Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cap for President! Captain America 250

Captain America #250 (Oct 1980)
"Cap for President!"
Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: John Byrne, Joe Rubenstein

Karen: Here's a great standalone issue from the excellent Roger Stern-John Byrne run on Cap in the 80s. Reading this issue, I'm struck how different in tone Cap was then and now. The book and the character had matured a great deal by 1980, growing more nuanced as he progressed from Stan Lee to Steve Englehart and onward (except for the the Kirby run, of course). The modern day Steve Rogers seems so disillusioned and worn down. This Cap still has an optimism in America.

Doug: Why do you think that is? I agree with you -- I wasn't a regular reader of Cap's title back in these days, but he is totally in-character with his appearances in The Avengers. But when you look at what was going on back when this would have been written (early 1980), the Iran hostage crisis was in its early stages, the economy was still sluggish, and the Soviets were in Afghanistan, prompting President Jimmy Carter to force the Western boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. Overall, in the real world it was a pretty depressing and uncertain time! Talk about escapist literature...

Karen: Our story begins as Cap foils a hostage situation at the National Populist Party's convention. After easily disarming the gunmen, the party's chair
man, Samuel T. Underwood, takes Cap around to meet some of his staff. Of course, they are all thrilled to meet Cap. Somebody jokes that he should run for president. Before you know it, Underwood is talking seriously to Cap about being his party's candidate. He talks about how he wants to offer a real alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Cap scoffs at the idea, but Underwood pushes him. "At least promise me that you'll think about it!" Not wanting to crush the man, Cap says he'll think about it -although he also thinks to himself, "But not too seriously."

Doug: The scene with the terrorists (funny how the stereotype of that term has changed over the years) was somewhat Batman-like, particularly the end of it when Cap saves the hostage. Cold-blooded move on our hero's part. As to Samuel T. Underwood -- he was just like a smarmy used car salesman; or Herb Tarlek...

Karen: Cap returns to his apartment when his neighbor Josh Cooper shows up, asking if Steve is ready to help their friend Bernie Rosenthal move some boxes into her place. Just as they are finishing up, another neighbor, Mike Farrell, arrives with a copy of th
e Daily Globe. On the cover: news that Cap is going to run for president!

Doug: It was good to meet this cast of characters, and see some normalcy in Steve Rogers' life. However, one of the things that made this title unappealing to me through the years was that lack of a firm anchor to the s
ecret identity. There have been arguments made over the years as to what was real, (for example) Clark Kent or Superman? I think Cap falls into that same realm, where the mask is more important than the man. Maybe that's one of the reasons he's been such a brooding character under different writers. And to some extent, it is able fodder for stories -- the Cap/Peggy Carter relationship is a microcosm of one of the main problems. Here's a guy who wakes up one day, and he's 20 years younger, not older, than everyone he knows. That can alter some relationships and cause some instability, huh? Interesting, too, that the newspaper referenced is the Globe and not the Bugle.

Karen: Steve is stunned. But he's even more surprised when all three of his friends say they'd vote for Cap! "You'd actually vote for a man who is basically anonymous...who wears a mask?" All three say that they trust Cap completely. This gives Steve something to think about.

Doug: Who in America could you say that about today? Since Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America", I don't think anyone else in our society has filled that bill. There certainly is no politician I could say that about. Am I older and wiser, or just beat down and more cynical?

Karen: I can't think of any public figure that I trust
completely. I think in that, we're just maybe more realistic than cynical. When Cap goes to Avengers Mansion he finds it surrounded by reporters. Once he gets inside, the Beast does a little song and dance and says he can guarantee Cap the mutant vote. In the mansion's library, Cap finds Iron Man, the Wasp, and the Vision discussing Cap's candidacy. Although the Wasp is supportive, both Iron Man and the Vision feel strongly that Cap should not run. Then Jarvis steps in -the Secret Service called and wants to know if Cap will need protection! This is a lot for Cap to take in; despite himself, he's starting to wonder if he should be considering really making a run for the presidency.

Doug: The Avengers interlude was nice -- loved the scene with the Beast. I know Stern
was writing this (I don't know to what extent John Byrne had anything to do with the script), but I found it odd that the Vision had more personality than we were perhaps used to seeing out of him at this time, yet by the end of the decade Byrne would forever alter that character.

