Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Discuss: Captain America: The Winter Soldier -Spoiled Edition!

Karen: OK, we've waited an appropriate amount of time -now we can blab about all the great stuff in Captain America:The Winter Soldier! To get the ball rolling, I'll share some email exchanges Doug and I had about the movie. Maybe you can build off that, or share your own thoughts about this great Marvel flick!


Doug: Captain America was just wonderful -- what a great superhero movie. As others have remarked, it's in Marvel's top 3 alongside Iron Man and the Avengers. Chris Evans makes me believe that he is Steve Rogers. This screen version of Captain America, although a bit more tolerant of lethal force than I'm used to, is truly how I'd see the character. The increased roles for the Widow and Nick Fury were welcome, and the Falcon was incredibly well-handled. Throw in the Lemurian reference, a Stephen Strange reference, the way they played Arnim Zola and Batroc, Baron Strucker, and three (!) Helicarriers and there was a lot to love.

Karen: I thought you'd love Cap. They really did a fantastic job on the film. I feel like Chris Evans has finally grown into the role -I actually believe him as Cap now. I'm very happy to see that principled character I grew up with up there on the big screen. I really can't fault his performance at all.

Karen: I also was very pleased with the Falcon and how they introduced him. Thankfully he was not an agent of SHIELD! His comics origin would have been too convoluted to use, but I liked what they did, especially the idea that he was counseling returning veterans. And the flying! That was outstanding. His relationship with Cap was perfect too. I loved how they met. And some of his lines -"I do what he does, only slower." -classic.

The whole infiltration of Hydra into SHIELD was a great idea. I've been interested for years in Operation Paperclip and the incorporation of Nazi scientists into our space program and other areas  of government, like post-war intelligence networks, and it's very troubling. It's not that hard to imagine that in a world of super-beings, a group like Hydra could worm its way into a large organization like that. We've been very lukewarm viewers of the Agents of SHIELD show, but I have to say, the way they tied this movie's events into the show was pretty clever. All this does make you wonder how the rest of the films will be affected.

I loved Arnim Zola! Do you see a trend here? Love, love, loved it all!

Doug: I'm a little confused on two things in the first bonus scene, however. Didn't Loki have the scepter with him when he sat on Asgard's throne at the end of the last Thor picture? And, are we to assume that the Maximoff twins will not be mutants but instead genetic constructs of Hydra?

Karen: I thought Loki/Odin was holding Odin's spear at the end of Thor 2, but I'd have to check. As for the twins, I guess this is their workaround for not being able to use the term 'mutant' -they just make them experiments. Did you notice that Pietro's hair was still dark in this scene, but in the pictures from Avengers: Age of Ultron, it is turning white? Maybe as he uses his powers, it will turn white? Also, it seems that perhaps Wanda's powers may be more telekinetic than probability-altering? Perhaps that would be easier for an audience to understand?

Doug: I missed the whole Crossbones thing, but then I have no experience with the character. Was he the main Hydra soldier, that was with Cap in the initial scene and then was the main guy in the control room scene when Agent 13 put a gun to his head?  Also, when Fury was being attacked by the Washington, DC police, did I hear his "Jarvis" say that there were no humans in range? So were they all LMDs?

Karen: Yes, you got it. Brock Rumlow =Crossbones. It will be interesting to see if they put him in his mask. He could be interpreted as  a Bane rip-off by some.

I didn't pick up on the LMD comment. I'll have to listen for that when I see the movie again! (NOTE -On my second viewing, it sounds to me like the AI says "No units in the area," referring to the Metro police).

I thought the scene with Peggy was unnecessary. It didn't actually do anything for the story. They should have either cut it, or built upon it. The only mis-step in the movie, in my opinion. 

Doug: See, I thought the Peggy scene served to cement Cap's "man out of time" element. Looking at how young she was, and how beautiful she was in the first film, it did (for me) hammer home the point that Cap and Bucky would be 95 years old! So for me it worked, because it would later bring the incredulity to Cap when he saw the Winter Soldier unmasked. Of course, at the end of the film we got to see Bucky in a cryogenic chamber in that KGB folder. 

