Monday, March 3, 2014

The Falcon Flies! Captain America 171

Captain America #171 (March 1974) (cover by John Romita)
Steve Englehart/Mike Friedrich-Sal Buscema/Vince Colletta

Doug: The plot, as they say, has thickened. When last we saw the Star-Spangled Avenger he'd been bested by some newcomer to the "hero" scene. A tough named Moonstone, possessing super strength, lasers in his fingers, and the power to disappear had whooped Cap but good. Quentin Harderman, leader of the Committee to Regain America's Principles (you know the acronym...), had been waging a smear campaign against our protagonist, with Cap definitely worse for the wear. As we open today's tale, the red, white, and blue Avenger has been in jail. In jail, until a team of commandos arrives to break him out.

Karen: Nothing quite says 'goon' like a bunch of guys dressed in white pants, yellow gloves, and plum -colored tops with attached skin-tight hoods.

Doug: The first guy, with the white stripe down the center of his headgear, looks like he's modeling a vintage football helmet!

Doug:  Well, what to do, what to do. Cap has previously thought, and actually carried out, subversion of the law already in this story. But now -- talk about a breaking and entering! If Cap stays in jail, he's at Harderman's mercy. However, if he flees, he's definitely at Harderman's mercy, and will even moreso be persona non grata among the media outlets and John Q. Publics of Manhattan. It's a decision the Captain doesn't have to make, as author Mike Friedrich gets us inside the mind of the leader of the "Sanitation Unit" -- this is all a set-up, again engineered by C.R.A.P. When the guards arrive to quell the disturbance, it all breaks loose. But as the tide seems to turn toward the mission failing, the commandos set their guns for gas and drop everyone in the cell left unprepared. Cap is then spirited away by his "rescuers".

Karen: We're given a tiny bit of hope for Cap when the guards recognize that Cap is actually fighting his would-be rescuers. Although not much seems to come of it. 

Doug: It's interesting that although there are certainly a lot of Quentin Harderman's machinations in this issue, "Q" himself does not appear.

Doug: Soon we see Cap begin to come to. But as the cobwebs clear, his ears tune in to what the Sanitation Unit is discussing amongst themselves. Talk about cat out of the bag! These dummies just run their mouths like it's their jobs, all the details of the mission flying around the darkened alley in which they've gathered. Cap becomes coherent enough to discern what he needs to know, and when the moment seems right -- SMAK! Cap fights with fury, tossing the S.U. men aside with ease. His super-strength allowed him to recover from the gas quickly, and it allows him to tear through these men without breathing hard. When he gets down to the last one, he grabs the man and begins to interrogate him; however, Cap's threats cause the guy to faint. So there Cap stands, on the run -- a fugitive with a name he seemingly cannot clear.

Karen: These really are a careless lot. You have to wonder about the quality of this CRAP organization.Cap at least gets an address out of the one guy before he passes out like a weenie. Let's face it, they'd never make it in HYDRA. 

Doug: Across the Atlantic Ocean, we find the other star of our mag -- Sam Wilson, the Falcon. If you remember, Falc and his lady, Leila, had flown to Wakanda so that the Black Panther could use his technology to grant the Falcon the enhanced abilities he so craved. However, as Leila was being a pain-in-the-butt, T'Challa had arranged for her to fly to Lagos for a big-city field trip. Leila and her Wakandan guards had run afoul of a Harlem hood name Stoneface, whose thugs ended up kidnapping the Falcon's woman. Back in the kingdom, T'Challa had gotten word of the trouble just as Sam was trying on the new wings.  So now -- time to kick some tail! The heroes arrive in Lagos, where they immediately hook up with one of T'Challa's spies. It's an uncomfortable exchange, as the spy addresses the Panther as "my Chieftain" and T'Challa replies, "my subject". Sheesh -- manorialism, feudalism, what have you? Anyway, they've got the drop on Stoneface's hideout, so the good guys rally quickly. T'Challa takes the direct approach, smashing through the door. Falc comes flying through the window, but we immediately find that the wings aren't for flying -- they're for gliding! And that means when the air currents change, so does the flight path! One superhero pile-up, coming up!

