We start 1994 with a flashback issue of Captain America written by Roy Thomas—breaking Mark Gruenwald’s streak begun with issue #307—telling the story of our hero’s first meeting with Namor the Sub-Mariner. Fittingly, this month also sees the debut of Marvels, the landmark miniseries by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, the first issue of which features the introduction of Captain America and Bucky (as well as Namor and the Human Torch) to the world.
The opening splash page of Captain America #423 summarizes the state of the world in early 1941, not long after Cap and Bucky made their debut themselves (and months before the United States entered the war).
After a couple pages of action that prove the two new heroes came out of the gate ready to fight, we turn to another familiar sight from the Golden Age: Namor and the Human Torch fighting in the sky, as they first did in June 1940’s Marvel Mystery Comics #8 (seen in Marvels #1 below).
Eventually, Namor realizes he should be taking his complaints about the surface world to Washington, DC, where he arrives in his flagship at the same time that Cap is receiving a medal from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Did Bucky get one too? You don’t want to make an enemy of that guy!)
After Namor bursts in, Cap gives him the honor of a formal announcement, followed by a classic “so we meet at least” line.
Despite Cap’s best efforts, Namor takes the president to his ship and flies away, but Cap hitches a ride too, although his offer of taking FDR’s place as Namor’s hostage is summarily rejected.
When he emerges, Cap is lucky at one person recognizes him—and not the fella who questions the legality of his costume.
(Besides the fact that the U.S. government gave him the costume, 4 U.S. Code § 8 says that “the flag should never be used as wearing apparel,” which is usually taken to meant an actual flag, so flag-based clothing designs are permitted.)
After getting a plane from the military and following Namor to a small island (somewhere), Cap surprises the Sub-Mariner, and even manages to extract an unintended compliment from him before stating his mission in a way I don’t think we’ve heard before (but is rather on-the-nose).
The two legends bicker about the nature of titles before Namor learns how mighty Cap’s shield actually is.
Cap continues to fight while the president cheers him on (although the exposition evokes a famous speech by his British counterpart).
Cap’s resolve shows through as his more powerful foe continues to pummel him—so much so that he fails to notice when the Nazi scuba divers abduct the president.
But even Cap cannot hold out forever and eventually falls, after which Namor notices someone missing…
…and Cap springs back into action, which impresses the Sub-Mariner (again).
Cap and Namor break into the Nazis’ U-Boat and defeat most of the men aboard, leaving one to threaten to kill the president… but even if the Nazis knew of Roosevelt’s paraplegia, they clearly underestimated his upper-body strength.
Maybe Cap has a new sidekick? (More bad news for Bucky, poor kid.)
Cap turns to face Namor, who has had a change of heart…
…finding a new respect for two heroes today, both of whom see hidden depths in the Sub-Mariner as well.
The first issue of the Marvels miniseries takes place in the same era, as we relive the emergence of superheroes in the Marvel Universe through the eyes of reporter Phil Sheldon. Below, Sheldon witnesses the first battle between Namor and the Human Torch (again, from Marvel Mystery Comics #8).
In early 1941, Sheldon comes upon two kids raving about their new hero “Cap’n America,” who is profiled in the March 31, 1941, issue of Life magazine, which (in the fictional version)reports on various events from Captain America Comics #1 (cover date: March 1941).
Sheldon does not hide his awe for the new hero…
…and his sentiments are shared by a particular sailor man as well as a young Nicholas Fury, although Phil does question the sense of comfort Cap gave off, especially compared to his two more illustrious predecessors in costumed adventuring.
The issue ends with a breathtaking double-page spread showing many of the heroes active at the time in a never-before recounted joint adventure, including three not seen on this blog before: the original Black Widow and the Thunderer (in between the Destroyer and the Blazing Skull) and Black Marvel (beneath the Blazing Skull).
Captain America (vol. 1) #423, January 1994: Roy Thomas (writer), M.C. Wyman (pencils), Charles Barnett III (inks), Ovi Hondru (colors), Diana Albers (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: Fighting Chance.
Marvels #1, January 1994: Kurt Busiek (writer), Alex Ross (art), Richard Starkings and John Gaushell (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Marvels.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #422 (December 1993)
ALSO THIS MONTH: West Coast Avengers #102 and Avengers #370, Thunderstrike #4, and Plasmer #3 (January 1994)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #424 (February 1994)
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