Karen: Don't get me wrong, I like Peggy a lot, and would like to see more of her, but I felt that scene needed more follow up -it felt sort of thrown in there.

Speaking of, and I need to research this -- didn't the KGB go away when the Soviet Union fell in 1990? If so, it would be difficult for the Widow to be KGB trained, as she'd have been 6 years old.

Karen: I asked the same thing about the Widow to my husband, who just shrugged it off, after the film. We're getting pretty far away from the Soviet era  now. I asked also why the Winter Soldier had the red star on his shoulder if he'd been working for Hydra all these years -or was it  Hydra within the KGB? It is a little confusing but I guess it doesn't prevent me from enjoying the movie.

And how about Cap taking down a whole jet with just his shield? Wasn't that an incredible scene? It gets across the point that he deserves to be a part of the Big Three. That to me felt very much like comic book action.

Doug: So there you have it -- some thoughts from your hosts to get things rolling today. Have at it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Discuss: The Conan the Barbarian Movies, Plus X-Men DoFP Clip

Doug: Of course Conan came up in Karen's Arnold Schwarzenegger post last week. There was a little sidebar that developed, so today let's delve into it further. Speak, then if you will, of the handful of depictions of the future King of Aquilonia on celluloid, and then in larger form as to whether or not faithfulness to the print media detracts from your enjoyment of these films. And hey, if Tarzan creeps stealthily into the conversation that would be OK for the latter discussion.

Doug: I saw this yesterday and thought I'd bring it over. Special effects alone, this looks pretty cool!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Avengers Firsts: Hawkeye

Tales of Suspense #57 (September 1964)(cover by Don Heck)
"Hawkeye, the Marksman!"
Stan Lee-Don Heck

NOTE: Whenever I try to convert art from one of the Gitcorp dvd-roms to .jpg files, the full-page images frequently come out distorted. Apologies from the start for our less than stellar outcomes today on the visuals! -- Doug

Doug: Welcome to the BAB, post-"Secret Empire"! I think everyone got some degree of satisfaction out of our long tour through that pivotal tale in the life of Captain America. And since Cap always puts most of us in an Avengering mood, Karen and I thought it would be cool to finish the month of April with our own "Marvel Firsts" geared toward the Kooky Quartet era of "Earth's Mightiest Heroes". Today we're obviously kicking things off with everyone's favorite loud-mouthed bowslinger. Next week we'll check in on the debut of the Maximoff twins (on display... oh wait -- that's for Wednesday's FULLY SPOILED Captain America post!), and then we'll conclude with a minor (haha -- is anything minor when the Son of Zeus is involved?) tussle between Thor and Hercules! So buckle in -- there's quite a bit of Silver Age fun winging your way over the next few weeks.

Karen: We probably haven't spent enough time on the Silver Age, really. Sure, we're the Bronze Age Babies, but the Silver Age is our foundation!

Doug: You have my agreement. I have really had a blast the times I've reviewed some of the Silver Age Avengers that are my favorites, and of course we could hardly contain ourselves when we both took a look at Silver Surfer #4. I enjoyed this on my first read a few weeks ago, as I'm not sure I'd ever read the entire story before! Wow -- does this take us back to a simpler time in Marvel history, when each hero's Achilles heel still stood out and influenced the stories month-to-month and individual personalities were still being honed by the creators. Oh, and the soap opera aspect... this one, as they say, has it all!

Karen: You got it right when you said that the "personalities were still being honed by the creators." It was only 1964 after all, for this tale and next week's Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch debut. The characters, as we know them, were not quite there yet.

