CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON: 1970s CLASSICS 12 – THE FINALE; CAP RETURNS AND THE RED SKULL STRIKES

For Part One of this series click HERE.

ca f 183CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #183 (March 1975)

Title: Nomad No More (A play on Captain America No More, the title of the story when Steve Rogers gave up being Cap.)

Villains: The Red Skull, Viper’s hoped-for disciples and Gamecock (First Appearance)

Note: The previous issue’s cliffhanger presented the Falcon and the “newest” would-be Captain America – Roscoe Simons – caught by surprise and at the mercy of the returned Red Skull, back after a several year absence

Synopsis: This issue picks up three days later as Nomad (Steve Rogers) has returned from Seattle and is currently battling the brand new costumed supervillain called Gamecock and his two sidekicks. The fight is taking place on a rooftop in Harlem during the day.

nomad fighting gamecockDialogue from the four combatants lets us know that Nomad came to Harlem looking for the Falcon and hasn’t been able to find him. Gamecock and his two underlings make it clear they were looking for Falcon, too, to kill him.

Presently, on a rooftop across the street, a hoped-for disciple of Viper, who before she died had implored the public to take up her cause, is aiming a bazooka at Nomad since he is the one who brought down Viper. He opens fire but does not have good aim and Nomad, Gamecock and company dodge the attack.

Gamecock assumes it may be a police S.W.A.T. team so he and his sidekicks flee across the rooftops, as does the man with the bazooka. Before Nomad can try hunting any of them down, Leila Taylor reveals herself, saying she was watching the fight and that Gamecock and company had tried to get Falcon’s location out of her before Nomad came along.

She doesn’t know that Nomad is really Captain America, so she demands to know what the “new” superhero wants with “her man” the Falcon. With so many people looking for him she wants to know where he is, since Falc disappeared three days ago, she says.

Nomad, not letting on that he knows Leila, tells her he had nothing to do with the Falcon’s disappearance and Leila tells him that the Falcon hasn’t been seen since he “ran off with that kid playing Captain America.” Steve does not yet know the identity of this latest “kid” trying to replace him as Cap and expresses confusion.

Leila, in her usual distrustful way, accuses Nomad of abandoning his interest in finding the Falcon the minute he hears about some new Captain America being missing, too. Nomad assures her she is wrong and that he WILL find the Falcon, and he sets off across the rooftops.

He doesn’t get far before he comes upon a loud street demonstration of even MORE disciples of the (presumed) dead Viper who consider her a “martyr.” They are hailing her as a hero for kidnapping establishment figure Hugh Jones, the president of Roxxon Oil (Marvel Comics’ fictional version of Exxon.)

The demonstrators are encouraging the crowd to lash out at the established order, especially the cops and the new “vigilante” Nomad for killing Viper and nearly killing Cobra. Steve Rogers, apparently as naive as Nomad as he often was as Captain America, jumps down to the street to talk to the mob.

He tries to explain to them the REAL story of Viper and the Serpent Squad but they shout him down and physically attack him. As our hero outfights them all and then returns to the rooftops he realizes that even when he’s not parading around in one nation’s flag he can STILL wind up attacked and misunderstood by the public.

After a while, he tries to rationalize the mob’s anger, figuring that if they are as disillusioned as he himself has become they probably feel that NO alleged “heroes” are worth trusting. Still, the encounter continues to disturb him as he arrives at the office of social worker Sam Wilson, the Falcon’s secret identity.

Nomad searches the empty office, finding no clues to Falc and the new Cap’s whereabouts, and feeds Sam’s obviously hungry cat Figaro. Suddenly, he hears two people whispering outside Sam’s office door. They try the door knob, observe that it is locked, and one says to the other “Let me have the lock picks.”

Thinking they might be burglars, Nomad abruptly pulls the door open, only to see that the people trying to get into Sam’s office are Peggy Carter and the black Gabe Jones, partner agents with S.H.I.E.L.D. who have also begun dating since Steve (as Cap) broke up with Peggy.

Peggy and Gabe have no idea that the costumed man before them used to be Captain America but they make it clear that they recognize Nomad from all the news he’s been making over the past week or so in Washington DC, on a Roxxon oil rig and in Seattle.

Peggy territorially demands to know what Nomad is doing in Sam Wilson’s office. Our hero explains that he was asked by Leila Taylor to find the Falcon. Gabe replies that he and Peggy have been assigned by S.H.I.E.L.D. to find Falc, too, and don’t need help from an unknown “new” superhero.

They also tell Nomad that once he earns trust then S.H.I.E.L.D. might take him into their confidence, but not now. Still not letting on that he is really the former Captain America because he doesn’t want the world at large to know that, Nomad leaves.

As he makes his way across the rooftops of Harlem he reflects on how the cops in Seattle didn’t trust him either, since he didn’t have the Avengers’ authority or public cache that he had as Captain America.

morganNext, Nomad breaks into the office of Morgan, the crime boss of Harlem and frequent foe of the Falcon. The hero defeats the gunmen guarding the place and confronts Morgan, demanding to know what he’s done with the Falcon.

The crime boss angrily says he’s sick of getting leaned on by superheroes like the Falcon and Power Man (Luke Cage). He tells Nomad that if he knew where the Falcon was he wouldn’t have sent out his hirelings Gamecock & his men to find him.

