Retro Review: Captain America #117 (September 1969)

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You may have heard about this new movie, one that brings back the Star-Spangled Avenger, and introduces one of his longest-serving supporting cast-members to the cinematic Marvel U, but are you familiar with the story as it unfolded in the comics?  Your Major Spoilers review of Captain America #117 awaits!

CaptainAmerica117CoverCAPTAIN AMERICA #117
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan
Inker: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Sam Rosen
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 15 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $200.00

Previously in Captain America: After being hurled into the ocean by Baron Zemo’s buzzbomb, losing his partner in the process, Captain America was frozen in stasis for decades. (How MANY decades has changed repeatedly, what with Marvel’s sliding time-scale.)  After his awakening, Steve Rogers found himself adrift in a strange world, with the only recognizable faces being those of his worst enemies.  But now, thanks to the reality-altering powers of the mysterious Cosmic Cube, The Red Skull has switched consciousnesses with Cap, forcing him to WEAR the face of his worst enemy, and teleporting him halfway across the planet to a remote tropical island… CaptainAmerica1171

It’s actually a pretty brilliant turn by Red-Skull-In-Cap’s-Body, throwing the real Cap in his body to the mercy of the men who have been searching for him since World War II, allowing two enemies to clash and wipe out one another.  Through the Cube, he is even able to force his old enemy (whom I shall heretofore refer to as “SkullCap”) into the path of the oncoming Exiles.  Fortunately, SkullCap is still Captain America at heart, which means that he’s far from harmless, even in the Skull’s body…

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I have always loved Gene Colan’s work, especially on classic Marvel books like Doctor Strange, but I had forgotten how cool his Captain America was, a long, lean figure like Jack Kirby’s rendition, but with slightly better anatomy than the king.  He also makes the body language of Johann Schmidt in Cap’s body (heretofore referred to as RedCap) completely different from that of regular Captain America, giving him an arrogant swagger that fits perfectly.  That same arrogance leads him to stop monitoring SkullCap at precisely the right time (for our hero, anyway.)

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The timely intervention of the mysterious bird of prey gives our hero the edge, and SkullCap manages to escape into the jungle, leaving the lethal Exiles behind, and allowing him to make the most shocking/completely not shocking discovery in Marvel history…

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SkullCap uses the clay of the island soil (which seems odd, but it’s the Silver Age, we have to allow for just a little bit of ridiculousness) to fashion a makeshift disguise, while the mysterious bird that had assisted him makes its way back across the island to its master…

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First off, “red” jumpsuit?  Somebody at Marvel should pick up on this and decide that the Falcon is red/green colorblind based on that one line of dialogue, because SkullCap is clearly wearing the green lumpy bodybag that all Marvel villains of the Silver Age wore.  Leaving his enemy behind, RedCap returns to New York City and curries favor with citizens and press, all the while planning to use his status as beloved hero and Avenger to take over the world…  somehow.  Back in the tropics, a disguised SkullCap’s flight through the jungle leads to him encountering the strange young falconer, and the two men return to his home to discuss why they’re both on the island, vexing the Exiles.

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Young Sam Wilson explains his backstory, how he became fascinated with falcons as a child in the city, how he found his bird, Redwing, on a trip to Brazil, and how their bond evolved to an almost uncanny degree.  “He’s more than a bird,” explains Sam, “He’s like a part of me!”  When he saw an advertisement offering pay to a skilled hunting falcon, Sam and his bird hopped a freighter to the tropics, only to find out that the Exiles were kind of jerks…

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The Exiles, under the command of the sinisterly-named Cadavus, continue to comb the island for their quarry, while SkullCap and Sam Wilson (with the help of the island’s native population) quickly cobble together a uniform and weaponry to beat the Exiles at their own game…

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For all the usual hype of a Stan Lee written issue, the debut of the Falcon is pretty impressive, especially given that it would take DC Comics nearly another decade to debut their first African-American hero, by which time Marvel would have already given us Power Man, Storm and Blade the Vampire Hunter.  Of course, by the time DC’s Black Lightning made his debut, Marvel would also have retconned Sam Wilson’s origins to make him one of the worst 70′s cliché characters of them all, but that’s another story (and one that very rarely ever gets mentioned anymore, thankfully.)  For me, though I prefer the Sal Buscema red-and-white costume to the original green and tan, this first appearance actually makes you want to read more about the character, and this issue lead to the title becoming ‘Captain America and The Falcon’ for a number of years.  All in all, Captain America #117 is notable for being the debut of the first African-American super-duper (Yes, I know Black Panther came first, but he’s not American, is he?) but is also a pretty solid issue, with lovely Gene Colan artwork making it extra-memorable, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  It’ll be interesting to see if the movie Falcon gets to be as awesome as his comic-book predecessor, but at the very least, we damn near certainly won’t have to suffer through a pimp retcon in the cinematic universe…