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Abandoned Love: Is Captain America Super Strong or What?

Every week, we will be examining comic book stories, plots and ideas that were abandoned by a later writer while still acknowledging that the abandoned story DID still happen. Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of Abandoned Love. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

This time around, based on a suggestion by Omar Karindu, we’ll take a look at the odd way that Captain America’s short-lived super-strength was handled during the 1970s.

In Captain America #157, Captain America and Falcon are poisoned by the evil Viper. The next issue, Cap heroically saves them both…

Soon, though, Cap notices weird goings-on with his strength…

It continues the next issue…

Later in the issue he realizes that the poison has given him super-strength…

Writer Steve Englehart would make sure to refer to the new strength every issue or so, even nearly a year later…

However, even when Englehart left the book, the super-strength was still there. Here Tony Isabella references it in Captain America #189…

But when Jack Kirby took over the tile in Captain America #193, the super-strength is implicitly dropped, as Cap is now evenly matched with Falcon in arm wrestling…

You could tell during Kirby’s run that it was pretty clear that Cap no longer has super-strength.

However, it was not until Don Glut in issue #218 (TWENTY-FIVE issues after the initial abandoning!) that we learned what the deal was, and the answer was quite simple…

I like that. Just a real simple “Oh, you wonder why I’m not super-strong anymore? That wore off off-panel.”

34 Comments

At least the next write didn’t just forget(or not know)that it didn’t happen and have an explanation for it.

We are on a bit of a Captain America kick here lately, any special reason? I do not mind, it is just an observation.

I never knew about the super strength until Avengers Forever.

I only learned about the super-strength in Marvel Team-Up, when the Grey Gargoyle’s stone touch wears off sooner than it should for both Cap and Spidey. I didn’t know it was gone until Cap mentioned it in Avengers after Scarlet Witch chewed him out.

I still think Cap should basically be stronger than a normal guy. Falcon shouldn’t be able to armwrestle him. “Peak human performance” means he’s stronger and faster than regular guys. However, I don’t think he should be ripping through solid steel. Same thing with Black Panther. He’s enhanced, not just a dude in a cat suit.

I’m surprised John Byrne never did a retcon to explain the yellow glove.

Wait, I always assumed part of Cap’s powers normally was super strength (As well as invulnerability, speed, etc.). Doesn’t seem like much of a super soldier if his strength is only slightly enhanced.

Commander Benson

March 22, 2013 at 7:14 am

And just to tie a nice tidy bow on things, the fact that the Star-Spangled Avenger’s super-strength wore off was iterated two months after Captain America # 218—in The Avengers # 170 (Apr., 1978).

The opening scene shows Cap in the midst of one of his grueling work-outs in the Avengers’ gym, and when the Beast gives him grief for not taking it easy once in a while, Cap replies on page 2, panel 6:

“I have to keep in shape! Since I lost the super-strength I had for awhile, I don’t have any special powers like the rest of you!”

That’s interesting. I started reading Cap during this period, which is probably why I think of him having some small modicum of super strength.

always figured that once cap took vipers injection that it might have caused a reaction with the super serum to give cap something like super strength and then if finaly wearing off if the writer chose cap would have his normal strength . a drug combo is why cap was able to be almost hulk strong back then.

I remember this being mentioned early in AVENGERS FOREVER. Somebody is taking inventory of the time-tossed heroes (Rick, maybe?) and notices that Cap is super-strong. Cap was plucked from moments after watching Richard Nixon (or whoever Marvel says it was) shoot himself, so I guess Busiek established that Cap still had his powers at that point.

I don’t recall the super-strength coming into play in AF other than that.

Does anyone know what happened after Streets of Poison?
In that story, Cap’s war on drugs led to the Super Soldier Serum being removed from Cap’s system, making him a normal human.
Can anyone tell me where this story was retconned to explain that the serum altered Cap on a genetic level?

Even without his temporary superstrength, Cap wouldn’t break a sweat arm wrestling the Falcon. In his Marvel Universe entry, it says Cap can bench 800 lbs!

[…] possédera cette force pendant 36 numéros avant que Jack Kirby, de retour dans la série, redescende sa force à un niveau normal, quoi que toujours au summum du potentiel […]

The issue of “just how strong is ‘peak human ability’ and does it count as a superpower” was addressed, hilariously, in on of Chris Giarusso’s Mini Marvels stories.

@Winchester Meatcleaver

It was covered in an old Abandoned An’Forsaked column on this site.

