Balladeer’s Blog’s readers always remind me that they can’t get enough superhero articles, so here we go again. With the Fourth of July Holiday coming up, I figured I’d look at the earliest stories of the Timely Comics (later called Marvel Comics) red, white & blue hero Captain America.
CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS Vol 1 #1 (March 1941)
Story 1: Meet Captain America
Villains: Assorted Nazi saboteurs
Synopsis: Voluntary guinea pig Steve Rogers is subjected to the Top Secret Super-Soldier Treatment and becomes Captain America. With his trusty shield, Cap defeats Nazi saboteurs up and down the East Coast, becoming a media sensation. At Camp Lehigh, army mascot James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes walks in on Private Steve Rogers switching from his uniform to his Captain America costume. Cap agrees to risk the teen’s life by making him his costumed sidekick.
Story 2: Case Number 2
Villains: Sando and Omar, apparent mutants
Synopsis: Steve Rogers and J.B. Barnes are stationed now at Fort Bix. With the help of FBI Agent Betsy Ross (yes, Betsy Ross, but changed to Betty next time she appears) they become involved in the case of stage psychics Sando and Omar. Sando uses psychic powers to cause the mentally challenged Omar to “see” (really produce) visions in a crystal ball depicting disasters occurring, the first night at Fort Bix, the next night at a nearby bridge.
The disasters really occur, and Captain America, Bucky and Betsy eventually expose Sando as Nazi Agent Sando Von Krantz, a probable mutant who used his psychic powers to fill his stooge Omar’s mind with the disasters shown in the crystal ball. Somehow Omar’s powers caused those disasters to come true. (Hey, it’s a comic book.) Sando and Omar are captured, and Betsy pleads for mercy for the simple-minded Omar.
Story 3: The Soldiers’ Soup
Villains: Slinky and the Crusher, American traitors
Synopsis: Back at Camp Lehigh in Virginia, Cap and Bucky catch traitorous thugs Slinky and the Crusher trying to poison the soup set to be fed to the entire camp, in order to kill all the soldiers there. Our heroes defeat the evil pair.
Story 4: The Chess Board of Death (No relation to the Parcheesi Board of Spleen Injuries)
Villains: Nazi Agent Rathcone and his subordinate assassins
Synopsis: Rathcone, a human, non-powered forerunner of Marvel’s later character the Prime Mover, plots the assassination of American military figures via his chessboard on which he uses pieces resembling his targets, his own gang members and his opposition, including Captain America and Bucky.
Rathcone walks with a cane and is drawn hideously ugly and with fangs. In the jingoistic nature of the times it was, unfortunately, fairly common to draw the people of enemy nations in this monstrous manner. Historical revisionists still try to claim that ONLY Japanese characters were drawn in this dehumanized manner but the actual comic books from the 1940s prove otherwise.
Rathcone’s agents assassinate Admiral Perkins and then General Ellsworth, despite the efforts of Captain America and Bucky to save them. For some unexplained reason (You know comic book writing), Rathcone has figured out Cap & Bucky’s secret identities. He has his men kidnap Bucky from Camp Lehigh and uses him as bait to lure Captain America into a death trap. Cap frees Bucky and together they defeat Rathcone and all his men.
Story 5: The Riddle of the Red Skull
Villain: The Red Skull, who will be Captain America’s archenemy in this and all subsequent decades.
Synopsis: The Red Skull has been sending his calling cards to assorted American military and intelligence figures, then inevitably ambushes and kills them shortly afterward with poison from a hypodermic needle. The story opens with Major Croy as the latest figure to receive the Red Skull’s card. Steve Rogers and J.B. Barnes try to protect him but he waves off the offer. The Red Skull shows up, with his signature tune Chopin’s Funeral March playing, and kills Croy.
Captain America recognizes how deadly the Red Skull is and orders Bucky to stay out of this case. The sidekick investigates on his own and gets captured by the Red Skull and his men. Captain America shows up and frees him, but the Skull and his underlings escape.
The next day at Camp Lehigh, Rogers and Barnes witness the fiery destruction of industrialist George Maxon’s latest military aircraft during a test flight. The Red Skull is behind this, too. That night the Skull shows up at the home of General Charles Manor in the Virginia suburbs and kills him.
