Tuesday, May 31, 2005

CAPTAIN AMERICA #367 Marvel Comics, 1990

Does anybody love The Red Skull?

I don’t mean like, physically or anything. That would be gross.* I mean does anybody love The Red Skull the same way I love Dr. Doom? I don’t think so. The guy’s a fucking Nazi, for Chrissakes, he’s one of those villains that you actually want to see get their comeuppance. I don’t know about you, but I’m always rooting for Captain America to sock that creep right in his hideous kisser – pow! Take that, Ratzi!

And that’s why I love this issue so much: as you can see by the cover, it’s all about The Red Skull getting his ass handed to him by Magneto for being a dirty Nazi rat bastard. Simple as that.

I’ll save my diatribe about Magneto for another post – let’s just say that he used to be my favorite villain back in the day, when I thought his name was pronounced the way it’s spelled. Then I found out it’s pronounced “Mag-neat-o!” and my fickle affections drifted towards Victor Von Doom instead. I’m sorry, I just can’t get behind somebody named Mag-neat-o. I have my pride.

This issue (with solid art by Kieron Dwyer) takes place after the Acts of Vengeance! Storyline that ran through the non-mutant Marvel titles. In Acts of Vengeance! (you have to put the exclamation point in there, much like Viva Knieval!) a bunch of arch-villains were drawn together by a mysterious but powerful stranger (Loki) in a plot to destroy Earth’s heroes. The idea was they would switch the foes they normally fought and take the heroes off-guard that way. Great plan, you can guess how it worked out for the villains.

Two of the arch-villains brought together in this scheme were The Red Skull, a WWII era Nazi war criminal and Magneto, the survivor of the German concentration camps that killed his family. The writing was on the wall, a showdown had to happen, and leave it to Marvelous Mark Gruenwald to write the inevitable Butt-Kicking of Titans.

It starts off pretty simply: Magneto busts into The Red Skull’s fortified offices, and demands to know if he’s the real Red Skull – because if he is, the Pain Train’s comin’. Whoo whoo!

Captain America actually appears in Captain America #367, but his role is largely incidental. The real focus of the issue is just Magneto trying to catch The Red Skull and kick his head in. I loved this comic because it totally makes sense – the plot is a direct and inevitable result of the personality and psychology of the two main characters. Plus, you know who’s going to win. Come on, The Mutant Master of Magnetism versus a fascist in a Halloween mask? Magneto regularly takes on entire teams of superheroes – and wins. The Red Skull regularly takes on Captain America – and loses, unless he’s got a Cosmic Cube up his sleeve like the rotten Nazi cheater he is. Is there any doubt who wins here?

Gruenwald, who we’ve previously established as the Best Damn Cap Writer Ever, doesn’t play favorites or employ The Riddler Factor to give The Red Skull an edge. No, pretty much from the beginning the Skull is playing “D” while Magneto presses the offensive. No matter what defenses The Red Skull employs, Magneto keeps coming, until ultimately The Red Skull is just running for his life like a Crystal Lake camper. But before he runs screaming like a girl, The Red Skull throws everything at his pursuer, to no avail:

-Hidden floor gun? Ineffectual.
-Squad of Aryan goons with guns? They get blasted.
-Dust of death hidden in cigarette? Rendered harmless by force field.
-Plastic bubble? Slows Magneto down for like, a second.
-The Controller? Don’t make me laugh.
-Thermal blasting robot? Who sends a robot against Magneto?
-Squad of Red Skull robot look-alikes? Forget about it.

Nothing works.

Finally The Red Skull tries to escape on a subterranean railroad but Magneto catches up with him by magnetically fucking up the railway, warping the tracks. I guess next time you'll be making that shit out of plastic, eh Nazi?

The Red Skull wakes up a little later, and things don’t look too good for him. Check it out (click to enlarge):

That’s cold. Yep, Magneto leaves The Red Skull to rot in a dark tomb with little hope of escape. Notice I didn’t say “no hope of escape,” because of course The Red Skull eventually does escape Magneto’s cell, a few pounds lighter and even meaner than before. And that’s okay, because that just means we as readers get the pleasure of watching Cap beat him up again and again.**

However, if it were me writing and not Gruenwald, I’d have ended the book a little differently:

*Not because he’s a dude, because he’s got a frickin’ red skull for a face. Try some Oil of Olay, Skull.

** Until he gets his ass killed in Ed Brubaker’s current run on Captain America.


Anonymous said...

Well, we do know of at least one Marvel mainstay who "physically loved" the Skull--the Viper, in another Gruenwald-penned issue from a few years later (perhaps the one with Thor and a dough-dripping house on the cover. My mind is hazy).

The Viper is much hotter than the Skull deserves, even if she is a loon.

Anonymous said...

I think the long running theme of Magneto's family's oppression at the hands of the Nazi's is one of the best villan motivations in comics. It is completely believable and leads to a level of sympathy for Magneto that you rarely have for other super criminals.

I often find myself looking at Magneto's anger towards humanity and at least can see why he will never trust humans. Sort of along the lines of Chris Rock's, "I'm not saying he should have killed her, but I understand."

Hell, occasionally I would like to exterminate the whole human race and I'm not even a oppressed mutant Holocaust survivor.

Plus the highlight of the first X-Men film for me is the first thirty seconds when the child Magneto tears the gates off of Auschwitz even as the SS guards struggle to drag him away.

Yail Bloor

Anonymous said...

i remember having the same 'mag-net-o' mag-NEAT-o' revelation many moons ago. much like you, my feelings for him were forever altered...

Pere Ubu said...

The Sleepers were cool, though.