Doug: Not quite. But when we get to Hercules... Boy, did Stan and Jack get it right the first time with the Lion of Olympus! So we open at one of Tony Stark's factories, where Iron Man saves one of Stark's laborers from a quite precarious situation. But while Iron Man settles everyone down and receives thanks from the assemblage of workers, Happy Hogan comes by and asks for a minute alone with Iron Man. The Golden Avenger fears that something is wrong elsewhere, but Happy tells him that he only wants a favor: since Iron Man is so close to Mr. Stark, couldn't Iron Man ask Mr. Stark to help him out in getting a date with Pepper Potts. We quickly scene shift to Stark's office where he puts his regular clothes over his chestplate. You knew I wasn't going to last long in evading the "rubber mask" conundrum we BABers always complain about. C'mon -- the chestplate must have some serious rigidity to it -- does Stan Lee mean to tell me that no one ever playfully gave him a punch to the midsection? And what of the light on Iron Man's chest? Not exactly a smooth contour on that thing, either. But anyway... I suppose it's not quite as bad as Cap's shield "hidden" under his shirt.

Karen: I'm struck by how un-armorlike Iron Man's suit looks! It's just so soft and round, like the Mego doll. But yes, the idea of a man wearing an iron breastplate under his shirt going undetected seems ludicrous, just like carrying around said armor in a briefcase, but it was a different age.

Doug: I never did wrap my mind around that whole flexible armor deal as a child. And then when Nova came out, we were told that his helmet became like tissue paper when removed from his head. Yeah, whatever.

Doug: So Tony, being loyal to Happy, approaches Pepper about "a date". Well, Stupid, what did you think she was going to hear? And poor Happy, standing just off to the side while Pepper leaps into Stark's surprised arms. Happy sort of tucks his tail and leaves the room, while Stark has to quickly figure out an idea for a date he really doesn't want to go on. Well, maybe I should say a date he shouldn't go on. Of course we're subjected to the Silver Age trope of "I love the girl, but I could never... (fill in the blank depending on the hero)". Heck yes, Stark wants to pursue Pepper, but with the heart thing, the Iron Man thing, the fact that Happy also loves her thing. You know, superheroing stinks -- really it does. So Tony takes Pepper to the boardwalk, mostly in hopes that she'll think he's a schmuck and he won't have to worry about their love for each other becoming openly known. While checking out the various attractions, they pass by a booth wherein toils Hawkeye, the World's Greatest Marksman. However, trouble's brewing elsewhere on one of the rides.

Karen: This whole sequence is so bizarre - such a contrived situation. Stark loves her, but has to keep her away, and he wants to drive her towards Happy, so he takes her on a terrible date... it's weird.

Doug: I was glad in the films when they just said to heck with it and it was pretty obvious that Pepper and Tony were lovers. Maybe angst doesn't play in the 21st century? Iron Man makes short work of the near-catastrophe at the "flying pinwheel" ride, and of course the assemblage of carnival goers cheers widely. And in the first example of a character trait we'll see run through those early appearances in the Avengers, Hawkeye watches from afar, feeling quite inferior. He's actually pretty put out that folks dropped what they were doing to watch Shellhead in action. So Hawkeye (no Clint Barton in this story, and not for a long time if memory serves) stalks off to his workshop where he sets about crafting some trick arrows and designing a costume. And I'll declare, he designs a keeper -- it's one of the Marvel Comics costumes that's stood the test of time with only minor alterations here and there.

Karen: Did the situation with Iron Man inside the spokes of the pinwheel remind you at all of the Avengers film, with Iron Man inside the helicarrier's rotor? It's a pretty slim impetus for Hawkeye's origin -pure envy. But I guess it's as good as any, and certainly that aspect of his personality -the underdog always trying to prove himself -has been consistent. What made me chuckle a bit was some of Hawkeye's dialog here, where he says stuff such as, "Let Iron Man and every costumed adventurer look to his laurels! For Hawkeye is about to make them all look sick!" and "I feel as though the destiny of the entire city below me is in my powerful gloved hands!" Doesn't quite sound like the bowslinger we know, does it? 