Before he can escape, Captain America shows up. It turns out that the Red Skull has been using George Maxon as an agent and Maxon dies in the fight with Cap. The Red Skull himself is still at large and Cap discovers a note proving that the Skull answers directly to Hitler himself.
CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS Vol 1 #2 (April 1941)
This issue marks the first appearance of Cap’s circular shield.
Story 6: The Ageless Orientals That Wouldn’t Die
Villains: The Walking Giants
Synopsis: A corrupt banker named Benson and his subordinate Finley are being investigated by the FBI. Benson tells the nervous Finley to stop worrying and sends one of his trained creatures – “Walking Giants” – to kill Agent Thompson, the FBI man on their case.
FBI Agent Betty Ross (she’s back) witnesses Thompson being killed and sees how the giant being that killed him was bullet-proof. Finley becomes even more panicked when he learns Benson had an FBI man murdered, so Benson has one of his Walking Giants kill off Finley, too.
Next, the Walking Giants are sent to kill Agent Ross but Captain America and Bucky save her. The next day Betty Ross drops by to visit Private Steve Rogers at Camp Lehigh in Northern Virginia to update him on the case. Sgt Duffy chews Rogers out for supposedly “flirting” while on KP duty and Betty leaves.
Soon an entire pack of the Walking Giants attack Camp Lehigh, so Cap and Bucky join the other soldiers in trying to drive off the assault. Bucky uses a hand grenade to kill one of the creatures and the others retreat. Benson next sends the beings to rob banks for him and bring him all the cash. Cap and Bucky fight the creatures at one of the robberies and Cap is captured.
At Benson’s hideout Cap learns that the banker discovered the Walking Giants near Tibet, so he captured them and trained them to serve him. Bucky shows up to save Cap and the pair fight the creatures, ultimately blowing them up with a giant cannon. Benson is killed by a collapsing wall in the chaos.
Story 7: Trapped in the Nazi Stronghold
Villains: A gang of Nazi Agents
Synopsis: Wealthy American Henry Baldwin announces that he is donating part of his enormous fortune to help out the British war effort. Soon after he is captured by Nazi agents who take him to Germany.
Captain America and Bucky are sent to Europe in disguise to save Baldwin. While there they battle Nazis and learn that they are preparing an imposter of Baldwin to be sent forth to take back his promise to give money to the British. After that the fake Baldwin will give money to the Nazi cause.
Cap and Bucky track the imprisoned Baldwin to a Nazi camp in the Black Forest. While Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering are inspecting the camp our heroes break in, defeat the Nazi forces and escape with the real Baldwin. When they finally arrive back at Camp Lehigh, the hapless Rogers and Barnes face punishment from Sgt Duffy for apparently going AWOL.
Story 8: The Wax Statue That Struck Death
Villain: The Wax Man
Synopsis: Mayor Dobbs, from a city near Camp Lehigh, is really a traitor working as a spy for the Axis Powers. He periodically dons a wax mask and white costume and takes action as the Wax Man. He assassinates politicians and military men by suffocating them in wax and then leaves behind the subsequent wax death masks of the victims.
Captain America & Bucky investigate but turn up nothing until one day the Wax Man enacts his master plan – he has assembled a secret army with high-tech tanks and launches an attack on Camp Lehigh. Cap & Bucky seize and commandeer one of the tanks and use it to destroy all the other tanks, killing the tank crews.
At the local wax museum, the Wax Man’s secret lair, Cap & Bucky get captured and learn that the villain and his men are calling in an Axis air strike on the area, which will kill our heroes as well as countless others. Cap frees himself, then Bucky and the pair round up the Wax Man and his men.
Story 9: Short Circuit
Villains: Nazi saboteurs
Synopsis: Captain America & Bucky learn that Nazi sappers are planting explosives underneath Camp Lehigh through a very old and long-abandoned mine beneath the camp. Needless to say our heroes foil the plot and capture the saboteurs.
CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS Vol 1 #3 (May 1941)
Story 10: The Return of the Red Skull
Villain: The Red Skull
Synopsis: The Red Skull murders Major Douglas, who is bearing the Top Secret plans for the military’s new giant, vehicular drilling device. Captain America & Bucky discover the corpse along with a box containing a small red skull, letting them know their old foe is back. They chase after the escaping villain but his men attack them, holding them off long enough for the Skull to get away.