Nomad continues grilling Morgan for awhile, then accepts that he doesn’t know anything about Falc’s disappearance and leaves. He checks at the office of Luke Cage, Power Man but comes up empty there, too, since Power Man is out west searching for Claire Temple. Before too much longer Nomad comes across a crowd of panicked customers outside the bank where Falcon and the Roscoe Simons Cap fought the Red Skull and his goons three days ago.   

nomad action figureNomad learns that there are runs on banks all over the country this morning because word has gotten out about the spree of robberies at banks accompanied by the replacement of the stolen funds with counterfeit money. We readers know that Falc and Roscoe discovered it was the Red Skull behind this plot last time around, but no one else knows yet.

Our hero also learns that security cameras caught Falcon and someone in a Captain America costume fighting masked intruders who used high-tech energy weapons but the battle eventually got out of camera range so they don’t know what followed. (Meaning the cameras did not pick up the Red Skull striking down Sam and Roscoe, then unmasking.)

Soon, Nomad comes across another of the many banks getting hit by a run from panicked customers terrified that their money has been wiped out by counterfeit cash and how they can make sure they’ll be reimbursed with legitimate money.

Talking with some of the crowd, Nomad learns that the airwaves are already full of speculation that this is the government’s doing to cover up their financial mismanagement. He also learns that it’s now a widely held public notion that Captain America must not have been innocent of what he was accused of by the Committee to Regain America’s Principles, given how Cap resigned shortly after the Secret Empire action went down in Washington DC.

Steve as Nomad walks away, reeling that he never thought about how his abrupt resignation would fuel suspicion rather than make it clear he was disapproving of all the scandals in Washington.

He suddenly remembers how Professor X told the Falcon he was a mutant during all the Secret Empire battles. Nomad uses a payphone (LMAO) to call the X-Men’s headquarters. The Beast answers the phone.

NOTE: The Beast has not yet left the X-Men to join the Avengers, but will soon.

Since just his voice is being heard, Steve identifies himself to the Beast as the former Captain America and convinces him with information only Cap would know about the X-Men kidnapped by the Secret Empire. The Beast says neither he nor the professor have seen Falcon since the Empire’s fall in Washington DC.

Beast tells Steve that maybe the Falcon needs time alone to come to terms with being a mutant. He recalls from his own experience how long it took HIM to accept it. He unintentionally gets Steve thinking about his own situation by mentioning how people have to be what they are, there is no escaping it.

Lost in thought, Nomad returns to Harlem to resume his search, when he spots the Falcon’s hawk Redwing, circling a remote rooftop. Making his way to that roof, Nomad is horrified to find Roscoe, unmasked but still wearing his Captain America costume, dead – crucified upside down to a chimney (in spite of him being right side up on the cover).

We are not shown his full body but Steve’s shocked reaction lets us know how severely the Red Skull mutilated him. Steve realizes Roscoe was the “kid” Leila mentioned, who was the latest person trying to replace him as Cap.

Next, Nomad hears a moan of pain and finds the Falcon on an adjacent rooftop, tied-up, tortured and savagely beaten himself. Nomad unties him and Sam manages to whisper to Steve that the kid Roscoe, his friend from the gym, was killed.

Nomad cuts him short, saying he found the corpse. Next, Falcon whispers to Steve that it was the Red Skull who did this to him and Roscoe and is behind the banking chaos over counterfeit money.

Still weak from physical trauma and three days without water or food, Sam goes on, explaining that the Red Skull thought he had both him AND the real Captain America. When he realized it wasn’t really Cap he “went nuts … started screaming that he hadn’t devised his greatest plan to waste on a kid.”

After the Skull dealt with Roscoe he tortured and beat Sam and left him on the rooftop next to the one with Roscoe. (I like to assume that Steve at least got some water for Sam but they just didn’t take the time to show it in the comic book.) Sam closes by telling Nomad how the Skull said he wants to triumph over the best … he wants the REAL Captain America.

Next (after at least hopefully getting Falcon some food) Steve rants that he doesn’t WANT to go back to being Captain America, but he’ll fight the Red Skull as Nomad. He rehashes his disillusionment, but ultimately talks himself into realizing that playing the abused victim of deceptions practiced by powerful people doesn’t accomplish anything for anyone.

One’s naivete is their own problem, not the nation’s and that America didn’t fail HIM, HE failed America. He can still go on representing the country, not the government. He goes on to the Falcon (who I guess is thinking “Get me medical aid, you drama queen”), “I guess … what I’m saying is … there has to be SOMEBODY who’ll fight for the dream against ANY foe. Somebody who will do the job I started but do it right.”

He regards Roscoe’s mutilated corpse still suspended from the chimney (cut the kid down, already) and says “And God knows I can’t let anybody else run the risks that job entails for me.”

cap returnsFinally, he gets Falcon to Leila for medical care, and goes back to the apartment he shared with Sharon Carter, who is still in Virginia at her parents’ place. He discards his Nomad costume and puts on his old Captain America costume and grabs his shield.

Still monologuing, he says “The man Nomad is won’t die. Everything he’s learned will live on, only now, once again it will be as Captain America! Whatever the threat, wherever it originates, I won’t be blind again.”

And the issue closes on a note from the writers that “34 years ago this month, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America. There are many risings and advancings of the spirit.”

