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The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – So Did Captain America Make It Out of World War II Or What?

In this feature we examine comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

Today we take a look at one of the most famous retcons in comic book history and one I probably should have gotten to before now, Captain America and Bucky making it out of World War II in one piece (until they didn’t)…

Okay, obviously, Captain America (Steve Rogers) and his partner, Bucky Barnes, were introduced before the United States got directly involved in World War II but when the U.S. went to war, so did Cap and Bucky…

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And so it was the case for the rest of the war. They fought in Europe and in the Pacific. But when the war ended, Cap and Bucky went back to the States, as shown in Captain America #59…

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They then had a number of adventures in the United States but then Cap’s book was canceled.

A few years later, Marvel brought it back for a short-lived run in 1954 from #76-78, with Cap and Bucky now fighting Communists (that return was, itself, an example for Abandoned Love – I’ll explain why in a future edition of Abandoned Love, so ixnay in the comments section on plot developments in Cap’s title between #59 and #76).

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A decade later, Cap returned for good in 1964′s Avengers #4. The only thing is now that his entire post-World War II career had been retconned out of existence!!

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However, while you easily could have just ended it here and just say that all of the Cap stories post Captain America Comics #50 or so just never happened, Marvel decided to NOT leave it there.

In 1972, Steve Englehart introduced the Cap from the 1950s and explained who that “Steve Rogers” and “Bucky” we saw in the 1950s were…

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Five years later, in What If…? #4, Roy Thomas revealed who filled in for Cap during the end of the war and the beginning of the peacetime years…

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As well as who filled in for Cap for a few more peacetime years before the 1950s Cap took over (Karl Kesel wrote an EXCELLENT mini-series with amazing artwork from the Breitweisers a few years back about the Patriot’s time as Captain America)…

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So when people complain about modern retcons, do note that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were doing major retcons soon after the beginning of the “Marvel Age” of comics.

Speaking of retcons, if you have a suggestion for a future edition of Abandoned an’ Forsaked, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!

80 Comments

I was just discussing What If v.1 #4 elsewhere with someone, and we both agreed that it was really strange that Roy created *two* fill-ins just so he could kill one off. I always thought it would’ve made moire sense to just use the Patriot, since he was an actual 1940s character, rather than bringing in the in-jokey (and, according to Invaders #15, retired) Spirit of ’76.

It’s also striking how quickly Roy got bored with the basic premise of his own “what if” book, since both #4 and #5 broke the “what fi this old story had ended differently” premise. It might be worth noting that Thomas revisited the 50s Cap era in Captain America Annual #13, showing the 50s Cap’s “final” battle with the Soviet Electro and the Communist Red Skull.

Also, I’m surprised to see that the whole “Lee School” thing was so early; the Engelhart retcon had me convinced that the setting came in with the 1950s revival series.

Right? How weird is it that Stan Lee named a school after himself?

Thanks Brian, I was going to suggest this one myself but you beat me to it! :-) I’ve always wondered why that particular chunk of Cap’s history was wiped away by his return in Avengers #4, other than to add a “man out of time” element to his character. I’m assuming it wasn’t embarrassment at Cap’s brief “Commie Smasher” era, considering how at least 60% of Marvel’s villains in the first half of the 1960′s were from behind the Iron Curtain… I guess that bit came later, with the “Cap of the 50′s” being portrayed pretty much as a villain after his return, and ultimately becoming the Grand Director of National Force…

I wonder if someone wrote Captain America’s Weird Tales into continuity…

I remember reading about the other Caps in the Handbook of the Marvel Universe Book of the Dead and Inactive (I think).

And of course Jack Monroe – AKA Nomad (currently RIP, right?) – was the crazy 50′s Cap Bucky. A quick search shows that Fred Davis, former batboy for the New York Yankees, is somehow connected to Citizen V.

I enjoy how the Human Torch – an android – has to turn to hide his tears from the others.

Using my detective skills I have discovered that the excellent Kesel mini would be Captain America Patriot, which I might now look for to buy.

