CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON: 1970s CLASSICS 6 – PHOENIX, THE TUMBLER AND MOONSTONE

For Part One of this series click HERE.

ca f 168CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #168 (December 1973)

Title: And A Phoenix Shall Arise

Villain: Phoenix (The son of the original Baron Zemo) FIRST APPEARANCE

Synopsis: We pick up an unknown number of weeks or months after the end of the Yellow Claw storyline. In the intervening time period Captain America was in action with the Avengers saving the universe from Dormammu and Loki alongside the Defenders. 

Captain America and the Falcon are out on their nightly patrol looking for crime. At length they pause on a rooftop to discuss how much guilt that Steve (Cap) still feels about the way that the long-lost Peggy Carter is still adjusting to the years she lost in the mental hospital.

And, sadly, has been relying on Cap more and more to cope with the modern world since he went through a similar experience when the Avengers found him frozen in suspended animation years ago. Worst of all is the way that Peggy thinks that she and Steve/ Cap are still an item even though in the years that she was gone he and Sharon Carter, Peggy’s much younger sister, have fallen in love.

NOTE: Over the decades, as the World War Two era was left further and further behind, Marvel retconned it so that Sharon was really Peggy’s niece, then grand-niece, etc instead of her younger sister.

Without warning, Steve and Sam (Falcon) are attacked by a new supervillain calling himself the Phoenix and using a high-tech rifle that shoots deadly energy rays. Phoenix taunts Cap that he has a grievance to settle with him, puzzling our hero, who doesn’t recognize him.

As the battle continues, the Falcon manages to swing behind the villain and attack him. While they fight it out, Phoenix outfights and hurls a few racial insults at the Falcon (remember, he’s really the son of Nazi war criminal Baron Zemo). Eventually the villain’s weapon runs out of its energy charge so he escapes across the rooftops, promising to kill Cap the next time they meet. 

Cap tends to the wounded Falcon, who once again discusses feeling second-rate ever since Cap gained his Spider-Man level strength several issues back.

NOTE: This will result in Falcon getting the Black Panther to use Wakandan technology to give him his wings, so that the power of flight will let him feel equal to Cap once more. This happens next issue. 

The conversation soon turns to who the Phoenix may be but Cap still has no clue.

The next day, as Steve Rogers, our hero spends all day walking the streets of New York City wracking his brain about who this new villain may be and what his grudge is. Steve runs through all his enemies from the World War Two era on up through all of the new foes he made after coming out of suspended animation here in the present day.

At nightfall, he dons his Captain America costume and hits the rooftops again, hoping to draw out the Phoenix. The Falcon spots him and offers to tag along but Cap waves him off, figuring the new villain may not strike if both of them are together, since he obviously wants just Cap dead.

After a few hours our hero hits Times Square, where he gets a mixed reaction. Many people are falling for the negative ad campaign that has been painting Captain America in a bad light.

NOTE: Cap does not yet know that the nationwide campaign to discredit him was launched by his old foe the Viper and his crooked former colleagues on Madison Avenue. They have larger plans in mind, as we will soon see.

Eventually, Cap moves on and comes to the aid of a seemingly innocent man being attacked by the Phoenix. Captain America fights the villain, but it turns out to be just a robot. The seemingly innocent man reveals that HE is the Phoenix and uses knockout gas on Cap, who slumps into unconsciousness.

When our hero comes to, he finds that he is bound in chains above a large vat of a boiling chemical. Typical of so many fictional villains, rather than just kill his foe when they are helpless, Phoenix has brought Cap back to his hideout in an abandoned warehouse to kill him with an elaborate death-trap.

The villain is back in his own costume after doffing the civilian clothes he was wearing to lure Cap into his trap. When Cap still doesn’t recognize the Phoenix or know what he has against him, the villain tips him off by telling him that he will soon lower him into the vat, where he will die in … Adhesive X.

That immediately lets Captain America know that this has something to do with Baron Zemo, a villain he fought during World War Two AND after being thawed out in the modern day. That Baron Zemo died during a battle with Cap in Avengers #15 (April 1965).

The Phoenix now identifies himself as Helmut Zemo, the son of Steve’s old foe. In a Villain Rant he reveals his origin. He was just a child during World War Two and remembered his father’s encounters with Captain America, including the first one, when their battle resulted in Baron Zemo’s mask winding up permanently attached to his face thanks to his own Adhesive X.