NOTE: If you think the Red Skull went overboard on Roscoe, remember my reviews of the first 20 Captain America stories from the 1940s, in one of which the Skull HANGED two men masquerading as Cap and Bucky, just because he thought he had captured his foes only to learn they were imposters.

ca f 184CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #184 (April 1975)

Title: Cap’s Back

Villain: The Red Skull

Synopsis: We pick up days later, after Roscoe’s funeral and after Falcon has recovered enough under Leila’s care at her apartment to recall to Cap where he and Roscoe were held and tortured by the Red Skull before he left them on adjoining rooftops.

We readers eventually learn that the public has since become aware that the Red Skull is behind the ongoing financial panic over all the counterfeit money in circulation. And that he killed Roscoe Simons, the most recent failed Captain America replacement, which tragedy prompted the real Cap to return.  

Since we are still in the 1973-1978 period when Captain America had Spider-Man-level strength, Cap easily kicks his way through a wall into the abandoned warehouse that the Skull had been using as his hideout when he tortured Falcon and Roscoe.

He finds that the villain has been gone for days, but he did leave behind a pre-recorded video set to automatically play if Cap found the place. The Red Skull’s visage taunts our hero about what he did to the Falcon and to “that foolish child pretending to be you.”

The video tape plays on, as the Skull boasts that the nationwide panic over the unknown amounts of counterfeit cash in circulation and the government’s beleaguered efforts to deal with the situation are just the START of his plans. He states he will bring down the entire American economy before the world can mark the 30th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s death on April 30th, 1975.

When the video is done, Cap angrily smashes the large screen by throwing his shield at it. As the shield returns to his hands he monologues again: “You made me remember what was important about this country, Skull, the dream it was built on, not the deadwood thrown on top. It was you who made me come to grips with the idea that you’re not the only enemy that dream has, that not all our foes are as obvious as die-hard Nazis. But it’s also you who threatens the dream now, so it’s you that Captain America is going to stop.”

(I was hoping he would add “And by the way, the main vowels are a, e, i, o, you!” but I’m kind of weird.)

As our hero exits the warehouse, he encounters news crews from “the three television networks” (Oh, how things change!). The reporters say they were tipped off that he was in the area and since he kicked in an entire wall with one try they assume he is the REAL Captain America, now returned to the role.

Cap does a very brief interview with the reporters and camera crews, vaguely discussing why he’s gone back into costume, then leaves. He shows up in Harlem, at Leila Taylor’s apartment where she is still tending to the bedridden Falcon.

As usual, Leila is not happy to see Cap but she lets him in and Steve learns that the Falcon has decided to share his secret identity with her. She now knows he is really social worker Sam Wilson. Leila chews out Cap for not letting her know it was him when he spoke with her as Nomad, and for not being on-hand when Sam ran into the Red Skull.

From his sickbed, Sam breaks up the argument, saying “Ease up, Leila. It was my fault. I agreed to take care of Roscoe. It was my decision, my responsibility and my failure that dropped us into the Red Skull’s grimy hands.”

Cap shares in the guilt by admitting “Yeah, and it was MY decision to drop my life as C.A. cold, so that others tried to take up a job I had made so dangerous.”

The conversation goes on, and Sam mentions that as he’s been recovering he remembered something else the Red Skull said during the days he held Falcon prisoner. He plans to strike at the Capitol Building in Washington DC at noon in a few days.

Falcon insists he’s recovered enough now to go with Cap, since he wants to get revenge on the Skull for what he did to him and Roscoe. Leila is outraged, but Sam makes it clear he’s going. He also tells Cap he’s “glad you’re back where you belong” and he hopes they can forget all the harsh words between them during the time Cap had quit.

Cap agrees, and gives Sam a few minutes alone with Leila to say goodbye for now. While the two say their goodbyes and kiss, Cap is out in the hall thinking to himself “Sure, Sam … all the bad blood between us is forgotten … gone. But you think I’ve ‘come to my senses’ don’t you. You think I’m rectifying a mistake.”

He further reflects that quitting and then becoming Nomad was no mistake, recalling it all and closing with “I never intended to go back to being Captain America, but it was only through stepping outside myself that I could gain a perspective on going back in.”

A day or two later, after Cap has reestablished his contacts in the government and gets them to let him and the Falcon oversee security around the Capitol for a few days, the duo are in public in Washington DC in costume. Because the government has kept the Red Skull’s threat to strike a secret to avoid a panic, there are all kinds of crowds around, some people with signs welcoming back Captain America and some with signs denouncing him.

Editorials from around the country have been varied, with some of them even suspecting his sudden return to be either a right-wing or left-wing plot of some kind. Cap, with his new, more worldly attitude, takes all of it in stride rather than agonize over it.

At noon, the honorable Herbert Glass, one of the Treasury Department’s highest ranking economists, arrives in his limo at the Capitol to meet with some Senators. As he steps out of the limo, he notices that the chauffer’s radio, which had been playing news coverage of Cap and Falc walking around the Capitol Building, has had its reception pirated with a very loud version of Chopin’s Funeral March.

Glass is confused by this, but Cap hears it and is frightened into action – back in the World War Two era, the Red Skull often used Chopin’s Funeral March as a calling card to herald his attacks.

NOTE: Archived editions of Captain America stories from the 1940s DO verify that that is indeed true, so it’s a nice touch by Marvel’s writers to continue making this long-awaited return of the Red Skull a special event by reviving this practice that the Skull had abandoned over the years.

red skull with swastikaBefore the running Cap can reach Herbert Glass, the Red Skull lands in front of the economist via a high-tech jetpack on his back. The villain shoots Glass with red powder from a futuristic gun he is using and the economist falls to the ground. 

