Monday, July 04, 2005

CAPTAIN AMERICA #383 Marvel Comics, 1991

Since it's Independence Day here in the States, I thought I'd review a comic that was at least somewhat germane to the holiday. And really, comics don't come any more American than Captain America. Check out that flag-waving cover - it looks like he's going to break into song. This comic was published a decade before 9-11, and as always, the presence of the Twin Towers adds a certain poignancy and subtext that wasn't originally intended by the book's creators. In real life we don't have any Captain Americas to save us. There's just us.

Anyway, Captain America #383 is a triple-sized issue celebrating Captain America's 50th Anniversary, which means that it has one regular story by Gruenwald and Lim and a bunch of filler to pad out the page count. I'm just going to talk about the main story; screw that other stuff.

Oh, and it's got a special metallic cover - remember, this was in 1991, the era of the gimmick cover. It would have been weird if it didn't have a special metallic cover.

In the feature story, Captain America is in New York hunting a costumed character named Father Time who is "allegedly terrorizing the Bowery with a scythe." Cap pursues the mysterious figure through a rain storm in New York's back alleys (sometimes I think that Marvel's New York is nothing but alleys and fire escapes) until his prey disappears through a portal of light, pictured below.

Captain America is very goal-oriented, so he goes through the portal after Father Time, even though he's a little fuzzy on just what it is Father Time has done that warrants chasing.

Here's where things get wacky. Cap travels into our country's mythic past, where he meets other legendary figures of American folklore, like Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, and Pecos Bill, the crazy tornado-roping cowboy.

Pecos agrees to give Cap a ride on his horse Widow-Maker:

SNXXX? What the hell kind of sound effect is "SNXXX?" I'm sorry, that's not a normal horse noise. I wouldn't ride that thing if you paid me.

Wandering through this dream landscape, Captain America finds himself in a huge forest, where he meets a huge man. That's right, it's none other than:

Paul Bunyan! That's what comics need more of. Start writing letters to Marvel now, kids! Alas, we don't get to see Babe the Blue Ox, Paul Bunyan's trusty companion.

Paul and the rest of the heroes of folklore direct Captain to the Old Man on The Mountain, who may be able to help him escape from the trippy mythic landscape he's stuck in. There's a lot of talk about heroic archetypes and legend, and then Cap faces the Old Man himself, Father Time, who looks like a dorky bearded supervillain in an orange and blue costume. I have never actually met the real Father Time, but I'd like to think he has been around long enought to figure out that orange and blue look crappy together.


"Cap makes America a better place with his FISTS!"


Father Time wants Captain America to fulfill his destiny and join the other heroes of folklore, to leave the world of humans and become a legend. Cap isn't having it: "I'm not ready to stop striving to make America a place where men can realize their dreams. I'm not ready for retirement her in Never-Never Land." Naturally, they fight, because Cap makes America a better place with his FISTS!

You know, I was thinking as I was reading this comic that writer Mark Gruenwald forgot one significant American legend. I realize space was tight, but if it were me, I'd boot Paul Bunyan out of there and use this line-up of American folk heroes:

That's right, Rainbow Head! Crazy-ass Rock'n Rollen Stewart, the guy with the rainbow afro who showed up at every televised sporting event in the 80's, mugging for the camera in his John 3:16 T-shirt. The fact that he committed a series of bombings and is now serving three consecutive life sentences for kidnapping shouldn't hurt his chances at attaining American Legend status. So I'm officially nominating Rock'n Rollen Stewart to the annals of our great nation's folklore.

Where was I? Right, Captain America and Father Time battle on top of a mountain, and before you know it, Cap is back in the same New York back alley, still chasing the fleeing Father Time. He hurls his shield, knocks Father Time down and... it's Hawkeye in disguise! Wha--?

Captain America is confused. Hawkeye is dressed up as a villain, but why? What about his trip to Folklore Land? Did he really battle Father Time in an otherworldly space, or did somebody slip some LSD in his orange juice this morning? Perhaps we'll never know.

Back at Avengers HQ, his superhero pals have out together a 50th Anniversary bash complete with a star-spangled cake. "So this is why you had Hawkeye lead me on a wild goose chase... So you could get me out of headquarters long enough to set up a party," Cap says.

Couldn't somebody have just taken him out to lunch or a movie instead?


Anonymous said...

America: FUCK YEAH!

Winterteeth said...

I always use this issue for reference when someone asks about "the mythology of America." We have some lame-ass myths in this country. No Fathers eating their kids (or rocks disguised as kids), no jackass kid with glued on wings crashing into a frothy sea and no crafty dudes huddled under sheep to escape a Cyclops. No, we get a railroad laborer, a horticulturalist (sp?), a freakish lumberjack and a suicidal cowboy. Go us!

David Campbell said...

...and Rainbow Head. Don't forget Rainbow Head.

Anonymous said...

You know, Gruenwald kind of jumped the shark on CA after this issue.

John said...

I loved Gruenwald and still consider him THE Cap writer (yes, above Englehart), but this particular issue ripped off both Kirby's Bicentennial Battles story and Englehart's Cap issue from the 70s where a dude named the Golden Archer taunts Cap until it's revealed that GA is really...


Oh, Mark.

Anonymous said...

Father Time is a character from the Golden Age, only his costume then was a cloak and a pair of shorts. At least the old dude put some clothes on to cover up the varicose veins.

Anonymous said...

Gruenwald doing a thinly xeroxed version of someone else's idea? I am shocked, I tell you, SHOCKED!

DougBot said...

There's a book called The Botany of Desire, where the author discusses various plants and how they've used humans to propagate themselves.

The section on apples is fairly interesting, since it paints a picture of Johnny Appleseed as a total loony crazy dude who goes around the frontier getting people to plant apples since you can make booze out of them.

Not the stuff we were taught as kids, I tell you what.

SwanShadow said...

I hadn't thought about Rollen Stewart in years. Thanks for the reminder, Dave.

thekelvingreen said...

Hey, it's like Gaiman's American Gods, only with more pictures and a worse plot!

You're right about Marvel's New York; I seem to remember an issue of Daredevil that featured a section of the elevated train tracks that ran right past someone's window, so close that you could step out onto it (or throw Bullseye out onto it). Surely that's a safety hazard...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, our legends aren't so hot if one includes Johnny Appleseed, the only one on the list who was an actual person and who, as someone else pointed out, was more than a bit looney and Paul Bunyan, who was, if I recall correctly, created by a logging company as a corporate spokesman until Disney kind of ran with it. Pecos Bill was the creation of a late 19th C dime novelist, wasn't he?

In fact, I think all the legends mentioned--except John Henry, an honest-to-god folklore figure--probably really entered our consciousnesses through those Disney American Legends cartoons? Certainly, with the exception of Johnny Appleseed and John Henry, they were all "artificial" creations, not folklore at all....right. Too serious. Sorry!

Tegan O'Neil said...

Hey, the bakcup stories were actually quite good. The origin of the Skull & Bones team is still quite memorable, even after all these years...

Anonymous said...

"Snxxx" sounds like a snort to me. I can buy that.

Was it his 50th birthday party, or were they celebrating his 50 anniversary of being Captain America?

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