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!


Fred W. Hill said...

This particular episode is all sorts of goofy fun mixed with the ongoing drama. Of course, Steve & Sam gotta keep their costumes on under their trenchcoats just so they can go to Memphis and literally bump into a country-music loving, paranoid mutant on the run who is also wearing a trenchcoat over his costume. And oh so coincidentally the remaining members of the X-Men just so happen to be in town also, wearing their old school uniforms. Seems like there must have been some mandate from up high requiring the X-Men to wear their old togs, although when they showed up in Marvel Team-Up about a year earlier they didn't bother with costumes at all!

J.A. Morris said...

Just re-read this the other day,it got me thinking:Englehart wrote Beast stories in Amazing Adventures and the X-men appear in this story. I wonder if he expressed any interest in reviving the X-men series to the Marvel PTB in the 70s.

I love this saga, but yeah, there are too many silly coincidences in this chapter. Plus, Cap's deduction about Nashville was a bit of a stretch. A guy mentions "Hank Williams' guitar", ergo he must be from a Country Music hub?
But I guess every epic story must have some less than epic moments.

As for an Avengers Charge card, I'm guessing that could've eventually attracted the attention of the government, which seems to be buying Harderman's lies at this point.

Anonymous said...

Two points that jumped out at me, if they went back to Sam's apartment, wouldn't Sam have some clothes there. Or, as Steve would call them, civvies? I know we got Sam and Steve in trenchcoats, but imagine Steve in one of Sam's get ups? Bell bottom jeans, wide collar, perhaps a Dy-No-Mite t-shirt. Imagine the running joke as they get farther South; Son, what in the name of all that's Holy are you wearing? Cap in a visor turned backwards?

But seriously, didn't Sam have any clothes in his apartment?

Second, Sam needing launch help. Couldn't he just run at Steve and bounce off his shield, a la, the Black Widow in the Marvel's Avengers movie?

I think Nashville was just a plot point. The major space cities in the South would be Houston for Johnson Space Center, Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and of course, Huntsville Alabama with it's Marshall Center where the Saturn rockets were developed. I think they needed a place to have moon rocks and country music come together.

Does anyone else remember when Scott was called "Slim" Summers and he wore a brown western suit with a bolo tie?

The Prowler (dancing in the dark, walking through the park and reminiscing).

Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, nobody can draw a good a jaw-breaking and/or rib-cracking punch like Sal (although cover-artist Gil Kane came in a close second).

And with the mutant angle, the plot thickens. Great stuff.
By the way, I only started reading X-men when Byrne was the artist, and by that time Banshee was being drawn as a rather typically (for superheroes) handsome guy, so I always find these pre-All New, All Different X-men appearances rather jarring. The comparison to a Dick Tracy villain is apt.

And I agree with you both about the limitation of Falcon's powers in this early phase. It's truly got me flummoxed: after all, real falcons don't just glide, so why should the superhero version be hampered like that?

Pat Henry said...

Just a thought that Prof X could have been augmenting Jean's power here. I recall he would do things like that occasionally in the early X-books.

Anonymous said...

Nice review guys. And Doug, I did read this with jaw agape as a 10 year old. the math...make that 12 year old. And as an anxious 12 year old I was somewhat disappointed that Cap & Falc didn't take it to Moonstone in this ish. But the buildup and inclusion of the X-Men was fun, gave things an "epic" feel and made the conclusion all the sweeter. I also liked Moonstone asking the goons to hit him over the head. Kinda reminded me of Col. Flagg beating himself up on M*A*S*H to make it look like a prisoner did it.


david_b said...

I really like Fred's opening volley.. "All sorts of goofy fun mixed with the ongoing drama."

Couldn't have said it any better, and I DID read this with my jaw open as an 11yr old. I was mesmerized.

Mesmerized, I say.

Great action, great flowing charactersation. I love the panel of Cap/Falc blowing by Moonstone. Why this wasn't picked as some iconic Cap/Falc image (like the famous 'Batman running in sand' panel in Batman 251), is beyond me. Would have been super on tshirts, you name it.

Anywho.., as I mentioned for last ish, how Sam had to climb the pole here, yet achieve flight against Moonstone unaided in the last issue is beyond me.., but hey, who cares..? Seriously, it's STILL a classic.

Not an X-Men fan then (or much now..), I didn't bother with the details on visuals, such as the old outfits. I could have sworn the Professor did mention next ish he was augmenting Jean's powers. I could be wrong, I don't have the issue in front of my here in my DC hotel room (apologies if I'm mistaken..).

As for Sal's depictions of his slams, he's the MASTER of having guys flung in mid-air, never shown better anywhere but here.

