The two issues represent the beginning of Steve Rogers’s “retirement,” after the pivotal issue #176 in which he decided, after much pointless advice from his friends, to give up being Captain America out of disillusionment with the American government. Much of these two issues is taken up by the Falcon’s battle with a bad guy named Lucifer, but we do see Steve from time to time, mulling over his decision and confronting various aspects and ramifications of his decision.
We open, not with Steve, but with Sam, who’s still coming to terms with his (former) partner’s decision, echoing his arguments to Cap in the last issue that the world needs heroes to look up to… and so does Sam.
So Sam pays Steve a visit, and Steve gets uncharacteristically snide
Here, Steve touches on feeling like an anachronism, better suited to represent the America of the 1940s than the 1970s (again, as he argued in the last issue, near the end). (As for Sam being a mutant… Professor X surmised he might be one due to his psychic link with Redwing, as well as his receptivity to Xavier’s psychic communications. But he’s not, as we’ll find out soon.)
Sam soars away, leaving Steve to consider the trade-off he has made and will have to accept.
Below, Steve ventures into the world and is confronted with his own decision from yet another angle, making an always-welcome literary reference (from chapter 17 of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).
As he implied, Steve isn’t laughing—in fact, he starts to realize what he’s down, taking from the American people one of their lodestones, and so soon after they were betrayed by their own national government, as he knows all too well.
He also starts to realize, as will be emphasized later, that this choice may have served his own needs, however significant, but at significant cost to others—and even though the choice may have been well within his rights to make, he did choose his own interests over those of others, which understandably has lead to some moral dissonance.
At the end of the issue, Steve finds Sam beaten and abandoned by Zodiac—actually, two Zodiacs, after the original split into two (never mind)—and Steve makes clear to his friend where he stands, regardless of the apparent implications.
As issue #178 opens, Sam again battles the Zodiacs Two, while Steve remembers the importance of physical fitness (as he preached so often in the early issues of Tales of Suspense).
In the meantime, he also reminisces about how much times had changed since he became Captain America and then was reawakened in the 1960s. (During his 1980-81 run on the title, writer Roger Stern will refute this, arguing that Cap had to have been aware of the corruption in politics in the 1940s as well, as he works to make Cap seem less politically naive regarding the early years of his life.)
Remember this young man Roscoe… we’ll be seeing more of him soon.
And then there’s “the Peggy problem,” the fact that Steve, as Cap, has not yet told Peggy that he and Sharon are together, much less said a proper goodbye to her after she argued (in the last issue) for him to stay.
It seems a lot of people do, Gabe, though none for the same reason Peggy does (not to mention that reason, and her pain stemming from it, could be quickly resolved by Steve).
One recurring aspect of Cap’s retirement is the emergence of wannabe Caps, as happened during his earlier retirement in Tales of Suspense #96.
As just as like the earlier story, the fate of the Faux-Caps affects the genuine article… one in particular (as we’ll see in a few issues).
Later, when Cap sees Sam again being beaten by the Zodiac Twins and their killer robots, he considers whether to help, trying to convince himself that Sam chose to go to alone, and then realizing that’s a poor rationalization to avoid helping a friend in need.
Steve buys a fetchingly verdant ski mask and easily tackles the Zodiacs, then finds himself falling into familiar patterns of actions and thought (before he catches himself, that is).
After using a handy garbage can lid to take out the robots and the revived Zodiacs, he turns back to Sam, who’s none to happy to see the senior partner save his bacon once again.
In the next issue, someone else tries to convince Steve to validate his superhero card for real… make sure to come back to see who and what Steve decides.
Captain America (vol. 1) #177, September 1974: Steve Englehart (writer), Sal Buscema (pencils), Vince Colletta (inks), Linda Lessmann (colors), Artie Simek (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #178, October 1974: Steve Englehart (writer), Sal Buscema (pencils), Vince Colletta (inks), Paul Rachelson (colors), Tom Orzechowki (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #176 (August 1974)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Marvel Two-in-One #5 (September 1974)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #179 (November 1974)