Monday, March 10, 2014
He's a Trenchcoat Hero: Captain America 172
Captain America #172 (April 1974)(cover by Gil Kane)
"Believe It or Not: the Banshee!"
Script: Steve Englehart
Art: Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Karen: We're up to part four of the Secret Empire saga. What do you all think of that Gil Kane cover? it's got an infamous "up the nose" angle with Falcon. That's one of his affectations that has always bothered me -I'd rather not look up somebody's nostrils, thank you. Inside, we're back with Sal and Vinnie. We pick up from last issue, as the hulking villain Moonstone gloats over the unconscious Cap and Falcon. Unlike so many baddies, Moonstone is not written like a moron; he uses 'big words' and actually pontificates about the plan to discredit Cap. His boss, Quentin Harderman, shows up, and says that he can't kill the two heroes. Moonstone quickly realizes that he's right -their deaths would only turn Cap and Falc into martyrs for a large portion of the public. Harderman urges Moonstone to take the two somewhere public in order to get more publicity for their smear campaign. Moonstone hauls the two heroes off to Central Park, where the so-called 'Sanitation Squad' from last issue is waiting. He gruffly tells them to guard the two men while he goes to call the media. The hired killers are none too happy about his condescending attitude.
Doug: You and I have both said that Gil Kane is an acquired taste for us. I wonder if the nose upshot was sort of Gil's trademark, or if he really saw the world that way? I thought Moonstone's speech patterns sort of flew in the face of his origin. Maybe I'm stereotyping large criminals... Did you think it was odd when Harderman stepped out and told Moonstone to call him "Quent"? And how strong is Moonstone?? If I recall my Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, both Cap and Falc go about 6'4" and 220 pounds. Yet Moonstone lifts the both of them effortlessly!
Doug: Steve Englehart gets in an editorial comment toward the end of the Moonstone/Sanitation Squad interaction -- "Guys like MacArthur -- Eisenhower -- they knew they were men like you! But these new fellows think they're little tin gods!" Indeed.
Karen: Just like the last time he was captured by them, Cap comes back to consciousness sooner than the goons expect. He starts bashing them. Just an aside -wasn't Sal great at drawing people getting their teeth knocked out?! The Falcon gets in on the action, surprising Cap by swooping down on a bad guy. Falc is really enjoying his new power, and Cap is still getting used to it. They make quick work of the hired muscle and begin to make a break out of the park. Moonstone returns and they surprise him, bowling him over. He's furious with the Sanitation Squad for letting them get away -mostly because the press will be there any minute, and he has nothing to show them! He orders a flunky to hit him in the back of the head to make it look like Cap jumped him from behind. Talk about method acting.
Doug: There are many ways to be "Buscema-blasted"; landing on one's mouth is just one. Dude instantly looks like a hockey player! And you know... this whole scene is only here because Moonstone wanted to off our heroes and Harderman said "no". Maybe we need to examine that trope at some point -- see how many instances our readers can name! Of course, if we get into the Batman television show, we'd have to discuss every week's cliffhanger. Anyway, loved it when he told that guy to rap him on the noggin. Very funny!
Karen: Cap and Falcon make it back to Falcon's apartment, where they try to figure out their next steps. Cap recalls that Moonstone made references to country music, and that he said he got his powers from a museum moon rock. He figures that the only town known for both country music and a moon rock is Nashville. I actually spent a little time trying to figure out if a museum in Nashville had received a moon rock but came to a dead end. So whether this was true or something Englehart made up, I don't know, but I suppose it's not an unreasonable deduction for Cap to make. What is unreasonable though -and I know will drive Doug nuts -is that Cap and Falcon head off for Nashville, hitch-hiking (since they have no cash) wearing trench coats over their costumes!
Doug: Wouldn't Cap have had an Avengers charge card? But I suppose using it would have either left him unable to sign the bill or forced to make a reservation in the name of Steve Rogers. But you are right -- the whole "incognito" bit is utter silliness. Who in any era walks around wearing red buccaneer boots and/or long white gloves? Not to mention boots that look like bird feet. Of course, Sam could have been mistaken for the Black Talon I suppose...