Karen: Giving the Falcon wings was a great idea -it only made sense for the character. Restricting him to gliding was however a terrible limitation which seemed to be giving with one hand and taking away with the other. It just made no sense. Why do this to the character? It was almost as if someone were pulling a joke, one that was not at all funny. "Sure, we'll let you fly like the other super-heroes Falcon, but uh, you're going to have to climb streetlamps first." It was demeaning and unnecessary. Thankfully it was abandoned at some point and the man could just fly!

Doug: I really like the Falcon's costume, and of course the wings just really make it a finished, polished look. However, I do wish they'd have kept the look of the falconry gauntlets rather than switching to just plain white gloves.

Doug: Stoneface and his goons can't believe their good fortune. In fact, they're so overwhelmed that their brains segue into "stupid super-baddie" mode. Rather than kill them on the spot, Stoneface wants to make a big production of it. So, it's hauling two 225 pound superheroes down the stairs and into the limousines, driving them to the shoreline, and pushing them to the precipice. And after a little posturing, the Panther is pushed over the edge! Seconds later, so is the Falcon. Stoneface marvels at the advantageous turn of events, and then thinks of Leila. But the Falcon has other plans. Remembering T'Challa's explanation of the working of the wings, Falc thinks that since the microcircuits in the wings are directly wired to his brain, he concentrates in a desperate effort to make himself fly. And you know what? That power of positive thinking is something else! Of course he saves his benefactor. Now it's go-time, and the heroes make pretty short work of their nemeses. Leila jumps into Falc's arms -- she tells him he wanted something to make him closer to Cap's level, and boy did he get it!

Karen: Thank goodness that's over with. Let's face it, Stoneface is a cretin and it shouldn't take the Panther and the Falcon more than a few minutes to whup his gang and send them off crying. The scene at the cliff with Falcon having his epiphany was nice. But let's get Sam back to the big city!

Doug: T'Challa sends a ship back to New York with Sam and Leila aboard. We can only speculate what happened in the backseat of that craft... Upon dropping Leila off at the apartment, Sam decides to take to the air and find Redwing. The two share a flight (wonder what the bird thought of it?), and then Sam decides to head to his social work office and see if Steve Rogers is home. Well, he's not -- but Iron Man is! The Golden Avenger relates the events of the past few days, and of the serious nature of Cap's disappearance. Falc pledges to bring Cap in -- he just needs a couple of hours. IM agrees, and with a line that further makes the Civil War debacle all the more stupid, Tony Stark thinks to himself, "...I wish you luck! This country can't afford to have a great symbol like Cap be destroyed!" Hrmph. Guess he forgot that later on.

Karen: Leila is obviously not happy that Falcon prioritizes his spending time with Cap over her.  Sal has done a nice job with her expressions on the last few pages, even if I can't stand the woman! The scene with Iron Man and Falcon is interesting. I do have to wonder why it took so  long for the Falcon to wind up in the Avengers. I wasn't a fan of the way he was brought in, but I guess that was the point. I can't recall if he had been offered membership before. Anyway, I'm getting side-tracked. Iron Man's recognition of Falc as Cap's closest friend is worth noting and I think is probably accurate for this time period.

Doug: We cut to Cap, closing in on a storefront labeled "The Quentin Co." We have it figured out, but ol' Cap's a little dense. He gets it soon enough, and upon preparing to enter the building is greeted by his partner, a step ahead. Falc asks Cap how it's going to go, and Cap greets him warmly. But Cap seems to sidestep the real issues. Falc says he knows what's gone down, and then gets a rehash of the past several days' events straight from the man. As the two plot their next move, they're interrupted by a threatening voice from above, a voice that says the conversation has been taped and that the Falcon will be proved to be an accomplice of the fugitive Captain America! It's Moonstone, and two heroes don't seem to bother him. Of course Sam cannot wait to prove himself, and rashly flies up to meet Moonstone. But the villain leaps away, gets himself into an offensive position and then uses his lasers to drop the Falcon from the sky. On the ground Cap maneuvers into position to catch is friend, but while he attempts to assess Falc's injuries Moonstone attacks from behind and grabs Cap's shoulders -- while using his laser powers in a direct hit! Lights out!

