BHOC: CAPTAIN AMERICA #226

Another week and another trip to the 7-11 brought me another stack of brand new comic books. Among them was this issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA, a title that I was buying regularly despite the fact that it had been listing badly for a while. With the departure of Jack Kirby, who had written and drawn the book for around three years, the book struggled to stay on schedule and to hold onto a regular writer. Accordingly, there were emergency reprints and emergency back-up stories as well as full-out fill-in issues. That situation was beginning to right itself by this point, but there was no way of knowing that n real time.

The writing on this issue is credited to Roger McKenzie, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he only dialogued the book, that the actual plot was the work of Steve Gerber, who had been helming it for a couple of issues now. There’s a story told about, I believe, this issue where Gerber was behind on the plotting, and so he wound up enlisting the help of some of his fellow animation writers, including Mark Evanier, to group-plot the story–they would send it a page at a time to artist Sal Buscema to draw. But this issue and the next are overtly credited to McKenzie, so I’m not certain what happened there. Anyway, the story picks up on a very good cliffhanger last month when, in attempting to learn the details of his early Steve Rogers life, Captain America had the Super-Soldier Serum in his body neutralized, transforming him back into the frail 4-F figure he had been before the process.

With no apparent way to get his impressive physique back, but still possessing his knowledge and experience in combat, the issue opens with Captain America testing himself against a deadly SHIELD training robot–those guys play with live ammo, it turns out. But the entire endeavor is fruitless as Nick Fury orders the robot shut down before the inadequate Cap can get hurt–a decision that irks Steve Rogers, who feels a need to prove himself still capable of being the Star-Spangled Avenger, even diminished as he is. And Cap may get his opportunity, as suddenly one of the SHIELD agents in the control room is zapped with a strange red ray and transformed into a duplicate of the Red Skull himself.

One red Skull knock-off isn’t any real trouble for Nick Fury, though–but before he can clobber the man, the faux Skull starts up the training program again at an even more lethal level, and Captain America is forced to fight for his life. Nick and his SHIELD guys, unable to get the controls to open the door to the training chamber, race down there to cut through the bulkhead manually–but before they can, they’re ambushed by a horde of other SHIELD soldiers, all of whom have been transformed into duplicate Red Skulls! The artwork is a bit shaky throughout this issue, feeling like a rush job where Sal Buscema just provided storytelling finishes and then Mike Esposito and John Tartaglione double-teamed to polish those up to a printable level. The pages are very sparse and open, for all that the storytelling is on point.

Fury is totally focused on saving Cap, though, and he’s able to fight his way through the ranks of the Skulls to reach his right-hand man Dum Dum Dugan. Unfortunately for Nick, Dum Dum has also been turned into a Red Skull, and Fury gets knocked out by his old friend, leaving Cap to fend for himself. While he’s not as strong or as fast as he once was, Cap still has his combat training and battle savvy, and so he attempt to stay out of arm’s length of the lethal robot. But when he hurls his shield at the robot, the thing catches it without much effort, and sends it careening back towards Cap himself. Cap’s barely able to dodge the shield and catch it, and even protected by it, he takes a pummeling from his enemy.

Cap is slowing down, though, getting tired after all of this exertion, and so the robot is able to get him in an electrified bear hug. This looks like it’s the end for the Star-Spangled Avenger, but despite the pain, he continues to struggle and fight back–and then, either triggered by the adrenaline in his body or by his iron-willed determination, Cap’s form begins to grow and expand, the Super-Soldier Serum within it reasserting himself until he’s once more the classic Captain America, and able to break free of the robot’s death grip.

Restored to his fighting best, Cap takes all of a page to decapitate the attacking robot, thus neutralizing the threat. But then the doors to the training room open, and there stands the Red skull, flanked by an army of similarly crimson-skulled footsoldiers. And he’s got the unconscious body of Nick Fury with him. The Skull has taken over the entire SHIELD Helicarrier, and it looks as though Captain America is in for the fight of his life! To Be Continued!

One thought on “BHOC: CAPTAIN AMERICA #226

  1. Bad inking or good, layouts or full pencils, Sal Buscema was the man. There was a reason he was the regular artist for every major Marvel book at one time or another (except for Iron Man, which never was a major Marvel book back then anyway) and he carried soooo many bad or adequate stories. I remember the writing on Cap back then was very inconsistent and with a new writer appearing like clockwork, plots were all over the place. If it weren’t for Sal, I might have even stopped buying it and I bought evrything super-hero compulsively!

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