Captain America #201-203 (September-November 1976)

The three issues of Captain America covered here make up the second extended storyline of Jack Kirby’s return to the character he co-created before World War II (not including the massive Bicentennial Battles Treasury Edition and Captain America Annual #3).

Our story starts in issue #201, in which Cap and Falcon take on the “Night People”—and as a lifelong morning person, I say it’s about time! Seriously, though, the Night People here are a mysterious group of people who dress like vagabonds and emerge to terrorize the righteous morning people normal society. (Which is made up of morning people, who are the best people.)

But first, Cap and Sam meet with Mason Harding, the inventor of the Madbomb from the previous storyline, and when Cap asks Sam to give Harding a break, Sam reminds his partner that not everybody gets that kind of break.

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When they finally face Harding, they almost get into a disagreement over Harding’s motives, with Cap the only one who gives Harding the benefit of the doubt… and not very much at that.

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The rest of the issue sees the Night People abduct Sam’s girlfriend Leila into another dimension as bait to lure Sam, who is then captured himself and is set to be “purged” of the “evils” of the outside world. (Funny, I don’t think they even had Facebook back then.)

Having been told by S.H.I.E.L.D. of Sam’s disappearance, Cap starts looking for him in issue #202, and starts with “Texas Jack” Muldoon, who saw Sam vanish into a strange vortex in the sky.

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More important for our purposes is Cap’s phone call with Sharon, not seen (or heard from) since issue #186, the last of Steve Englehart’s run. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that, as depicted here (very different from recent appearances), she overreacts just a bit to what would seem like a routine phone call from her superhero boyfriend.

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Granted, the conflict between love and duty has plagued both Sharon and Cap, literally since their first date, but here Sharon doesn’t seem like the experienced S.H.I.E.L.D. agent she is (or was), even as shown in her earliest appearances (at the hands of Kirby and Lee).

To be fair, Cap’s a bit overdramatic about it himself.

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I would have thought they’d both progressed a bit since their early days; one suspects Kirby wasn’t up on their character development on this front, which may explain (or justify) his relative inattention to this aspect of the larger storyline.

After he searches in vain for clues into Sam’s disappearance, Cap starts beating up on himself, also taking the disagreement with Sharon to heart.

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But he gets lucky, for another strange portal opens up in front of him, enabling him to get one step closer to Sam (with Texas Jim tagging along for the ride).

In issue #203, Cap, Sam, and Leila—and Jack—are reunited, and Cap finds his friends until mental influence, after which we’re treated to yet another fight between Cap and a brainwashed Falcon.

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After Brother Inquisitor, one of the Night People, stops the fight, he explains that Cap can join them, alongside Sam, if only he sacrifices his memories of the outside world through shock therapy. The reality of the situation hits Cap in the full page below.

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I don’t know how literally to take the exposition at the top about “a society formed by mental patients”—it’s a very unflattering and somewhat offensive portrayal if we do, given that all of the Night People look like derelicts. Looked at generously, this may be a comment on society’s mistreatment of the mentally ill, which drove them to form a society of their own.

Although Jack thinks Cap is considering joining the Night People, he is actually stalling to find a way out of the situation without violence…

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…but cannot.

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Just then, they are attacked by a monster from another planet—which always seems to happen at exactly the worst time—which explains to Cap why the Night People want superheroes to join them. (Although I didn’t show it here, we knew this from issue #202 when Sam fought one of the monsters by himself.)

When two of the Night People, Brothers Inquisitor and Wonderful (indeed), rig their transporter to attract the monsters and send them to Earth—a plan that our heroes overhear—Cap figures out a way to co-opt their plan to send them back instead.

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After Sam, Leila, and Jack go through the portal, Cap needs a way to detonate it after he gets all the people through. In the process, the Brother sounds like every tech bro in our world when the safety of his invention is questioned.

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In the end, Cap gets all the Night People and himself through the portal, but not before triggering the self-destruction device, which ends up destroying not only the transporter, but also the entire planet. (Oops.)

ONE FUNNY THING

In issue #201, after Cap and Sam talk to Harding but before Leila is abducted by the Night People, our heroes enjoy a quiet moment in their hotel, and we’re treated to some groovy dialogue—as well as Cap playing He-Man in the bathtub.

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ISSUE DETAILS

Captain America (vol. 1) #201, September 1976: Jack Kirby (writer, pencils), Frank Giacoia (inks), Phil Rachelson (colors), John Costanza (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Captain America (vol. 1) #202, October 1976: Jack Kirby (writer, pencils), Frank Giacoia (inks), George Roussos (colors), John Costanza (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Captain America (vol. 1) #203, November 1976: Jack Kirby (writer, pencils), Frank Giacoia (inks), Hugh Paley (colors), Gaspar Saladino (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Collected in: Captain America: Bicentennial Battles and Marvel Masterworks: Captain America Volume Eleven


PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #198-200 (June-August 1976) and Captain America Annual #3 (1976)

ALSO THESE MONTHS: Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles (1976), Avengers #151-153 (September-November 1976), and Invaders #8-10 (September-November 1976)

NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #204-205 (December 1976-January 1977)

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