"Death Be Not Proud"
Roy Thomas-John Buscema/George Klein
Doug: A couple of weeks ago Karen queried why we hadn't done a "Favorites" post in quite some time. No good answer, then or now. So hey -- let's do one! Today's review is of a comic that was among my first few Avengers -- the copy I originally had was without a back cover and was a little dinged up throughout. However, its significance was immeasurable -- this was my introduction to the Silver Age art of John Buscema, who would have been seen by me in Avengers #152 and the Fantastic Four (during the Galactus/High Evolutionary arc) at approximately the same time as my acquisition of this book. I'm not sure where I got it, and have since replaced the beat-up copy (today's cover image is a scan of the cover of my copy). I feel this is a really strong done-in-one (OK, admittedly it does segue into Avengers Annual #2, but reading that book is not essential in my estimation for enjoying this issue) -- wonderful art, characterization, and certainly sentimental. What a great launching pad for my true appreciation of Big John Buscema.
Doug: We open with a great splash of the drastically pared down roster of Goliath and the Wasp, Hawkeye, and the Black Panther on a bridge with Castle Doom looming in the background. The use of the bridge to frame the story's title is just an excellent visual. And like all things Buscema, there is endless dynamism among our four heroes, despite the fact they've paused before entering the castle. They've come to Latveria to answer a distress signal, allegedly from Captain America. Cap had been absent from the roster for a few issues, so there was some doubt on the part of the team as to what exactly they were getting into. Goliath decides it would be best to avoid the front door, so hoists T'Challa in a maneuver that we Bronze Age Babies know only as a "fastball special". Once on the ramparts, T'Challa steals inside and lowers the massive drawbridge. Once inside, Goliath shrinks back to his normal 10-foot height and the team begins to progress. However, before they can even take a step, T'Challa warns Goliath to freeze -- and then a mine goes off. As the Panther was brand new to the team, this story served as a bit of a transitional time for him -- he had to prove his worth to everyone, notably Hawkeye.
Doug: Now into the inner chambers of the castle, the team is led into the dark by T'Challa. He hears a rustling behind a drape ahead, and attacks. To everyone's surprise, the Panther comes flying right back past his teammates! Goliath moves menacingly toward the now fallen drape, but is stopped from pummeling it by a familiar voice -- that of Captain America! Cap tells that he issued the call for assistance to come to Castle Doom because he had recently found out about a time machine once used by Doctor Doom in an adventure with the Fantastic Four. Cap became convinced that he could use it to return to that fateful day in 1945 when he and his partner, Bucky Barnes, faced off against Baron Zemo... the day that Bucky died. But did he? Cap recalled the explosion of the drone, and of being tossed far away from it. But what of Bucky? If Cap survived in the ice for almost 20 years, why couldn't Bucky? And yes, this story is canon as far as I'm concerned -- that recent stuff? Not on this guy's radar.
Doug: The team relocates to the room that houses the time platform. Between Hank's inspection and Cap's conversation with Reed Richards just days earlier, they figure out how to operate the device. The Wasp is instructed to stay behind and operate the time machine, with the warning that she must sequence a series of buttons, at regular intervals --this issue features one of the most sexist portrayals of Jan that we've seen since the days of Tales to Astonish. Sheesh -- she couldn't even rate a spot among the cover's floating heads! And then something curious happens -- the team stands on the platform and is sent to the past. However, a) the platform does not ascend through their bodies as we usually see it, and b) when they emerge in 1945 England they are wraiths. If this was truly the second appearance of the time platform (the first having been in Fantastic Four #5), there's a piece missing, as the FF had materialized in solid form in Blackbeard's time. Anyone with insight on this dilemma is encouraged to bring me to a state of enlightenment.
Doug: Once in the past, the team has landed right at the center of controversy. They spy Baron Zemo entering a hangar used by the Americans and carrying some sort of lockbox. Zemo remarks that he feels as if he is being watched, a funny feeling on which he'll remark a few more times throughout the story. The Avengers phase right through the wall (shades of what's coming in the very next issue, hmm?) and see Zemo fire a gun of some kind into the now-opened box. Suddenly a giant (and an ugly one at that) emerges, almost zombie-like. The Avengers marvel at this event, and watch Zemo's next move. But before the Nazi can do anything, who should burst through a window but Captain America and Bucky?! Fearless as always, Cap launches himself right into the giant android, while Bucky rolls Zemo. Zemo commands the monster to kill his adversaries, and our heroes don't fade from the challenge. But the onslaught gives the Baron time to reappropriate his weapon, and turn it on Cap. However, Cap's shield gives Zemo his second trip onto his backside. Bucky decides to tackle the giant alone -- bad call. Shrugged off and dazed, Cap rushes to his partner's side. This gives Zemo the opportunity to knock the Star-Spangled not-yet-Avenger out.
