As you undoubtedly remember from the last post, the Red Skull interrupted Captain America’s melancholy over his identity and purpose in the world to remind him what was really important: his arch enemy holding the Cosmic Cube! (Again.) This begins a five-issue storyline that will test Cap’s resolve and sanity, and also introduce a major character who will one day take up the shield himself. (You’ll have to wait until the next post for that last part, though.)
In the page below, we see the Red Skull begin his campaign of fear against Cap (still in disguise from last issue).
I always appreciated the absurdity of the Cosmic Cube itself: not an intimidatingly complex device (like Kirby could draw so well), but just a simple cube with some cloudy, fuzzy mess inside it. (The fact that AIM could produce such an awesome all-powerful object never sat as well with me, though.)
Of course, we know how well Cap does with being “ordered” to submit!
While Cap and the Skull fight—and the latter explains how he got the Cube back after losing it in Tales of Suspense #81—we turn to the two people Cap most cares about, who are both worried about his disappearance, each in their own way (with Sharon giving Rick the old W.C. Fields heave-ho).
Meanwhile, the Red Skull continues to torture Cap mentally, forcing him to endure one nightmare scenario after another, but as always, underestimating his resolve (and his refusal to let the Skull win).
Finally, the Red Skull decide to use more direct and down-to-earth methods against the Sentinel of Liberty.
Apparently the Skull forgot he already discovered Cap’s love for Sharon at the end of issue #102, proclaiming at the time: “Now that I have seen the girl he loves–it is she who will cause–his downfall!” (He must be getting forgetful in his old age.)
This is where the Red Skull finally twists the knife and good, switching the foes’ appearances, with predictable hijinks to follow.
All joking aside, this is the Skull’s best plan yet (given that he doesn’t want to use the Cube to, you know, just kill Cap). He’s always wanted to destroy the reputation of Captain America, and what better way to do it than to become Cap himself.
As issue #116 opens we see the Skull launch into his latest ploy (as drawn by the magnificent Gene Colan).
I don’t know about you, but seeing him embrace Sharon like that reminds me of when Doctor Octopus, while inhabiting Peter Parker’s body during the Superior Spider-Man run, got too intimate with Mary Jane Watson (raising serious concerns about sexual assault by deception). Happily, neither creepy instance went that far.
While the real Cap, looking like a wanted war criminal, tries to evade the local police, the Skull gets a taste of what it feels like to be regarded as hero. Unlike Doc Ock, who honestly wanted to be a hero (and a better one than Peter was, in his mind), the Skull has nothing but contempt for the people who look up to Captain America—even those who credit him with soul!
Naturally, the Skull is going to attract the attention of one of Cap’s costumed compatriots, namely Rick Jones, whom the Skull initially mistakes for his esteemed predecessor—and rejects him all the same, before noting where the real Cap has gotten himself to.
The real Cap manages to get to Avengers Mansion, where your standard “switched identity” episode of any sci-fi show begins. (Cap should tell Clint about that time in Tijuana that only they would remember. He also needs to watch more TV.)
Cap holds his own well enough, due to his skill, though it doesn’t seem his body is up to the task. (Supposedly Cap and the Skull simply switched appearances, but below it seems Cap is actually in the Skull’s weaker body.)
The Avengers do eventually defeat Cap (after the Vision throws him against a wall), and the Red Skull doesn’t let this chance go to waste.
Reminiscent of the end of Tales of Suspense #99, when the man claiming to be Zemo ordered Sharon (who was undercover as his ally) to kill Cap, the Red Skull attempts the same feat using the Cosmic Cube, but with no better luck.
(If only we’d known of that weakness of the Cosmic Cube during the recent Secret Empire storyline!)
Frustrated, the Skull sends Cap to the Isle of Exiles to face the other baddies the Skull betrayed once he got the Cube… as we’ll see in our next post. (Plus, Cap gets a new friend!)
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #114 (June 1969)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #117 (September 1969)