Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Turned to Stone, When You Were Gone, I Turned To Stone...

Captain America #140 (August 1971)
"In the Grip of the Gargoyle!"
Stan Lee-John Romita/George Roussos

Doug: We remarked last week that we'd been guilty of shunning the Mighty Thor for the past year-plus. Well, lo and behold but Captain America's been getting the shaft, too! So over the
next week, we'll also rectify that situation with a 3-part look at Cap and the Falcon vs. the Grey Gargoyle!
Doug: First impression -- Stan's writing is full of its usual hyperbole, George Roussos is perhaps not the best inker for John Romita, and where in the world did Artie Simek lose all of his punctuation?

Karen: Ah yes, the missing punctuation! There was a period of time where it seemed like you never saw a period at the end of sentences. One of our readers, Steve Pick, stated in comments on our review of Fantastic Four 112 that there was some sort of printing process problem (say that three times fast) going on at the time. But as a young reader, who was proud of her grasp of sentence structure, it drove me crazy. Actually, it still does.

Doug: We pick this story up just as a battle is beginning between Captain America and the Grey Gargoyle. Cap's been on the NYPD at the request of the commissioner in an effort to locate several cops who've turned up missing. The reason they are missing is because they've all been turned to stone by the Gargoyle, and it's this graveyard-looking scene that Cap comes into. If you're not familiar with the Gargoyle, he was a French chemist who accidentally stumbled on a compound that turns anything he touches with his right hand to stone. I've always found it somewhat funny that even though he's the person of masonry, he still wears a moustache -- sort of reminds me of Caesar Romero!
Karen: Yeah, the Gargoyle is a goofy guy -he seems exceedingly bulky, sort of reminding me of the Beast after he got hairy. He just never seemed that challenging a foe -certainly not for the likes of Thor, who I believe was his original enemy.

Doug: The Falcon soon catches up to Cap and joins the battle. We of course get the obligatory racial accusations, that Cap only keeps Falc around as a "token black"; Falc felt that Cap had gone off on his own to tackle the baddie. I've always found this talk somewhat offensive and certainly inflammatory, but I understand that's what Stan was going for. It just gets worn out when it occurs each issue. Later in the story it's really rough when Steve is looking for Sam at his social work office and is confronted by Sam's lady friend. She goes a step further and ridicules Steve for being in his police uniform. I suppose this running commentary was just one more difference between Marvel and DC in this era (the O'Neil/Adams GL-GA notwithstanding).

Karen: It's funny, I found this really the most interesting part of the story. I have to give Stan credit for addressing the issue and not playing it safe. Yes, at times it could seem heavy-handed, but I don't think it was that far removed from reality. I'm sure that an African American hero teamed up with a liv
ing legend would get no end of grief from some people in his community. The pressure to prove himself, to be his own man -that would be tough. As for Leila, well, she was pretty much always a b!tch, regardless of creed or color!
Doug: The Grey Gargoyle proves his mettle by even turning Cap's shield to stone. However, once there's a break in the fighting the Gargoyle slips away. It's not that he couldn't have continued, but he has other business to tend to. So we see Steve Rogers back in uniform and getting instructions from the commissioner while taking heat from his commanding officer (in a scene straight out of Steve's military days in WWII). We're also treated to a brief origin recap for the Gargoyle.

Doug: Next we see Falc has tracked, with the help of Redwing, the Gargoyle to his secret lab. Sam engages ol' Stoneface, they scrap, and Sam surprisingly holds his own. That is, until the Gargoyle exposes Sam to the same chemicals that turn people to stone -- but this time with a twist: the new composition allows the afflicted person to move, but places him under the mental control of the Grey Gargoyle. This is heading south for our heroes in a hurry!

Karen: You have to wonder what Falcon was thinking, kicking a guy made out of stone? Ouch! It doesn't seem like he had any real plan for capturing him, but I blame Stan more for t
hat than Falc!

Doug: Cap is worried about Falc so goes searching for him. The aforementioned exchange at Sam's office takes place, and then Cap requests (through Stark technology) to be beamed up to the SHIELD helicarrier. There, he's reunited with Sharon Carter and Nick Fury. While catching up, Fury informs Cap of a project they're working on to isolate and study Element X. But the only thing that can withstand this dangerous chemical -- with the power to blow up the planet -- is solid stone. It's at that point that Cap connects the dots...

Karen: Why oh why is anyone working on Element X? "One drop can destroy the planet" -hello, what possible use is the stuff? This whole idea seemed like something Stan just had pop into his head and put down on paper with no real effort put into thinking it out.
Doug: This was a decent story -- lots of action, a little mystery, writing from Stan like you'd expect, solid if not spectacular pictures from Jazzy Johnny, and a cliffhanger ending. Yep -- everything you expect to get for your hard-earned 15c!