Captain America attacks the Red Skull, followed by the Falcon and Redwing, but the villain uses high-tech gear built into his jetpack to floor the two heroes. He states he did not come to fight, but to kill, and with that done, he is leaving.

Cap and Falc grab one of the Red Skull’s ankles each as he lifts off and are carried aloft with him. Unperturbed, the Skull uses a high voltage dart to stun Cap’s hands, forcing him to let go and begin falling to his death far below.

The Falcon breaks off from pursuing the Red Skull and flies down to save Cap before he can hit the pavement, then the pair land on top of the Capitol Dome. The Red Skull flies down to them, just out of reach and announces to them and the crowd below that “Herbert Glass, the first member of the group which formulates American economic policy, is dead. The second, G Lawton Sargent will die at midnight tonight. A military victory was beyond mein fuhrer’s grasp, but America will lie in economic rubble before it can mark his final hour again! The Red Skull so swears! Heil Hitler!”

The villain flies off, and Cap & Falc push their way through the crowd to see the fallen Herbert Glass’ body. He is, indeed, dead, and the Red Skull’s bio-weapon not only killed him, but it turned his dead skull into a Red Skull itself.

Cap vents his rage about what his archenemy just did, and what he did to Roscoe, etc and vows to make him pay. Cap contacts S.H.I.E.L.D. and has them impose a tight security team around G Lawton Sargent and the other figures who are running America’s economy under the current administration, just in case.

In the meantime, he pays a visit to the mansion home of the Carter family in northern Virginia, because he wants to personally explain to Sharon why he went back to being Captain America. When he first arrives, the butler Smithers informs him she is not at home.

Cap decides to wait for her return, which eventually happens, but she is in the company of Dave Cox again. She and the one-armed Vietnam War veteran have been taking walks together every day since that first time, when Nomad was at the Seattle siege of Viper and Cobra.

Cap is jealous but he and Dave greet each other warmly enough, after the way Dave once risked his life to aid Cap against the original Serpent Squad long ago. Dave is still under the public assumption that Cap and PEGGY are an item and figures Cap is there to see Peggy.

Sharon tells Dave she can’t explain it, but she thinks Cap wants to talk to HER. Dave says farewell and walks off toward his nearby home. Steve and Sharon are alone, face to face.

Sharon angrily says “Captain America, again, huh.” Steve replies “Sharon, I HAD to do this” and she snaps back “Sure, sure, without so much as a telephone call or even a thought for MY feelings!”

“There wasn’t time, honey,” Steve says, “I know how you must feel, but the Red Skull had crucified a kid in New York and -” Sharon cuts him off and says “I don’t want to hear about it! I don’t want to hear about ANY of it! Death, death, death! That’s your LIFE and I was a fool to think you’d ever change!”

Sharon begins crying and runs upstairs. Steve lets her go and heads for the home of G Lawton Sargent, to join Falc and S.H.I.E.L.D. in guarding him. Sargent – a retired admiral – lives in a mansion built next to an old light house in Maryland, near the shore.

Night has fallen, it is raining outside and Cap & Falc are visiting with G Lawton Sargent inside, trying to put him at his ease despite the small army surrounding the area of his residence. The S.H.I.E.L.D. liaisons show up, and it’s Peggy Carter & Gabe Jones, the agents who most recently worked with Cap and Falc during the end of the Secret Empire situation.

This is the first face to face encounter (as far as Peggy knows) between her and Cap since he dumped her during the Golden Archer storyline awhile back. Because of the awkward situation, Gabe and Falc give the duo some time alone.

Cap apologizes for the ugly way he handled the breakup (Captain America 90210), Peggy accepts and has come to accept that what they had was during the war, a long time ago. She is looking to the future now. Cap also gives his blessing to her burgeoning romance with Gabe Jones and they rejoin Falcon, Gabe and Sargent in the next room.

Sargent is updated on everything – S.H.I.E.L.D. has agents on the far perimeter of Sargent’s property line as well as boats in the bay and helicopters in the skies overhead. Gabe and Falcon stay inside with Sargent, while Cap and Peggy split up and cover the immediate grounds.

Peggy reflects to herself how happy “the front office” (meaning Nick Fury and Contessa Valentina) are to have Captain America back working with them that they have given him carte blanche over this whole security operation.

NOTE: It’s probably good that Nick and the Contessa sent Gabe and Peggy instead of showing up themselves, considering how they both always wind up arguing with Cap over anything and everything.

Nice and dry inside the house, Falcon asks Gabe about his old fiance Carla and Gabe explains they broke up long ago. (I guess this is for alert readers who may have remembered Gabe having a fiance and wondered why he was messing with Peggy.)   

Outside, Cap is on patrol and reflects on how hard the rain is. He also feels relief that things can now be calmer between him and Peggy.

She, meanwhile, patrolling another part of the grounds, reflects on how she used to envy Cap for the way he got to not age during the decades he was in suspended animation. She started out feeling badly about the advanced age of herself, Contessa Valentina, Gabe himself and others who served during World War Two.

NOTE: Marvel was rapidly leaving the period when they could get away with having non-powered people who had been active during World War Two and had to start getting creative with their backstories, like retconning Peggy into being Sharon Carter’s great aunt instead of her older sister, etc.

