These six issues—the first two of which Captain America barely appears in—continue the fallow period for Cap in Avengers, especially concerning ethically interesting content. Even issue #56, which fills in some gaps in Cap and Bucky’s fatal last adventure in World War II, is more curiosity than meaningful (although it does serve as an early example of writer Roy Thomas’ brand of retconning, filling in details in past stories without changing established continuity, which is very different from the practice as understood now).
Issues #51 and 52 only have passing reference to Cap, but they’re relevant. From the end of issue #51, we see this scene from Captain America #100 in which Cap recommends to the Avengers that the Black Panther replace him on the team, and their respect for him is enough to clinch T’Challa’s membership.
In issue #52, however, Black Panther is suspected of killing his fellow Avengers (hint: he didn’t), which Cap hears about after he returns from the battle with the Red Skull’s Sleeper in Captain America #101-102, and he seems to feel bad for stopping to deal with “petty thugs” and not being there for his colleagues. (Bonus panel of sad Thor.)
Later, when that mystery is resolved—it was the Grim Reaper, brother of the late Wonder Man, and the Avengers were paralyzed, not dead—the team officially inducts Black Panther, who is concerned about living up to Cap’s example (consistent with the mutual respect and admiration we normally see between the two heroes).
Note T’challa’s partial facemask: according to Roy Thomas’ introduction to Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume 6, Stan wanted Marvel’s first African-American superhero (and now Avenger) to be seen as such. (This would be short-lived, of course, but I like Stan’s thinking.)
As described above, issue #56 was an attempt by Roy Thomas to clear up some ambiguities in the story of Cap and Bucky “dying” in World War II, and in the process introducing some time-travel shenanigans that lead into Annual #2.
Our story begins with the Avengers breaking into a castle in the Adirondacks, where Captain America (or someone impersonating him) has summoned them. Goliath gets Black Panther over the wall with an early Fastball Special—years before we ever see Colossus or Wolverine—and Panther credits you-know-who.
Once in the castle, the Avengers attack a hidden figure who fights back like, almost like a super-soldier… and you’ll never believe who it is!
After Hank calls Cap and Panther on their fawning over each other, our hero explains why he called them there: he’s not sure his old partner Bucky Barnes is actually dead. (You know, he might be onto something there, but not for the reasons he thinks!)
(Note: The colorist seems to think Panther is still wearing his half mask.)
Why, it’s Doctor Doom’s castle in the Adirondacks, where he keeps his time machine, which Cap wants to use to travel back to the day Bucky died. When they do (except the Wasp, who stays behind to monitor their trip), they appear as phantoms, unable to affect events but only observe…
…that is, until Janet falls asleep at the controls and accidentally presses a button that makes the Avengers flesh-and-blood in 1944.
It’s interesting how Zemo supposes that there are many Captains America, just as many have said the same about Batman.
Below we see Hawkeye join Cap and the Panther is their mutual admiration society. (Seems like ages since Clint was poking Cap in the eye every chance he got, doesn’t it?)
Soon, the heroes start to fade again, but Cap gets one more act in, freeing his older self and Bucky from being tied to Zemo’s rocket.
After all of their intervention, however, history seems to follow its normal path (suggesting a “fixed point” in time, as in Doctor Who, a pivotal event in the timeline which cannot change even as minor changes are made around it).
As before, Cap and Bucky leap for the rocket, but Cap drops off before it explodes with Bucky still holding on—and convincing “modern” Cap that his young partner did* die in the explosion, putting his mind to ease and letting him accept his loss at last.
* He really didn’t.
But wait! Did the Avengers little time travel gambit really leave the timeline unchanged? Of course not, as we learn in Avengers Annual #2 when our heroes return to a slightly different New York City than they left.
The biggest surprise? Running into some familiar-looking characters.
After they fight—because of course they have to fight—they escape under cover of Hawkeye’s smog arrows, and figure out what happened.
To learn the history of this timeline (Earth-689, if you’re interested), Hank finds his old “herodotron,” named after Herodotus, the “Father of History.”
I like Cap’s sympathy for Hank, and his thought about his being more accustomed to being displaced in time—a plot device that will be used often in future Cap tales.
While they wait for Hank to check out the herodotron, Janet silently pays Cap tribute, curiously inspired by his grimness and intensity.