Doug: The new-and-improved Hawkeye then sets out to reinforce his belief that he's pretty darned good. It's also for our benefit, so we see just what this cat can do. Hawk fires off an arrow with a rope for swinging, which he uses to Spidey-it around town. But very soon he comes across a robbery in progress. Playing hero, Hawkeye uses a conventional arrow to pin the robber's jacket to a phone pole. But the creep's able to wriggle free, and beats it on foot. Hawkeye drops to the ground to inspect the guy's booty (haha - as Winwood sang, when you see a chance, take it) and finds that the heist had included a whole bunch of precious gemstones. But as fate would have it, two cops on a beat happen upon the scene and deduce -- you guessed it -- that Hawkeye is the thief. But since he's not, now he starts running. And he about gets hit, because he runs right out in front of a car driven by -- Madame Natasha, the Black Widow!

Karen: It would be easy to forget that Madame Natasha had started out as a brunette. And of course, she was not a costumed character yet, just a femme fatale Soviet spy. But she was pretty potent in that role. But what a happy coincidence, huh, she's just driving by when this all goes down?

Doug: Natasha, sans costume as you stated, takes Hawkeye to her secret lair. Of course we know the character Clint Barton will become, and his weaker attributes are on full display here -- namely, the fact that he can't resist a pretty skirt! The Widow reads this right away and exploits Hawkeye's infatuation. She tells him that she has an enemy she'd like defeated -- the Invincible Iron Man! But, she cautions, his employer Tony Stark must not be harmed. Hawkeye takes both halves of the command as a challenge, and sets his mind toward winning the heart of his new Russian flame. Meanwhile, we visit Stark in his factory lab, all ablaze with passion for Pepper Potts. Stark's so smitten by her, he about walks out of his lab half-dressed in his armor! It's unclear where the next few panels take place -- in the firm's offices, or perhaps at Pepper's place? Anyway, Happy is there and he's mustered his courage to ask Pepper for a date. Stark walks in, and Pepper decides to play him. Right when Happy feels he's about to get rejected again, Pepper agrees to a date! Stark takes it in stride... this is one odd love triangle here.

Karen: I never read a lot of Tales of Suspense or early Iron Man issues to know if Stark ever really had a relationship with Pepper. I think by the time I started reading it, she was already with Happy. But the whole thing just seems very uncomfortable.

Doug: All of the dodging of potential significant others that played out in most superhero mags really makes you appreciate Barry Allen and Iris West, doesn't it? At least Barry was trying. But I'm no Flash fan or reader, so don't quote me on that.

Doug: Outside of Stark's factory Hawkeye begins his assault. He launches a suction-tipped arrow across a divide, then cables to the building. Scaling the wall, he avoids guards and a vehicle in the process. Now ready to set off his full attack, he fires a blast arrow that creates an explosion. Security comes running, but outpacing them is the Golden Avenger. Hawkeye waits in the shadows, readying the perfect shot to take out his target. This scene is well-written by Stan Lee, and quite formative. Hawkeye had perfected arrows tipped with various chemicals, and once Iron Man was in range he was pelted with several projectiles that released a solution that caused I.M.'s armor to... rust! OK, seriously? You don't think Stark would have taken his get-up to the local Ziebart dealer? Apparently not, because he starts to go all Tin Man on us. He scrambles for a hiding place, finding one in the rafters. He peels off the affected  pieces, and thinks that he must get to his extra armors, stashed around the factory grounds (I got a real Norman Osborn vibe out of this).

Karen: It does seem rather silly now to see Iron Man defeated by rust -particularly seeing him crawling around with bare arms and legs! All of the Marvel characters seemed far more human, far more fallible in these early years. In this issue, Hawkeye is a convincing challenge for Iron Man, but as the years went on, the gap in their power levels would expand dramatically. I doubt anyone today would consider Hawkeye to be in Iron Man's league.