Back with Peggy, she does reflect that S.H.I.E.L.D. training has made her feel like she’s back in her thirties instead of her real age. Suddenly the Red Skull disarms her and grabs her arms, assuming he now has her captive.

The Skull says “That the Americans would be foolish enough to send a woman into combat does not surprise me, but that you would consider yourself qualified DOES.” Peggy makes with some snappy WW2 era patter by kicking the Red Skull a few times then engaging him in unarmed combat before saying “What does Nazi stand for again, Hans? National CHAUVINISM? You’re dealing with a qualified S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, not Betty Grable!”

The Skull effortlessly decks Peggy, and, since Captain America and Gabe Jones are arriving to help her, having heard her radio’ed remark about making contact, he escapes into the rain. Peggy is back on her feet and Cap mildly reproaches Gabe for leaving the lone Falcon guarding Sargent.

Gabe replies “I only wanted to see if Peggy was all right” and Cap replies “I know, I know” and the three of them race back to the house to rejoin Falc inside. Once there they find the Falcon, his hawk Redwing and G Lawton Sargent are just fine.

Cap says that with midnight approaching and the Red Skull in the vicinity, he is taking no chances. He locks himself, Peggy, Gabe, Sargent and the Falcon in one small room to wait things out. However, at midnight, Sargent’s grandfather clock begins playing Chopin’s Funeral March instead of tolling. Suddenly the power goes out.

Cap grabs a nearby candle, lights it and they are all shocked to see that Sargent is lying dead on the floor, with his face transformed into a grotesque Red Skull. Cap, Falc, Peggy and Gabe wonder how the Skull could possibly have pulled this off in a locked room, under all their noses, and that’s the cliffhanger ending for this issue.

NOTE: If you’ve read my reviews of the first 20 Captain America stories from the 1940s you will recognize how much the Red Skull’s actions in this story resemble his wartime activities, announcing which American official he would kill, then carrying through on the threat. Good revival of the wartime feel by the Marvel writers as the world was marking the 30th anniversary of the end of World War Two. 

ca f 185CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #185 (May 1975)

Title: Scream the Scarlet Skull

Villain: The Red Skull

Synopsis: We pick up a day after the end of the previous issue. Steve Rogers is in bed sleeping and is having a nightmare about being attacked by several of his foes, like Baron Zemo, Batroc the Leaper, Moonstone, Doctor Faustus, soldiers of A.I.M. and others.

In typical comic book “symbolism” style, the final foe he faces is the Red Skull wearing the cowl of Number One from the Secret Empire. The Skull makes with the trope of how archenemies can never lose each other, closing with “I need you, and you need me!”

Steve wakes up yelling “NOOOO!” like people so often do in fiction but never real life. He does a flashback to the previous issue’s events for the sake of readers who missed a month, then resumes trying to figure out how the Red Skull managed to murder G Lawton Sargent.

Cut to the Red Skull at his secret headquarters, where he gloats over the economic chaos in America because of his flood of counterfeit currency and assassination of the top two economists making financial policy for the country. With that going so well, he frets over a side issue which his hatemongering philosophy prevents him from ignoring. 

That side issue is the apparent interracial romance between white Peggy Carter and her black fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Gabe Jones. The Red Skull does a Villain Rant claiming that “the Fatherland” losing World War Two has allowed “such madness” and “decay” to proliferate since 1945. He regrets that the world lost “the fuhrer’s guiding hand” as he calls it and plans to destroy Peggy and Gabe.

Henzel, one of his Neo-Nazi soldiers, dares to question the wisdom of getting distracted from the campaign against America’s economy by disrupting one interracial romance in a world filled with so many. The Skull is fueled into even more hate-filled ranting by being questioned like this.

NOTE: Per letters pages of 1975, some readers questioned if the Red Skull would really be so distracted by such a side issue as Peggy and Gabe’s romance. Others felt it accurately reflected the villain’s fanatical devotion to the Nazis’ perverse Master Race philosophies.

              I agree with the second group, since I think it brings to nightmarish life the Red Skull’s fanaticism and “true believer” attitudes toward the late Hitler’s vile race hatred. This maniacal race obsession would prevent him from just ignoring such an “affront” to his hatemongering sensibilities when it was within his power to try to do something about it.

Back to the story, the Skull indulges in another long-winded Hitlerian rant to Henzel, this time reminding him (and informing us readers) how he survived his apparent death during his last clash with Captain America and the Falcon outside Las Vegas a while back. (In C.A. & the Falcon #148 – April 1972)

He managed to escape before the Fifth Sleeper he had awakened could explode. (Yes, Marvel diluted the impact of the original 1960s “Sleeper” storyline by doing a Fourth and then later a FIFTH Sleeper story.)

Since then he had laid low, reevaluating his plans. He realized he had come to emphasize the use of deadly power over the sheer terror he had used against America during World War Two. The Skull also decided to start his years-long covert substitution of counterfeit money for real money in American banks, keeping the real money he stole to finance his ongoing plot.

As time went along he also recruited an army of Neo-Nazis to ensure he had followers devoted to the same National Socialist philosophy. In addition, he devised his Dust of Death, which would not just kill its victims but eat away their facial flesh and discolor their skulls, making them red as a calling card.

Part of reviving his old terror tactics included using Chopin’s Funeral March as he did in the 1940s. Needless to say, the Red Skull ends this rant by killing Henzel for daring to question him.