Zemo’s bitterness toward Cap and toward the war going against Germany made the Baron violent and distant even from his own family. He never reunited with his son and wife during all the years he was hiding in South America.

Over the years Helmut’s mother died as well and Helmut got his higher education under an assumed name. His own scientific genius made him financially comfortable over the years but eventually news hit the world that the first Captain America had been found alive by the Avengers.

Not long after that, his father gathered a group of supervillains around him to frequently battle the Avengers. Eventually Baron Zemo met his death in combat with Cap while the rest of the Avengers battled the other supervillains on Zemo’s team. Since then, Helmut had devoted himself to studying his father’s old scientific papers, and after years managed to recreate his father’s two signature inventions: Adhesive X and the Death Ray. However, not as brilliant as his father he could only get the Death Ray to work in rifle form, and not be fired from a fixture in his glove.

Next he moved to New York City, adopted the costumed identity of the Phoenix and went on the hunt for Captain America. His rant done, Helmut is ready to pull the lever to lower Cap to his death in the boiling vat of Adhesive X.

The Falcon comes bursting in through the skylight, having slipped a tracer onto Cap’s shield earlier that evening, and attacks Phoenix. While Falc battles the villain and his Death Ray rifle, Cap takes advantage of Helmut being distracted by straining and straining against his chains until he frees himself and leaps to safety.

As Cap and Falc confront Helmut he winds up falling into the vat of Adhesive X himself and our heroes assume he’s dead. Cap wallows in self-pity again, this time over the way that his own awakening in the modern era has helped keep alive old hatreds that should have ended with World War Two. (Not even Peter Parker would be this bad.)

Cap walks off, slump-shouldered, blaming himself despite Falcon’s attempts to cheer him up.

NOTE: Naturally, Helmut Zemo turned out to have survived and years later assumed the family title, becoming the new Baron Zemo. He would form his own team of supervillains and clash with Cap and the Avengers over the years. He is even a villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and tv shows.

ca f 169CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #169 (January 1974)

Title: When A Legend Dies

Villains: The Tumbler and Moonstone 

Synopsis: We pick up an unknown amount of time after the previous story. Since then Captain America saw action with the Avengers in their third battle with the alien supervillain the Collector.

One night the Falcon is patrolling Harlem on his own when he is attacked by five killers sent by Morgan, Marvel Comics’ crime boss of Harlem. They’ve come to kill him for refusing to work for Morgan. Falcon is fighting all five of them when Steve Rogers arrives for a visit.

Steve dons his Captain America costume and joins his partner in the fight. The five goons are defeated, but this causes the Falcon to again lash out at Cap about how he doesn’t feel like he’s pulling his own weight in their partnership ever since Cap gained his Spider-Man level strength.

Rather than let the conversation drop this time, the two friends discuss it for hours. Eventually the Falcon raises the possibility of Cap asking one of the Avengers to help him gain more powers. Cap says he can ask Yellow Jacket (Hank Pym, PhD) to come up with a chemical serum for Falc or have Iron Man (Tony Stark) devise a mechanical solution for him.

Falcon says he would prefer having the Black Panther use Wakandan technology since he’d feel better having another black man help him out. Cap agrees to ask T’Challa and heads for Avengers Mansion.

On the way there, he sees televisions in a store airing the latest negative ad about him and stops to watch it. This new ad is narrated by Quentin Harderman, who calls himself the head of the Committee to Regain America’s Principles.

The ad takes out of context footage of Cap in action over the years and paints him in a sinister way as if he’s above the law. Harderman even took advantage of Cap’s current feud with S.H.I.E.L.D. heads Nick Fury and Contessa Valentina to make it clear to the public that even S.H.I.E.L.D. has cut ties with Captain America.

Harderman also exploits the flag-based costume Cap wears to ask viewers if they feel comfortable having such a “questionable” man wearing the flag of their country as if his murky deeds are committed in their name.

After the ad, Cap loses his temper and notes the fear in the eyes of the innocent bystanders who also just saw this latest ad. Able to see that he is making the crowd wary of him with his outburst, Cap gets himself under control and resumes his trip to Avengers Mansion.

NOTE: Okay, for anyone familiar with certain news events of the 1970s, this was during the ongoing Watergate drama. I’ve made it clear in the past here at Balladeer’s Blog that I cannot stand Richard Nixon but I’ll avoid political commentary and just point out what is going on.   

           Ever since the first appearance of the Viper, Marvel’s writers were leading up to this with their repeated emphasis on Viper’s ties to advertising agencies on Madison Avenue. Assorted individuals working for Nixon also joined his administration from jobs in advertising agencies, including H.R. Haldeman, the man Quentin Harderman is obviously based on.

