Monday, September 5, 2016

Doug's First "Rubber Mask" - Captain America 179

Captain America #179 (November 1974)(cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia)
"Slings and Arrows"
Steve Englehart-Sal Buscema/Vince Colletta

Doug: I didn't own this comic as a youngster, but a close friend of mine did. We were great pals, spending all our summer days reading comics, drawing, and playing Megos in his basement. Along the way we listened to AM radio and sang along with Wings, Elton John, and whatever one-hit wonders came our way (I'm looking at you, Carl Douglas, and your Kung fu Fighting). I'd missed the whole of the "Secret Empire" arc, but having the Cap Mego and having enjoyed some of the animated Tales of Suspense adventures on reruns of the Marvel Super-Heroes show, I was all-in to read this issue. Then, and especially now with my adult fixation with rubber mask reveals, it didn't disappoint.

Ah, the rubber mask. What is it about that corny comic convention that appeals to me? How about HOW INCREDIBLY STUPID IT IS?? Really... any "master of disguise" schtick is going to require a large helping of suspension of disbelief. But when some shmoe does it and gets away with it? No way. See this Man-Bat story if you don't believe me. How in the world does one obtain or create such a lifelike mask, only to later reveal something like an iron mask or a furry face, or even humongous bat-ears lurking beneath? The mind boggles. And that, I suppose, is why I like it -- for sheer lunacy. Zanier than our boy Bob Haney, that's for sure.

Sink your teeth into a 100-Word Review
Just three issues removed from the fall-out of the Secret Empire adventure, Cap and Falc have split ways. Cap has stuck to his word of hanging up the shield, and he’s settling into a civilian life alongside his love, Sharon Carter (SHIELD’s Agent-13). But a new menace has attacked – the Golden Archer. A sun-hued relic seemingly from the age of Robin Hood, he attacks Cap multiple times. Subplots involve Falc trying to beat the Harlem mob, Cap telling Peggy Carter that they’re through, and more would-be fill-in Caps across the country. Cap finally bests the Archer, who turns out to really be…

The Good: Usually I begin by lauding the art team. I'll get to that in a moment or three. But what struck me as I read this was the pacing of the story, and its organization. Many authors are masters of the subplot (John Byrne comes to mind specifically). Here Steve Englehart gives us a whirlwind of topical points between the comic's 18 story pages. We see our main arc for four pages, then a Falcon vignette, back to Steve Rogers for one page, then to a biker gang whose leader wants to become the new Captain America. A page later we're back to Steve for five pages, then one page to see how it turned out for our wannabe shield-slinger. The book concludes with a five page climactic battle between Steve and the Golden Archer. It's nicely laid out, with each interlude serving to heighten suspense for what was really a pretty basic plot in the main tale.

Englehart chose some sort of old English form (which is certainly debatable, I'm sure) of speech for the Golden Archer. The "real" Golden Archer had actually appeared in Avengers #85 as part of the Squadron Supreme. His costume was different from what we see here; the next time we'll see the Archer, he will be in this same outfit. I liked the Archer's depiction here -- very much a swashbuckler, and the fact that he was stalking Cap and could turn up at any time was fun. In fact, the Archer seemed to know some of Steve Roger's habits, patterns of movement...

I was not enough of a regular Cap reader to make too much of a judgement on the Steve/Sharon/Peggy love triangle, but I will say that from a distance the Steve and Sharon pairing made more sense than the Steve and Peggy relationship. That being said, Steve seemed to sort of take advantage of his fountain of youth, trading in for a younger model. His prerogative of course, but the ditching of Peggy in this issue seemed cruel. Come to think of it, why is that in the "good" category? I guess because the relationship, any relationship, humanizes Cap -- he of the "duty first" devotion.

Although the Falcon's solo adventures were on hold for 90% of this issue, I really liked in this era that he got to be featured as his own guy. A solo series would have been an easy sell to me in the Bronze Age; I enjoyed his one-off in Marvel Premiere.

Lastly, the big reveal at the end of Hawkeye as the Golden Archer, rubber mask and all, was excellent. What a dopey scene. Sure enough -- ol' Hawk's mask popped right up into form, no mashing or flattening at all. It's just silly -- silly as a Silver Age DC -- but I love it. And I loved how Hawkeye threw some shade at Thor's Asgardian-speak.