Karen: The two grab a ride with an amiable truck driver who soon realizes he's picked up a couple of weirdos in long coats. Cap is quiet and tense the entire ride, while Falcon tries to make small talk. They reach their destination and hop out, much to everyone's relief. We cut away briefly to yet another man in a long coat. His long red hair is slicked back and he wears sun glasses. He's thinking how lucky he was to get Merle Haggard tickets. Even though he's a man on the run, he apparently will risk being seen to catch Merle live. Yes, it's the country-music loving Banshee. This was a year before the all-new, all-different X-Men made their debut (May 1975) and Banshee was still being drawn with that strange, long lower face. He looked almost chimp-like. While he strolls down the sidewalk, pleased with his purchase, he bumps into Cap, and the two of them see each others' costumes. Banshee panics, recognizing the red, white, and blue of Captain America. This is where I think the writing is a bit awkward, as Banshee has bought the lies in the media and believes Cap to be a criminal -so he thinks Cap is there to force him to join his gang! That's quite a leap in logic to make. The Irish mutant attacks. Cap and Falcon are bewildered; they have no idea who Banshee is! Cap manages to punch Banshee hard to enough to hurt his jaw, rendering him incapable of cutting loose with his scream -although he can still muster enough of a yell to weakly fly. He starts to take off, but Cap grabs him by the ankle and somehow keep him from gaining altitude.
Doug: Sean Cassidy is one ugly bloke, isn't he? I don't know why they'd choose those facial features for him. He was a hero, wasn't he? I'll admit to never reading those few X-Men comics in which he appeared. So although I wouldn't say that all heroes/heroines need to have movie star good looks, it is unusual to see a hero without those matinee idol attributes. You're right that the conclusions Banshee leaps to are a stretch, but so was Cap instantly deducing that they needed to go to Nashville. This sort of has a John Grisham vibe to it. And you gotta love how Cap and Falc slide their masks on once the trenchcoats are off -- again, no one could have ID'd them before!
Karen: In his first appearance, in X-Men #28, Banshee started off fighting the strangest teens of all, but it turned out he was being forced to do so by a baddie named the Ogre. So he wasn't really a villain. But he did have that bizarre extended face, just like a Dick Tracy foe. Back then he could also vibrate so quickly as to nearly be invisible!
Doug: I've never figured out how Banshee's scream works. The crazy thing makes him fly, he can use it as a concussive force, he can use it as a sonic disruptor, and yet he can talk while doing any of the above. He and Wanda Maximoff must have gotten the same radiation as babies...
Karen: Now we just went through a couple of issues where the Falcon traveled to Wakanda with the Black Panther to get a new power to put him on par with Cap, who at this point in time has super-strength. The Panther designed some fancy wings for Sam, so he could fly like his namesake. Unfortunately though, it appears he really is more of a glider than a flier. Seeing that the Banshee is trying to get airborne, Falcon decides to take to the sky -but in order to do so, he has to climb a lamp post first! Yes, unlike most flying heroes, who simply lift off with ease, the Falcon has to scurry up a pole in a very undignified manner. Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? Why put this limitation on him? I honestly can't understand what they were thinking. Particularly to do this to one of their few Black characters, none of whom were particularly powerful to begin with. It's just a head-shaker. So Falcon launches himself from atop the lamp post, swooping up and then diving down to plant a fist in Banshee's kisser, knocking him to the ground. Unfortunately, even though he's down, he's not out. And his jaw has recovered -that was quick -so he cuts loose with a scream that cuts into a building and drops a bunch of debris on Falcon and Cap. They dodge out of the way, but then Banshee fires a scream right at them, causing them tremendous pain. Both men collapse -this is becoming a pattern. They seem done for, but then a ray of light from off-panel nearly hits the Banshee.