           The Committee to Regain America’s Principles (C.R.A.P.) is clearly based on the Committee to Re-Elect the President (C.R.E.E.P.), the group running Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972 when the Watergate break-in took place. Though all of this was irreverent at the time, since then we have seen comic book publishers fall into the lazy, predictable and tiresome position of depicting ALL Republican presidents as villains and all Democrat presidents as shining heroes.

           As an Independent Voter, I don’t like most of our presidents from either party, so looking back on all this I think it’s boring how partisan and one-sided the comic book industry became when dealing with presidents following the enormous popularity of this Captain America storyline in the 70s.  

Back to the story, the Black Panther agrees to help the Falcon gain additional powers, so Cap lets Sam (Falcon) know. The next morning, the Black Panther arrives in Harlem in a Wakandan aircraft to take the Falcon to Wakanda with him while he devises wings for him. Falc takes his lady Leila Taylor with him since Morgan threatened to kill both him AND Leila in our previous installment.

Cap sees off Falc as he and Leila fly off with T’Challa, then storms over to the offices of the Committee to Regain America’s Principles. He demands a meeting with Quentin Harderman and forces his way into his office.

Quentin claims to just be stating the opinion of his organization with the anti-Cap ads. As his argument with Cap goes on, he hints that the Committee may be more complimentary to Cap in the future if he agrees to make a charity appearance for one of their causes.

Cap snaps back that he’s done hundreds of charity appearances over the years, but if one more will get C.R.A.P. off his back he’ll do it. After setting up the date and time, Cap leaves, and Harderman’s thoughts reveal to us readers that this is all still part of an anti-Captain America plot.

Harderman calls some co-conspirators and tells them “the plan is operative immediately.”

Shortly after Cap has left the C.R.A.P. offices he sees a grocery store being robbed by his old foe the Tumbler. He clashes with the costumed villain and has him on the ropes when the Tumbler manages to escape.

Some time later, Steve Rogers returns to the apartment he shares with Sharon Carter. The conversation turns to the way that her sister Peggy, still finding her way in the modern era, took to heart Cap’s lecture last time around about her not being able to help him against supervillains.   

Through her and Sharon’s connected parents and Peggy’s own considerable reputation as a secret agent during World War Two, Peggy has signed on with S.H.I.E.L.D. to serve in whatever capacity she can.

Steve and Sharon worry that Peggy might be doing this only because she thinks that S.H.I.E.L.D. training may qualify her to fight alongside Cap in the future. Later, as Cap, our hero visits the New York City barbership which is really a cover for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s underground New York installation.

Cap learns that Fury has given orders to extend no cooperation with Captain America on ANY issue until further notice, so they refuse to even let him talk to Peggy, who has begun her training. The Contessa Valentina arrives on the scene and shows that she is still angry with Cap for nearly beating Nick Fury to death during the Yellow Claw adventure.

Val tells Cap that she and Nick are both cheering on the negative ad campaign against him. When Cap addresses her as “Val” she tells him to address her as Contessa Valentina from now on. She then orders him to leave the installation. Cap leaves, but tells her to shove her demand that he address her by her royal title.

NOTE: The Contessa is roughly the same age as Peggy Carter in 1974, so obviously S.H.I.E.L.D. was pretty open minded about letting older people serve.

Now on notice that the Contessa and S.H.I.E.L.D. really are holding a grudge against him over recent events, he uses his extra key to get into the Harlem office of social worker Sam Wilson (the Falcon). He sleeps there overnight since S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t know Sam’s secret identity but DOES know about the apartment he shares with Sharon.

The next day, Cap shows up for the charity function for Harderman, who introduces a man in a suit as part of his organization. Cap recognizes the man as the Tumbler’s civilian identity and attacks him. The Tumbler, still not realizing Harderman and his allies are setting him up, tries to fight back.

During the tussle, the Tumbler is killed by a needle-thin laser beam fired from hiding by the new supervillain Moonstone, one of Harderman’s co-conspirators. Since Moonstone killed the Tumbler from hiding, it looks to all the witnesses as if Cap beat him to death and Harderman accuses him of murder.

NOTE: The Tumbler really stayed dead after this story, but years later his brother adopted the costume and the Tumbler pseudonym and tried killing Captain America over and over.

ca f 170CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #170 (February 1974)

Title: J’Accuse!