Basically, his body made more. The doctor changed the description of the serum from just a drug to a process that effectively created a self-replicating virus. As long as any of it was left in his body, his body would eventually rebuild it to its normal levels.

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/09/29/the-abandoned-an-forsaked-so-cap-is-now-drug-free-or-is-he/

Les Fontenelle

March 22, 2013 at 9:26 am

That bit with the Viper’s antidote being left “oh-so-quaintly out of his reach” may be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read.

And of COURSE Cap has superhuman strenght, plus enhanced speed and stamina too. It’s right there in Marvel’s official handbook, and I assume Marvel would know. That’s why they called him SUPERsoldier. A mere “peak olympic-level” athlete simply wouldn’t have the impact that Cap had in WW2. But he was a SUPERsoldier who could fight entire battalions by himself, for hours and hours, before even breaking a sweat. It’s just silly to pretend that he’s just “peak human” – “peak humans” already exist, you can watch them at the Olympic games, and they aren’t capable of winning battles by themselves.

And Cap’s superhuman abilities weren’t “abandoned” in the distant mists of the 70s either – as recently as Brubaker’s celebrated Cap run, the Sentinel of Liberty was shown running far beyond any human’s speed while delivering messages to allies during WW2. The notion that Cap is just “peak human” is a total myth that doesn’t even make sense.

Falcon obviously has ridiculous arm strength from flapping them all the time, so they’re evenly matched.

Les Fontenelle:”And Cap’s superhuman abilities weren’t “abandoned” in the distant mists of the 70s either – as recently as Brubaker’s celebrated Cap run, the Sentinel of Liberty was shown running far beyond any human’s speed while delivering messages to allies during WW2. The notion that Cap is just “peak human” is a total myth that doesn’t even make sense.”

Yeah, “peak human” is a rather nebulous concept. Essentially, Cap is supposed to be in some kind of liminal zone, somewhere between the human and the superhuman. Of course, that begs the question as to where the superhuman begins. For example, according to WIKIPEDIA, the current record for the bench press (without a shirt) is 715 pounds (1075 punds with a shirt). So, how much more than that would count as superhuman?Similarly, the world record in the 100 meters is 9.58. How much below that time would count as superhuman?

Thanks, @Billy
Appreciate the link!

WM

I’ve always been pretty sure that ‘basic human strength’ meant something different in the Marvel Universe, as are basics physics, for that matter. Daredevil has human strength, but he can swing from buildings with his billy club line, which nobody can do in real life without ripping their arms out of their sockets. The Falcon, the Black Cat, Hawkeye and The Punisher do stuff regularly that Olympic athletes in real life can’t do. A couple of months of martial arts training in the Marvel Universe (and in the ads featured in the comics, oddly enough) is enough to outfight a roomful of armed men.

There is obviously something going on there.

Alexandre Juliao

March 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Sorry to be off topic but i’m just have to say is that nobody, absolutely nobody can draw a punch like Sal Buscema.

phred:’I’ve always been pretty sure that ‘basic human strength’ meant something different in the Marvel Universe, as are basics physics, for that matter. Daredevil has human strength, but he can swing from buildings with his billy club line, which nobody can do in real life without ripping their arms out of their sockets. The Falcon, the Black Cat, Hawkeye and The Punisher do stuff regularly that Olympic athletes in real life can’t do. A couple of months of martial arts training in the Marvel Universe (and in the ads featured in the comics, oddly enough) is enough to outfight a roomful of armed men.”

Yeah, I remember a conversation over whether the Frank Miller Kingpin had super strength (the MARVEL HANDBOOK that came out when Miller was writing DAREDEVIL infamously stated that the Kingpin could only lift 650 pounds). A key issue in the discussion was how to interpret panels in Miller’s DD run. Do scenes showing the Kingpin defeating a half dozen of the finest martial artists in the world at once count as superhuman? In the real world, it certainly would, but in comics, non-superpowered fighters like Batman do that kind of thing all the time.

Captain America’s “peak human” abilities are a complicated topic if you demand exact benchmarks. In my head, it means that Captain America is stronger and faster and more durable than anyone who doesn’t have a superhuman origin story (i.e. he is stronger than DD, Falcon, Batman, Iron Fist, Black Panther, etc.), but he is weaker than anyone who has a superhuman origin for their strength (i.e. Beast, Luke Cage, etc.)