Doug: I agree that the way Falc's powers work here early on is really silly. It puts the artist in a spot, as he has to come up with some dopey way for Sam to gain altitude and then some momentum. But if you notice, he is able to control his direction, including his altitude, once in flight. Really, there's no explanation for how his flight powers work, or why they work the way they do. I'm also glad this was eventually dropped in favor of "normal" flight. I really like the effect that Sal and Vinnie used for Banshee's auditory attack on Cap and Falc -- coupled with their agonized expressions it's pretty effective. Say, in the tpb I'm using the beam from off camera is yellow; seems like it should have been fuchsia?
Karen: It's yellow also in the original comic; that's a big mistake! Banshee whirls around to see Cyclops of the X-Men. Note that Cyke is in his old, old uniform -it's the yellow and blue (or is it black?) original school outfit. It's surprising that nobody didn't stop and say, "Hey, shouldn't we have the X-Men in the outfits they were wearing when we last saw them?" I mean, Roy Thomas was the editor here and he was the writer of the X-Men title when it was canceled! You'd think he'd notice something like that. But of course, the book could have also come in late, and maybe it was too late to change it. In any case, Cyke tells Banshee he doesn't want to hurt him, but Banshee's having none of it and downs Cyke with a combo kick to the gut and sonic scream. It's all the young mutant can do to get to his feet when he sees Banshee fly off.
Doug: If I am not mistaken, the X-Men were always depicted in their school uniforms during the interim period between X-Men #66 and Giant-Size X-Men #1. I know they are in the blues/yellows (I'm not buying "black" any more than I buy John Byrne's position that the FF uniforms were black and not blue) in Avengers #s 110-111. I have personally always liked the "graduation uniforms", so really find it odd that editorial would go back to this dated look. Anyone wonder why Cyke, having dealt with Banshee before, wouldn't have come prepared for his auditory attack?
Karen: Meanwhile the two stars of our book are recovering from Banshee's blast when all of a sudden they find themselves lifted into the air! A caption tells us they are lifted out of the city and out to open country. That's quite a ways to travel! It's all the work of Marvel Girl, who is also in her old uniform. This seems like a much more powerful feat that I would have assumed Jean capable of. Next to Jean is Professor X -and Cap recognizes both of them, but he's in a bad mood. He asks why mutants have declared open season on them. Professor X tries to calm him down, explaining that in fact the opposite has happened: someone has declared open season on mutants! This is why the Banshee was so terrified (but didn't he think Cap was a criminal trying to get him to join his gang? Hmmm..). As Cyclops rejoins them, the Professor explains that all of his other students, as well as allies, and many enemies, have been captured by a group that wants to destroy them. Cap uncharacteristically tells the Professor that while he feels for him, he's got his own problems to deal with. But Professor X explains that the group that is after the mutants is also the group that has been targeting Cap! That turns Cap's attitude around -now he's all ears! It looks like we can expect a team-up next time around.
Doug: I hear ya on Marvel Girl's seemingly amped up powers. It doesn't make sense. Could she use her telekinesis on objects she could not see? I suppose she could have made a mental contact with Cap and Falc, but even that would be a stretch pre-Phoenix. Sal draws a nice rendition of Professor X. This story has certainly had some twists and turns over these first four issues. And how about the number of characters that we've seen so far? Yet, it doesn't feel crowded like some of the superhero films we've panned in the past. So far, this does seem pretty organically flowing, in spite of some of the plot inconsistencies.
Karen: This was a fairly good story, but boy you'd be lost if you hadn't been reading the previous issues. There were a number of goofy moments, from the wearing of costumes under the overcoats, to Falcon's non-flying, to the needless fight with Banshee. The issue definitely feels like it's here to set-up the next part of our story. Even so, it feels like we're plunging deeper into this strange conspiracy against Cap, and it's still got my attention.
Doug: As a 10-year old, I'd have read this one with my jaw agape. Going back to our discussion of distribution woes, I'd certainly have felt for our friends who missed an issue or two in this series!