Karen: This was one of those go-go-go stories that Stan seemed to be doing a lot of towards the end of his writing career. It's not terrible but it's certainly not up to his earlier work. I did really enjoy the Romita art in this issue.


Edo Bosnar said...

'Cause you're white! And you're the fuzz!' *snort* Excellent! Why wasn't Leila the Falcon instead of Sam?
Anyway, this one was a bit before my time, & I never read any reprinted stories from this period in Cap's history, so I'm surprised to find that he was actually moonlighting as a cop at one point! That never seemed to be referenced later.
As for Grey Gargoyle, yes, what a silly concept for a villain, but he nevertheless seems to work well. The only story I read with him as the bad guy was Avengers 190-191, which was an awesome 2 issues of non-stop action, kind of the way you described this one...

The Groovy Agent said...

I don't remember if it was in a letters page or the Bullpen page, but I do remember reading that in '71, Marvel was experimenting with using periods instead of always using exclamation points (the tried-and-true method of the Golden and Silver Ages). They stopped, because, as you mentioned, the periods dropped off at the printer for reasons unknown. So t'was back to all exclamation points, all the time until that printer's error was worked out.

Boring but true! ;D

ChrisPV said...

I just recently finished reading the Steve Englehart run on Cap, and boy oh boy did I spend a lot of time wishing Leila'd get hit by a truck. I always thought Sam didn't really care about her, per se, but more that she was his way of proving to himself and others that he wasn't a "Tom." Of course, that might just be because I honestly can't picture a man as smart as him, especially one who works to better race relations and help his people, would tolerate her ignorant, reactionary, hate-mongering BS.

That said, when Kirby took over and she gentrified over night? CREEPY.

Karen said...

Chris, that whole Kirby run was creepy! Just weird and not in a good way.Particularly after such an excellent run by Englehart, Kirby's version seemed of Cap seemed to take place on Earth Z or something.

Fred W. Hill said...

Yeah, I hate to lump on The King, but I just couldn't get into Kirby's last run on Cap or on the Black Panther. The stories and dialogue just seemed to be from an entirely different era than what had come before. I loved Englehart's run on Cap, especially when drawn by Sal Buscema and was really disappointed when he left in the middle of a storyline (did he jump or was he pushed?).
This Grey Gargoyle story came out about a couple of years before I started regularly reading Cap (or any Marvels). I was actually a bit surprised to see that Stan was still writing Cap in 1971, but then by the time I became a regular Marvelite in 1973, Stan was no longer writing any of the mags.

ChrisPV said...

Overall, I enjoyed Kirby's run because of it's bizarre Silver Age-y weirdness. Plus, Arnim Zola. I loves me some Arnim Zola. Still, the shift in tone was really, really jarring. And I really didn't like how all of the supporting cast just kind of vanished. But all told I thought it wasn't a bad run, just can't hope to compete with the Englehart stuff right before or the soon-to-come DeMatteis issues.

(I admit it, DeMatteis can do whatever he wants and I'll read it. Just really enjoy his work.)

Anonymous said...

"I was actually a bit surprised to see that Stan was still writing Cap in 1971"

This was pretty well one of his last issues - Gary Friedrich took over for a short run (which was very, er, "right on"), and following a couple of Gerry Conway fill-ins, it was time for Steve Englehart's run...and within a year Stan announced his becoming Publisher, with Roy Thomas stepping up to the Editor's plate..

About 30 years ago when he was interviewed by The Comics Journal, Englehart claimed that he'd been pushed off CA by a power-mad Conway (who'd just been made Editor). This was followed a few issues later by a couple of stormy letters from both Conway and Thomas refuting the story and independently citing reliability issues with Englehart.

B Smith

Fred W. Hill said...

I remember reading that war of words inthe Comics Journal. So much for the illusion that the Bullpen was one big happy family, but then that should have been shattered when Kirby abandoned ship in 1970. In retrospect, I'd agree Kirby's comeback stories in C.A.&F. weren't all that bad, but the contrast was very jarring. Then there was Gerber's very short run after Kirby left again. I was disappointed he didn't stay on longer. And, yep, I got Kirby & Gerber's collaboration on Destroyer Duck! That was some sheer classic craziness from those talented and disgruntled former Bullpenners.

Steve Pick said...

Hey, I got name-checked in a post! Tis an honor, as I love reading the takes you guys have on all these comics I read so long ago. Back when they were new, I was loving these last few Stan Lee issues, mostly because of the idea of Cap being a cop in his other identity for a while, and the ongoing bits of the Falcon in his own territory. But yeah, the plots were kind of ridiculous, weren't they?

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