Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Well, Germany's most hated after Hitler, Mengele, the Red Skull, Baron Strucker, the Iron Major...

Thanks again to Jeff for the link to the old record for this issue, an audio adaptation of Captain America and the Falcon #168, "...And a Phoenix Shall Arise!" Written by Roy Thomas and Tony Isabella, art by Sal Buscema, inks by Tartag and Roussos. Oddly, and I could very well be wrong about this but don't have the time to look it up right now, but I'm not sure this has ever been reprinted.

The story opens with Cap and the Falcon on nighttime patrol, and even the narration has to admit, "No less than a baker's dozen of their most harrowing adventures must have begun in just this way..." Cap's on his man-out-of-time bit yet again, a plot point even Stan Lee got tired of. Luckily, our villain obligingly attacks before Cap can eat up more pages on that. The Phoenix (a few years before Jean Grey took up the name!) opens fire with his snazzy death-ray, and gives a standard villain rant about getting his vengeance. Only Cap and Falc have never seen this guy before.

Since Phoenix seems only concerned with killing Cap, Falcon's able to get a shot in, but Phoenix doesn't go down easy. He would've finished Falcon off, except his death-ray ran out of juice, so he escapes, promising a rematch "Perhaps tomorrow!" Now it's Falcon's turn for moping, that he's not pulling his weight as a sidekick. I dunno, Sam: attracting enemy gunfire, check. Getting beat up and endangered, check. Making the hero feel worthwhile by needing his help, double-check. Sounds like an A+ sidekick there.

Cap and Falc are convinced Phoenix is someone they've previously fought, or know somehow. Not Ditko fans, I guess. Cap muses that he had "more arch-enemies than most people have relatives!" then goes through three and stops: the Red Skull, the very dead Baron Zemo, and Solarr. I can see why they'd want to introduce a new villain, because Cap's rouge gallery is looking a little thin here. The next night, Cap meets up with Falcon, then gives him the brush-off, saying he hasn't been any help.

Cap searches the city for the Phoenix, and finally comes across a guy running like hell, after an attack from "some costumed nut." Cap has the victim point him to his attacker, the Phoenix. Cap smashes him, quite literally: sound effect, SMASH! And the Phoenix was a robot decoy. The 'victim' actually was the Phoenix--unmasked, Cap didn't recognize him--and the decoy was full of gas. Man, I totally want a decoy now.

Scene change to Phoenix and his evil warehouse hideout, where he has Cap chained to a table over a vat of boiling Adhesive X. Guh, what a crappy brand name. I mean, it's not like Xerox or Post-it, is it? Maybe something like Stuck-oh or Burnyglue or Thatsnotf***ingoinanywhere. Look, I'm not in advertising, but Adhesive X isn't great. Still, Cap recognizes it as Baron Zemo's invention, but Phoenix is too young to be him. He's his son, Helmut, although he doesn't get a first name this appearance.

Also, since on the sliding scale of Marvel Time, Cap wasn't revived in 1963 but probably more like ten years ago. Which then means Helmut's either pretty old--as in, born before WWII, if he remembers his dad Heinrich getting his mask glued to his head; or he could very well have some technological means of slowing his aging. I suppose Helmut could've been born later, but that would involve Heinrich fathering him with a bag glued to his face...

Phoenix tells Cap about how great his dad was, like the bestest Nazi scientist ever! The elder Baron Zemo had invented a hand-held laser weapon in the 40's, and the aforementioned Adhesive X, a glue that "once applied, nothing could remove it!" While that sounds silly, I suppose if you had a glue so strong you could build tanks using it, that would be something. Something hideously unsafe, yeah, but something.

Since American newspapers called the laser a 'death-ray,' Phoenix notes that 'propaganda' made his father "the most hated man in Germany!" (Yeah, ok, we know you're proud of your dad, but that's just not true.) Zemo had taken to wearing a mask, although I'm not exactly sure how that was going to help. Even in the Marvel U. during WWII, there weren't that many masked Nazis. Couple dozen, tops. The mask pretty much just singled him out for Cap's attention, who ends up smashing a tank of Adhesive X over Zemo, who ends up with his mask glued to his head forever. (From an old Marvel Handbook, I believe Zemo had to be fed intravenously for the rest of his life.) Lashing out at his family, the Baron soon disappeared, and his wife died shortly thereafter, leaving Helmut alone.

Now the continuity is a little dicey here: Phoenix makes a living on his scientific knowledge, until he sees the headlines of Cap's return. Returning to Castle Zemo, he recreates his father's death-ray and Adhesive X. But, the original Baron Zemo was killed shortly after Cap's return, and Phoenix had already been working on his revenge. Busiek would straighten this out a bit in Thunderbolts, as I would've thought they would try to get in touch to get revenge together. Cue "Cat's in the Cradle." Or don't.

Either way, Zemo is about to dump Cap into the Adhesive X, when Falcon and Redwing smash through the skylight that all warehouses have. Sam totally knew Cap was just trying to get him out of harm's way, but with his bird running interference, Falcon's beating Phoenix pretty handily. In fact, the beating is getting so bad, Cap feels bad for the "misguided fool still fighting World War II!" He manages to get loose, and stops the Falcon from further thrashing Zemo.

Phoenix takes this opportunity to try to kill them both with Cap's own shield. I applaud thinking big, but I have no idea how the hell he thought that was going to work. It would be like trying to stop two people by throwing a manhole cover at them: you might get lucky and get one, but even that's pushing it. And he manages to miss Cap and Falcon both, and boomerang it back into himself. Again, no idea: Cap's shield doesn't naturally return or rebound, Cap has to bounce it off things or put a helluva lot of spin on it. But, Zemo goes into the tank of Adhesive X.

Cap starts to try to save Phoenix, but Falcon, quite rightly, stops him. Not a lot of superheroes are going to be able to dive into a boiling vat of unbreakable glue to save a Nazi, but that may be just as well. Cap mopes that, "the big war just claimed another victim," and that his revival also brought back "a whole generation's hatreds--hatreds that should've been left frozen a quarter of a century ago!" Cheer up, Cap: we've got a whole ton of new hatreds now!

This is about as objective as I could be on this comic: thanks to listening to that record so many times, I love it to this day. Probably 15 years after last hearing it, I bought the comic at Red Iguana Comics in Missoula, MT, for a dollar. And today I was able to read it and listen to it at the same time, for the first time. A pretty good day.


Brandon said...

Weird. I just finished reading Ultimates Annual #2. It was chock full of Cap and Falcon taking on a seemingly returned-from-the-dead Nazi villain.

Of course, I guess every third Captain America storyline involves resurrected Nazis. So, maybe not so weird after all.

Anonymous said...

Every 3rd Captain America does involve resurrected Nazis. It is the Marvel equivalent of pre crisis Superman where there were more Kryptonians on Earth than humans.

If all these resurrected Nazis had actually fought during WWII we might all be speaking german now.

The Fortress Keeper said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
fortress keeper said...

"I suppose Helmut could've been born later, but that would involve Heinrich fathering him with a bag glued to his face..."

Ewwwww. (Although I always wondered how Zemo ate with that thing stuck on his head.)

And I suppose bag-faced Zemo is better than the Red Skull, who fathered a daughter. Did he take THAT thing off?