Doug: Hawkeye comes across the discarded pieces of Iron Man's armor and figures that anyone able to discern their properties could become quite powerful himself. So as he packs up his "finders-keepers", Stark makes it to a spare attache' case. He quickly replaces the damaged segments of his armor. However, he's missing a right boot; without that, he figures he's no match for Hawkeye without full mobility. Remembering that he'd needed to repair it in another part of the factory, but had to hide it at the time, Stark finally gets himself together and is ready to face the marksman. Trouble now is, Hawkeye's beaten it out of Dodge. So Shellhead takes to the air in pursuit. It doesn't take long before he finds a lone car, speeding in the direction away from the factory. Now I'm no Sherlock Holmes, and I'll bet Tony Stark isn't either. I mean, would you just assume that because the car is doing what you think Hawkeye's car would be doing that it would be OK to open fire on it? Well, Iron Man does just that. Hawkeye was indeed in it, and emerges from the crash ready for battle. But this time Iron Man has the advantage.

Karen: He really blows the crap out of that car!
Doug: Aye, that he does! And then... and then the story get ridiculous. Iron Man and Hawkeye tussle in an open area near some docks. Hawkeye launches an arrow that releases a net of nylon strands, but Iron Man is able to break loose before it constricts. Hawkeye's maneuvered onto a pier. Now I don't know how many of you have been by a river/lake/pond/ocean with a pier. But if you haven't, I have to tell you, kids -- there isn't any fulcrum in the set-up! But you wouldn't know that here, as Iron Man rises high in the sky, only to plummet like a missile onto the end of the pier opposite his nemesis. Yup -- Hawkeye is launched up and off the pier as if he'd been on a see saw. And then... it gets more ridiculous. Hawkeye lands on a tall pile, clinging to it with both arms and both legs. Iron Man swoops in and grabs the top of the pile... and pulls it like you'd pull a toy catapult -- whiplashing our archer right off and far away! Iron Man follows him and pulls him out of the drink, unconscious.

Karen: The action here was cartoonlike. I almost wonder if they were running out of space and had to wrap the fight up quickly.

Doug: To be honest, I had it set in my mind that this was a split book, so I felt like there were at least two codas to the action! Watching from afar was the Black Widow, who'd arrived by boat to pick up Hawkeye after his victory. But unbeknownst to her, a set of circumstances was shaping up that would prove the endgame here. Iron Man moved away from his unconscious charge, and as he walked away, Hawkeye reached into his arsenal and pulled out the head of the "demolition arrow" -- a little warhead he'd cooked up with Natasha's help. Righting himself, Hawkeye let 'er rip. But he hadn't calculated the power of Iron Man's armor -- and that it would deflect the arrow straight toward the Widow. Knocked unconscious by the blow. Now crazed with fear, Hawkeye scoops up his would-be lover and makes tracks for her vessel. Iron Man, still staggered from the force of the demolition arrow, tries to follow. However, he pulls back immediately as an airplane taking off from nearby LaGuardia Airport buzzes him. Hawkeye gets away.

Karen: I like the way Heck drew the sequence with Hawkeye getting up and then firing the arrow at Iron Man. That had a real sense of suspense and excitement. The melodrama here could be cut with a knife, as Hawkeye professes that Natasha is the only one he's ever loved -he just met her!

Doug: What a wonderful slice of early Marvel Universe life this one is, huh? It has all the hallmarks of a Stan Lee Silver Age yarn, what with the romantic angst, the Communist threat, an anti-hero, and some cool tech. And this is the Don Heck that I like, before rigor mortis hit his figurework. I thought Hawkeye appeared pretty much fully-formed, with no trouble at all recognizing him from his later appearances as a member of Cap's Kooky Quartet. Solid effort all the way around, here.

Karen: I don't think Hawkeye was exhibiting his smart-aleck ways yet, but his rebel personality was definitely in place. You can tell they are still figuring out things at this stage, but it's still a lot of fun to see the Marvel Universe taking shape.

Doug: Bonus! This comic book was one of the lucky ones that was adapted (converted?) into an episode of the 1966 series Marvel Super-Heroes. So, if you're so inclined, you can "watch along" and then come back for a re-read of our review! Enjoy!