We now rejoin our heroes later that day. They have figured out that the Red Skull’s pattern has been to work his way outward from Washington DC, eliminating the administration’s leading economists in descending order from their home’s nearness to the nation’s capital.

Cap, Falc, Peggy Carter and Gabe Jones are meeting with Oscar Brenner, explaining their plans to protect him since they feel he is the likely next target of the Red Skull. Brenner dismisses their concerns, saying you can’t really chart a trend based on only two occurrences.

The argument rages until Cap breaks and loudly tells Brenner he is getting “very tired, very fast” of men telling him they don’t think they’re in danger, only to see them die suffocating deaths while their skin tightens and melts around their skulls.

Cap goes on and on, until the Falcon grabs him and tells him to get it under control. He reminds Steve that Brenner can’t know how it felt in that locked room the other night … or how it felt to find Roscoe’s mutilated corpse. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it? Roscoe.” Cap calms down, embarrassed.

Meanwhile, Peggy and Gabe discuss in whispers the way they agree with the Falcon that Cap’s obsessive drive on this case is largely due to what happened to Roscoe Simons. Gabe also asks Peggy if she’s sure she’s not still carrying a torch for Cap and she assures him she is not.

Suddenly, before our heroes can establish more security measures around Brenner’s home, a squad of the Red Skull’s armed Neo-Nazis break into the place like a SWAT team. Cap, Falc, Peggy and Gabe fight the intruders and the Falcon notes aloud that for some reason the Red Skull skipped using Chopin’s Funeral March to kick things off.

As the battle goes on, our heroes realize that the reason for the Skull omitting the Funeral March is because this raid is not intended to kill Brenner, but to abduct Peggy and Gabe. Cap and Falc have no idea yet why the Red Skull wanted them abducted, but the commando raid is a success and the Neo-Nazis use their jet-packs to fly off with the captive Gabe and Peggy.

The Falcon tries following them, but ultimately their more powerful jets leave him behind and he returns to Cap and Brenner. In the aftermath of the hit and run raid, the now-terrified Brenner sits down and starts smoking his pipe. As he inhales from it he dies and is left as another red-skulled corpse.

Captain America and the Falcon realize the Red Skull pulled off a double-coup, abducting Gabe and Peggy while still killing his target by having one of his underlings replace Brenner’s pipe tobacco with the Dust of Death during the chaos of the battle. Not using the Funeral March earlier this time was just to throw them off a bit, as they realize when Brenner’s grandfather clock now plays out Chopin’s piece of music as a taunting farewell from the Red Skull.

Cut to Dave Cox’s cabin home in Virginia. Sharon Carter has been there visiting him and pouring out her problems with Steve, whose secret identity she protects by claiming to Dave that this Steve guy is a government agent who keeps putting his job ahead of her.

Dave consoles her, but reflects that he’s finding himself attracted to Sharon. He advises himself not to tell her, figuring she doesn’t need more problems right now.

From there we cut to the Red Skull’s secret hideout, where he and his men are torturing and threatening the bound Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter with horrific racial epithets about how “grotesque” they consider their interracial romance. The Red Skull even demands that Peggy “defend her conduct” with “this dog.”

This goes on and on, as Peggy and Gabe continue defying their captors during this ugly “debate.” We rejoin Cap and Falc, who have spent the entire rest of the previous day and all night long scouring Washington DC and part of northern Virginia for any sign of the Skull or his captives.

As the sun rises on a new day, our two heroes are soon approached along the roadway by a limo. The passenger lowers the rear window and it turns out to be Hugh Jones, the Roxxon Oil president that Nomad/ Cap freed from the Serpent Squad, but not before they had forced the Serpent Crown of Lemuria on his head.

Hugh Jones says he wants to thank Captain America for freeing him from the Serpent Squad and Cap is floored because only the Falcon, Leila and the Sub-Mariner know that Nomad and Cap were the same person. Hugh says he has his “sources.”

NOTE: To avoid confusion, since this mystery wasn’t resolved in Captain America but in near future issues of the Avengers, I will explain it right now. Remember how the Serpent Crown psychically enables random shared memories among anyone who has ever worn the Serpent Crown? It will be revealed that Hugh Jones knew from a shared memory with Sub-Mariner, who once wore that crown, that Nomad was really Captain America.

At any rate, Hugh Jones tells Cap and Falc that his army of mercenaries (which we met last time around) also boasts intelligence operatives, and they have learned the secret location of the Red Skull’s current headquarters. To “repay the favor” for Cap saving him, Jones tells our heroes that it is in the Sosthenes Building on “I” Street in Washington DC and has his driver hustle him away before Cap can question him further.

We cut to the Red Skull’s hideout at the Sosthenes Building, where the villain and his men are still inflicting psychological and physical torture on Peggy and Gabe. Captain America and the Falcon come charging in, defeating the Skull’s nearest Neo-Nazi troops and decking the Red Skull himself.

Cap tells the downed Skull that this time he is going to stand trial for his War Crimes and all his vile deeds since then. The Red Skull insists that our hero is wrong and yells “Falcon! It is time!” and, acting on a previously induced post-hypnotic suggestion, the Falcon helps the Skull render Captain America unconscious.

The still-bound Peggy and Gabe look on in horror as more of the Red Skull’s armed men arrive on the scene and the zombified Falcon stands there blankly. The Skull gloats to Peggy and Gabe that the Falcon has been HIS all along, and thus we have our cliffhanger ending for this issue.

