Don’t let the cover, featuring Spider-Man’s foe the Scorpion, fool you—the first five pages of this issue are dense with existential introspection and political musings that could keep us busy for days (and which I quoted quite a bit in my book). And later, we see a good old-fashioned fight with an injured Cap… and we see an old friend at long last.
As the issue opens, we see Cap, “a brooding figure,” bemoaning the futility of his mission, as well as the feeling that it’s all there is to his life, consistent with his characterization almost since day one after being found in the ice.
Below he adds loneliness to the mix. Interestingly, he doesn’t just feel lonely romantically, because of the difficulty of his relationship with Sharon Carter, who’s dedicated to her job at S.H.I.E.L.D., but also friendless, apparently not yet regarding any of the Avengers as friends (and with Nick Fury, lately, being a… well, it rhymes with Nick).
(Also, that is one shiny car. Someone waxed that thing good.)
Then, Cap’s internal monologue suddenly turns political, questioning his relevance in the modern day of 1970 (just as many still do today, which is one of the main reasons I wrote my book).
I cite his last bit above in my discussion in the book about patriotism and how Captain America, surprisingly to some, exemplifies a cosmopolitan or moderate patriotism that celebrates the values, principles, and accomplishments of your own country without making you neglect the legitimate concerns and needs of people outside it. (Stephen Nathanson writes about his type of patriotism in his 1989 article “In Defense of ‘Moderate Patriotism,’” in the philosophy journal Ethics.) Of course, too many associate Cap with a more extreme, jingoistic, flag-waving patriotism, which is another reason I wrote the book.
On the next page, Cap connects his status as a relic to society’s embrace of the rebel. (Wait til he meets Wolverine—never mind the fact that, in a later comic, we learn he met Logan in World War II.) The best thing about this page is that, like his encounter with campus protestors two issues ago, he admits that critics of him and the establishment may have a valid point. Rather than becoming instinctively defensive, as many do, Cap is willing to consider what the other side has to say (even if he ultimately disagrees with it). This has its limits, of course—once a swastika appears, I’m pretty sure he stops listening—but the important thing is that he remains open-minded and is willing to admit he might not be right by default, a sign of his humility.
And even Cap admits he could have done a better job—setting the stage for the increased social awareness throughout the rest of Stan Lee’s run and into Steve Englehart’s and J.M. DeMatteis’ to come (with their respective artists, of course).
Below, Cap realizes that even though the young upstarts may be particularly attuned to certain types of injustice—as is often still true—he’s ready to fight, he still has value, and he just watched West Side Story.
Next, he returns to his existential angst, quoting the Bible while bemoaning the fact that all he has in his life is Captain America, with no meaningful existence for Steve Rogers (and no true home to speak of, either literally or metaphorically).
Perhaps most interestingly, he defends the establishment and his place in it, citing Martin Luther King, J.R.R. Tolkien, Marshall McLuhan, and John and Bobby Kennedy as representative of it. Curious choices… all fine individuals, but not all I would associate with the establishment (especially Dr. King, who I would characterize as anti-establishment and all the more valuable for it). I like to think what Cap meant is that good people can do good things and promote justice from inside the establishment while others try to affect change from outside—certainty the approach Cap takes throughout his career.
He seems to be conflating the establishment with his generation—which certainly describes most of the figures in the establishment (such as the brothers Kennedy) but many more outside of it (such as Dr. King).
Oh well, enough about that, because now we’re back to Sharon, and his disturbed dreams…
And that’s one aspect of the internal conflict of the traditional male in a nutshell: to balance support for women and their choices with an innate desire to protect them, even from those choices. (Not my area of specialty, but wanted to note it all the same.)
One common human fault Cap definitely embodies: lack of sleep makes him cranky.
Of course, Steve Rogers can’t just take a walk without encountering trouble… and in his groggy and distracted state, the Scorpion gets the better of him.
Cap wants to suit up before pursuing the Scorpion again, so he has to face his greatest foe: the Hotel Clerk. Again.
Maybe the hand is karma for the clerk, Cap… but to be fair, he knows he messed up. But on the bright side, it does give him something to fight through after he finds the Scorpion.
Now we see that Cap can both be concerned about the loss of his civilian identity while embracing the comfort of his superhero one—and his comment about the former being a “false identity” is very suggestive, indicating that maybe being Steve Rogers apart from Cap is really not that important to him (although we’ll see throughout years of comics that it actually is. (And are we supposed to believe that small rectangular case held his big round shield? He must shop at the same store as Mary Poppins.)
When Cap finally finds the Scorpion—he’s always somewhere, isn’t he?—we see him persevere through the pain from his hand. But I’m sure hearing that great FTANNG was worth it. (I think I bought one of those at IKEA once.)
Little does Cap know that the Scorpion was after Sharon the whole time, and when Cap interrupted him, the thugs who hired him grabbed her instead and tied her up in the basement of their lair. While Cap catches up to them and defeats them, leaving them for SHIELD, Sharon manages to free herself, but calls out to Cap a second too late—and Cap is heartbroken once more.
No, Cap, no!
I do wonder, though, why none of Cap’s buddies in S.H.I.E.L.D., who were there to catch the bad guys and rescue Sharon, told him she was there. I guess he was right when he regarded himself as friendless!
Captain America (vol. 1) #122, February 1970: Stan Lee (writer), Gene Colan (pencils), Joe Sinnott (inks), ??? (colors), Artie Simek (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: Bucky Reborn, Marvel Masterworks: Captain America Volume Four
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #121 (January 1970)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #123 (March 1970)
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