Friday, July 17, 2015

The Several Secret Origins Of Captain America!

What If #4 is among my all-time favorite comic books. It dropped in the midst of The Invaders run by the same team which was then producing the comic, and unlike most all of the other stories in the series was intended from the get-go to be canonical. (It should be included in every collection, which it is in the most recent two-volume version I see.) It seeks to solve a problem only comic book nerds would perceive or feel needed a solution - specifically the timeline of Captain America. Being one of those aforementioned comic book nerds, I lapped it up with glee.

The problem began at the very beginning of Cap's Marvel career when the powers that were decided to reach into the freezer of legacy heroes and grab out a "Capsicle". The decision to have had Cap on ice (literally) since the end of World War II seemed straightforward enough for fans who because of their youth were unaware of the large tapestry of Timely-Atlas-Marvel which had featured the Living Legend off and on for a few decades. Stan and Jack had a great idea and its drama speaks to everyone, as Cap was made into a modern-day Rip Van Winkle so as to offset his noble but seemingly naive beliefs against the urbane modern world. If you think Cap is an utter fool, then perhaps your worldview is in need of adjustment.

But that aside, there was the problem of the Captain America of the 1950's when Atlas  wanted to revive its superheros. If Cap was on ice then how could he be a professor along with Bucky in 1953? The answer was devised and presented by Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema in Captain America #153-156, four of the best Cap stories I ever read in my life. My pulse quickened as this clash between the Caps unfolded.

But that solution left out the post-war Captain America seen in issues of his own self-titled comic and other places such as All Winners. In fact Cap and Bucky had been part of the All-Winners Squad with two documented adventures. How could that be?

What If #4 had the answer.

We begin with a scene first shown in Avengers #4 and later expanded in Avengers #56 in which Cap and Bucky confront the hooded Nazi, Baron Zemo.

Roy Thomas and John Buscema - Avengers #56 1968
Roy Thomas and Frank Robbins - What If #4 1977
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby - The Avengers #4 1964
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby - Captain America #112 1969
Bucky is killed while Cap disappears into the ocean to be later found by Eskimos and worshiped before being thrown into the ocean again by the Sub-Mariner and ending up in the hands of the Avengers.

Captain America I
We of course now know better, but at the time this was the story as it stood -- Cap lived, then disappeared and Bucky died.

Captain America II
With Cap's and Bucky's seeming deaths the new leader of the United States President Harry S. Truman decided a Captain America should remain at the side of The Invaders and to that end conscripted the hero The Spirit of 76 (last seen as part of the defunct Crusaders in Invaders #15) and Fred Davis, the bat boy for the New York Yankees to pitch hit for the seemingly deceased Star-Spangled duo. And that worked for a while as the team battled in the Pacific alongside the Union Jack and Spitfire.

Later, after the war the Liberty Legion disbands and Miss America and Whizzer join the ranks of the team which is renamed "The All-Winners Squad" since "The Invaders" makes even less sense than it did before. Later still the team breaks up and the members go their separate ways, no less committed to righting wrongs.

(Note the "No Strings" line. First time?)
Then came the threat of Adam II, the second android built by the highly intelligent but misguided Professor Phineas T. Horton, the man who'd given birth to the oddly named Human Torch a decade before. Adam II wanted to lead a cleansing of the human population of Earth and lead his fellow androids to control a brand new society. To that end he'd targeted an up and coming politician named John F. Kennedy for replacement by android. The Invaders try to stop the scheme.

Captain America III
But the second Captain America is killed in the process by Adam II, after nobly sending a signal from, of all places, the Old North Church of American Revolution fame. He is found and replaced by The Patriot, who had found his body and removed it.

Captain America IV
So it was first The Spirit of 76 and later The Patriot who filled in for Captain America during those years before the Commie-bashing and jingoistic Captain America concocted his scheme to imitate his hero.

This is whopper of tale, rendered with gusto and glee by Roy Thomas, Frank Robbins and Frank Springer. A story which kites through the years with aplomb and which opens up the history of the Marvel Universe in fresh and exciting ways.

What was a problem became an opportunity and What If #4 seized that opportunity.

Rip Off


  1. Beautifully summarized Rip! Thank you, thankl you! I need to get my hands on Englehart’s Captain America 153-156 (I had a couple of these back in the day) and Thomas’ What If? #4…

    1. That story is worthy of reprint on its own, along with perhaps other stories with the Grand Director and the Bucky who became Nomad. It's in the Essentials. The What If #4 should be standard in any Invaders collection but alas was not included in the volumes I've been using for my reviews. I had it in the original but read it this time in the Patriot reprint volume from a few years back.

      Rip Off

  2. One of my favourite issues of What If. But What If Gil Kane had drawn an entire story featuring the All-Winners?! I particularly like his version of Miss America although I miss her glasses.


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