Karen: That's funny, because I felt like the Visio
n was acting more stiffly and logical than he was portrayed n Avengers at this time! I guess it all depends on your point of view. Cap leaves the mansion and does a little roof-hopping, trying to clear his head. He comes across his old grade school, apparently abandoned for years. Going inside, he remembers his teacher, Mrs. Crosley, and the lessons she taught about doing one's duty to their country. Cap seems to have come to a decision, and contacts Underwood to hold a press conference.

Doug: We've discussed Marvel time quite a bit lately in regard to the FF. Cap will forever be linked to WWII, and so the 1930's will remain his childhood. I really liked this scene at the abandoned school -- very sentimental.

Karen: It's a very well done scene that manages to get across the whole 'man out of time' element and yet discuss virtues that are (in my opinion anyway) timeless. I hate when people call Cap (or Superman for that matter) 'boy scouts', as if being virtu
ous and honorable is somehow naive or juvenile. Call me old fashioned, but I want my heroes to be good guys!

Karen: Cap tells the gat
hered crowd that while he has great respect for the presidency, he has made a pledge to uphold the dream of America, to keep striving for that day that the dream becomes reality, and until the dream is fulfilled, he must devote his life to it. He then implores the crowd to look within themselves and become the candidates they need to keep the nation strong -"And God willing, to help make the dream come true!" He leaves the stage. The story ends with a quote from President Kennedy: "The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle...but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy. A man does what he must...in spite of personal consequences...in spite of dangers and pressures...and that is the basis of all human morality."

Doug: No Red Skull, no Sleepers, no Batroc... but this was a Captain America story, wasn't it?

Karen: I've always liked this story. It seems a logical idea -wouldn't Cap make a great president? - and Stern does a good job showing why that isn't a path Cap cares to tread. I enjoyed how Steve at first dismisses the idea quickly, but then, aft
er hearing others say what a great job he'd do, he has to consider it. But ultimately, his sense of his role in things wins out. I think he made the right choice.


Edo Bosnar said...

An excellent story in the best Captain America run, ever. I recall that when I first saw the cover to this book, at about the age of 12, I rolled my eyes and thought, "oh, brother!" But then I read it. Stern really did a good job weaving a rather intelligent story out of an outlandish premise.
As to Cap's supporting cast, as I mentioned in a comment a few days ago, I really liked this idea. I know Stern didn't introduce the idea of Steve being a commercial artist and living in a rooming house (I think McKenzie or Claremont came up with that earlier), but he and Byrne really ran with the idea, and introduced my personally favorite love interest for Cap, Bernie Rosenthal. I liked the fact that Cap was grounded in a rather unspectacular life, surrounded by non-heroes, with a job that often left him harried as he tried to meet deadlines...

david_b said...


The cover is a bit too sappy to me as well (the dreaded bike add doesn't help), but it's good to know the story itself had some merit. Per the discussion points today and with the alter-ego discussion before, really delving into the life of Steve Rogers was tried dozens of times, to varying degrees of legitimacy.

I do recall with interest the exploration of Steve's childhood at one point, but all in all, I prefer Steve Englehart's fleshing out of Roger's private life and thoughts during the 'newfound Super-Strength' and Secret Empire storylines. That was the most revealing, and best of all the 'What makes Cap tick in this strange new world' examinations and was very thoughtfully done.

Al said...

Marvel did an issue of "What If" in which Cap decided to run for president and actually won. I haven't read the story in years, but I do buying and reading it years before I read this original story.

J.A. Morris said...

This was actually one of the first issues of Cap's title that I read, still one of my favorites 30 years later.

Stern & Byrne really righted the ship after a revolving door of creators on the book. It's too bad they didn't stick around, but they helped set the stage for epic runs on the book by DeMatteis and Gruenwald.

Edo Bosnar said:
"my personally favorite love interest for Cap, Bernie Rosenthal."

She was my favorite too, I blogged about her a bit last month for those who missed it:

The Stern-Byrne-Rubenstein issues have been collected in a tpb(and hardcover if you prefer), a nice way to read them if you haven't:

J.A. Morris said...