Before too long, the Red Skull has constructed a working model of the Drill Vehicle and is preying on New York City. When the villain uses the Drill Vehicle to attack Ebbets Field in Flatbush, Cap & Bucky attack him and drive him off.
Meanwhile, some entrepreneurs decide to make money by paying a pair of muscular thugs to masquerade as Cap & Bucky, and charge admission to see them. The Red Skull thinks they are the real thing, so he attacks them, defeats them and hangs them. (Yes, really.)
The real Captain America & Bucky trail the Red Skull and his men through the New York subway system, find their hideout and take them on. The Red Skull’s men are all captured but Cap throws the Skull’s own grenade back at him, seemingly blowing him up in the Drill Vehicle before he can escape.
Story 11: The Hunchback of Hollywood
Villain: The title Hunchback
Synopsis: A Hollywood movie crew shows up near Camp Lehigh in Virginia to shoot a new movie. The film, called The Tyrant, is set in medieval times but will really be an anti-Nazi movie using the medieval setting metaphorically. The movie stars the actor Craig Talbot, who is secretly a member of the German Bund in America.
Angry over the anti-Nazi slant of the film, he disguises himself as the Hunchback of Hollywood and sets out to sabotage the movie. He kills the producer but the shooting of the film continues. He kills one of the actors but the shooting continues.
Steve Rogers and J.B. Barnes are among the Camp Lehigh soldiers serving as extras in the movie and the pair turn into Captain America and Bucky and tangle with the Hunchback. After a prolonged battle the Hunchback topples some of the castle set onto them and escapes.
Talbot tries to frame prominent horror actor “Goris Barloff” as the Hunchback but Captain America sees through the deception and exposes Craig Talbot before beating him in a swordfight.
Story 12: Traitor’s Revenge
Villain: Lou Haines
Synopsis: At Camp Lehigh, Colonel Stevens has Lou Haines dishonorably discharged. That night Haines manages to break into the Colonel’s quarters and tries to kill him, but Cap & Bucky stop him.
Story 13: The Butterfly and the Ancient Mummies
Villain: The Butterfly
Synopsis: A supervillain called the Butterfly wears a costume with wings that enable him to fly and comes with a long, pointed snout which lets him impale victims. He keeps preying on the nearby museum, killing a guard and stealing Egyptian artifacts each time he strikes.
Captain America and Bucky investigate, Bucky gets captured (again) and it’s up to Cap alone to defeat the Butterfly and his large henchman Lenny (yes, a reference to THAT Lenny). Cap and the Butterfly engage in a final battle and Cap knocks the villain out of the air with his shield. The Butterfly is mortally wounded from his fall, and is unmasked as Armand Vitrioli, one of the museum’s own employees.
CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS Vol 1 #4 (June 1941)
Story 14: THE UNHOLY LEGION
Villains: The Unholy Legion
Synopsis: A collection of Nazi Agents in the U.S. are posing as homeless beggars to get into position to assassinate several heads of weapons manufacturing companies.
After the series of assassinations committed by seemingly homeless folks who then escape, Captain America and Bucky look into the matter.
Our heroes trail one of the beggars (who was using gimmicks to pose as a man with no legs) from their killing ground to an abandoned church where the Unholy Legion (as they call themselves) are headquartered. They finance their operation through the money they beg from strangers.
Cap sends Bucky in to investigate and – SURPRISE – he gets captured. A fellow captive, an FBI agent, is about to get branded with a fiery swastika by the villains when Cap bursts in. Our heroes take out all of the Unholy Legion except their leader, Herr Snupp.
Cap and Bucky trail the fleeing Nazi Agent to a hidden U-Boat off the coast, where they defeat the entire crew, Snupp included, then blow up the U-Boat.
Story 15: Ivan the Terrible
Villain: Ivan the Terrible
Synopsis: In this utter waste of a story, Bucky has a dream in which he and Captain America and FBI Agent Betty Ross are characters back during the time of Ivan the Terrible. Cap defeats Ivan and saves the kingdom of Betty’s father the King.
Story 16: The Case of the Fake Money Fiends
Villains: A counterfeiting ring
Synopsis: When Cap and Bucky learn about a counterfeiting ring said to be operating in Hillsdale, VA they investigate. The trail leads them to a supposedly haunted house, which they naturally enter. Our heroes battle hooded “ghosts” which turn out to really be men in disguise. They tried to keep people away from the house by presenting it as “haunted by ghosts.”