Friday, April 11, 2014

True or False: Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Greatest Action Movie Hero of All Time

Karen: The other day I read a fun and engaging article on by Bill Simmons called "The Action Hero Championship Belt." Simmons sets up some rules and then goes through chronologically from 1968 (when Steve McQueen's Bullitt premiered) and selects the top action hero for a particular time period. All the usual suspects are there -Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis -but Arnold Schwarzenegger comes away with more years on top than anyone else. Looking back, I'd say that's about right too. He was a believable butt-kicker in every role he played. 

Here are Simmons' rules, so you can answer today's question:

Rule No. 1: Over everything else, I need to believe our hero can kick everyone’s ass, in any conceivable situation, at any given time. And he needs to believe this, too.

Rule No. 2: During our hero’s apex, I would have seen his action movie no matter what the plot was, and no matter how lukewarm the reviews were.

Rule No. 3: The body of work from a particular run matters more than a single movie.

Karen: Based on this criteria, and whatever else you care to use, what do you say -is Arnold the Man?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Coming of Age in Songs

Doug: So a couple of weeks ago my 8-minute commute to school featured Paradise by the Dashboard Light from Meat Loaf. It's a rocker all the way through (with the exception of course of the baseball [ahem...] play-by-play during the bridge). And so as I walked into the building (being an old guy, I have a close parking spot so it was definitely a short trek) I was struck with that moment of inspiration. "We can do something with this!"

Doug: As I got up to my classroom on the second floor, overlooking our beautiful athletic grounds -- which includes one of the nicest-looking baseball fields in the state of Illinois -- I fired up the computer and made a few mental notes. How many artists have expressed the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the teen and young adult years through their music? Instantly Bob Seger's Night Moves came to mind. Later that day, with the iTunes player set on shuffle, Bruce Springsteen's The River came across. So I'll stop with those as my contributions to today's conversation, at least for now. After all, our readers are pretty well-drilled at this sort of thing. Have at it, friends!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Discuss: Modernizing Music Methods

Doug: Today let's sing the merits of our means of getting that music to our waiting ears. And along the way, share a memory of a favorite song or album garnered by you in one of the formats below.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Captain America Must Die: Captain America 176

Captain America #176 (August 1974)(cover by John Romita)
"Captain America Must Die!"
Script: Steve Englehart
Art: Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta

Karen: After the terrible reveal of last issue, Cap is at a crossroads. He stands on the rooftop of Avengers' mansion, brooding. How can he go on being Captain America, wearing his uniform, representing his country, when he's just seen so much corruption at its heart? We get a flashback to Cap's origin, and I think this is one of the better re-tellings of his story. There are interesting little details here - were we told before that Steve was born and raised in Manhattan? We see him in a movie theater, watching news reels and getting righteously angry over the atrocities the Nazis were committing in Europe. All of this would get incorporated into the Captain America film too. We see him volunteer for the super-soldier experiment and become transformed, and then have the genius behind it, Professor Reinstein, get murdered by a spy. This is all achieved in 4 pages, and culminates with Cap thinking that he had truly become the embodiment of America -but things had changed drastically since then.

Doug: My question is, how did they get Chris Evans's head on that scrawny little body? But really -- if Steve Englehart claims to have written all the stories that would become the first Batman franchise, then he could certainly lay claim to the origin of Captain America. Except that Jack Kirby had done it a couple of times earlier. Anyway, you can sure see the influence of these panels in the Super Soldier portion of the first Cap film. Bone to pick, though -- wasn't the original doctor named Erskine? This fella's name is Reinstein, as you said. I wonder when and why that was changed. I thought Vinnie Colletta's feathery line was really conspicuous in this sequence, with Rogers bare-chested. And given our review of the second part of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and Superman's decision to end his career after the death of Mr. Mxzyptlk, it was ironic that Rogers felt sorry but not sorry about pummeling the Nazi spy into the control panel where he was electrocuted.

Doug: The two-page spread showing the rapid-fire history of Captain America was pretty awesome. The cascading effect was nice, although there was certainly room left to have added even more characters and events. But it was still effective, leaving a full-body image of Cap with an essence of distress at the end of the line. 