Villain: Moonstone

Synopsis: We pick up right where we left off, with witnesses and Harderman accusing Cap of killing the Tumbler, while police arrive to arrest him. Cap foolishly plays into Harderman’s hands by losing his temper, grabbing the man and accusing him of setting him up.

Not sure if the arriving cops are also part of the setup, Cap flees the scene. Once outside, he is attacked by the new supervillain Moonstone, who takes advantage of his unknown nature to pretend to be a superhero working for the Committee to Regain America’s Principles.

In front of the gathering crowd Moonstone spouts sanctimonious gibberish secretly prepared for him by Harderman as he and Cap battle it out. Moonstone uses his super-strength, laser blasts, power of flight and teleportation powers to defeat our hero and have him taken away by the cops.

Harderman and his crew capitalize on the situation, and paint Moonstone as the kind of hero America needs, unlike the “disgraced” Captain America.

Meanwhile, in Wakanda, while Black Panther and Falcon have been working on plans to devise wings for the latter, Leila has been her usual abrasive self. She alienates members of T’Challa’s staff like Tanzika, and winds up in an argument with her.

Back in New York City, it is nighttime now and Cap is in his jail cell. His strength would let him break out, but he counsels himself to stop acting rashly and play along, hoping justice will prevail in the end. Moonstone and Harderman are holding a press conference near his cell, like Cap is a zoo animal on display.

Among their practiced deceptions for the media, Harderman and Moonstone say that, in contrast with the “secretive” and suspicious Captain America, Moonstone will happily share his secrets with the world. As Moonstone lies about his origin the media mindlessly laps it up (that sounds like the American media) while illustrations show us the truth behind his lies.

Moonstone claims to have been a janitor at a museum (he was really a burglar), when a moon stone really from the Watcher Uatu’s hidden city on the moon began glowing and exploded. (it really started glowing when it was hit by a bullet from a security guard).

The fragments of the exploded moon rock melded with Moonstone’s body, giving him his superpowers. The villain lies further by claiming he joined C.R.A.P. since he liked their cause, but we readers see that in reality he joined them when Harderman and Cap’s old foe the Viper figured they could exploit Moonstone’s status as an unknown quantity in their plot against Captain America.

Cap boils with anger in his cell but keeps his temper as the press conference eventually ends and the media plus Harderman and Moonstone leave.

Back in Wakanda, Leila pouts and interrupts the Falcon and the Black Panther. She says she finds Wakanda boring so T’Challa arranges to have some of his men accompany Leila under diplomatic cover to Lagos, Nigeria, to do some shopping. She likes that idea and heads off.

During her time in Lagos, a comic book coincidence occurs. Lagos happens to be the hiding place of Stone-Face, the old foe of Cap and Falc who ruled Harlem’s rackets before Morgan. When our heroes brought down Stone-Face in Captain America & the Falcon #134, (February 1971), Morgan took over and warned the criminal and his men to leave the country for good.

Stone-Face tries to cozy up to Leila, but she wants nothing to do with the well-known supervillain. Stone-Face starts to rough her up, prompting T’Challa’s men to intervene. Stone-Face’s goons shoot the Wakandan men to death and abduct Leila before fleeing the scene.

falcon and redwingSome time later, the Wakandan government learns about all this, just as the Falcon has gotten his high-tech wings. He and the Black Panther plan to let him try them out against Stone-Face and his men as they go off to rescue Leila.

Back in America, the nation has become divided over Captain America’s guilt or innocence. Suddenly, a band of armed men supporting Cap break in to the jail and tell him to escape with them. Our hero ponders it, since the entire country is torn over his situation and he fears that if he stays in custody nobody will find the truth about Moonstone and Harderman.  And that’s our cliffhanger ending as Cap wonders what he should do.   

I’LL COVER THE NEXT FEW CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON INSTALLMENTS NEXT TIME.           

FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO MY REVIEW OF SPIDER-MAN 1970s CLASSICS CLICK HERE.

FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ MANTIS/ KANG/ CELESTIAL MADONNA STORY CLICK HERE.

FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ KREE-SKRULL WAR STORY CLICK HERE.

FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s ADAM WARLOCK/ GAMORA/ THANOS/ MAGUS STORY CLICK  HERE.

FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s BLACK PANTHER VS KILLMONGER STORY CLICK HERE. 

5 Comments

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5 responses to “CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON: 1970s CLASSICS 6 – PHOENIX, THE TUMBLER AND MOONSTONE

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