Whoops, I spelled "Rubinstein" wrong in the last comment.

dbutler16 said...

This looks like a good story. It seems like they did a good job of discussing the pros and cons to Captain America running for president. It also makes it a political discussion on who, in a more general sense, would make a good president.

I agree with Karen that (usually) I like my superheroes to be good guys. It’s a sad society we live in where someone who is good is labeled as “boring”.

Doug said...

Inkstained --

Yes, I'm at the USHMM; been in town since the 5th. They put us up at the Hotel Palomar off DuPont Circle.


Inkstained Wretch said...

Doug, If you're staying in town for a while, I'd love to buy you a cup of coffee.

Doug said...

That is a wonderful offer, and one I'd love to accept. However, the schedule we keep when doing these teacher trainings is brutal. Our days here run from 8:30 am-8:00 pm, and then it's generally back to the hotel to prepare for the next day.

But I'm in town usually once or twice each year, so perhaps in the future? It's a shame this came up now -- last Friday afternoon and all day Saturday I had a wide-open schedule! In fact, I went to the Nats game by myself Saturday just to have something to do!



Inkstained Wretch said...

No worries. Just give a shout-out next time you are in town.

starfoxxx said...

I've got the t-shirt from the cover, but i forgot to wear it on the 4th. Doh!

Fred W. Hill said...

I recall feeling a bit skeptical about this issue when I first saw the cover on the stands -- I thought it would be sappy. However, I was pleasantly surprised in that was a very good story. It did have some similarity to Howard the Duck's Presidential run in the previous election -- in both cases they're selected after thwarting a terrorist attack. Of course, Howard actually ran, and even won at least a few genuine real world write-in votes.
This was a great era for Cap because it gave more focus than typical on Steve Rogers, complete with a social life with regular people who weren't involved in his costumed life. Of course, it didn't last all that long. All too soon, Cap'll wind up on the road, on a mission, something that'll disrupt his attempts at a normal life. Steve Rogers is one of those few famous alter egos who has never been long associated, unless you count his army years in the 1940s, with one profession. Which does bring up the question of how exactly was he making ends meet back in the late '60s when he took a leave of assence from the Avengers? Was Tony Stark or SHIELD providing him some sort of salary? I don't recall that Lee ever addressed the issue, at least not up to about issue #120 --there's a gap in my collection from that point until ish 153, Englehart's first. Truth to tell, aside from his brief job as a cop, apparently taken for an undercover operation, until Gerber, I think, had him become an artist, it doesn't seem he had any steady job from his de-icing to the late '70s.

William said...

This was another great issue in the best Cap run ever. I sometimes wish that Stern and Byrne could write and draw every comic ever published forever. But, nah, I'd just go broke having to buy them all.

It still depresses me that they had to leave this book the way they did. As I understand it, there was a new mandate at Marvel to make all the stories "one parters" for the foreseeable future, but Byrne and Stern had just begun work on a "three part" story with the Red Skull as the villain. Long story short, they didn't want to change the story they were doing, so they quit the book instead. Total bummer. Byrne had already drawn about six pages of the first issue. I would pay real money to have seen that completed story arc. It would probably be the best Cap vs. Red Skull comic ever done.

Maybe someday they'll go ahead and finish it and Marvel will put it out as a graphic novel or something. But then again I'm a hopeless dreamer aren't I?

Edo Bosnar said...

J.A., thanks for the link, and great post! Yes, Bernie should have definitely remained Cap's love interest. And that "War and Remembrance" book is truly outstanding - I snagged a really good used copy for $5 a few years ago.
Fred, I'm not absolutely sure, because I only started reading the Cap title regularly a little before the Stern/Byrne/Rubinstein run, but I think it was Roger McKenzie or Claremont who introduced the idea of Steve Rogers becoming a commercial artist.
William: you're not the only one who regrets that never-realized Red Skull story. It would have been awesome, coming on the heels of that sweet Baron Blood two-parter.

dbutler16 said...

Starfoxx, you can still wear that shirt on Election Day. I wish I had it!

dicecipher said...

This comic has come in conversation more than once recently. Just about my favorite Cap issue.

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