In this post we cover the last three issues before Jack Kirby takes over with issue #193. In the first two issues by short-lived regular writer Tony Isabella (with Bill Mantlo helping on the second), we resolve the situation with the Deadly Nightshade begun in issue #189, and we see how the Falcon accounts for the crimes he committed in his previous life as “Snap” Wilson, with some sharp commentary on the experience of black men in the American criminal justice system. Finally, Marv Wolfman offers a fill-in tale that introduces a new character who will take an old identity to new heights in the future.
At the end of issue #189, Deadly Nightshade (who was introduced in issue #164) revealed her to be the mastermind behind the “fight to the death” that S.H.I.E.L.D. manipulated Cap and Sam into, ostensibly to wake Sam out of the coma the Red Skull left him in after issue #186. Here she reveals her larger plan… and gets in a jab at Cap about his age.
When the mind-controlled S.H.I.E.L.D. agents attack, Cap automatically invokes one of his and Sam’s rehearsed battle plans, and is genuinely surprised and pleased when it actually works.
Cap is understandably happy about their renewed partnership—and, as usual, happy to share credit—but he shouldn’t get too comfortable, because the fight is not yet over. When Nightshade and the bedazzled S.H.I.E.L.D. agents return, they have a “flying wedge” that fires ray blasts, from which Cap tries to protect Sam, but Sam finds the hero within, regardless of who he really is (or was).
Speaking of who he really is…
Well that’s not confusing. Sam’s identity crisis will be resolved, somewhat, in Captain America #277, coming (not so) soon to a blog near you. But in the meantime, after Nightshade is defeated—largely due to the Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine—Sam has more immediate concerns, leading directly into the next issue.
Issue #191 opens with a scene from near the end of the tale…
…and after we’re suitably shook, it backs up a bit to explain how we got there.
Nonetheless, Sam resists when S.H.I.E.L.D. agents try to take him into custody, and Cap tries to save him from himself, leading to misunderstanding on both their parts.
Sam reveals his reluctance to “go before a judge with his case,” but doesn’t get a chance to elaborate once Nick bursts in. (And after the Contessa saved literally everyone from Deadly Nightshade in the last issue, her reward is having to wear that?)
After they dispense with Cochren (and Leila, whom he brought in to rattle Sam), Sam finally gets a chance to make his case to both Nick and Cap.
This is another case of Cap being forced to confront a reality he wasn’t aware of, continuing not only his exposure to political corruption in the “Secret Empire” storyline (beginning in issue #169) as well as some of Stan Lee’s late 1960s/early 1970s stories (such as issue #120). But he seems more hostile to the realization here, perhaps because his inherent faith in the justice of the court system survived his confrontation with the uglier political side of government.
Almost as an aside, Nick tries to mend fences with Cap, and slips him a gift (that will actually show up in the next issue).
Below is an impressive page showing the various attitudes people have toward Sam as a hero and as an African-American man. (Also note Iron Man’s measured statement, which is immediately and opportunistically twisted by listeners.)
Below we see the trial—even though we were never told the exact charges—and you may be surprised to learn it will not be an uneventful affair.
Good call, your honor.
We get a quick look at the witnesses, apparently giving nothing more than character references, and Sam’s lawyer makes something like a plea offer in open court (rather than in conference with the prosecutor). ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ More important, Sam’s willingness to talk is a test of Captain America’s optimism in the justice system, which Sam takes seriously enough to gamble on.
Unbeknownst to our heroes, some of Sam former “buddies” saw this coming and took out a contract on Sam with none other than Daredevil’s old sparring partner Stilt-Man, who makes an unscheduled appearance in court. As Cap acknowledges, he’s not the joke his name would imply.
As he did in the last issue, Sam refuses to abandon his friend and partner, even after Cap sings the old chestnut, “I Lost One Partner and I Don’t Want to Lose You Too.” (To be fair, he hasn’t sung that tune in a while.)
Sam takes it upon himself to defeat Stilt-Man, finding the same vindication in battle than Cap often does.
Maybe the American people believe in the Falcon again, but the jury and judge may feel differently about “Snap” Wilson, and we will find out when our tale catches up with the splash page—with a welcome (if not entirely satisfying) resolution.
Nick… you’re no Bogie.
Finally, issue #192—a fill-in issue by Marv Wolfman to cover for Jack Kirby while he readied his return to the character he created with Joe Simon in 1941—sees Cap reflecting on recent events in the natural place: the airport (as he did in Tales of Suspense #92, but without the creepy little girl, thankfully).
As are most air travelers, Cap is impatient to leave, and after running and hurdling through the airport, he makes use of Nick’s special gift. (It’s impressive that Wolfman could work that into the story after being introduced just one issue ago.)
(If this had been a scene in a film, I like to think the officer above would have been a Stan Lee cameo.)
Cap begins to pick up on the fact that this isn’t your ordinary charter flight…
…especially given the accessories on our “flight attendant,” none other than Karla Sofen, who later takes up the identity of Moonstone (the costumed villain from the “Secret Empire” storyline) and becomes an important member of the Thunderbolts.
The flight full of crooks and thieves is actually a recruitment tool of Doctor Faustus, and Cap finds himself having to fight them all and then land the plane (like a costumed Ted Striker). By the end, he hasn’t really had a chance to think through things…
…and he won’t have a chance in the issue, as a certain someone makes his royal return.
(After Kirby’s run is over, Cap actually does confront his own identity crisis anew, asking “Who Is Steve Rogers?” starting with issue #215.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #190, October 1975: Tony Isabella (plot and script), Frank Robbins (plot and pencils), Vince Colletta (inks), Michele Wolfman (colors), Dave Hunt (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #191, November 1975: Tony Isabella (plot), Bill Mantlo (script), Frank Robbins (pencils), D. Bruce Berry (inks), Janice Cohen (colors), Karen Mantlo (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
All collected in: Marvel Masterworks: Captain America Volume Nine
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #187-189 and Avengers #137 (July-September 1975)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #193-194 (January-February 1976)