This two-part story shows Captain America trying to solve his existential crisis of purpose and identity in an extreme way—and also proposing to Sharon Carter before learning her real name.
Issue #95 opens with Cap busting two thugs named Turk (not Daredevil’s Turk) and Whitey (not One Tree Hill‘s Whitey) looking for their boss with notable zeal… and the flashback to his first date with Sharon Carter begins to explain why.
This page is surreal is so many ways, from the way he takes command on the phone, to Sharon’s reaction seeing his face on the first time, and—most important—to his confidence that this date will go perfectly, despite not knowing her name yet.
How quickly the mighty fall…
Just look at the change in his expression between the two panels in the middle row—you can almost hear his heart break. Who knew that women don’t like being proposed to on the first date, before you find out their name? “Why, back in the 1930s, fellas always proposed to dames this way!”
(In all seriousness, his reaction to her very reasonable rejection in that second panel is a bit off-putting.)
It’s Sharon’s rationale that is most interesting, because it also describes Cap’s dilemma through much of his early career (after being de-iced): the conflict between duty and happiness. Sharon clearly wants to be with Steve—and probably even to tell him her name—that she feels her duty to S.H.I.E.L.D. must come first. “You of all people must understand that,” she tells him, and as much as he hates it, he admits that he does, both above as well as below, when he gets back to his car.
Here, he realizes that they both have their duty, which keeps them from “being free.” In the sense of being free to seek happiness to the neglect of duty, yes, but Immanuel Kant—the philosopher most associated with duty—would say that adherence to duty is the truest expression of freedom or autonomy, because through it we show our freedom is the best way, consistently with the moral law.
Of course, Steve isn’t thinking of that right now.
BOOM! Cap has decided that he’s given up too much in the name of duty, so it’s “Steve Rogers time” from now on. He may think this makes him free, but in Kant’s terms, he’s simply letting his desires control him. True freedom means doing the right thing, such as following duty, despite the opposite pull of our desires.
So we return to our earlier scene of Cap rooting out some bad guys—his “next battle” that will be his last—and he makes some a show of it (for his audience of one).
So Gunner told two friends, and they each told two friends, and eventually…
Right, like the post office, or phone booths… wait, no…
Of course, the near-fiancée is always the last to know…
Sharon affirms her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. while defending Steve’s choice, while Nick tries to figure out where he stands (and Dum Dum might be thinking of retiring himself!).
From here on out, we see the ramifications of Cap’s retirement, starting with the effect on the person closest to him… Tony Stark.
“With your money.” Ouch!
But Tony has had his own issues with his private life—at this stage in his career, much of his time is spent fretting about how he can never tell Pepper Potts he loves her because of his damaged heart—so he sympathizes with Steve.
This is a fine statement of Cap’s existential crisis: “who Captain America is” is well defined by the mission and his duty, but Steve Rogers is a blank slate, especially in “this” day and age. If viewed positively, this allows him the opportunity for radical self-invention and authenticity, deciding who he is going to be as well as what he is going to do with his new life.
But as you might imagine, it doesn’t go well, both in the outside world (as we’ll see in the next issue) and in his own mind. Silence can be louder than any noise.
The narration to the final page says it all: Steve is finding (or creating) his new identity while trying to escape his past.
As issue #96 opens, we find out the world isn’t ready to let Captain America go. Oddly, this is proven to Steve Rogers not by the scourge of crime in his absence, but by a rash of wanna-be Sentinels of Liberty hurting themselves or, worse, being targeted by the aforementioned scourge.
This is an interesting concern because it hinges only on Cap making his identity known, not whether he’s retired. I don’t remember any other hero with a public identity worrying about criminals going after people that look like them—and as Civil War reminded us, many heroes in the Marvel Universe have open identities, and when Spider-Man unmasked in that story, there was significant fall-out for him, but none for lookalikes (noted in the story, at least).
Even though this doesn’t change his mind with respect to retirement, events related to the copycats do. One such man is being targeted by gunmen looking to collect the substantial bounty on Cap’s head.
Steve sees him clinging to the ledge, and jumps into action.
A sniper targets them as they fall, correctly deducing that “only the real Captain America would have dared to make a leap like that,” and shoots at the men, missing them but severing the wire holding them up. Steve manages to bounce off a flagpole—he must have learned that from Daredevil—and land safely (but sorely) on another rooftop.
Meanwhile, the sniper sees another Steve Rogers in a window and fires at him before being captured by Nick and Dum Dum, who reveal that the Steve he shot was a life model decoy, perhaps Marvel writers’ favorite deus ex machina next to the Ultimate Nullifier. (At least until Skrulls get popular!)
Meanwhile, the original thugs who tried to kill the imposer Steve saved find the two on the rooftop, giving Steve the chance to show he still has it—as does Kirby!
Soon, Nick and Dum Dum arrive on the scene—just can’t shake those guys—and Steve’s old pal lays a little guilt on him. (Not that Steve needs it, from the looks of him.)
Unfortunately, what Nick goes on the say isn’t particularly helpful, and only returns Steve to the same existential dilemma he was trying to get out off by retiring.
“You are Captain America” is not what Steve needs to hear right now, especially not with the implication that he’s bound by that identity and his destiny is predetermined for him. And “it’d be easier to turn yer back on Steve Rogers”… thanks a lot, Nick. As we’ll see, Steve won’t live this down for a long time. It gets us the real Captain America back, sure, but it could have happened a much better way for Steve.
NOTE: Nick does a much better job of this—from behind the scenes, where he operates best—in 2011’s Captain America #615.1, when Steve Rogers, Super-Soldier, was considering taking up the shield and the identity after letting Bucky Barnes, returned from the dead—except he never really was—continue using them after Steve came back from the dead—except he wasn’t really dead either… sigh. We’ll get to it eventually. (Don’t hold your breath, though—I’ve got a lot of comics to cover before that!)
Tales of Suspense (vol. 1) #95, November 1967: “A Time to Die — A Time to Live!” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (words, plot, pencils), Joe Sinnott (inks), ??? (colors), Artie Simek (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Tales of Suspense (vol. 1) #96, December 1967: “To Be Reborn!” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (words, plot, pencils), Joe Sinnott (inks), ??? (colors), Sam Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Tales of Suspense #92-94 (August-October 1967)
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Avengers #46-47 (November-December 1967)