The Bad: Wait, you say -- you didn't talk about the art. You are correct. I saved it for this space. Oh it isn't bad bad. In fact, it's really pretty consistent from what we'd seen throughout the "Secret Empire" arc. But for whatever reason, in this issue I am seeing Sal Buscema and I am seeing Vince Colletta. Not a conglomeration of the two, as in previous issues. Instead, I just see Sal's forms and Vinnie's feathery inks. There's no blending here. It's tough to put my finger on, and I don't know if you'll get the same vibe from the art samples provided (perhaps my best example is the full page scan at the top of the post). But if you use the link just above and check out some of the books from a few months prior, I think you'll see that Vinnie's inks were a little heavier in general. I just see all the featheriness that many of his detractors cry out about. So it's not awful. But I noticed. In my opinion, I shouldn't notice. I should see the combination, the sum of the parts, and it should be pleasing to me as an art gestalt. Tell me if I'm off base.

The Ugly: Nuthin'. Unless you thought Steve was a HUGE jerk to Peggy. Then you might be mad.

Overall this was another fun one. I have come to really enjoy most of the solo adventures of my favorite Avengers -- Cap, Iron Man, and Thor. There were some solid creators on those books in the Bronze Age. Sure, sometimes there was a little hit-and-miss, but more often than not one could certainly get their quarter's worth of fun. Makes me want to be a kid again and feel that as I stand in front of the drug stores shelves.

Happy Labor Day to our Stateside friends. Enjoy the holiday!


Anonymous said...

My first rubber mask moment was The Kingpin vs. The Schemer in Spider-Man which was also the very first Spidey story I ever read. The Schemer pulls off his rubber mask to be revealed as The Kingpin's son, believed killed in a ski-ing accident - what a shocker !!! And The Kingpin was so traumatized he went into a trance.

Redartz said...

Interesting observation about the art here, Doug. I agree; particularly in that first page, one notices a lot of cross-hatching without the 'cross' (hatching, maybe). Not really bad, but definitely noticeable. Also noted more use of heavy black areas in the other samples you provided from previous issues.

Incidentally, I always liked the cover for this issue. Glad to learn it was Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia; previously thought it had a Romita look to it...

And here's echoes to your comments on 'rubber masks'. My first rubber mask moment was Avengers 137, when the Beast pulls off his mask. As you say, just how did that work? But it was all very enjoyable, nonetheless...

Anonymous said...

Having gotten into comics in the late-'80s, I didn't see this trope very often until I started digging into the Bronze Age. My first encounter was in an issue of What If...?, specifically #9, "What If the New X-Men Died on Their First Mission?" In that story, Beast summons Moira MacTaggert to the X-Mansion following the disastrous mission to Krakoa in which the new team failed to rescue the old one and they all died. Moira arrives with her ward Rahne Sinclair and is greeted by the muscular but human-looking Hank McCoy. Over the course of the first few pages, he explains what's happened, and then pulls off a rubber mask to reveal a face the young Rahne describes as "all gray and hairy-like."

I will go to my grave forgetting 90% of my life but I'll always remember random scenes from comics I read when I was 12...

- Mike Loughlin

Martinex1 said...

My first rubber mask was the same as Colin's; was Kingpin shocked that it was his son or just dumbfounded that he'd been fooled for a few issues buy a rubber mask? Ha! I chalk it up to the fact that the Marvel universe has a "super" mask company; it's outlet store is right next to the tailor that makes all those costumes!

Yes - I agree on the art. I can definitely still see Sal, but it's like somebody went back over it and just re-shaded everything.

I did not like the Peggy subplot; it seemed a little strange and very mishandled by Steve. But you are right about the Falcon - he could have carried a title and been the headliner. Missed opportunity there.

I always find it interesting when Marvel characters reference Clark Kent or Superman as Hawkeye did on that last page. And who was that yellow fuzzy guy in Hawkeye's memory panel with Daredevil and Spidey? I don't recognize that character at all. It probably was an old costume of the Sentry!!!

david_b said...

One of my early FAVORITES..!! Love my CA&F Englehart/Buscema issues, the arguable cornerstone of my collecting, certainly of my early '70s collecting binge of all things CA&F and ASM.

Great to see Hawkeye here, as we just saw IM in Cap just a few issues back in ish 171. Always loved when the Avengers dropped by, especially during this tumultuous period in Cap's mag (and his surprise appearance in Avengers 121).

I liked the story alright, it was a bit light weight with the Golden Archer story, but certainly made up for it with the slightly-overdue dramatic scene with Peggy (you certainly felt the emotional THUD, at least I did). It was certainly time for her to move on, and for Steve Rogers to be the 'agent of change'.

The art was just fine for me, readily noticing the signature inks of Vinnie, but all in all not too offensive. I typically never minded Vinnie's work on most artists; the only guy I didn't like him paired with was George Perez, especially in those early Avengers assignments. But here it was just a nice departure, not too overwhelming all in all.

Great column today, have a super day everyone..!!

Anonymous said...

Agree about the mask thing. I think it’s just too good (and easy!) a device for some writers to resist. On the subject of the biggest early reveal, surely it must be the Hatemonger, revealed to be….well, I’m sure you know, all the way back in FF #21. That’s definitely the first one I remember. Also, I don’t remember how it was first revealed that the Green Goblin was really Norman Osbourne, but was there a big unmasking there??