As for that 70s story, it’s interesting that it took a letter column to explain things to me. I am Brazilian, and grew up reading the Brazilian editions of Marvel and DC Comics. One nice thing was that they basically skipped the bad runs. I think we jumped from Englehart to almost Stern/Byrne, with very few of the Glut, Isabella or Kirby stuff (I love Kirby, just not his Marvel 1970s work, except perhaps for the Eternals).

So they had to explain in a letercol that Cap’s super-strength had just faded.

Yeah, it also bugs me that non-superstrong types like Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Punisher, Scarlet Witch et cetera can just leap down from a one-or-two story building to join their flying or other superstrong teammates on the ground for a bit of dialogue before running off to do something else. Just once I’d like to see one of them ask for help getting off of a rooftop or finding a fire escape!

Like many things in superhero comics, it’s best to just not think about it too much!

Rene:”Captain America’s “peak human” abilities are a complicated topic if you demand exact benchmarks. In my head, it means that Captain America is stronger and faster and more durable than anyone who doesn’t have a superhuman origin story (i.e. he is stronger than DD, Falcon, Batman, Iron Fist, Black Panther, etc.), but he is weaker than anyone who has a superhuman origin for their strength (i.e. Beast, Luke Cage, etc.)”

That’s actually how I figured it as a kid. Cap was just a little bit (say, 10%-15%, maybe) beyond all of the “costumed athletes” like the Punisher, Batman, DD, etc.

RE: Black Panther,

That’s tricky, seeing as how he has “peak human” prowess via those Wakandan heart-shaped herbs. I always figured that he and Cap were roughly at the same level, with Cap being perhaps a bit stronger (courtesy of Cap being a bit larger) and the Panther being a bit faster (being a bit lighter).

Wasn’t part of the reason that Cap had super-strength for a while because he was depicted as having it in the 70s TV-movies about him? I’m probably severely mixing up my years in the 1970s here, I know.

BTW, you left out my favorite panel of Cap & the Falcon arm-wrestling: the mind-controlled Falcon telling Cap, “Just try it, whitey!!” :)

Wasn’t part of the reason that Cap had super-strength for a while because he was depicted as having it in the 70s TV-movies about him? I’m probably severely mixing up my years in the 1970s here, I know.

The super-strength pre-dated the TV movie by six or seven years.

BTW, you left out my favorite panel of Cap & the Falcon arm-wrestling: the mind-controlled Falcon telling Cap, “Just try it, whitey!!”

Yeah, I figured that that would be so jarring that it would take over the conversation. :)

Whatever happened to Sam’s girlfriend Leila, anyway? Kirby removed her feisty personality, and that stuck when she turned up again in the J.M. DeMatteis era, but after that…did she just sort of vanish without explanation?

The Original Jimmy

March 23, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Frank Robbins art – I never get tired of seeing his art. A lot of people hate it, but I’ve always loved it. This has to be my favourite Captain America era.

Peak human abilities: You can’t really see any Olympic Athlete do what Cap does, because he’s all of them. He’s stronger than the strongest weight lifters, faster than the fastest sprinter, more agile than the best gymnast, swims faster than Phelps, and so on. If he were to compete at the games he’d get the gold in every event. And since human achievement is always getting better, so is Cap. Thus that combo makes him better than everyone else and able to compete with the super powered. It might seem silly for someone to have all those characteristics in the same body, but no more than getting powered by a radioactive spider.

The whole point of the original project was to turn an ordinary man into a peak human being, not to create a super-human (as we usually think of it). And as M-Wolverine points out, someone who’s peak physically all the way around would indeed be way above average.
ThatI do think Cap’s super-strength back then reflects how, like Batman, he’s become less and less a peak human being and more and more a superman of sort. The idea super-powers would give them an edge is laughable now because it’s a given they’re invincible.

Frankie Addiego

March 16, 2014 at 8:20 am

I think “peak human” is kind-of a weird concept, though. In any case, since we’ve seen guys who are just bulging like crazy, Captain America must have “superhuman” strength given that he looks like a generic bodybuilder in most depictions. Yes, like any other superhero, it changes with the artist, but he’s usually drawn with the physique of Arnold in the mid’80s, not so much the Arnold of “Pumping Iron.”

This is something I was glad to see fade away. What made Cap special was the fact he was just a man but was so skilled and had such a will he was just as deadly as any hero with powers. Although this series was good, the idea of powers sort of cheapened the character in my opinion. I like Cap being just a man like back in the day. I was sort of happy when it faded out.

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