost dirty look to it–his faces weren’t especially attractive. Robbins was a student of the Milton Caniff school of comics, and that simply wasn’t what I was looking for at the time.
For another thing, the set-up of the series at this point wasn’t incredibly well articulated, so I was terribly lost from the get-go. To make this worse, during this era I routinely skipped over reading the caption boxes–I found them dry and boring, and often like doing work. So I didn’t really get the idea that this Nomad guy was actually the real Captain America, and the guy we would see in a few pages was an untrained substitute.
So the story opens up with Nomad (who as I mentioned earlier, is actually Steve Rogers, the former Captain America) in battle with one of the most ludicrous Marvel villains ever conceived, Gamecock. This guy makes Captain Boomerang and the Top look like serious players. Nomad is on the hunt for the Falcon, who is missing, but he’s outmatched by Gamecock and his men, and it’s only the appearance of a bazooka-wielding mystery man that ends the skirmish, with Gamecock and his buys escaping over the rooftops.
The Falcon’s tough-talking girlfriend Leila doesn’t have any info to share with Nomad, so it’s back over the rooftops–where Nomad comes across protesters who have gathered in support of the recently-incarcerated Serpent Squad. Nomad drops down and tries to give them the true facts of how the Squad weren’t heroes at all, but the crowd isn’t biting, and it’s a full-on riot before you know it. Nice going, Cap!
Things get worse from there. Peggy Carter and Gabe Jones haven’t got a clue to give Nomad, and neither does Harlem crime boss Morgan (though he does admit to sending Gamecock out to kill the Falcon.) Nomad tries to find Luke Cage on the chance that the Hero for Hire will know something, but not only does he not locate Luke, but Nomad also spends several panels casting aspersions on the fact that he’s a hero for hire, rather than 100% altruistic. Additionally, there are bank runs taking place all across the city. When Nomad intercedes, he has a conversation with a citizen who has bought into the big lie that Captain America was corrupt. Poor, sad Nomad continues on his mission.
Nomad tries calling Professor X for help, but the Beast is similarly of no assistance. Finally, though, just as hop is beginning to look lost, Redwing, the Falcon’s pet bird, swoops down, and leads Nomad across the city, to where the dead body of Captain America is hung from a smokestack.
Now remember, when I was first reading this, I didn’t understand the characters and their relationships. So, for me, I thought that this was the actual Captain America who had been killed and humiliated. This despite what the pathetically trussed up Falcon reveals to Nomad–that the Red Skull, incensed that the person he was battling was merely a stand-in, slayed the substitute Cap Roscoe and hung him up as a warning.
From there, Nomad monologues for two pages about everything that he’s been through, that he doesn’t want to be Captain America any more, that he was a naive fool. It’s a pretty heady climax to this whole situation for Steve and Englehart–but to a seven year old kid with no real understanding of the issues involved, it was boring as hell.
Coming to the inevitably conclusion, Nomad doesn’t even bother to cut Roscoe down or see to his bodily remains. Instead, he dashes off across the city again, doffs his tattered Nomad costume and resumes his identity as Captain America. And I, as a young reader, was thoroughly dissatisfied. Despite all of the running around, nothing had happened, the story was continued into another issue again (which was vexing in those days) and the artwork was strange and unattractive. From this point on, I was very loud, especially to my parents, about the fact that “Marvel Comics suck”, trying to make certain that they would never again accidentally buy me the wrong brand of comic book. I was so obnoxious about it for so long, in fact, that when I did start reading the Marvel books again several years later, my Dad gave me regular crap for it. I can only imagine how he’d have reacted to the fact that I’ve now worked for Marvel for 27 years…