I bought this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA from my regular 7-11, though I’m not sure exactly why. I wasn’t at this point a regular reader of the title (though I would become one with this issue) and the one issue that I’d sampled previously ad been a reprint of a 1960s Human Torch story. But if I had to take a guess, it was probably the fact that the story was set during the WWII-era, as was INVADERS, a title I was reading avidly. And the fact that the story was based on the 1944 Captain America movie serial probably didn’t hurt things either.
I had never seen the Captain America movie serial at that point. I don’t even know whether I was aware of it upon reading this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA. But it was a real thing, and while the story took a few liberties about the specifics of it, there’s also an awful lot that they got right. This was down to the fact that the story was written by Don Glut, who was a true aficionado of the classic movie serials and who went so far as to stage and film his own serial-inspired short movies as a fan in the 1960s. Editor Roy Thomas brought him on board specifically to handle this tale thanks to his expertise and knowledge.
At this point in the series, Cap had realized that he somehow had forgotten about his past as Steve Rogers prior to becoming Captain America, and so he was on a quest to discover who he was–or who he had been. This journey took him to Newfoundland, where Bucky was killed and he was plunged into suspended animation. There, he ran afoul of an old foe from the war: General Lyle Dekker, who showed the star-spangled avenger his creation: a twelve-foot-tall android replica of Cap himself. And that’s where we come in this month.
Cap immediately flashes back to a particular time in 1944 when he and Bucky were dispatched to Democracy Studios (a stand-in for the actual Republic Studios who made the real Cap serial) by FDR to investigate sabotage. The Studio was in the process of making a Captain America movie serial in order to help boost Stateside morale, so Cap had a personal investment in getting to the bottom of things. On the lot, Cap and Bucky are almost run over by singing cowboy Sundown Dawson, who is loosely based on the 1950s character Tex Dawson, the Western Kid.
Cap and Bucky are introduced to Lyle Dekker, who is employed as the studio’s special effects man (his name is a reference to Howard and Theodore Lydecker, who were the special effects wizards at Republic Pictures responsible for most of that firm’s serial work.) as well as the director Whit Spencer and the actor playing Captain America himself, Glenn Reeper. As in the real 1944 serial, some liberties have been taken. Since nobody knows the real Cap’s true identity, they’ve decided to make him a police commissioner. They’ve also taken some liberties with his costume, crafting it all in blue and brown since the production is black and white, and eliminating Cap’s shield, his helmet wings and Bucky and giving him instead a gun. All of this mirrors the actual serial.
As Cap and Bucky watch the filming, a stunt involving a machine gun turns tragic when the gun is loaded with live ammunition–Cap and Bucky are able to save Reeper from being killed, but he’s still badly injured. But he asks Cap to take his place in order to see that the film is completed. Cap does so–so this story intimates that the Captain America that we saw on screen in that 1944 serial was the real one. With Cap in front of the camera, the rest of the shooting schedule goes smoothly, until they’re ready to finish up the concluding episode.
At this point, Lyle Dekker makes his move. He’s an agent of the Red Skull, tasked with shutting down the production and insuring that the Captain America serial never gets to theaters. Dekker has rigged the heat ray tat’s meant to threaten Cap’s leading lady into an actual working laser, but Cap is on the ball, and he able to block the beam with his shield, hastily tossed to him from off-screen by Bucky.
His plan exposed, Dekker grabs Bucky and races away, pursued by Cap on a hastily-commandeered motorcycle and Sundown Dawson. In a serial-style fight, Cap leaps onto the escaping truck, and the whole thing goes off the road and into the drink. Cap and Bucky rise to teh surface where Dawson can trow them a handy lariat line to help them climb out, but Dekker appears to have perished in the crash–there’s no sign of him.
But of course Dekker survived–anybody in a Marvel comic whose body plunges into the ocean and is not found is clearly going to be coming back! Silly Cap, you should know better! Anyway, back in the present, Dekker reveals that he’s been living in exile since the end of the War, but now he’s ready to make his move, with what he calls his Ameridroid! And he triggers blasters from the wall that succeed in zapping Cap into unconsciousness! On that note, our story is To Be Continued!
This issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA also happens to have this year’s Statement of Ownership on its letters page, which gives us an opportunity to get a sense as to how the title was performing in 1977. It indicates that CAP was selling 133,355 copies on a print run of 359, 962 which gives it an efficiency of just over 37%–a pretty bleak number. You can see just at a glance that somewhere over 200,000 copies of the book were being printed, shipped, stripped, returned and destroyed in order to move those 134,000 units–that’s a tremendous amount of waste, and why the developing Direct Market was the savior of the industry.