This issue introduces us to Baron Zemo (glimpsed merely in silhouette in Cap and Bucky’s death scene in Avengers #4), who is shocked to hear that Captain America is still alive—both because he thought he died along with his teenaged partner, and because he bears a slight grudge over Cap’s role in gluing Zemo’s hood to his head with his own “Adhesive X.” (Zemo also appeared in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #8 the same month, albeit not in costume.)
SELF-REFLECTION WITH FRIENDS
After demonstrating his skill with his shield as modified by Iron Man’s “boss” Tony Stark, Captain America has quite a page with his new pals.
In the first row of panels, we see Cap downplay his accomplishments during World War II, saying that he could have done so much more had he had allies and gadgets like he has now, displaying his humility despite being a legend and a national hero. (Luckily, he has Thor there to reassure him of his record—his we’ll see more about “legend” later.) Besides his general bashfulness at being recognized two issues ago, this may be the first evidence of Cap’s humility, which I identified in my book (pp. 50-54) as one of his finest character traits, enabling him to keep an even head despite the enhanced abilities granted him by Project Rebirth—and the virtues by which he earned that treatment in the first place.
Next, his grief at losing Bucky, one of his defining characteristics introduced two issues ago, surfaces again—and once again, Thor steps in to comfort him, after which he and the Wasp try to distract him with his fan mail.
Here we see Cap’s humility and grief combined with gratitude to Thor, his “fans,” and Rick Jones—but we also see him express a most unvirtuous (or vicious) character trait. “A hunger for revenge,” as Cap says, must be distinguished from a search for justice: as normally understood, revenge or vengeance is personal and driven by desire and passion, while justice is impersonal and pursued for its own sake, normally by dispassionate agents of the state (not the aggrieved victims or survivors). Happily, in the same passage he rephrases his mission as “finding the one who caused Bucky’s death”—namely Zemo—which can be taken to mean apprehending him and bringing him to justice, without Cap’s exacting that justice himself. Nonetheless, it’s chilling (if understandable) to hear Cap speak so coldly about revenge like this.
It’s not much, but in this issue we also see the first recognition of Cap’s cool thinking and leadership potential—even though the relevant panels begin with Cap wanting to rush into action without a plan!
Once he comes up with the now-classic “fight each other’s foes” strategy—see almost any comics fight between matched groups of heroes and villains—and makes a quick phone call (despite having only eight different digits to dial), his fate as a future Avengers leader is sealed.
SENTINEL OF LIBERTY AND ENEMY OF TYRANNY, INDEED
Once our heroes find Baron Zemo and his self-proclaimed Masters of Evil, Cap finally confronts the man who “killed” his young partner Bucky. (Should I put an asterisk after that word instead? Sigh, comics.) Earlier in the issue, when Zemo first learned of Cap’s survival, he called him “the most powerful, most dreaded enemy of tyranny the world had ever known,” so it’s fitting that when the two men finally meet Cap is on point.
This may be the very first “Cap speech” of the Marvel era, albeit given to an enemy rather than his fellow heroes or a group of civilians. Its themes echo in many passages throughout the year in comics—such as what Cap says to another foe, the Supreme HYDRA, almost twenty years later:
You’re glib—but so was Hitler. Like every other tyrant, your lust for power masks your true motive—fear of a free society! For, with freedom, man has pride, dignity and a sense of destiny! Your fear causes you to arrogantly mock those concepts! You seek to reduce mankind to your own level! But against every despot there has always arisen a champion of liberty! That is why I exist—and why men like me shall always win! (Captain America #273, September 1982, quoted in The Virtues of Captain America, p. 187)
This also reminds me of Cap’s words upon first meeting Loki in Stuttgart in the first Avengers movie: “You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.”
Not only does Cap assert here the value of democracy and liberty in the face of oppression and tyranny, but even more importantly, Zemo’s “fatal error of mistaking compassion for weakness,” meaning that real strength is not displayed only in assertiveness and control, which are both born of fear, but also kindness and cooperation.
ONE FUNNY THING: NOT A LEGEND… NOT YET
For all of Captain America’s fame and renown, one bit of exposition suggests that he’s not a quite a legend—at least not as far as his “fighting reflexes” are concerned.
“Tempered in a thousand crusades”… just how old is this guy, anyway?
ANOTHER FUNNY THING FOR MY LAW PALS IN THE AUDIENCE
Thor is no fan of asset forfeiture.
Avengers (vol. 1) #6, July 1964: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (words, plot, and pencils), Chic Stone (inks), Stan Goldberg (colors), Sam Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Avengers Epic Collection: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume One
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Avengers #5 and Fantastic Four #26 (May 1964)
NEXT ISSUE: Avengers #7 (August 1964)
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