Karen: His thoughts are interrupted by the appearance of Thor, his long-time team-mate. Let me take a moment to say that Sal and Vinnie do a great job on the God of Thunder in his brief appearance. As one might expect, Thor counsels the Captain that he is a fighting man, and it is in combat that he is at his finest, and most noble. Cap says he's not even sure what 'nobility' is any more. He's even still beating himself up for stealing that electron-gyro a few issues back. Sure, he did it to help clear his name, and he stopped the Secret Empire, but it bothers him that he stooped to do it. The Thunder God says that whatever Cap decides, he'll have his friendship, and he launches himself into a storm-tossed sky.

Doug: The coloring as Thor arrives on the rooftop is particularly nice and adds to the moodiness. I was struck most in this sequence by the respect Thor has for Cap. When you think of how much longer Thor has been alive, and of all the worlds he's seen and the battles he's fought, that he would try to rouse Cap from this funk because he enjoys a good brouhaha at his side... well, it's a lot to take in.

Karen: I've always thought that these two have similar codes of honor that help to unite them. Cap re-enters the mansion and runs right into another old friend -Iron Man. This is the Shellhead with the nose, so it always looks weird to me. Iron Man takes another tack with Cap -namely, that their powers obligate them to help others. He reminds Cap of different times he's saved lives - or even how he's always agreed to perform at charity events. The star-spangled Avenger bitterly responds that people turned on him the first chance they got when Harderman and CRAP (one more chance to use that acronym!) started spreading lies about him. People took all his help for granted. Shellhead says, so what? Doing good deeds can still give his life meaning, regardless of how fickle the public can be. Just then, Cap's partner, the Falcon, bursts in.

Doug: Iron Man had the nose when I came to "new" Avengers comics, so it's never been odd to me. I actually like it for two reasons: it dates the character to my earliest comics memories, and it sure seems more practical than the flat faceplate! Cap sort of gets an "It's a Wonderful Life" lesson from Iron Man, and I think it's effective. The Avengers are sure giving him the hard sell. How disheartening must it have been for Thor and IM to see Captain America, the mainstay of the team, so downtrodden. But to your comment about Cap's anger at how the crowds so quickly turned on him -- that's a Stan Lee trope as old as the Marvel Universe. Personally, I get very tired of it, but I'll give Englehart credit for taking it and crafting a pretty darned good tale because of it.

Karen: It's funny when you think about the cycles Cap went through: he was pretty miserable when he first got out of the ice, then seemed to settle in to his existence, and then whammo, this situation comes along. Falcon gives Cap some tough love, angry that his partner had just split from Washington without a word. He brought along Sharon Carter and her older sister Peggy (although Peggy was confused as to why Falcon looked for Cap at Sharon's place... oh dear...). Cap says something happened at the White House, something he can't talk about. Falcon replies that the officials have clamped down on that too. But he's shaken by the change he sees in Cap. Cap has always been rock-steady. He briefly recounts his first meeting with the Avenger and how Cap trained him and made him into  "the man I always wanted to be," the Falcon. When the two of them became partners, Falcon felt like he was becoming part  of a legend. Falcon says that as heroes, they are examples to others -they can lead others. Cap more so than anyone else. But Cap is not so sure. He says that the people in charge of the country were also supposed to be heroes, people that the citizenry could look up to -and they were criminals. But the Falcon says that's all the more reason for Cap to hang in there -the people need him now more than ever! You really feel Falcon's passion here as he tries to reason with Cap.

 Doug: So even if this issue transpires the same night as the fracas at the White House, don't you think it would have gotten out that the president is dead? There were members of the media everywhere, the army was present, and for crying out loud -- there was a flying saucer on the back lawn! Wouldn't someone have been looking for their nightly television to have been interrupted by a presidential news conference? I agree that Falcon's fire comes through loud and clear, but more than that I feel Englehart's fire. The Falcon serves as his cipher here, speaking the author's trepidations with America's corruption in the mid-1970s. And to editorial and this issue's creators -- yes, this is an epilogue to the "Secret Empire" story, but it's also a phenomenal jumping on point for new readers. That being said, I wonder how a new kid would have felt if next month he picked up the new copy of _ _ _ _ & the Falcon?

