Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Beyond The River Of Death!

Jack "King" Kirby's return to Captain America in the 70's was marked by many new ideas for the series, pitting Cap and the Falcon against all sorts of foes, but not any we'd met before. It would be a winding path  down the "River of Death" before that would change.

The story of the "The Swine" begins simultaneously in New York City and in a small Central American dictatorship where Comandante Hector Santiago proves to be a sadistic and murderous leader. He is brought to the attention of Cap and the Falcon when a friend of theirs is accosted by Santiago's police who seeks to return him to the wretched land. The heroes step in and soon Cap is on his way to check into the dictator's nefarious activities.

He finds a lush land not totally unfamiliar to the experienced jungle fighter and battles both against Santiago's military forces and the beasts of the wild at the same time.

A cousin of Santiago's named Donna Maria turns against the despot and she is pitched into a pit alongside the Living Legend to become victims for a hideous creature.

It seems more than nature is at work in the "Rio De Muerte" as it is called  and Cap has to fend off monsters of all kinds. Meanwhile the Falcon concerned for Cap's welfare checks into things among them something SHIELD has been worried about for a while, something dubbed "File 116" which talks about monsters appearing all across the world.

Cap and Donna Maria survive their ordeal but Santiago himself falls victim to the monster he set upon his victims ending his vile career. Then the pair meet the mastermind behind the monsters of the river and the man behind File 116, Arnim Zola.

Doubtless the best new character Kirby created during his 70's Cap run, Arnim Zola is a memorable creation with his headless body and chest-projected mug.

The Nazi geneticist uses his creations "Doughboy" and "Primus" to capture Cap and Donna Maria and transports them to his lair far away in the alps. Meanwhile the Falcon still investigates File 116 himself and finds a monstrous nest and an even more stupefying monster bird.

Back home Sharon Carter, who has been carping about Steve Roger's continued career as a superhero is conscripted by SHIELD to investigate the funding for File 116 and that brings her face to mask with the man behind the plot, Cap's old enemy The Red Skull. The ultimate goal that Zola and his master the Skull seek is about to be revealed.

It turns out that while Hitler's body died in flames (either as a result of bombs or the Human Torches that is unclear) his precious brain had been preserved for the intervening decades and the pair were seeking to develop a new body for their noxious leader.

Now that Cap has fallen into their clutches, they see his Super-Soldier powered form as the ideal for their plan. It's a wacky scheme, but as with all things Nazi seems to make more sense to the perpetrators than anyone else.

 Cap and Donna Maria  the battle the Fuhrer's current form dubbed "Nazi X" which holds his encased brain.

It all comes to a head, so to speak, when our heroes on their various missions come together in Arnim Zola's living castle, one more example of his wild experimentation. Cap in a struggle with some of Zola's creations is blinded.

But that blindness does not stop him from confronting his old foe the Red Skull, and together the heroes save the day again and deny the wretched Adolph Hitler his new day to shine.

As Kirby's run on the hero winds down, we find him on the mend in hospital sharing a room with a person identified only as "The Defector". Sent to assassinate this mysterious Defector is The Night Flyer, a high-tech assassin who prides himself on his perfect techniques.

But that perfection is put to the ultimate test when he confronts both the Falcon and a recovering Captain America. The Defector survives but the Night Flyer does not as for the moment at least the world is once again safe from threat.

And that wraps up the final Captain America run by Jack "King" Kirby. It had been nearly two years and during that time Kirby had reestablished some aspects of the luster he once brought to the game, but there's no denying that his work on this run of Cap is not his strongest. His dialogue seemed especially out of tune as he put hip lines in the mouths of both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson, lines that jarred.

To his credit he gave the Falcon a lot to do, though admittedly the high flyer does fall out of the last few story lines. The run up to the reintroduction of the Red Skull was handled nicely, but the pay off seemed a bit underwhelming. And that points up a steady problem with this run, the tendency by Kirby to ramp up the implications nicely but then divert the attention at about the point when interest is at its most keen. We never for instance really find out much about the fate of Arnim Zola after he unleashes the power of his castle on our heroes. His role seems taken the Skull, though the idea to raise Hitler seems unclear.

As usual Kirby is more adept at the visuals than other things, ably abetted by primary inker Frank Giacoia. Mike Royer does arrive about half way in this run and one issue is done by Dan Green. The artwork is still full of Kirby vigor, but the story alas seems a bit aimless at times.

There are still two more annuals the King produced which we haven't discussed. Look for those next time.

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  1. Do you recall the Wonder Woman stories sandwiched in between the new, non-costumed Wonder Woman ---and the 12 labors/Justice League guest-star stories? (Both of which you recently covered here at the Dojo.) They were odd, cartoony stories that they later (I think) declared to be non-canon as far as Wonder Woman’s continuity was concerned. I’m wondering if the creative team that would follow up King Kirby on Cap wasn’t put into a similar predicament – as to – do we largely disregard these recent stories (declare them non-canon) or just sort of soldier on and not make much reference to the preceding 18 issues of Cap & Falc? As you note here Arnim Zola proved to have later value in the MU but these Kirby stories really had an alternate/Bizarro universe quality to them… I’m dying to find out who the creative team was as of issue # 215. Thanks Rip! (Sorry if I'm getting ahead of you.)

    1. You're not ahead, I'm not planning to go there. For the record I looked it up and the next issue (#215) was yet another revision of Cap's origin, this one drawn by George Tuska. It's the first one to incorporate the Invaders though as I recollect. The issue after (#216) was a reprint of Cap's debut (sort of) in the Human Torch story from Strange Tales. After that Don Glut steps aboard along with Sal Buscema and they start to wind off some intriguing stories showcasing the SHIELD Super Agents (the beginning of Wendell Vaughn as Marvel Man later of course to become Quasar - my favorite superhero of the 90's).

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