Old Comics Wednesday: CAPTAIN AMERICA #187

It's been so long since I wrote about Frank Robbins' run as artist on CAPTAIN AMERICA that I've lost the thread of the series. Looking online at the writing credits for the Red Skull, Cockblocker arc, I didn't notice that Steve Englehart had been replaced near the end with John Warner.

I'd like to think that this issue used an ingenious way to drop a fill-in issue without it being obvious: The previous issue's climax left the Falcon catatonic, the Red Skull on the loose, SHIELD Agents Peggy and Gabe baffled, and Cap even more weepy than he was before. This issue really does nothing to move any of that story forward, instead serving up a dozen or so pages of Cap walking around in a maze and punching stuff.

To get things rolling, a UFO vacuums Cap up. And why not, really.

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The UFO zips off, taking Cap away from his current storyline to one much more existential -- or pointless, depending on your point of view.

I had planned to stop blogging about these comics after the Red Skull left the story -- I'm a Skull fan, not a Cap fan -- but this panel changed my mind:

Despite a reputation as a "cartoony" artist, Robbins' work was always grounded in a firm, Caniff-inky realism -- which is what makes him using this Termite Terrace-esque device of eyes in a blackout so odd. Much of this issue is supposed to take place in the dark, but the finished panels rarely pull it off nor even attempt to using the same method twice. If I remember correctly, the 1970s was also the decade when decades of refined and proven cinematography methods for filming day-for-night were also thrown out the window in favor of quarter-assed new ways to shoot night scenes for crappy police TV shows and the like -- so maybe this is just another period-specific detail we just wouldn't understand now. Or maybe this is just a sloppy, stupid supercomic.

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At this point, the lights are still on. And Cap, having nothing better to do, marches through this maze to reach the Illuminati symbol in the center and die. One thing this book does get right from the beginning: Cap is deeply, perpetually annoyed by everything he encounters. And, again, why not.

Best "Stupid Comic-Book Moment" of the Month: "A single, indescribable sound ..." "SKRIK"

Who wouldn't be pissed. with his best [black] friend [who happens to be black] in a vegetative state and a UFO dropping him into a maze populated with a pack of monsters who reek and want to beat him up? This, by the way, would make an awesome hook for a sequel to THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS AND DOGS, YOU'VE GOT MAIL or the first season of ALLY MCBEAL.

The lights here are still on.

Again, Cap is so annoyed. If only he could see a video screen of his front lawn, getting trampled by that kid who lives next door collecting his goddamn wiffle ball AGAIN.

From here on, the story is supposed to take place in darkness. See if you can spot any difference.

I know Englehart gets all the props for being The Watergate-Era CAPTAIN AMERICA scribe but, to me, this panel of Cap stepping into a hole in the floor sums everything up in one image. Why Cap would be running around in the dark of a death-trap maze is a question far beyond my pay grade.

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I know it's asking a lot of comics like this, but: Why is Cap happy to stroll through the maze to where his death [or at least answers for him and/or the issue's climax] is promised him at the end, but he can't get away from the trap-door-to-a-vat-of-chemicals fast enough? Would it kill someone to have plonked in a chunk of text saying that there's nothing down in that pit but the death goo, so Cap best get the hell out of there before the door closes? What does a villain do if the hero refuses to play ball? How does Cap know the answers he seeks are at the deathtrap in the middle of the labyrinth and not at the bottom of this pit?

Cap is now so annoyed he's mixing his metaphors.

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At what point in time did comic books made for children drop the bit where their antagonists self-identified as evil? As worse-than-useless as it probably is, I applaud the use of annoyance as a weapon against your enemy; if only there had been a sub-plot cooking for a few issues where Cap kept getting crank phone calls and unwanted pizzas delivered to Avengers Mansion.

Again, it's been dark the whole time. Dark.

That's an interesting pose Robbins puts Cap in, isn't it?

I like this bit of narrative connective tissue in what otherwise reads as a sequence of non-sequiturs instead of a story -- it makes sense that the Red Skull would have had a back-up plan and Cap really has no idea where he is, where the Falcon is or what the hell is going on -- but it would have been better placed on page 6, not page 16.

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Again, it's dark! Cap can't see! AW SHI' -- ROBOTS

Sometimes, when the power goes out, I sit in the dark and wonder if Marvel will ever publish a collection of letter-column letters from fans who later became famous, or if they've already considered such a book but decided to blackmail said letterhacks instead. Just the hush money from Frank Miller to keep his gushy appreciation of THE CAT [or is it NIGHT NURSE?] out of print would probably make Marvel almost as much money as yet another repackaging of his DAREDEVIL run.

This is why using frustration and annoyance as primary devices to defeat your superpowered enemy is a bad idea: Eventually, the guy will just snap and start trashing everything with everything else.

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I dearly love that this is the only panel where the "silent, seething" Cap isn't continuously talking until he gets vapped below. Cap has smashed his way into the control room or somesuch, staffed by old men in hooded smocks toting submachine guns. Wait, what?

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Nobody drew Cap taking a faceplant like Frank Robbins.

This is from this issue's Captain Marvel-starring advertisement for Hostess Twinkies, but I like that: 1.] For the cream-cake-loving bad guy of the page, they picked the man who gave Mar-Vell the cancer that later gives the hero a slow, painful death. 2.] This suggests that Nitro could once again be the catastrophically sloppy powerhouse to kick off one of Marvel's company-wide, torn-from-yesterday's-headlines events: DEEPWATER EVENTHORIZON 2014, wherein Nitro will accidentally rip a hole in the ocean floor that floods the whole Gulf of Mexico into the Negative Zone. A classroom of meticulously multi-ethnic children on a field trip die, Spider-Man gets a new costume, NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN, AGAIN.

Meanwhile, Cap has regained consciousness in the back room of a Pier One outlet store, where he sells the garden ornaments to soccer moms forever. The End.:

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Again, no one drew a twisted, contorted Captain America like Frank Robbins.

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Self-awareness is nice, but there's no reason why this issue didn't have a sub-plot or two. And, again, why not.

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