Is it too late to fix anything now that everything has gone wrong? Keep reading below.

ca f 186CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #186 (June 1975)

Title: Mind Cage

Villain: The Red Skull

NOTE: This issue ends Balladeer’s Blog’s look at 1970s classics from Captain America & the Falcon and wraps things up. Sadly, this final tale’s awful and unnecessary retcon of the Falcon’s origin was very poorly conceived and Marvel Comics tended to ignore it as much as they could in the years ahead.

Synopsis: We pick up after Captain America has regained consciousness and is bound alongside Gabe and Peggy. The Red Skull taunts Cap about how it was the Falcon who betrayed him and that the Falcon has been his secret thrall all these years.

NOTE: For starters, that is incredibly stupid, because if the Red Skull could have “activated” the Falcon to take his side all along, why didn’t he do it the OTHER times Cap and Falc fought him in the past? The Skull claims it was “to keep up the deception” but yeah, right. He let those previous master plans get thwarted rather than win the day by activating the Falcon via the post-hypnotic suggestion. Yeah. Sure.

              Besides, claiming that the Red Skull implanted the post-hypnotic command all the way back to when he first BECAME the Falcon is UNNECESSARY! They could have written it that the Red Skull implanted the Falcon with the post-hypnotic suggestion during the days he was torturing him after capturing him and Roscoe.

              The post-hypnotic suggestion could explain why the Red Skull left the Falcon on the rooftop still alive instead of just killing him like he killed Roscoe. This would still bring us to the current moment and the “shocking” betrayal of Cap by the Falcon. Instead they did this story obliterating so many positive elements of the Falcon’s origin and his past.

Back to this mixed bag of a story. The Falcon is really the one who, activated remotely by the Red Skull, killed G Lawton Sargent in the locked room with the others AND the one who switched Brenner’s tobacco with the Dust of Death last issue. He presumably planted the electronic receivers that played Chopin’s Funeral March from Sargent’s and Lawton’s individual grandfather clocks, too.

After the Skull literally makes the Falcon cluck like a chicken to prove his control over him, the Marvel writers now have the Red Skull wipe out the Falcon’s origin and his promising mutant ability to psionically communicate with his hawk Redwing (and presumably other birds if he worked at it). Much of the flashback story is irrelevant to this immediate tale so I will omit those irrelevant aspects to avoid confusion.

The Skull claims that he used the Cosmic Cube (later renamed the Tesseract and retconned to be one of the Infinity Stones) to make a blaxpoitation level black criminal and pusher called “Snap” Wilson forget his past. He then used the Cosmic Cube to implant the false identity of a positive, law-abiding black New Yorker who had a youthful fondness for caring for pigeons on his family’s apartment rooftop. That fondness grew in later life to a talent for training hawks and other birds.

When “Snap” – now going by his real name Sam – Wilson wound up as a castaway on the island of Captain America’s old foes the Exiles, he falsely thinks he simply used his ability to train birds to train one of the island’s hawks, Redwing, as a mascot to pass the time while stranded there.

No, the writers idiotically take away that origin and state now that the Red Skull used the Tesseract to MAKE Redwing obey Sam Wilson. The Red Skull, who was an enemy of the Exiles as much as Captain America was, bizarrely predicted that Cap, also stranded on Exile Island, would train Sam Wilson in unarmed combat and acrobatics, and that the pair would defeat the Exiles. Sam adopted the superhero name the Falcon.

After that, even though we are now told the Red Skull COULD have ordered the Falcon even then to help him, the Skull let himself be defeated by Cap and Falc right after they dealt with the Exiles, and then let them defeat him some more a few times after that. (Idiotic. And so unnecessary when they could have used the alternate explanation that I laid out above for Falcon’s enthrallment.)

Even worse, the writers took the Falcon/ Sam Wilson from being an honest man who became a social worker in Harlem, to really being a man with the personality of a blaxploitation criminal. This got worse in the issues after this, which is part of the reason I chose this tale for my end point.

Anyway, the Red Skull now claims he was only PRETENDING to be surprised that Cap found a new ally in the Falcon while he was on Exile Island, the better to … let the duo defeat him multiple times, just to preserve his “secret control” of the Falcon. (Idiotic.)

As Cap, Gabe and Peggy recoil in horror from the Falcon’s “real” origin, we join Sharon Carter horseback riding on her parents’ northern Virginia estate. Dave Cox approaches her and lets her know he is leaving Virginia to roam the rest of the country, settling someplace else when it catches his eye.

Sharon is sad, but Dave refrains from telling her that he is leaving so that he doesn’t ruin their friendship by putting the moves on her.

Back at the Sosthenes Building, the Red Skull shows the typical pulp villain idiocy by not just killing Cap immediately. Instead he wants to use the enthralled Falcon to kill Cap and locks them in a makeshift arena in his HQ while he, his men, Gabe and Peggy watch the fight on viewscreens.

(Hey, make it a Pay Per View event, why don’t ya?)

Because this is the 1973-1978 period when Captain America had Spider-Man level strength, the Red Skull has Cap’s arms bound behind his back along with his shield. He also says he has rendered the Falcon incapable of feeling pain in his zombified state.

And so the Falcon vs Captain America fight begins, with the Red Skull and his men so engrossed in watching the combat that they fail to notice Peggy and Gabe using teamwork to free themselves from their bonds and slip away. They manage to send out a radio distress call, summoning help to their location.