Cap and Bucky find more of the counterfeiters in the basement along with their printing operation. They also find FBI Agent Betty Ross is being held captive by them. They free Betty, who tells our heroes that the rest of the gang is still at large. The next day Cap & Bucky round up those gang members but Steve and Barnes get kp duty from Sgt Duffy for seeming to be delinquent in their duties.
Story 17: Horror Hospital
Villain: Doctor Grimm and Gorro
Synopsis: When Steve Rogers and J.B. Barnes are far from Camp Lehigh on leave, they come across an armed robbery while taking in a movie. Switching to Captain America and Bucky, they take out the gang of robbers but Bucky is seriously injured. Far from home, Steve has Bucky get out of costume and checks him into the nearest hospital as just a regular patient.
It turns out the hospital is really run by the mad scientist called Doctor Grimm, who uses some of the institution’s patients as human guinea pigs for his experiments. Others are used to supply blood for his monstrous creation Gorro. Bucky’s nurse disappears and is killed by Dr Grimm, prompting Barnes to write a quick note to Steve to come save him as Captain America.
Dr Grimm catches him in the act, but lets him send the note hoping to lure Captain America into his clutches so he can kill him. Cap gets the note, informs FBI Agent Betty Ross about it and then goes to the hospital to save Bucky. Dr Grimm captures him and pits him against the monster Gorro.
Ross shows up pretending to be applying for a nurse’s position but gets captured, too. Gorro proves too powerful for Captain America to defeat, so Bucky gets hold of a gun and shoots the monster to death. I’m not kidding. Dr Grimm then falls to his death in battle with Cap.
Story 18: The Bomb Sight Thieves
Villains: Axis spies
Synopsis: Captain America and Bucky prevent the theft of a new bomb sight.
CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS Vol 1 #5 (August 1941)
Story 19: The Ringmaster of Death
Villain: The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime
Synopsis: A circus comes to town near Camp Lehigh, so Steve Rogers and J.B. Barnes check it out. Little do they know the circus is really a Nazi front organization and the Ringmaster plans to use the circus for a series of assassinations. That night at the circus Steve and Barnes switch to Cap & Bucky too late to save General Blaine from being killed by a lion set free by Tommy Thumb.
After Cap & Bucky subdue the lion to prevent further deaths they are prevented from finding Tommy Thumb by the other circus members. The next day they inform Betty Ross about their suspicions regarding the circus. She talks to Defense Commissioner Newsome but he gets killed by the cobra of the circus’ snake charmer. Since Betty is a witness to circus personnel escaping after the murder she is captured and taken along with them.
Captain America and Bucky arrive but fail to outfight the many circus members who attack them. Betty’s captors get away but our heroes follow them to their circus and do battle with them all – the Ringmaster, the Clown, the Strongman, the Trapeze Trio, the Snake Charmer, the Missing Link, Rawal the Elephant Trainer and others. Cap & Bucky beat them all, and turn them over to the authorities.
Story 20: The Gruesome Secret of the Dragon of Death
Villains: Captain Okada and his high-tech sub The Dragon of Death
Synopsis: General Haywood is sent to Honolulu, with Private Steve Rogers and J.B. Barnes accompanying him. It turns out a seeming “sea serpent” or giant dragon is roaming the Pacific Ocean swallowing up U.S. ships and submarines.
Our heroes don their costumes and investigate. The sea serpent is really the Dragon of Death, the super-scientific submarine of Imperial Japanese Captain Okada. The sub is designed to look and act like a gigantic sea creature. Okada wants information on a hidden U.S. Navy base and is torturing the commander of the most recent naval vessel his sub “devoured.”
When the commander refuses to provide the information, Captain Okada has his men go ashore in Honolulu to capture the man’s daughter Marie in order to force him into cooperating by threatening the daughter. Cap and Bucky see the kidnapping and follow the abductors to the Dragon of Death.
Our heroes force their way aboard and outfight the entire crew while rescuing Marie and her father. They also foil Okada’s plan to cause a volcano to erupt, thus destroying an entire U.S. naval base.
Okada and some choice crew members try to escape in a detachable smaller sub inside the dragon form. Bucky sinks that sub, following which he and Cap get Marie and her dad to safety.
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