Of course, that was the 70's, and we weren't up to our asses in giant robots then.

Anonymous said...

I had always figured Magneto's name was the neat-o way simply because any universe with characters named after animals, "super" adjectives and lord knows what else had to have it pronounced in the hip and upbeat way we now know it to be pronounced. It's all about how the character's personality and power in my opinion.

Greg said...

Mag-net-o (I refuse to pronounce the other way) also starred in the Spider-Man titles at this time (during Acts of Vengeance!), when Peter had those unbelievably stupid Captain Universe powers (or Captain Whatever - Captain Black Hole? Captain Quasar?). He got around during that crossover!

You are making it difficult for me to resist the siren call of the back issue boxes. Like I need to spend more money on comics, but obviously I have huge chunks in my collection! Bastard!!!!!

Brian Cronin said...

Not for nothing, but there is an actual word called "magneto."

It is in the dictionary, and everything.

It is a part of a car engine.

And it is pronounced "mag-neat-o."

So presumably that it was Lee was basing the pronunciation on when he created ol' Mags.

Although, it's funny...we are encouraged to ignore early Magneto appearances in favor of the new "Holocaust survivor" background of the character (which does NOT match his appearances during his first decade or so in comics), but we can't ignore a pronunciation that DOES sound kinda dorky?


Anonymous said...

I remember a decent backup story a few issues after that w/the Skull underground. He's visited by ghosts of his past, including his daughter- all who tell him to end his life.

But then he's visited by Cap himself- and the interesting thing is, Mark Bagley (I think) drew him entirely in shadow, in the Skull's field of vision he just sees the wings, the A, and the stars and stripes. He talks Skull out of doing himself in. Leading to this fucked up line, "I HATE you, Captain America! I hate you for being more good than I am evil!"

Damn, Keiron Dwyer ruled this comic during his run.

David Campbell said...

He really did rule - Dwyer's work is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be off topic, but what do people think of the new Ultimate series released by marvel.

thekelvingreen said...

Which Ultimate series? There's four or five of the buggers now?

I'm not too fond of any of them to tell the truth. Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates (Avengers) are the best of the bunch, but even those aren't amazing.

Quite enjoying Ultimate Secret though. Fun take on Captain Marvel, and exquisite art.

RTO Trainer said...

I am secretly Captain America.


RTO Trainer said...

I've noted a focus on Villany in this blog. So Dave, how about a Top 10 Villians (cross continuities, of course) and Top 10 Heroes? I have my lists, but I'll wait for you to start.

Anonymous said...

Matt, Cap was a hallucination of the Skull, who was delusional.

David Campbell said...

See? Coyle probably didn't even have to look that up! I fear his Geek Power.

Anonymous said...

I discovered your blog via jimtreacher.com. I used to dig his site, but now it just sucks. But the long box..the long box talks to my soul, man, it gives it a hug and smacks it around a little when it gets out of line. This is great stuff.

I second the motion for a Top 10 Villain list (maybe a bit more thematic, like '10 villains that never quite lived up to their hype' or '10 villains that could benefit from a hero swap').

But hey, I'll go where the long box goes...

David Campbell said...

Thanks for the props, SW. No love for the Treacher? I'm a fan, myself. I'm coming around to this whole Top 10 theme, I've got some ideas...

RTO Trainer said...

You could milk the theme idea for a long time.

Top 10 Lamest Heroes of all time:

I might just populate that entirely with Dazzler.

David Campbell said...

"Something about Dr. Doom taking on the Punisher."

You mean a Dr. Doom robot taking on The Punisher...

I feel your pain, g bob, I do.

Dr. Pants said...

OK -- I'm sorry, but as much as I hate nazis, I love me some Red Skull. He's kind of a Marvel version of Lex Luthor, really. A normal guy (with notable exceptions) that is fighting a super guy.

Still, I loved him because he was going to get his ass handed to him. That was the whole point. Villains I want to see win are few and far between. Maybe Killer Shrike. I always liked that kid.

Tegan O'Neil said...

1) Acts of Vengeance did actually cross over with the X-books - the Mandarin's involvement with three of the X-Men (who were then scattered, if you recall) led to Psylocke being rather bizarrely turned asian. Wolverine also fought a couple unfamiliar foes. X-Factor and the New Mutants were off-planet (fighting the Judgement War and some Asgardian hijinks, respectively), but they crossed over as well - X-Factor had a cool back-up featurign Loki vs. Apocalypse, while the New Mutants had the Vulture vs. Skids and Rusty Collins.

2) Of course, the Skull is only dead until someone - anyone - at Marvel remembers the whole clone body thing. They were all destroyed by - um - the German Super-Soldiers who tracked him down to put him on trial for war crimes, but that was years ago, even in the comics. I'm sure Arnim Zola has a few new Skull bodies sitting around by now.

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Anonymous said...

damn man...i LOVED this issue. I was already a big fan of Gruenwald & Dwyer's Cap, but this was the one for me. Magneto clowned his ass!

Paul Schreivogl said...

I know this is an old thread, but I was working through the archive and I thought I should reply on this one.

While Magneto vs. Skull looks pretty good...I have a comic (one-shot, I believe) in which the one and only Doctor Doom! owns the Red Skull in a battle on the moon.


As I recall, Doom leaves him crippled on the moon's surface with a low supply of air...kind of like the low water supply in the above comic, huh?

It really is a glorious battle. Damn. Now I'm gonna have to root through boxes to dig up that issue.

Great blog.

Anonymous said...

In another meeting, Mag-net-o and Dr. Doom meet in Doom's castle and discuss origins. Magneto almost takes off Doom's mask-plate. Almost. No one touches Doom.