Karen: These villains just love to talk about their secret plans! How about Moonstone turning off the recorder so he can admit that he killed the Tumbler and is working with Harderman to destroy Cap? He just takes so much pleasure in that! That boy's not right in the head....

Doug: This issue was less set-up and much more "getting down to business". I really enjoyed the Falcon/Black Panther partnership and would have liked to have seen more of it. It's too bad that later on, when Henry Peter Gyrich played his Affirmative Action card on the Avengers that BP and Falc didn't end up on the roster at the same time. A few buddy stories akin to the Beast and Wonder Man might have been fun! Sal was just Sal... I know I always say that, but the man is just so darned steady! As we've now grown used to Vinnie Colletta on the inks over the past two issues, he's not really bothering me. You can look at a page and immediately know that Vinnie's on the job, but it's by no means bad work. I don't think he's necessarily a great match for Sal, but Vinnie's feathery lines do seem somewhat comfortable. Overall, the series has maintained its momentum, and I know that if I'd been reading this 40 years ago I'd have been counting those thirty days to the next issue.

Karen: This was one of the issues I missed when I was buying the series as a kid, so it was only years later that I got to see the Falcon's first flight. Still, I was able to follow the general storyline despite missing issues here or there. All in all, this issue keeps things moving but I don't feel it is as pivotal as others. But there's a lot more to come! 


Fred W. Hill said...

Not something I was aware of when first reading this as a kid 40 years ago, but the Sanitation Unit was a take on Nixon's White House Plumbers. And it's appropriate that they and Moonstone himself all talk to much and Moony used a tape recorder, as it was recordings and talking too much that exposed the misdeeds of Nixon and his croneys.
I actually like it that Sam needed some practice with his wings -- added at least a bit of realism to the fantasy superheroics. In regard to the discussion about done-in-ones versus continued stories from yesterday, this is just the sort of story that could not have worked in even one larger than average (for 1970s) comic and I'm glad that ridiculous policy Marvel had just a few years earlier of limiting stories to one issue did not last long. This is just the sort of story that got me hooked on Marvel comics, anxious to see what would happen in the next mag.
BTW, great symbolic poster-style cover by Romita, highlighting the Falcon's new wings and the Black Panther's guest role, even if he never appears side-by-side with Cap in the issue.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, I'm with you Karen: you'd think an organization named CRAP would have a genuine commitment to quality... ;)

Otherwise, I really like the bits with Black Panther and Falcon, and definitely agree with Doug about those two making a good team. They should have appeared together in stories more often. I'm actually surprised that this never occurred to anyone at Marvel at the time, given how much they were trying to jump on the blaxploitation bandwagon with Luke Cage.

Anonymous said...

Another great review. And ditto to Fred's comment about this being the sort of story that got me hooked on Marvel. The whole universe building thing - Panther guest starring, Iron Man cameo...Meanwhile, the Triple Action reprints were featuring the kooky quartet, thus getting me really into Cap as a character...great times!


mr. oyola said...

It never made any sense that a superhero named "The Falcon" could not fly to begin with. If his name had been "The Falconer" I could understand. . . but it wasn't.

Doc Savage said...

You're right. Hawk, Dove, and Batman all agree!

Doug said...

If we were at a comic shop instead of online, I just know a fight would break out. A 0% chance that it wouldn't...


mr. oyola said...


Well, I don't think I've ever read a comic with Hawk & Dove, so was unaware if they could fly or not.

Batman has like a ton of Bat-vehicles that essentially let him fly - plus the Bat part has more to do with "Creature of the night" than flying (I think) - Is there some connotation to the Falcon that Sam Wilson is supposed to evoke that I am missing?

Karen said...

I think Hawkman, Man-Bat, and the Vulture might feel that Falcon should indeed fly. ;)

david_b said...

