Before he had America’s rump or we all muttered to each other “Hail Hydra”; Captain America was almost lost to history. That is until Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought him back during the Silver Age.
So join us in the Hypertime to discuss Avengers #4 from 1964, where Captain America makes his Silver Age debut!
Below are my notes for the show:
In 1963, Marvel was having the itch to bring Captain America back from his Golden Age hiatus after a resurgence of superhero popularity. To gauge the interest of the character with the audience at the time, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby *somewhat* had him appear in Strange Tales #114. In this, it would feature the Human Torch getting the chance to meet Captain America. However, after the both of them stop some thieves, Cap tells Torch to hit the bricks and takes the credit for taking down the crooks. Cap later breaks the same crooks out of jail who are later nabbed by the Human Torch. They say Cap arranged the whole thing. Upon confrontation, Cap is revealed to be The Acrobat. The story is somewhat left open ended on the Cap issue when Torch wonders what ever happened to Captain America. The final panel asks the question if readers would like to see more of Captain America, and according to Stan Lee, the answer was a resounding YES. So on March 10, 1964, they got their wish when Avengers #4 was published.
To help combat what made Cap fail in his previous revival in 1954 (the last time before he appeared in Avengers #4, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stripped out everything from the character that came about after 1941 and instead had his last story end during World War 2. So he never fought communists, his girlfriend Betsy Ross never became Golden Girl, and more.
As noted on the first page of the story, this was a special issue for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. For Stan, it was a Captain America story back during the Golden Age that presented his first published script. For Jack Kirby, he had co-created Captain America with Joe Simon in the first place.
“A TALE DESTINED TO BECOME A MAGNIFICENT MILESTONE IN THE MARVEL AGE OF COMICS! BRINGING YOU THE GREAT SUPER HERO WHICH YOUR WONDERFUL AVALANCHE OF FAN MAIL DEMANDED!”
The issue starts off where Avengers #3 ends after the Avengers battle Hulk and Namor. Namor splits after feeling betrayed by the Hulk and starts searching for his missing Atlantean people. He travels up to the arctic north and runs across some humans there who are worshipping a block of ice with a human figure inside. Namor approaches them claiming he has sworn vengeance upon the entire human race and scares them off. He tosses the idolized frozen man into the sea as the men run off to warn others of Namor going mad. We then see the block of ice floating off slowly melting as it hits warmer water. A hand has thawed out with a red sleeve.
Fortunately, the Avengers were passing by in their sub and noticed a man floating outside. Giant Man grabs him and they recognize it’s Captain America (no red sleeve though – miscoloring?). Suddenly Cap wakes up screaming about Bucky. The Avengers try to contain him when it finally hits that Bucky is dead and he’s unsure of who the people are around him or where he is.
Cap confirms he is who they think he are, but just in case it’s a trick, the Avengers attack him and get easily dispatched (except the Wasp – who would think a girl would be on the team?!). The team believes it’s him alright, and Cap details his last memories before his suspended animation. He recalls him and Bucky trying to stop an explosive filled drone from taking off. Both of them are able to hop aboard but notice that the drone is set to explode at any moment due to a booby trap. As Cap falls off, he yells for Bucky too as well but is too late. He sees the explosion and realizes Bucky is gone as he falls into the cold water. (Bucky would later come back as Winter Soldier).
They arrive back home in New York to a huge crowd of reporters. The Avengers go out to greet the reporters as Cap stays in the sub a little longer. One flash goes off, and it appears the Avengers are gone and have been replaced by statues. Reporters think it’s a ruse to escape them, so they quickly wander off. Cap comes out and sees the statue thinking it’s to honor the Avengers. He walks off to discover the new world that has changed without him in it. He is amazed at how lovely the women are even with the new fashions and hair styles, and the buildings in New York impress him as well.
He runs into a cop who recognizes him and helps solidify the idea that people are well aware of who Cap is (even the women prior recognize him as well as “a mighty hero of years ago”). Cap finds a hotel and after watching TV for the first time, falls to sleep. However, he is awoken by a man who walks in bearing an uncanny resemblance to Bucky which catches him off guard, but the man introduces himself as Rick Jones and was following Cap the whole time. The Avengers have disappeared and he was trying to catch up with Cap since he was the last to see them.