Prowler, great call on the clothes issue; I'm guessing they just didn't want to carry suitcases with their uniforms. Totally silly, but again, it's these huge gaps of logic that made me 'Make Mine Marvel' even more..

This might even be my very-first Gil Kane up-the-nostril cover..

One of my all-time favorite issues in my entire comic collection.

Great review, Doug and Karen..!!

Karen said...

I'm glad you all are having fun with these issues too. They're a strange mix of serious zeitgeist and sheer weirdness, but it works.

The reason given for our two heroes running around in their uniforms under trench coats is that Cap was so agitated, he didn't want to waste even a minute changing clothes and packing their uniforms -he just wanted to get going! Yeah, kinda silly, but then, it fits the rest of the story.

Dan Toland said...

The weird way that Banshee is drawn (and I don't think Sal meant anything untoward by it) is that it was very common in America to caricature the Irish as being vaguely simian, dating back to the mid 19th century (there's a Bugs Bunny cartoon where he impersonates an Irish cop and his features take on these characteristics), and after a while that just became accepted shorthand. Thankfully when he became a regular in X-Men, Dave Cockrum drew him more like an actual person.

Doug said...

Dan --

Welcome (that was your first comment, correct? Oh, I hope I'm right)!

Thanks for that insight on the Irish. Boys, Bugs Bunny cartoons were rife with racist depictions, weren't they? I use several Looney Tunes shorts in the introductory unit of my Social Injustice course.


Anonymous said...

Welcome to BAB Dan Toland!

Well, what else can I say? A good issue, although it suffers from apparent lapses in logic as Karen and Doug pointed out. I does seem like Roy was in a hurry to set up the X-men together with Cap and Falcon, so we get a pointless battle with Banshee, who we see going to a country music concert all decked out in his costume!

I did read the original issue X-men #28 many years ago, and come to think of it, Banshee really was drawn with that elongated face, although the most memorable scene for me was when he was captured by the X-men who wore earplugs to protect them from his sonic scream. He did have some sort of vibratory powers here too, if my memory is correct.

Yeah, Falcon's gliding limitations look ludicrous here - he has to shinny up a lampost to launch himself? You'd think Wakandan technology would have addressed that flaw. His wings have jets and are wired to his brain but he still needs to jump off something high for them to work? T'Challa needs to fire his weapons designer. Sheesh!

As for Marvel Girl's amped up telekinetic power, yeah I guess it can be explained by Professor X's assistance, although I don't think it was ever explained exactly how it was done.

Yes, Prowler, I do recall Scott being called 'Slim Summers' - in the earliest issues he was called that, but later on that was dropped and it was 'Scott Summers' from then on. Ah, I remember reading all those classic X-men stories one summer when I was a kid. Memories ....

- Mike 'Hey I like Gil Kane's up nostrils shots' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Karen said...

Welcome Dan, and thanks for that bit of history -disturbing as it may be. It's interesting how these sort of artistic traditions arise. Thankfully that particular one seems to have disappeared.

And it wouldn't be right to end the day without an appearance by "Dyna-Mike" -our own Mike from T and T (see what I did there?). I also went back and looked at Banshee's first appearance and at one point Prof. X had the X-Men put these huge metal discs over their ears! Uh, not sure that really would have helped...also, Banshee was portrayed as so powerful, both in that issue and this one, that he could handle the whole team of X-Men by his lonesome. It seems like they really cut back his powers, or at least the variety of his powers, when they revived the book.

William said...

Great review. They don't make them like this anymore, do they?

These issues are great fun. I remember reading some of them when I was a kid, but I don't remember the story as a whole. I'm going to have to check them all out for myself (I have them all on my computer) so I can comment more on upcoming reviews.

I've always loved Sal Buscema's art on Captain America. He is/was THE Cap artist, as far as I'm concerned. And like it's been said-- no one could draw a bone crunching power punch like Sal could. That one panel where Cap is swinging a guy by his foot and mowing down a couple of other goons is what comic art is all about, IMO. You just don't see that kind of over the top fun art anymore.

As for Falcon climbing that flagpole, I think that was an attempt to make his flying ability seem more "realistic" by giving him some sort of limitation on his power. Marvel liked to do stuff like that back in the good old days. (Remember when the Human Torch could only maintain his flame for like 30 minute at a time, and Mr. Fantastic would get tired if he stretched too far?) Nowadays every Marvel hero seems to have unlimited God-like power. What fun.

Anyway, keep up the awesome reviews, and I'll keep reading them.

Doug said...

William, and everyone else who has been complimentary of the review --



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