Just an excellent chapter. An excellent cover (arguably better than ish 172, next up). Excellent pacing with all protagonists. This story just moves right along, like it's the most fun part of the movie, where all the moving parts are in motion, each interesting on it's own; together, a classic Cap issue.

More than any other issue of this entire saga, you don't know which side you enjoyed more, Cap's or Falc's story.

Sam is still used as a 'new hero' here.., remembering back to Cap 117-119 where Sam was originally taken through the paces then, here it goes again. Twice in a character's history is quite remarkable, not including the later respective train-ups of the Robin replacements (Tim Drake, etc). It's often not seen in comics, at least back then.

As Fred mentioned, I too loved 'the Sanitation Unit'.. just too tongue-in-cheek funny to compare to the plumbers, it would have made a great Dozer Batman TV joke 8yrs earlier.

I do see a lot of inconsistencies with Sam's new power. Insufficient lift/current against Stoneface, but somehow he can launch himself (and fly up..) from the alley against Moonstone at the end..? I totally agree with keeping the gauntlet gloves in the new uniform, but the streamline white gloves still work in a very clean, almost 'John Byrne-like' manner.

I loved the Ironman appearance, it just warmed my heart that IM would venture into Cap's mag (very rare up to that point).., well, frankly, it was so cool at that time that it gave me goosebumps.

As mentioned, the art was sheer beauty. Sal's occasional 'over-sharpness' was smoothed out by Vincent superbly, the panels moved the story quickly, like hey, 'it was like butta..'. Dynamic action, yet very very smooth.

This entire issue was just fantastic, probably my most favorite chapter of all. Everything worked here.

To me, it was Cap and Falc's mag at its finest and funnest, defining both characters in a very real and resonating way.

Comicsfan said...

You two have been pretty hard on Leila. :) Leila is abrasive, doesn't cut anyone any slack, and you have to earn her respect--quite a different woman for Stan Lee to deal into Captain America, compared to his depiction of fawning SHIELD agent Sharon Carter. Do try to check out earlier Cap issues which feature her (with John Romita aboard, pre-Sal)--she's really a much richer character than first meets the eye in these Englehart issues, and very much a product of her times.

Doug said...

Comicsfan, that's a great point. Leila was certainly a more exciting and volatile female character than we'd seen before.

I just wish that Sam would have occasionally admonished her surly behavior. They can write her that way, but c'mon... are Karen and I the only ones who wanted to punch her as soon as she came on page?


Karen said...

Hey Comicsfan, I know what you're saying, and I do agree -to a point. I did go back and find Leila's first couple of appearances when we were reading these issues for review. Stan did indeed bring her into the title and she was (as you point out) a female character we'd never seen before: standing on her own, not soft and compliant but quite strident. For Stan to even bring in the subject of black militants (although perhaps not always handled very well) was amazing when you think about it. So in that regard, yes, the character deserves some respect.

HOWEVER -the way Englehart has written her in the books we're reviewing, she seems far from those origins. She mostly comes off as a shallow, self-centered brat! I'd rather go back and see the more mature but decidedly antagonistic character than the one in these later issues. This is one case where I think Englehart made a mis-step.

Fred W. Hill said...

The discussion about Leila makes me wonder whatever happened to her character. I'd be a bit surprised if no one's transformed her into a sassy superheroine by now.

Karen said...

Fred, I did a little searching and it appears that Leila was last seen as a reporter for the Daily Bugle in a Captain America and the Falcon miniseries in 2004. I actually recall buying that series but I don't remember a thing about it now! But a reporter is not a bad fate for her.

B Smith said...

I seem to recall around #163 Sam gave Leila a good telling off (when Cap came looking for help to find Sharon) that gave her pause for thought - and despite her occasional annoying habits, she was genuinely shocked at the Falcon's possible demise in this issue. She's got some feelings, y'know!

Doug said...

I just saw this collection in Amazon's upcoming releases. I thought I'd pass it along for the masses to see. About time the Falcon started getting some love!


Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, thanks for the tip on the Falcon book! I've been waiting forever for a trade that collects his lone appearance in Marvel Premiere plus that mini-series. Truly a golden age of reprints...

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