As is appropriate for the first full story in Captain America’s new title (which in issue #100 wrapped up a storyline from Tales of Suspense #97-99, as detailed in the last post), we see the return of Cap’s archfoe, the Red Skull.
How about this great Kirby splash page to open issue #101?
Here we have Steve Rogers in “Nazi hunter” mode…
…until Nick Fury pokes his nose when Cap doesn’t think it belongs.
Cap is flummoxed, I say, flummoxed, and is not much satisfied when Nick explains the long game.
Later in his career as an Avenger, Cap earns a reputation for strategic thinking and planning, and here we see that he probably learned a lot of that from Nick!
As Cap follows the signal in a “miniature saucer-type ship” that S.H.I.E.L.D., he asks Nick the most important question:
Once he arrives at his location—off the coast of Florida, naturally—Cap’s craft is shot out of the sky, but luckily for him, Tony Stark set him up with armor made from… bubble-wrap?
Of course, Von Krimm’s boss is none other than the Red Skull, who escaped from death in Tales of Suspense #91 and is now trying to raise the fourth Sleeper (the first three having been raised, and defeated by Cap, in Tales of Suspense #72-74).
After the Sleeper is released, Cap breaks free, and he and Skull engage in some gentlemanly debate about tyranny versus freedom, especially regarding the scorn with which tyrants hold the “common” people, seeing only the worst in them to justify their disregard (and their effort to “save” them).
Below, we see the Red Skull call Cap an “anachronism,” regarding him and his idealism as relics of a “dead past”—a fairly common opinion in the real world too (and one against which I argued in The Virtues of Captain America).
The Sleeper ends up being too powerful for the Red Skull to control and destroys his base in a catastrophic explosion, leading Nick to conclude—in front of Sharon—that Captain America is dead! (Gee, I hope the Marvel writers don’t play that card again!)
But he’s not. (Surprise!)
As issue #102 opens, Cap has been rescued by the Coast Guard, lamenting the fact that they didn’t find the Red Skull, when Nick tries to give Cap orders. Cap, however, seems to resent that Nick refused to make him an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. after he wrote him such a nice letter in Avengers #15).
But then Cap asks once again about
Sharon Agent 13, and is relieved when he learns he thinks he’s dead—as we’ll see soon, his main concern is keeping her safe, even it means holding her back as a very qualified S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
Nick may be Mr. Tough Super-Spy, but Sharon obviously knows how to make him talk.
Cap and Sharon start hunting the Sleeper together, and after fighting the Red Skull’s team of “Exiles” (nothing to do with the later Marvel team books), Cap sheds his additional gear, preferring the simplicity of his shield (while poking fun at his age, which, as a man of age myself, I always enjoy).
When they find the Sleeper—who, unfortunately, is not sleeping—Cap barks orders to Sharon before displaying his classic determination and courage.
Again we see Sharon admire Cap’s skill and courage (even as he tries to protect her, more a bit condescendingly).
As Cap urges Sharon to run, they finally realize the power of the key… unfortunately, based on Sharon’s fear.
This isn’t necessary as bad as it seems in terms of Sharon’s portrayal, though. As we know, and Cap often says, courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to overcome it. Also, Sharon’s fear here is probably more for Cap than herself, being afraid of losing him yet again. (Remember, not long ago she thought he was dead. Thanks, Nick.)
We see this again below, when her “panic” is strong enough to destroy the Sleeper altogether.
After the Sleeper takes his final nap, our lovers are united, and the old softy realizes that it was Sharon’s love that saved them. But their reunion is being watched (eww), and Cap’s concerns for Sharon’s safety will be justified very soon…
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Avengers #52 (May 1968)