I bought this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA on my regular weekly trip to the 7-11 on New Comics Thursday, as I had the previous two issues. As we’ll see, this was a bit of a patchwork issue, the result of pages not being completed in time for the prior one. Marvel was having shipping difficulties all throughout the line, and it wasn’t any great surprise when an unannounced, concealed reprint would show up in a book, or there’d be some unforeseen back-up strip inserted. It wasn’t until Jim Shooter became Editor In Chief in a few months and overhauled Marvel’s entire editorial structure, bringing in line editors to handle the massive workload, that this problem ceased (at least in the finished product–there were always scheduling difficulties, and always will be.)
So last issue’s story came to an abrupt and artificial halt when the final batch of pages weren’t completed in time. Here, those missing pages make up the first third of the issue, more or less. Sal Buscema has been called upon to whip up a new splash page for this opening, but if you ignored that, you could move smoothly from the last page of #220 right into the second page of this story, as was originally intended. As you’ll recall, Lyle Dekker, the Nazi agent who had once tried to put a stop to the 1944 CAPTAIN AMERICA movie serial, had projected his mind into a colossal twelve-foot-tall android made in Cap’s image–the Ameridroid.
Cap is able to escape from the chair he’s been strapped to, and he engages the Ameridroid in combat out on the streets of Newfoundland. They have a brief fight, but Cap is no match for an even larger, more powerful version of himself, and he is vanquished by the Ameridroid. This splash page was intended to be the final page of the previous issue–but now, its quasi-cliffhanger would need to be resolved straight away.
One other change happens at this point–new writer Steve Gerber begins to plot the series, having taken it over. You can tell that he is profoundly disinterested in the storyline that he’s been left to clean up, as he writes an end to it in just a few pages, the middle third of the issue, so that he can wipe the decks clean and get on to stories he wanted to tell next issue. So it is that Dekker suddenly realizes that he’s turned himself into an oversized freak, a cartoon version of the Aryan dream he’s carried around with him all these years, and he suffers an existential crisis and breakdown. This was Gerber’s meat, and while it’s absurd beyond all reason, he almost, almost succeeds in pulling it off. If nothing else, Dekker is suddenly a lot more human and fully-realized than he had been, as an individual.
When Cap recovers and chases the Ameridroid down, he finds Dekker a broken man without any will to fight left in him. The two reconcile, and the Ameridroid wanders off to seek penance somewhere. This being Marvel, he would of course be brought back again later on–no matter how bad or ridiculous a story was, there was always some later author who wanted to try to make something out of it. And on occasion, they succeeded. In any event, Cap goes home, declares that the past four issues have all been a waste of time and a diversion, and dedicates himself to figuring out who Steve Rogers is again next issue. And that’s the end of the middle section.
Then comes a back-up story, one of several short pieces commissioned from writer Scott Edelman that could be dropped into a title when something went wrong, or could be used as filler if page counts ran short. I always had a certain fondness for this little 5-pager–it might have been the appealing early artwork from Steve Leialoha, or the fact that it was for no particular reason set during the early days of the Avengers. And it opens with Rick Jones having an origin, slipping and falling into some equipment in Avengers Mansion that doesn’t kill him, but instead grants him super-powers.
Rick emerges from the accident clad in a costume that combines elements of all of the Avengers, and he christens himself Captain Avenger. Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil attack, and Captain Avenger leaps to the attack–but in his zeal, he destroys the device Zemo uses to paralyze the Avengers, dooming them all to an eternal sleep. Fortunately for Rick, this all turns out to be a momentary dream that he experiences due to the shock from the equipment he just stumbled into. As a kid, I was certain that we’d see Captain Avenger again at some point, but he’s that rarest of Marvel beasts: a story element that was never brought back. So the Ameridroid has him beat! I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA, but you can see how shaky the construction really is. Marvel was really in a bit of trouble at this point in terms of being able to put its best foot forward in terms of making the material strong–and Shooter, for all his faults, was absolutely the one who solved this situation. Had he not, I don’t think that Marvel would have been able to survive for much longer.