I have the Masterworks that reprint the 50s Captain Americas (Atlas Era Heroes 1 &2). They are not the best written comics, but they are still kind of fun to read. I had no idea that Steve Rogers, teacher had an earlier precedent (showing up in the 40s).

well that must be a different lee what stan named the school after because i don t see stan lee having such ego. he s always bowed to recognizing all his artistic collaborators contributions to early marvel, especially ditko and kirby, allowing friendship and shared royalties which stand at present. or maybe i read that in a what if?

Like KDU I assumed the teacher gig was something they made up in the 1950s revival. Live and learn.

Great recap (pun intended). I hope that either the 1950s Cap/Grand Director or a combo of John Walker/Anti-Cap is introduced in the next Captain America movie.

Yet, even today, nobody can point out in what issue or at what time did the general public know that the real Captain America and Bucky ‘died’ at the end of WW II.

How did that cop really know he was talking to *THE* Captain America and not to just *A* Captain America?

To be clear: Once the Spirit of 76, the Patriot and 50′s Cap and the Acrobat (who fought the Human Torch) became canon that Avengers #4 scene with Cap and the cop becomes a bit muddled.

It always makes me laugh how Bucky became Cap’s partner.
“You found my secret so you must be my partner” who cares if you’re not trained or possess any skills that can help me.

I can’t be the only one who now wants to see Marvel bring back SUPER SOLDIER MONKEY, with his ability to lift 250 lbs while hanging upside down, can I? If 1950s Cap can survive unravaged by time (physically, if not mentally) until the present day with the almost-replicated serum, why can’t an experimented-upon monkey, given great powers while driven slowly mad?

The wording of the invitation is weird, considering Steve wasn’t drafted- he volunteered.
@lostintube- I don’t see why- the Vision and the Human Torch are both usually written as capable of crying.
@Omar- yeah, it’s weird, especially as Roy has said that his original idea was one Cap from 1945-1954 but Englehart changed it to one Cap in the ’50′s.

Awesome work by Englehart and Thomas.

It’s interesting that 1964′s Avengers #4 has Cap state that the accident that froze him was “more than 20 years ago”, which would put his disappearance in 1943 at the latest. That was pretty quickly retconned into Cap disappearing in 1945, in the closing days of the war.

Andy E. Nystrom

April 26, 2014 at 8:25 am

Some more details to flesh things out a bit. Here is where Captain America: Official Index to the Marvel Universe places where the later Caps took over in the continuity of the original series. As the index itself notes, obviously we still run into the problem of Captain America and Bucky having their original alter egos, but obviously you can’t avoid that particular pitfall entirely.

According to the Index:
William Nasland (The Spirit of ’76) takes over as Captain America and Fred Davis takes over as Bucky with Captain America Comics #49 (first story), August 1945.
My own comment: Since the Spirit of ’76 and Fred Davis weren’t otherwise Golden Age characters, this is retroactively their first appearance.

Jeff Mace (the Patriot) takes over as Captain America in Captain America Comics #59 (first story) November 1946. Since there was no Captain America story in Captain America’s Weird Tales #75 (February 1950), his last appearance as Cap in the original run of Captain America’s own title was Captain America’s Weird Tales #74 (October 1949)

In his own title, William Burnside took over with the first story in Captain America#76 (May 1954). However, the index notes that he had last appeared as Cap in the second story in Young Men #27.
My own comment: Burnside’s run in Young Men began in #24, so #27 was the last story before he gained/regained his own title.

What comic was the 1972 reveal of crazy ’50s Cap in?

Damn, for a second there, I really thought Harry Truman was about to be injected by the super-soldier serum. Now that would be a kick ass miniseries!

So the Spirit of ’76 was wearing his domino mask *under* the Cap mask? And how did all that hair fit under the mask anyway?

@ Ethan

The Englehart/Buscema run .. Cap America and the Falcon 150 + (Origin of second cap in 155, fight in 156 , must read “secret empire” in169-176)

Patrick Lemaire

April 26, 2014 at 10:49 am

Omar,
the reason Roy Thomas has two replacements is because he goes by the publishing dates. The Patriot was published as a character until September 1946 so he couldn’t be Cap and Patriot at the same time. Another reason is that What If is intended as the never told story from the never published All Winners Comics #20 (that series jumped from 19 to 21). Reasoning that the US govt covered the death of the original Cap, the disappearance of that issue (presumably the govt censored it) was also to cover a death.