I love the fact that Hawkeye is wearing his Hawkeye mask under the Golden Archer mask. When you consider that pretty much no one knows who Clint is, let alone that he’s Hawkeye, it would actually make far more sense to take it off. If he wants to conceal the fact that the Golden Archer is actually Hawkeye, the one thing that makes NO sense is to keep his Hawkeye mask on underneath.

Mike – I think the demented smiley face is ZZzaxxx (might need to check the spelling of that) whom Hawkeye fought in a cameo outing in Hulk.


david_b said...

Richard, you are correct.., funny that a villain would be there (instead of the Hulk..), but 'oh well'. :)

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the review, Doug. On the art, I tend to agree with David, Colletta's not my favorite inker for Sal, but I don't necessarily see anything "off" about the art samples you've posted here (also agree with David about the Perez/Colletta pairing: does not work for me at all).

Anyway, the rubber masks - I can't remember where I saw that first in comics, but yes, it was a bit too common given how utterly ridiculous it is. I know it was used quite a bit in Batman comics, with Bats doing the same thing Richard noted about Hawkeye and his disguise: wearing a rubber mask over his Bat-mask.

By the way, Doug, I suppose Byrne was pretty good at spinning sub-plots, but whenever someone mentions sub-plots in the context of comics I immediately think of Chris Claremont. In fact, I think I first truly came to understand what the term sub-plot even meant when I was reading Claremont's X-men as a kid.

pfgavigan said...


Well . . . I guess in a world of super soldier serums and spider bites granting great powers and responsibilities, I don't have that much of a problem with really, really good rubber masks.

Besides, just a few years before this story Martin Landau was creating similar masks to help take down whatever foreign government 'the secretary' happened to have a problem with that week.

That must have been a sweet jig, show up to film a couple of scenes and let the 'guest star' of the week do all your work for you.



pfgavigan said...


I forgot to reply to your artwork posing. I think it would depend on if Colletta was working from Buscema's finished pencils or if he was completing the pages himself. I think, I don't have this issue at hand, but I think that Sal was credited as artist and Vince as inker rather than 'embelisher', which was the term that Stan Lee used if the inker actually had to finish the penciling.

Nothing unusual, happened all the time. You would be surprised how often it happened without credit being given where due.



Doug said...

Thanks for all of the feedback today, pals!

Colin and others -- whenever that day comes when I ride off into the blogging sunset, my last post is going to be a Who's the Best... Rubber Mask Reveal? It will be a "greatest hits" of the trope as it's occurred on the BAB over the years. And today you all gave a few more suggestions. My gratitude.

Redartz, for years I also assumed the cover was by the Jazzy One. Live and learn.

As to the art, is there a more polarizing (maybe too strong a term -- "attention getting" is better?) creator than Vince Colletta? We could do a month's worth of art samples from Vinnie and discuss the merits and drawbacks. Shoot -- sounds like fun.


pfgavigan said...


To be honest with you, I was beginning to prepare a piece regarding inking which would have touched upon Colletta and others.

Shall I proceed?



Anonymous said...

Great review!
But why was Clint wearing that dang Hawkeye mask underneath the Golden Archer mask? Didn't his head get get hot? He must have been sweating like a runt pig passing an acorn. He probably got that idea sitting around on the couch Saturday mornings eating cereal and watching Scooby Doo. That's what I was doing at the time. I tell you people, that show defined a generation.
I love how Englehart throws some humor into this arc with the appearance of wannabe Captain Americas, just to break up the drama, and remind us comics should be fun.

Martinex1 said...

Well M.P., you must be psychic because if you check in this Thursday I think you will find the topic right up your alley!

And thanks for the Zzzzaxxx lead Richard. Cheers!

Humanbelly said...

Amazing Spiderman #80 would be the first time I just stopped and said "Waitaminnit" about a rubber mask. Sure, it was the Chameleon, and it was his obvious stock in trade-- but the OBVIOUS problem with the Cham at that point is that his REAL face is completely covered by some sort of smooth, blank, EYELESS & MOUTHLESS mask already! There is NOTHING to actually manipulate any mask that he puts on over it-- and no real "eyes" to see through the consistently-depicted eye-holes in his many masks. That was a terrific issue, mind you-- but of all the things I could never suspend my disbelief for, the logistics of how the Chameleon could possibly function was pretty near the top o' my list. Yup.

Zzzax-- Hulk #165, btw. Probably the significance for Hawkeye there, during his brief stint at attempting to be a "bigtime" solo hero is that Hawk was indeed the guy that beat this truly formidable creature, using brains and skill, and the Hulk got complete credit for it. . .


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