Once they get it going, Cap uses the herodotron to learn that a being named the Scarlet Centurion traveled from the future to talk to the Avengers. He ridiculed their insignificant efforts to fight evil one villain at a time, and offered them the chance to eradicate famine, plague, and other evils—if they restore the “cosmic balance” by defeating the rest of the Earth’s superpowered beings, heroes and villains. After they do so, the Avengers become tyrants, obeying only the Scarlet Centurion, who then commands them to capture the “New Avengers” (the 616 version of the day, not the “reassembled” Bendis variety of much later).
When Black Panther suggests they leave matters alone and respect the Avengers’ dominion over this Earth, and the Wasp brings up the fact that this might be a better world for the deal the Scarlet Centurion offered, Cap makes one of his patented speeches against even “effective” tyranny.
Interestingly, his argument here seems to be that tyrants always break their promises to the people and turn their attention to benefiting themselves, rather than the more common argument from liberty, which he acknowledges people are often all too willing to give up for temporary advantage. (Such are the seductions of fascism, especially for those less vulnerable to its harmful effects.)
The Avengers split up to find the various components of Doom’s time machine, but before they can activate it, the Scarlet Centurion appears, bragging about how he planted the doubt about Bucky’s death into Cap’s mind to start his entire plan in motion (and also made Janet get drowsy at the controls of the time machine while the rest were in the past).
Eventually, Hank manages to activate the time machine so that it engulfs the entire room, making the Scarlet Centurion disappear and… somehow returning everything to normal, but after the Avengers returned from 1944, with Janet still apologizing for snoozing at the button. Whatever… time travel, kids! (Also, see What If? #29 for more Earth-689 fun.)
(And in case you didn’t guess: the Scarlet Centurion is yet another version of Kang. Of course it was Kang. It’s always Kang. In the end, aren’t we all Kang?)
Back in the regular Avengers title, issue #59 introduces us to the Vision, a artificial human (or synthezoid) created by Ultron to defeat the Avengers, before he has a change of heart and helped them defeat his creator. Cap shows up in issue #60, when the Vision wants to join the Avengers, but not before they investigate his true nature and origin.
It all starts with the Black Panther responding to “the call,” only to find a full assemblage already.
What’s up with Cap’s side stance, anyway?
Learning from their earlier blunders with the likes of Wonder Man and the Swordsman, the Avengers are wisely more prudent and skeptical handing out memberships now—as Iron Man says, “before we act, we must be sure,” not like all those other times!
Cap hatches a plan, and only Hawkeye seems to see it—the rest of the Avengers are plain flummoxed.
Both Iron Man and Thor have to tangle with Vision before Hank figures out Cap’s ruse (one so clever only… umm… Hawkeye could figure it out).
Before they induct their new member, though, the Avengers want to know more about his past, so throughout most of the issue they discover why Ultron created him, where Ultron came from (Hank made him, but Ultron became sentient, turned on Hank, and erased his memories of the whole affair), and where Vision’s brain patterns come from (Simon Williams, a.k.a. Wonder Man, recorded by Hank and Tony as he was dying).
Before get to the unforgettable image on the final page, we hear a wonderful affirmation of equality from
Cap Hank (and a little poke at Cap’s age from Hawkeye, who I’m glad to see hasn’t gone completely soft).
An indisputably classic two-parter from Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and company—if you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend you do.
ONE FUNNY THING
You thought I forgot about issue #60, didn’t you? This issue completes a story begun in issue #59 that introduced Yellowjacket, a mysterious and brash “hero” that claims to have defeated Goliath, wants to join the Avengers, and somehow convinces Janet van Dyne to marry him. Cap’s reaction to received his wedding invitation in issue #60 is priceless.
Oh my gosh, who would ever think of marriage that quickly? Certainly not someone who proposed to his girlfriend on their first date before he even knew her name.
(As Cap and the rest of the Avengers soon discover, Yellowjacket was actually Hank Pym, who suffered a mental breakdown, adopted a new identity, and claimed to have defeated his old one. Janet realized the truth after he kissed her, which explained her accepting his proposal. Years later, it was revealed that the rest of the Avengers knew also, but played along for Hank’s sake.)
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #45-47 and Annual #1 (September-December 1967)
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Captain America #100 (April 1968), Captain America #101-102 (May-June 1968), Captain America #103-104 and Daredevil #43 (July-August 1968), Captain America #105-108 (September-December 1968), and Captain America #109 (January 1969)