Wait…did Crazy Cap strip everyone except Falcon to their skivvies?

You don’t mention him, but I’d recognize Frank Robbins’ work from the “What If?” Invaders story a mile away. Though his work didn’t thrill my pre-teen eyes at the time, the benefit of hindsight allows for considerable appreciation. Everything he draws seems to explode off of the page. I can’t think of many artists who could’ve made, say, eating a cheese sandwich exciting, but Robbins would have been at the top of the list.

Ditto on Robbins. I wasn’t crazy about his stuff at all when I was a kid in the 1970s and vastly preferred the more “realistic” style of the Buscemas, but now I like it a lot.

Kamino Neko:”Wait…did Crazy Cap strip everyone except Falcon to their skivvies?”

Steve and Sharon are in their swimsuits; they were captured by the ’50s Cap and Bucky while they were at the beach.

The What If story is mentioned as if it’s “real”. Do some of them not count as alternate history?

Yes, that’s right. This was a rare What If story presented as untold history of the actual Marvel Universe rather than the events of an alternate timeline.

Gareth J:”Thanks Brian, I was going to suggest this one myself but you beat me to it! :-) I’ve always wondered why that particular chunk of Cap’s history was wiped away by his return in Avengers #4, other than to add a “man out of time” element to his character. I’m assuming it wasn’t embarrassment at Cap’s brief “Commie Smasher” era, considering how at least 60% of Marvel’s villains in the first half of the 1960?s were from behind the Iron Curtain… I guess that bit came later, with the “Cap of the 50?s” being portrayed pretty much as a villain after his return, and ultimately becoming the Grand Director of National Force…”

I think that the post-WW2 Cap stuff was retconned by Stan purely as a narrative hook. Remember, Cap was the last of TIMELY/MARVEL’s Golden Age big three (Namor, Human Torch, Captain America) to be revived in the Silver Age. The Human Torch received a DC style do over (cf the shift from the GA Flash and Green Lantern to the Silver Age Flash and GL) in FF 1, while Namor was brought back in FF 4. The hesitation over Cap* can be seen as indicating that Stan simply wasn’t sure that the character would work in a post-WW2 context, that he was too much a product of the 1940s. Stan (or maybe Kirby. Who knows at this point?) must have decided that the way to go was to use that weakness as a strength. Make the character’s selling point the fact that he is a literal man out of time. Hence, the decision to retcon the post-’45 stories probably stemmed from a desire to make as strong a possible temporal contrast. after all, Cap being revived in 1964 after being frozen in WW2 is a lot more compelling than a Cap who was frozen sometime in the mid-’50s.

* Another sign of Stan’s uncertainty regarding Cap is the frankly weird STRANGE TALES 114, which appeared before Cap’s revival in AVENGERS 4. There, Johnny Storm fights a villain who is masquerading as Cap. The issue was meant as a tryout for Cap, a way to see if there was any interest in the character.

It is interesting to see older retconning. I wonder how formalized that sort of thing was by the ’70s. Now these are major, planned, editorial decisions. Not really a bad way of letting those stories from the ’50s still exist, but at the same time it then meant those stories starred a crazy guy.

the reason Roy Thomas has two replacements is because he goes by the publishing dates. The Patriot was published as a character until September 1946 so he couldn’t be Cap and Patriot at the same time.

I see the reasoning there, but I don’t think it’s a good storytelling decision. Comic-book time has never quite lined up with real time, is why go by publishing dates? I mean, Batman and Two-Face didn’t stare at each other in his hideout for two months during the cliffhanger linking Detective Comics #66 and 68.

interesting for never liked that cap wound up not ageing due to being frozen in ice for always thought it was going to turn out to be a side effect of the super solider formula . and could see marvel having some one else pretend to be captain america till the real one returned. but two people take over for him including some one almost as old a hero like captain america the spirit of seventy six.

