These three issues—really two, because the first is a reprint with only one new page—continue the “Who Is Steve Rogers?” storyline that began in issue #215, in which Captain America searches for information about his life before Project Rebirth. This leads into a Newfoundland adventure starting in issue #218 that eventually reveals some new detail to Captain America’s past (but unfortunately not telling him anything new about his days before becoming Cap).
If the cover to issue #216 looks like a team-up book, that actually gives it too much credit. It’s just a reprint of the Human Torch story from Strange Tales #114 (November 1963) that served as a test to see if fans wanted to see Captain America again, and it didn’t even feature Cap himself, but only the villain known as the Acrobat impersonating Cap. Nonetheless, issue #216 does include one new page before the reprint began, and it’s valuable at least for revisiting his current plight.
Pretty weak tea, putting the Acrobat in the same category as Steve Rogers, William Naslund, Jeff Mace, and William Burnside. (Even Burnside started out with the best of intentions.)
Issue #217 picks up the real story once more, starting with the heartwarming scene of Cap and Falcon signing autographs for their fans.
Afterwards, Cap and Sam head to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, where Nick Fury introduces them to four new superpowered agents, meant to help them fight the Corporation (who were behind the attack in issues #213-214). None of them are notable except a new Marvel Boy (see below), patterned after the 50’s Atlas Comics character, and who would soon become Marvel Man and later Quasar.
And big surprise… Nick has an ulterior motive for calling Cap and Sam in to meet the new heroes.
I really how easily Cap calls out his old friend here for his insincerity—Nick really should have known better.
When Cap tries to leave, Nick sicks his new pets on him, and we get some long overdue battle scenes, including a fantastic double kick at the bottom of the page.
It turns out Cap was the one playing games here, for his own reasons—and then he designates a certain partner and friend as his replacement (definitely not for the last time).
As Cap’s words below suggest, this was the beginning of the Falcon being phased out of the title as a co-star, leading to his name being dropped from the cover as of issue #223 and the character himself disappearing after these issues until issue #229.
We can trust Sam’s parting words are not false flattery (even if Cap did hear them), but for some reason they nonetheless sound too deferential to my ears. We can assume Cap would have been uncomfortable if he had heard him, but his mind may have been elsewhere anyway, as we see above, returning to his missing memories.
While he’s in a mood to burn some bridges, Cap calls Sharon.
Below we see that his uncertainty about his past seems to be affecting him on an existential level, similar to what we have seen numerous times before. (“For the first time,” ha.)
We could take the exposition above and below to imply also that, regardless of who Steve Rogers really is (or was), he will always be Captain America (echoing issues of identity nearly every superhero goes through at one time or another).
And even if I’m reading too much into the exposition below, the woman he saved definitely makes the same point.
Of course Sharon saw this, but it’s hard to understand why Steve didn’t go after her, unless he was more intent on driving her from his life than he represented on the phone.
By the way, it didn’t show up in any of the panels I included here, but Veda is a member of the evil Corporation who arranged for the Night Flyer to attack Cap in issues #213-214, and who now plans to exploit his current malaise to kill him once and for all…
…plans that apparently include dining with him at Avengers Mansion in issue #218.
We have no way of knowing whether Veda’s claims about her mother—one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents present at Project Rebirth—are true or just an attempt to win Cap’s loyalty, but if the latter, it seems to have worked.
As we know, Cap’s inherently trusting nature (which is generally a virtue) can render him too gullible when taken to excess (which is definitely not). Given his current malaise about his past, this leaves him especially vulnerable to manipulation, which Veda knows all too well.
And if things weren’t bad enough… heeeere’s Tony!
We’ll return to Iron Foot-in-Mouth soon, but first we’ll check in on Sam, who’s already jumped into training the new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruits, but still has time to reassure Sharon of Cap’s affections (despite every sign to the contrary), as well as acknowledging his other life as a social worker.
Back in Avengers Mansion, Tony unwittingly inspires a thought in Cap’s head regarding his past, which also has the side benefit of freeing him from Veda’s clutches for the time being.
What? Iron Man’s not a therapist? I must have been confused this entire time.
Once you recover from that shocking admission, you can see below the significance of this particular submarine.
So Tony’s not a therapist but Cap’s a detective… comics can sure surprise you.
I don’t know if Cap thought to himself, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” but there are!
After listening and reliving the events of Avengers #4, Cap hears a detail that motivates the storyline in the rest of this issue and the next three (in a classic Roy Thomas exercise in retroactive continuity, fixing a mistake in the canon with a new story).
I think it’s safe to assume that “none of us” referred to the Marvel Bullpen as well as the Avengers!
And what exactly was the inconsistency? Once he gets to Newfoundland, Cap explains (to himself).
Luckily for Cap, a plot unfolds that will lead him to just the answers he’s seeking… with a literary allusion to boot.
(Hard to understand how light works in the last panel above, but I like the effect.)
As Cap fights the mysterious ne’er-do-wells, he reminisces on his super-strength, not referenced in years… and now we know why.
And that’s that as far as Cap’s super-strength is concerned (not that it won’t seem that he still has it from time to time, as creators stretch the boundaries of even peak human strength).
Below, Cap shows that you don’t need super-strength to take out a blowhard (in an unusually lighthearted moment).
When Cap discovers the man behind the grape-flavored goons, it is one more piece to the puzzle that is his past… not as Steve Rogers before Project Rebirth, but the little sliver of his past connecting his “death” over the English Channel and his discovery in the waters off of Newfoundland.
Don’t worry if you don’t remember Dekker… he’s new (though not to Cap). And his secrets will be revealed in upcoming issues (covered in the next post), but for now, he just wants to show off his project for the school science fair.
Captain America (vol. 1) #216, December 1977: New page by Roy Thomas (writer), Dave Cockrum (pencils), Frank Giacoia (inks), ??? (colors), Irving Watanabe (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #217, January 1978: Roy Thomas (writer), John Buscema (pencils), Pablo Marcos (inks), Phil Rache (colors), Denise Wohl (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #218, February 1978: Don Glut (writer), Sal Buscema (pencils), Mike Esposito and John Tartag (inks), George Roussos (colors), John Costanza (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Not yet collected in color (until Marvel Masterworks: Captain America Volume Twelve is released, that is), but they are collected in black-and-white in Essential Captain America Volume 6.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #215 (November 1977)
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Avengers #166 (December 1977), Invaders #23 and 25 (December 1977 and February 1978), and Avengers #167-168 (January-February 1978)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #219-221 (March-May 1978)
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