In this four-part tale, we get the return of the Red Skull and a rare example of Captain America actually using the black-and-white ethical thinking he’s so often accused of—accusations against which I defend him in The Virtues of Captain America. (You’re making me look bad, Cap!)
Plus, welcome artist supreme Gil Kane to the title for this story! (“Sugar Lips”?)
Issue #88 opens startlingly with Cap receiving a message from an old friend…
Even though he’s suspicious, he can’t not go, if there’s any chance Bucky could be alive. (And while it may have seemed incredulous in 1967, we certainly know now that it was very possible!)
Here we see Cap deserting his post for an overwhelming reason… if only he used the same judgment later in our tale.
Cap suspects it’s a trap, and when he arrives in Nova Scotia his suspicions are borne out, as he finds himself attacked by Power Man (not Luke Cage) and the Swordsman, both foes he faced with the Avengers earlier. Nonetheless, Cap still holds out hope of finding Bucky.
He even gets a chance to use his judo training, but spares Not-Luke-Cage a lesson.
Cap finds his way to the man in charge, who is not revealed until the opening splash of issue #89.
After the Red Skull explains how he escaped his watery death—by commanding the Cosmic Cube from a distance, riiiight—he brings out the piece de resistance, BUCKY BARNES!
This story shows several aspects of the Red Skull’s love for psychological torment, and bringing back Bucky from the dead, only to curse Cap for “letting him die,” is just the first.
I usually try to be more parsimonious with my clippings, but these last few pages of this issue are so fantastic, due to both Stan’s words and Kane’s stunning line work.
In case it needs pointed out, this scene played out again in 2005 (and 2014 in the movie) when Cap discovers Bucky survived the explosion in 1945 and was revived and brainwashed by the Soviets to be their Winter Soldier.
Check out Cap’s words in the first panel below… he could just as well be talking to the Winter Soldier as this version of Bucky.
Cap seems to realize what’s up in the middle panels above, perhaps due to the bolts of electricity we see emanating from Bucky’s wrist—but the next panel suggests it’s something Bucky said, which isn’t clear to me.
A robot? Not the most clever ruse, and it’s hard to imagine how the Skull knew how to make him detailed enough to fool Cap as long as it did (even if the Avenger did want him to be the real Bucky very badly).
Issue #90 lays out the other part of the Red Skull’s plan. After trying to kill Captain America in a shrinking room (think the garbage scow from Star Wars) and failing… trying to kill Captain America by drowning him as he hang by a wire from the Skull’s flying ship and failing… and trying to kill Captain America with a mechanical spider thingie and failing… the Skull reveals that he has lifted a section of Manhattan high above the ground in a huge plastic bubble—yes, a huge plastic bubble—and threatens to pop the bubble unless Cap agrees to serve him for 24 hours.
And Cap agrees, which the Red Skull uses for another of his favorite ploys to ruin his foe psychologically: discrediting Captain America in the eyes of the American people, here as a traitor cooperating with his greatest enemy and foe of democracy.
Even after the Skull returns the section of Manhattan to the ground and removes the bubble, Cap still lives up to the side of the bargain to obey the Skull for 24 hours, even though it will turn the American people against him—as excellently shown in the opening splash page to issue #91.
Even though he didn’t have Cap do anything other than swear fealty on live TV, the damage is done. And things have gotten so bad that the Red Skull himself calls out the problem with Cap’s behavior based on his “stupid code of ethics.”
And wait… it gets worse!
“I have no other choice.” Seriously?
Here’s the problem: The same man who realized that the possibility of Bucky being alive was good enough reason to abandon his Avengers monitor duty can’t see the much stronger reasons for breaking his promise to the Red Skull after he restored the section of Manhattan.
Of course, Cap takes his promises seriously—that’s definitely a virtue and one that shouldn’t be abandoned lightly. But it should be abandoned when there is a much more important principle at stake: setting aside the issue of his good name and all it means to his country and to the world, endangering the world by granting the Red Skull access to deadly missiles would definitely seem to be reason enough to break a promise to him. The case for breaking his promise becomes even stronger when you consider that his promise was secured through wrongful means (coercion) and secured for wrongful purposes (the Skull’s evil plans for America and the world).
Being good to your word is important, but when it means collaborating with and aiding the pursuit of evil, it’s hardly the most important consideration. Captain America’s true code of ethics is anything but stupid, as I argue at length in my book, but I think we can safely say his behavior here is.
After the 24 hours are up, the Red Skull once again tries to kill Cap and fails, and Cap jumps out of the Skull’s flying machine to the submarine.
But when he reaches the sub, he finds the crew under the Skull’s mental spell, and finds he must fight them even though he doesn’t want to (as we’ve seen before when Cap had to fight people on his own side).
But even when he breaks the Skull’s mental control, and the crew returns to normal, they remember that Cap is a traitor—oops!
Meanwhile, Cap left a surprise on the Skull’s ship, and kind of offers him a way out, although it’s hard to tell how sincere he was about it.
And it seems killing defeating the Red Skull is enough to restore Cap’s good name, which is a little too tidy for my tastes (although no more so than the aftermath of his recent Hydration).
And he gets a chance to strike his “we can all be heroes” tune, which is one of my favorite Cap themes.
TWO FUNNY THINGS
The Red Skull is that guy at Applebee’s who watched The Karate Kid too many times.
And Cap shows he is a master of disguise!
(If it weren’t for the coarse language, you could almost imagine Cap singing “New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down.”)
Tales of Suspense (vol. 1) #90, June 1967: “…And Men Shall Call Him Traitor!” Stan Lee (writer), Gil Kane (pencils), Joe Sinnott (inks), ??? (colors), Artie Simek (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Tales of Suspense #85-87 (January-March 1967)
NEXT ISSUES: Tales of Suspense #92-94 (August-October 1967)