Doug: Zemo now holds all of the cards, and his plan to steal the drone from the Americans appears to reach imminent fruition. Cap and Bucky's costumes are removed and replaced with GI uniforms. Zemo's logic is that 1) he hates their garish patriotic look, 2) Captain America was responsible for the incident that grafted Zemo's mask to his face, and 3) with the plan to program the drone to fly right into Berlin and land in front of the Fuehrer, America's greatest heroes will arrive unmasked and as defeated adversaries, strapped to the object of Zemo's thievery. However, and you know this -- "as fate would have it" -- the Wasp suddenly becomes smitten with drowsiness and a finger falls onto the wrong button. Unexpectedly, the Avengers materialize right in the hangar, 1945!
Doug: Cap wastes no time in moving toward Zemo. He grips his wrist, hard, and jerks the gun down. But before it can be totally removed from Zemo's grasp, a ray is fired again into the mysterious metal box... and another giant android emerges! And what's going on outside the hangar, you might ask? Uncle Sam's boys mobilize, and they want to know what all the commotion's about near the top secret drone. As they head toward that building, one of the giants comes flying through the wall, followed closely by Goliath. The boys in Army green are about beside themselves. Hank tells them to cool it -- he can't explain, and they wouldn't get it anyway. But while he's dealing with that, the android recovers and attacks. Back inside, the Panther takes on the giant's twin -- sort of. And what of Hawkeye? He launches a blast arrow into the face of the android -- to no avail. But who needs trick arrows when Captain America is around? Ever the champion, Cap attacks the giant from behind, bending it backwards. T'Challa offers his best punch, and cracks the control panel in the android's chest. Almost simultaneously, Goliath makes the same discovery and knocks the second giant out of action. Of course, the soldiers want answers, and Goliath tries to hold them off -- but suddenly he begins to phase out!
Doug: Back inside the hangar, Cap also begins to phase out. Knowing he won't get another chance to defeat Zemo in this context, and throwing all caution and common sense to the wind, Cap whips his shield at his historical self. The mighty disc slashes the ropes holding the WWII Cap and Bucky to the drone. Not to lose out at this point in the game, Zemo lunges for the control panel, starting the flight sequence for the drone. Cap and Bucky divert their attention from their Nazi assailant and turn instead toward stopping the drone's take-off. Commandeering a nearby motorcycle, Cap and Bucky race after the plane and get close enough that they are able to launch themselves off a ramp and onto the plane. As Bucky latches on and begins to climb toward the cone, Cap begins to fall away, yelling at his young partner to also let go -- the thing could have been booby-trapped by Zemo! Bucky notices a fuse, but it's too late -- the drone explodes. Cap is thrown away from it, and as we know into the sea. Bucky? Our Captain America is sure -- Bucky died in the blast. In the hangar, the wraith of our Cap makes one last lurch toward Zemo, causing the criminal to shudder.
Doug: Our story concludes with the 1940's GI's looking at the fallen androids in disbelief, and Zemo firing his gun at the giants from a distance -- vaporizing them. In the confusion, the Nazi was able to escape in a V2 rocket, and no one would know of the murder he'd just committed. Back in Castle Latveria, the Wasp welcomes the boys back. The mood is solemn, however, and Cap is allowed to move away from the group to be with his thoughts. As Cap goes forward, he'll always mourn the loss of Bucky Barnes. Yet in time, he'll welcome new partners, like Rick Jones, and the Falcon!
Doug: If there's one thing you get from Roy Thomas-scribed comics, it's a better vocabulary! Everyone knows he was an English teacher from Missouri, and his love of literature is well-known. But how about Hank Pym using the term "Brobdingnagian" to describe Zemo's giant? It means, for those of you not in the know, marked by tremendous size. Whew...! Not a word I've added to everyday usage. But overall, even back in 1968 Roy's love of the Golden Age and of potential exploration of the era was coming to the fore. We'd of course see this over and over again, with the creation of the Invaders in Avengers #71 and other WWII-era heroes in the endgame to the Kree/Skrull War. And you know I'm going to gush on the art. Every panel in this book oozes action. The camera angles are varied, the anatomy and facial depictions are top-notch, and it just has the fingerprints of a master all over it. Some have remarked that John Buscema would reach his zenith when inked by Tom Palmer; I'd argue that George Klein is certainly doing no harm on these pages. The lines are light where appropriate, and firm when required. It's a slick production throughout, just beautiful. So it's a favorite for all of the above reasons, but mostly as a window for this young reader to WWII-era stories, a fun but limited line-up of heroes (boy, ol' Hawk did virtually nothing in this story), and of course the pretty pictures, my introduction to Buscema's Silver Age output. Twenty minutes perfectly spent, friends.