Karen: Peggy picks up the plea, as she comes from a different viewpoint. She says politicians come and go, but America is still the greatest country in the world. After everything the country was going through at this point, it seems a bit tough to swallow, but it was a viewpoint held by many at that time (and today). She says that Cap is the living symbol of freedom. She reminds him that he just recently fought a 'fake' Captain America (the 1950s Cap who was psychotic -hopefully we'll review those issues one of these days) who did not represent his views of America -is he ready to give up on America so quickly now? He's not just any super-hero -he's Captain America!

Doug: Peggy's soliloquy might be the best of the lot. She really put Cap on a pedestal he so richly deserved. However, at the bottom of the final page of her pep talk, Sal and Vinnie give us an image that made me feel like I was riding "It's a Small World" at Disney World! Native costumes, indeed!

Karen: Cap takes it all in, but then calmly replies that America has changed a lot since he took on his name. Americans have many different ideas and creeds -they are far more divided now. When people look at him, what does he represent? After saying that, Cap asks to be left alone. His friends all walk out, but then he hears an unearthly voice. He turns and sees his Avengers' team-mate, the Vision, materialize through the wall. The synthozoid simply asks him if he can give up a life of adventure, and then leaves him alone with Sharon Carter. She asks him no questions, just tells him that whatever he decides, she's with him, the man under the mask, and gives him a kiss and leaves.

Doug: The Vision's appearance was notably creepy, yet somewhat puzzling. I just didn't know. again other than the visual of his phasing through the wall, that his presence in this scene meant anything. Given what he said, I mean. If he'd spoken of the travails of being human, or of something to do with logic in an illogical world, then I guess I'd have felt differently. But I didn't think there was any mileage at all out of those three panels. Cap and Sharon weren't too shy about that kiss, were they? Peggy was a doorway away. And you have to think Vizh might have been onto it.

Karen: Finally alone, Cap stops to consider what was said. He had hoped someone would present him with a viewpoint he hadn't thought of -but they didn't. He thinks to himself that they all missed the main point: he was created by the government to protect the country. He did his best, and although he was not always proud of everything he did, he served as well as he could. Now though, he finds that the government has been serving itself. "I just don't understand! I just don't understand!" Cap thinks in anguish. Clearly his whole world has come crashing down around him. This is the hardest decision of his life. He opens the door and faces his friends, and tells them, "I've asked myself if Captain America must die, and if I had the courage to carry out my verdict. The answer to both questions - is yes."

Doug: When you first read this, did you think he would relent and stay on as Captain America? Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still hoped that Steve Rogers would rethink it -- after all, he is Captain America. Hmph... is this another case in our discussion of who is real -- the hero or the secret ID? Is Captain America Steve Rogers, or is Steve Rogers Captain America? But what Englehart chose to explore here is very interesting. From time to time we've all been disillusioned by our government in total, or at least in governmental policies. But when one's entire identity is wrapped in the flag -- literally -- and when one is the living embodiment of the red, white, and blue... well...

Karen: I recall at the time it was pretty shocking! And it seemed like it took forever for him to put the red, white, and blue back on, even though I believe it was only 8 issues. But this was the first time I saw a hero call it quits, and trying to understand why he did it was important. I knew things were not right in our country but I didn't quite know why. Cap was one more clue.

Karen: This is the pay-off of the whole series of issues we've reviewed, and I think it's a terrific one. At some point, I want us to go and review the follow up, with Steve Rogers dealing with life without Captain America, because I think it's actually more interesting than the "Secret Empire" story! But we'll save that for a later date. It's not easy to see a living legend thrown into such a state of utter disillusionment and confusion  -"I just don't understand!" - but it was a great mirror to what much of the country was going through at the time. Despite all the different reasons given for Steve to remain Cap (and using the Avengers and Cap's friends was a terrific method), Steve must be true to his convictions, and they tell him that he can't wear the colors of a country he no longer feels confident representing. It was a bold story then, and I think it still is now. 

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