So, this one time?
Captain America fought the Red Skull in the depths of hell.
You’re welcome… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Captain America’s Weird Tales #74 awaits!
CAPTAIN AMERICA’S WEIRD TALES #74
Writer: Stan Lee (unconfirmed)
Cover Artist: Martin Nodell
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $14,000.00
Previously in Captain America’s Weird Tales: The Golden Age of Comics started with a bang, and coincided with the second World War, giving children and adults alike some inexpensive escapism during terrible times. Still, as the superhero concept entered its second decade, the cape-and-tights star had begun to fade in favor of crime and horror-type fare. Though the major icons of DC/All-American weathered the storm (your Supermans, your Wonder Womans, Green Arrows and Batmans), Golden Age Atlas/Marvel comics were a different affair entirely. After over 70 issues of super-hero action, the editors of Captain America saw which way the wind was blowing, changing the title of “Captain America Comics” to “Captain America’s Weird Tales.” We begin with The Red Skull (who fell off a dam to his death in Captain America Comics #61) in the actual afterlife, trapped in aitch-ee-double-hockey-sticks, but still up to no good…
Even from beyond the grave, The Red Skull is an enormous $#!+head. With Captain America’s name writ large in the ledgers of Hades, the embodiment of Death himself (looking quite different from Marvel’s usual skull-headed-woman-in-a-robe, mind you) comes knocking at the good Captain’s Brooklyn apartment door. (And here I thought the guys who want to mow my yard were annoying…)
Yes, Faithful Spoilerites. It is canonical that Captain America was consigned to an eternity in the proverbial lake o’ fire due to a clerical error (at least for SOME values of canonical, anyways. More on that note, later…) This particular issue is noteworthy due not only to the title change, but for the fact that the cover art was handled by Martin Nodell, known to Golden Age fans as the artist who created Green Lantern. Greater historians than I have been unable to identify who handled these interiors (though it’s probably not Nodell), but I have to say I kind of enjoy the goofy almost funny-animal grotesque takes on the Reaper, Charon and the Master Judge of Hell itself, who quickly discovers the error in his logs…
Note also that Captain America’s shield has a color pattern that inverts the red-and-white stripes at this point in his history, and that the vertical bars around his waist don’t go all the way ’round. Later stories would retcon these as the earmarks of the 1950s Captain America revival, with an entirely different (and psychologically unstable) Captain under the mask. Faced with an unprecedented situations, The Master Judge takes an unprecedented action, declaring that the old foes engage in trial by combat!
The Master Judge is also a fan of the Royal Rumble, but doesn’t often get 20 dead heroes at a time. (Thankfully, these days he has high-speed internet and the WWE network.) And, like the consummate heel he is, the Skull chooses to cheat, even in the afterlife.
The Red Skull is bested by Captain America’s superior skills in combettery and such, and falls into the flames, with Cap managing only to rip a chunk of fabric from Herr Skull’s pink blouse (described as blood-red in-story, but clearly a pale red at best) before his foe is seemingly immolated. The late 1940s were not a time when even our superheroes had much in the way of mercy. And just like Vince McMahon (not the first time someone has equated him with an underworld figure, mind you), the Master Judge is willing to offer the victorious warrior a boon…
Where Cap awakens from a dream… OR WAS IT??? Even in 1949, this had to be a hoary cliché, but somehow it’s the perfect end to the lunacy of the previous pages. The story seems like it might even have been repurposed from a non-superhero script, since there’s nothing that really ties this to Captain America’s previous or later adventures, and the opening of the tale, where he prepares to go to bed in full costume is odd. Those who listened to our recent ‘What If?’ Major Spoilers Podcast may recall the discussion of the Captain America story therein, which revealed that the Captain America in this issue was (retroactively) actually Jeff Mace, the superhero formerly known as The Patriot. (Steve Rogers was, at this point, being swept northward by Atlantic currents on his way to a job as iceberg/totem for a tribe of natives.) The same set of retcons makes it difficult to identify WHICH ersatz Red Skull was in play here, as Johann Schmidt was in stasis. With the Communist Red Skull, Albert Malik, not yet in play, nerd speculation has the Skull seen in these pages as an impersonator named George Maxon, which I’m certain is a weight off all your minds. Still, this issue is a serious turning point for Captain America the character and Captain America the comic book, as the rest of the issue consists of horror shorts, including one that shows that Marvel editorial was acutely aware of the rise of EC Comics.
There’s even an attempt at a heavy twist ending, albeit one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me…
This is, essentially, the last issue of Captain America in the Golden Age, as the next issue consists entirely of horror tales, with Cap only making his presence known in the title of the book. It’s a less-than-impressive fate, but until the Marvel revolution of the 1960s, he was actually a relatively minor character in a sea of similar patriotic guys, with little indication of his eventual place in the superhero strata. Captain America’s Weird Tales #74 is an odd footnote that nonetheless has a primitive charm and some fun art, with a slight desperation about the edges to stay relevant in a changing marketplace, earning 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.