Ever since the departure of Jack Kirby some months earlier, CAPTAIN AMERICA had been a title that had struggled to maintain its schedule. Between then and here, there’d been unannounced reprints, and emergency back-up stories dropped in when full issues hadn’t been completed in time. And now this time, an out-and-out fill-in story. It was a sad state of affairs for what had once been a core title, but I can’t say that it bothered me overly much at the time when I was buying these issues new. I guess I wasn’t sophisticated enough to pick up on the problems the book was facing, even though they were both prevalent and obvious. In any event, this issue showed up new at my local 7-11 and so of course I picked it up, as I had been doing.
This particular story is noteworthy in one way: it represents the first CAPTAIN AMERICA work done by a then-young Mike Zeck. In a few years’ time, Zeck would come onto the series as its regular penciler and help to make it a consistently strong title again. He was still a bit unpolished here (and the fact that the inking needed to be split between John Tartaglione and Mike Esposito probably didn’t help matters) but it still looked good. The story by Peter Gillis is an interesting take on a whodunnit. Still, it’s not the worst issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA ever put to paper, and it was entertaining enough to fill out a month (and better than a surprise reprint most likely, at least where most of the readership was concerned. I was still new enough to the Marvel mythos that I might have welcomed a key reprint.)
The story does open with a really good hook. Captain America’s unconscious body washes up on shore, where he’s found by some passers by. Once he recovers, Cap removes his cowl–only to discover unfamiliar features staring back at him rather than Steve Rogers’ face. What’s more, he’s forgotten the Avengers phone number and key codes, information that would help him to prove his identity. Is this really Cap, or some other amnesiac who is for some reason dressed as him? Either way, the star-spangled figure realizes that he needs help in puzzling this out, and so he heads over to Avengers Mansion anyway, bulling his way past Jarvis before revealing his situation to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
It’s Iron Man who is able to start the ball rolling on figuring out what has befallen Cap. It turns out that Cap is wearing a sophisticated mask devised by Tony Stark for SHIELD. Reviewing the last memory that Cap has, it was of being at a Stark International function, where he ran into an old friend from the War, Al Avison. (This is a fun in-joke by Gillis, as Al Avison had been one of the primary artists on the Captain America feature back during the war years.) Cap has no recall of an Al Avison, so he spends some hours reaching out to his contacts in the military, coming back empty. Until he realizes that Avison hadn’t mentioned World War II specifically, but rather “the last war.” Cap reasons out that this means the Madbomb War which was fought during Jack Kirby’s issues.
Now things are starting to come together. Cap reaches out to General Argyle Fist, a player in those Kirby Madbomb stories. Fist is surprised to see Cap–he and another agents, Ken Astor, were meant to be infiltrating a group of would-be hijackers who were aiming to steal a Madbomb. Putting the pieces together, Cap realizes that his and Astor’s ruse was discovered (Astor had made contact with Cap using the alias of Al Avison) and they were both poisoned and dumped in the river. Only Cap’s super-soldier serum-infused physiognomy allowed him to survive the poisoning. But more importantly, the hijackers are still at large, preparing to do their thing. The mission is unfinished, so Cap sets off to take care of business.
The hijackers, as it turns out, are two relatively random super-villains, Spider-Man’s old foe the Tarantula, and Senor Suerte, who had battled Luke Cage in the past. How these two guys ever hooked up is a mystery in and of itself. But as he confronts them, Cap’s memory of earlier events comes into focus. And so we get an extended flashback to Astor and Cap’s earlier mission, their being discovered and their subsequent losing battle with Tarantula and Suerte. But Cap has now been able to catch up with the convoy, and so, fighting mad, he faces the two villains who killed his friend Astor.
From there, it’s just a quick fight scene in which Cap dispatches both the Tarantula and Senor Suerte without any problems before the story abruptly wraps up. It was an inventory job, after all, so it didn’t have any subplots or character beats to resolve as well. Cap seems just a little bit too pleased with himself in the final panel, though, considering that a good man, a friend of his, was killed along the way. But that’s how comic books sometimes rolled in these days. This issue was such a rush job that there wasn’t even a letters page in it, a rare occurance in a Marvel book of this era.