The two of them look into it, and looking through some pictures notice a man in a photograph (why were the journalists being captured in photos exactly?) who has a weird looking camera. Well…not a camera. It looks more like a gun. Both of them run off to locate the man, and Cap is finally able to find him. He busts in through the room, and the man’s henchmen start shooting at Cap. He launches his shield and slices all of the guns in half. The men all try to gang up on him, but he is able to take them all out. The man in question tries to shoot him with a ray but misses and Cap realizes it’s not a weapon from Earth and lands a fist to the face.
After the man is taken off his feet, Cap pulls the mask off showing it’s an alien, which scares off the henchmen not realizing what he really was. The alien tells Cap his story about how he crashed to Earth due to engine failure centuries ago. He made his presence aware to humans in hopes to repair his ship, but they reacted unkindly due to his visage. One example was his look being obscured and shadowed, and his ray turning someone into stone. This was where the Medusa concept came from. Sub-Mariner had found the sunken ship and promised to have it fixed if the alien would dispatch the Avengers for him.
Cap faintly remembers the name Sub-Mariner and rushes off with the alien to turn the Avengers back to their normal selves. We also see Sub-Mariner seeing what’s happening landside and plans another attack on the Avengers. On his way, he runs into his imperial guard who was still searching for him, and they join him for the assault.
The following day has the Avengers trying to pull the ship up out of the water when suddenly Sub-Mariner attacks. Battle takes place as Sub-Mariner launches himself at Iron Man. Iron Man repels Sub-Mariner only to be hit by the rubble of a huge thrown boulder. As Sub-Mariner has Iron Man on his back, Wasp flies in and blinds Namor briefly before an imperial guard requires help as Thor is taking on the whole brigade. After a failed attack on Thor, Sub-Mariner jumps onto Thor as the scene changes to Giant Man stuck in a net underwater on the verge of drowning. He quickly shrinks himself to escape and right before being eaten by a fish, he grows again and joins the fight topside. The tide starts to turn without Cap being involved (though the Avengers are questioning where he disappeared to) and then Namor gets tag-teamed on with Giant Man and Thor. Cap is shown watching the battle as he identifies how everyone fights (including his soon to be team members). Namor threatens to kill Rick Jones whom they captured (when?) if they get any closer, but Cap jumps in from behind as an earthquake starts causing Namor and his guard to get away. At that time, the spaceship protrudes out of the water and takes off into space.
The issue ends with Cap being offered a position on the Avengers, and Cap agrees. As Rick listens on, he thinks about his friend Hulk and how upset he will be knowing that Captain America has filled the role he used to have on the Avengers.
- There were major continuity issues that would arise from this issue and the last “true” appearance of Captain America in Captain America #78 – when Atlas Comics tried to revive superhero comics. This had Cap appear after World War II, but that would be retconned into another character holding the mantle.
- Another case was Sub-Mariner and Captain America both having worked together as part of the Invaders and All-Winners Squad during WW2. However, in this issue, neither were aware of each other. It was chalked up to Namor having amnesia and Cap’s mind being affected by being stuck in ice for so long.
- This issue may feature one of the first, if not THE first, effort of retconning. While the other examples can sort of be handwaved away, the idea that Bucky died is different. This is a case where history is actually re-written to not include a character that previously was involved in events from the past.
- The Hulk would be replaced by Captain America as a founding member of the Avengers in this issue after his disappearance in Avengers #2. This carries over into Fantastic Four #26 when the Avengers have to team up with the Fantastic Four to stop Hulk who is very unhappy about being replaced and looking for revenge.
- There was discussion about having Cap involved with the Vietnam War (that was going on at the time) similar to how he was involved in WW2. However, according to Stan Lee, the tone they were going for in books at that time (more fun and jokey) was different than that during WW2 (more serious). They decided it would be in bad taste to tackle something serious like that with laughs.
- However, after sales started to wane, they decided to tell “Untold Tales of the War” with Captain America in hopes to respark the love for the character.
- The book was released in March 1964, a few short months after the assassination of JFK. Between that and the Vietnam War, it makes sense when a cop Cap ran into says “but youve come back – just when the world has need of such a man – just like fate planned it this way”
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Intro and Outro Music: “RetroFuture Clean” by Kevin MacLeod
RetroFuture Clean Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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