Friday, July 30, 2010

Dylan Sang -- Everybody Let's Get Stoned!

Captain America #141 (September 1971)
"The Unholy Alliance!"
Stan Lee-John Romita/Joe Sinnott
Doug: Back at it with part two of our little Cap/Grey Gargoyle triptych. This issue truly is a "middle" in the story -- and I'll say, it does "middle" a bit. But let's look closer...
Doug: If you recall from Wednesday, we last left our heroes in disparate places. The Falcon had gone after the Gargoyle in an attempt to a) find out what sinister plan this baddie was concocting, and b) take him down! However, in the midst of doing so Sam Wilson was of course turned to stone, but this time it was by a chemical that not only enabled him to move but also to think -- that is, to only think of obeying the Gargoyle's dastardly commands! On the other hand, Cap had been beamed up to the SHIELD helicarrier and was chatting it up with his squeeze Sharon Carter and her boss Col. Nick Fury. The three were lamenting the existence of "Element X", a compound so dangerous that a mere drop of it could split the Earth. It's at that point Cap put 2 and 2 together and decided that the Grey Gargoyle was out to possess that element.
Doug: You see, Element X can only be contained by pure stone, of which the Grey Gargoyle is made. Now just wait a second. I've got a beef here. I know Stan was in the business of stretching the truth, suspending disbelief, and all that. But how can he a) tell me the reader that the Gargoyle is "pure stone" when it's obvious that his body is functioning somewhat normally, and b) expect me to believe that pure stone is the only thing that can contain this stuff, yet it can split the planet in half? Hel-lo! What is the Earth made of??

Karen: Like I said last time, this makes n
o sense. So what -the Gargoyle could handle Element X? What good would it do him if the Earth was destroyed? It's not even a great blackmail tool, because the guy's signing his own death warrant. And yes, of course, a considerable portion of the Earth is stone...I don't know, I just feel like Stan wasn't even trying here.
Doug: So Cap drops back out of the helicarrier and goes off to find Falc. There's some really good Romita/Sinnott art in this sequence, including a couple of panels where Cap rides the bike up a wall to avoid some street workers. I've always liked the facial work of both Romita and Sinnott and they don't disappoint here. About the only thing I'd take exception to is the "grimness" that Cap often wears (Fury, too). Anyway, Cap goes back to the spot where he thinks Sam might have engaged the Gargoyle. Sure enough, Falc's there, just looking like a statue. Under the influence of the Gargoyle, though, Falc attacks Cap -- if only half-heartedly. They tussle, Sam resists the commands, and Cap tells him he'll get him cured aboard the helicarrier.

Karen: I always enjoyed seeing Cap on his motorcycle, a
nd Romita draws it well.
Doug: Cap sends out his "beam me up" signal, and they ascend to the hovercraft. OK, this is where it gets really, really dumb. Karen, I know you commented last time that at this point in his career (truly within months of ending his full-time writing career) Stan was to an extent mailing it in. Well this next sequence is downright bizarre. Cap tells Fury to get medics for Falc, and pronto. Falc is whisked away, and Sharon remarks, "Steve! Is it safe to bring him on board?" Cap's like, duh!, of course it is -- dude needs help! Sharon goes on: "I'm not sure! I just know I've got bad vibes! There's something wrong!... I can't explain it -- but the Falcon is dangerous! He mustn't remain aboard!" Then Fury chimes in -- "Stow it, Winghead! The gal could be right. Now listen ta me -- Sharon's head of our secret Psyche Squad; ya can call it hyped-up Women's Intuition. Fer starters, she's got a PhD in metaphysical psychology. Then we give her two year's trainin' in..." Then an alarm goes off.

Karen: I hate when the protagonist has to be an
idiot for the story to work. And what the heck was all this stuff about Sharon and her "metaphysical psychology" degree? Was that ever brought up again? Mailing it in indeed.
Doug: Of course Sam was faking it, and only let Cap bring him aboard so he could get the Gargoyle on board. A scrum breaks out, and Fury calls for Plan D. Oh, no -- not Plan D! Yep -- Plan D. Blow the whole stinkin' helicarrier up because of the Grey Gargoyle. No -- not Galactus. Not Dr. Doom. Not even a Hydra infiltration. The Grey - freakin' - Gargoyle. What do you suppose the helicarrier cost? Even in 1971 dollars? Blow it up...

Karen: What's next? Evacuate the capitol because the Eel is in town?
Doug: The fighting continues, and as the SHIELD crew evacuates, the helicarrier is on a course toward the mountain where Element X is stored. Because Fury's been turned to stone in the melee, there's no one to give the clearance code, so the soldiers in the mountain commence firing on the helicarrier. Cap's able to get his buddies out and onto a skiff (I thought of Return of the Jedi when I saw that) -- Falcon jumps out to join them with evil on his mind; fortunately his hour's up and he reverts back to his skin-and-bones self. The Gargoyle decides he's going to beat the heroes into the mountain, and so flies ahead. And that's another thing -- how the heck does he fly? He must weigh a ton (literally)! And then... and then Stan leaves us with this, his last line of his long run as author of Captain America: "He made it! The deadliest human alive is inside the stronghold -- where Element X will be his for the taking!" Bro-ther...

Karen: Yes, the guy made out of stone can glide...what?? Geez. I will admit though that Romita gave us some nice scenes, particularly the sequences with the helicarrier. Although I don't know that I would consider the art strong enough to carry this incredibly weak story. Definitely not the high point of Stan the Man's career.


Fred W. Hill said...

Yep, by this time Stan's best days as a superhero scribe were behind him and he was clearly chafing to move on. My Captain America collection, includes the Pocketbook paperback reprints of the first several Tales of Suspense tales, jumps to the Marvel Double Feature & Super Action reprints and a few originals up to the 120th issue, shortly after the Falcon was introduced, leaving a gap between that and the beginning of Englehart's '50s Cap storyline that began in ish 153.
I haven't been terribly inclined to fill in that gap, but maybe it'd be interesting to see how over the course of his last two years on the strip Stan handled writing the Falcon, the first black character to have even co-star billing in a long running comics series (the Black Panther being just one of several Avengers, and Luke Cage having yet to make his debut). Was his treatment of the duo better, worse or not that much different than Kirby's efforts in the mid-70s?

Karen said...

Hi Fred,

As much as I may complain about how the Falcon or other black heroes might have been handled in the past, I am very glad that Stan and the Marvel gang made a conscious decision to include not only black heroes,but other significant black characters (Robbie Robertson for example) in their comics. Given the times it was a brave move and I will always respect them for that.


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