The distress call is intercepted by Hugh Jones’ mercenaries (though we aren’t told that’s who they were until the later Avengers issues I mentioned above. I’m telling you it’s them NOW to avoid loose ends.) The mercenaries are ordered to raid the Sosthenes Building and they prevent S.H.I.E.L.D. from getting the radioed message.

Gabe and Peggy, still hiding out of the way in the Red Skull’s headquarters, feel relieved now that they know help is on the way. We’ve seen them dating, but now their relationship goes to the next level as they apparently engage in the first full-blown passionate and lengthy kiss they’ve ever shared. This is a nice touch, with its obvious implication of love winning out over the hate-filled revulsion that the Red Skull tried to impose on Gabe and Peggy to end their burgeoning romance. 

Back with Cap vs Falc, the Red Skull apparently underestimated Cap’s newer strength because he is at last able to break free of the bonds keeping his hands behind his back. He then tries to quickly render the Falcon unconscious without permanently injuring him with his far superior strength.

Bizarrely, the writers throw away even more of the Cap and Falc chemistry by having Captain America knock out the Falcon, then put his shield against his fallen friend’s neck, PONDERING IF HE SHOULD JUST KILL HIM NOW, wondering if the Falcon would rather be put out of his misery rather than live with the knowledge that he is really a criminal who has been the Red Skull’s secret pawn for years.

(“Hey, Sam, remember that time I was tempted to chop your head off with my shield in the Sosthenes Building? We can look back on it now and laugh, right?”  “You did what now, Steve?”)

Even worse, writing-wise, we now have Cap “realize” that THIS is secretly what the Red Skull wants, for Cap to kill his own partner and live with that guilt forever. He intentionally used bonds that Cap could break and counted on him killing the Falcon.

Cap refuses to kill his unconscious partner, infuriating the Red Skull. Cap breaks out of the arena. Meanwhile, the men I mentioned were really Hugh Jones’ mercenaries raid the Sosthenes Building and wage an all-out firefight with the Red Skull’s Neo-Nazi troops. Brutally, they kill every one of the Skull’s men, even taking the Dust of Death guns from fallen Neo-Nazis to use on the rest of the Skull’s soldiers.

Cap begins chasing the Red Skull after learning from Gabe and Peggy that they tried to summon S.H.I.E.L.D. but instead these uniformed men showed up and are slaughtering the Skull’s men. At any rate, the Red Skull’s entire organization is now wiped out, ending his plans to destroy America’s economy.

The Red Skull manages to escape, however, after using a big cloud of the Dust of Death to force the pursuing Captain America to avoid it, thus giving him time to get away. The men we know to be Hugh Jones’ mercenaries paying Cap back again for saving Jones, flee the scene without explanation now that the Skull’s men are all dead. Cap won’t realize who they were until Avengers #141 (November 1975).

This issue ends with Peggy and Gabe telling Cap that the Falcon is in a deep coma.

*** OKAY, after ending on this four-issue tale that presented some of the best and worst of Marvel’s 1970s handling of the Red Skull, etc, I’ll move on to a different hero next time. To avoid leaving you hanging, here’s a quick breakdown on how things developed after this issue:

              The Falcon is cared for at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters’ medical facilities. Cap gets kidnapped by an old foe of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s called the Druid whose supervillain creation the Alchemoid fails to kill our hero.

              The Falcon recovers and has to stand trial for his crimes as “Snap” Wilson. Marvel wrapped all that up in one issue, as their apparent attempt to distance themselves from the stupid, unnecessary retcon of the Falcon’s entire past. (He was placed on probation, with Nick Fury – who at last made up with Cap – as his probation officer.)

            In a 1980s Falcon miniseries, Marvel even had Falc hunted by a Sentinel, implying that he really DID have mutant powers and wasn’t given his control of Redwing via the Red Skull and the Tesseract.

            Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers would get back together for a while, after a storyline in which she rejoined S.H.I.E.L.D. as Agent 13 and she and Cap fought the Red Skull and Arnim Zola.

             In Avengers #141 (November 1975) Captain America at last rejoined the Avengers. Steve Englehart, who was still writing the Avengers comic book after his run on Captain America ended with this mixed-bag Red Skull four-parter, had Cap realize that Hugh Jones’ mercenaries were the same troops who slaughtered the Red Skull’s men AND attacked the new Avenger, the Beast, in #141.

            Hugh Jones’ Roxxon Oil merged with the Brand Corporation to become Roxxon-Brand, and, with both their presidents under control of the Serpent Crown, tried to take over not just OUR Earth, but every other Earth in the multiverse which had a Serpent Crown counterpart. Roxxon-Brand remained villains in Marvel Comics stories for years afterward.

            Marvel Comics would revive the “Nomad” superhero identity plenty of times in the years ahead, having other people take up the name and costume.

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 A LOOK AT “IRON MAN & SUB-MARINER” # 1 and ONLY, 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 THE EARLY GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY STORIES CLICK HERE.

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

FOR DC FANS, CHAPTER LINKS TO MY REVIEWS OF WORLD WAR TWO ERA JUSTICE SOCIETY STORIES. CLICK HERE.                           

13 Comments

Filed under Superheroes

13 responses to “CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON: 1970s CLASSICS 12 – THE FINALE; CAP RETURNS AND THE RED SKULL STRIKES

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