These two issues shift from the “Who Is Steve Rogers?” storyline that concluded in the last issue and launches into “Am I Still Captain America?” beginning from that issue’s cliffhanger ending: Cap’s super-soldier serum was apparently neutralized, leaving him no longer a perfect physical specimen, but rather the original scrawny Steve Rogers, as we see in the opening splash page of issue #226.
Cap is understandably worried about his abilities or lack thereof, and he does what Nick Fury has done to him before: putting his life in danger to prove who he is. Of course, because it wasn’t his idea (this time), Nick objects.
(It’s awfully nice of editors Roger Stern and Jim Shooter to give props to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, “who made it all possible,” but I think Joe Simon had a little to do with it too.)
Nick orders the fight shut down and offends Cap in his own way.
Does he, though? (In later issues, we’ll see what some in the U.S. government really think about him, and this isn’t far off base.)
Before they know it, Nick’s fellow S.H..I.E.L.D. agents start transforming into duplicates of the Red Skull—and to make matters worse, the Impact robot gets a mind of its own, giving Cap more of a test than he bargained for, which ends up helping to reaffirm who he is.
Cap also confirms his resolve and determination are still present. (And what would he do without Nick telling him what’s happening?)
Meanwhile, more of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents become “Skulled,” and eventually the genuine article shows up to subdue Nick and make his plan known in the exposition below (although it is no surprise).
Skill counts for a lot, as we see above, but can’t make up completely for Cap’s loss of strength. We also see this below when Impact returns the shield to its owner, and Cap reaches his new limits.
Things seem dire as Impact prepares to put an end to the Sentinel of Liberty…
…until a mysterious but welcome transformation begins anew, apparently fueled by the intensity of the situation and the (ordinarily negative) emotions it elicits, serving a valuable purpose here, both added to his usual resolve and willpower.
While he defeats Impact once and for all, he announces an end to his existential dilemma, asserting that Steve Rogers and Captain America are the same person, based on spirit and mission more than the super-soldier serum or the physical abilities it grants him.
If I can break in here for a second, Red Skull… This revelation that Steve and Cap are the same person leaves unresolved whether there is anything to Steve Rogers other than being Captain America, an issue that Cap (and this blog) will revisit from time to time over the years to come.
OK, Skull, keep going.
Given the Red Skull’s proclamation at the end of issue #226, you will not be surprised at how issue #227 begins (after an opening splash of Cap bringing new readers up to date).
These Skulls may be fake, but they know their lines, and Cap remains defiant as ever.
Although the exposition that opens the panels below is inspirational…
…I get stuck on part about Cap not being Aryan, especially because the Red Skull later identifies him, physically at least, as the ideal member of that “race” (acknowledging that the term “Aryan” is extremely controversial with a complicated history). As the Nazis used the term, it referred mainly to the German people, especially to their Nordic heritage, excluding Jews and Slavs in particular. Cap’s Irish roots had not been established at this point—even his “parents” as falsely described in issue #225 were not given a specific heritage—and I have no idea what the Nazis thought of them, although they were a historically and notoriously belittled people, especially in England and America through the 19th century. (Regardless, the political linkages between Germany and Ireland in the early 20th century are fascinating.)
Anyway… if you thought Cap keeping his shield under his jacket while in civilian clothes was ridiculous (and it is), see where else he “hides” it.
Regardless, Cap displays (or, rather, asserts) his determination and resolve to the Red Skull—although, as he knows, the Skull in front of him may not be the real article.
Then, the Skull (whoever it really is) shows what he did to Nick Fury, chained under a heat ray, while Cap is forced to watch under the threat of the Skull’s doomsday weapon turning everyone on Earth into duplicates of him. The Skull taunts Cap with memories of Bucky—as if Cap’s mind wouldn’t have gone there anyway.
To our surprise, Cap lets Nick die—surprising not because he took the Red Skull’s threats seriously, but because he didn’t find a way to overcome the tragic dilemma the Skull presented to him, as heroes normally do.
But not so fast, my friends… not so fast! Cap’s got something up his sleeve, something much more credible than having a shield up his shirt.
To be fair, Cap, the Skull never kills you when he has a chance, so that wouldn’t tell you much!
As the “Skull” reverts to his original form, he reveals one reason he never simply kills his foe, a rationale that reappears time and time again in his evil plans (going back to Tales of Suspense #90 when he manipulated Cap into swearing allegiance to him in public).
That explains why Cap didn’t make an effort to free “Nick,” although it seems like a mighty thin premise on which to risk his life. (But it did set up a fine closing line of exposition.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #226, October 1978: Roger McKensie (writer), Sal Buscema (pencils), Mike Esposito and John Tartaglione (inks), Don Warfield (colors), Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #227, November 1978: Roger McKensie (writer), Sal Buscema (pencils), Mike Esposito and John Tartaglione (inks), George Roussos (colors), Rick Parker (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Both collected in Captain America vs. the Red Skull.
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