I’m going to use my amazing precognitive powers to predict that, if they ever use the 1950s Cap idea for Captain America 3, you can expect a lot of Conservative pundits whining that those dirty Liberals are injecting their sinister politics into innocent action movies. “Why must they portray America’s heroic fight against communists in the 1950s as misguided? Everyone knows that communists are as evil as nazis! Why it’s okay for a superhero to fight Hitler, but if they fight commies, it’s wrong? It’s political correctiness ruining another comic book franchise, like that black Human Torch!”

Then, of course, cooler heads will point out that those dirty Liberals have been injecting their sinister politics into innocent comics at least since the 1970s.

So when people complain about modern retcons, do note that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were doing major retcons soon after the beginning of the “Marvel Age” of comics.

Yes, but that’s a good retcon, which most modern ones aren’t.

To be clear: Once the Spirit of 76, the Patriot and 50?s Cap and the Acrobat (who fought the Human Torch) became canon that Avengers #4 scene with Cap and the cop becomes a bit muddled.

Oh definitely, like I noted in the piece, they could have left it there, but they decided to retcon the reactions of people by explaining away Cap’s post WWII activities.

Thanks Trajan, those certainly seem like feasible reasons for playing things the way they did. And yes, that Strange Tales story is really quite bizarre – prefiguring Clayface-as-Jason several decades later? ;-)

One thing that became canon was the Daily Bugle breaking the real story behind Cap’s and Bucky’s disappearance during WW II. (As 50′s Cap and then Torch mentioned) Although denied by Pres. Truman’s government. Has the reporter behind the story ever been identified? .

T:”Yes, but that’s a good retcon, which most modern ones aren’t.”

I’ll second T’s opinion regarding Stan and Jack’s Cap retcon. It was a brilliant move. Besides the instant characterization hook (Cap adjusting to the modern age, etc), it also provided Cap with a kind of mythical grandeur. I doubt that this was in Stan and Jack’s collective brain (the Stanjack?) , but it actually made Cap akin to the legendary King Arthur, the once and future king. Here was a hero from a past struggle, now returned in his nation’s hour of need.

I’ll second T’s opinion regarding Stan and Jack’s Cap retcon. It was a brilliant move. Besides the instant characterization hook (Cap adjusting to the modern age, etc), it also provided Cap with a kind of mythical grandeur. I doubt that this was in Stan and Jack’s collective brain (the Stanjack?) , but it actually made Cap akin to the legendary King Arthur, the once and future king. Here was a hero from a past struggle, now returned in his nation’s hour of need.

I totally agree, especially the part about it not even being their full conscious intent. I’m rereading classic Marvel and around then everything still was very rough around the edges as well as rushed because of the sheer volume of books StanJack were working on at the time. I’m sure they just did it to simplify things and have less to remember, without even appreciating what an awesome hook they had until later. Another good thing is that the hook only gets stronger as the character ages, as seen in the recent movies. Going to sleep in WW2 and waking up in the age of the Internet is very different than waking up in time for the Summer of Love. Each generation opens up new story dynamics when updating Cap’s origin.

On the other hand, to see the opposite extreme, read up on the Original Sin panel Marvel is doing today, where they take simple things that work and make them more complicated and problematic. They should just call it “Everything You Know Is Wrong – The Event!”

Cap and Bucky shooting up in an alley? That needs to meme, stat!

It also gave Cap some typical Stan Lee pathos — Cap as both man out of time and suffering from survivor’s guilt due to the death of his partner. The Golden Age Cap had been essentially the “perfect” hero; not nearly as powerful as either Namor or the Torch, but still very strong and agile and the subject of idolization as a “super soldier” representative of his nation’s ideals. But in the Silver Age, aside from becoming the elder statesman of superheroes in a way the only other surviving Golden Age hero, Namor, never could, and taking on the role of teacher of the 2nd generation of Avengers in the Kookie Quartet era, Cap was primarily depicted as a super-agent — James Bond as an American Boy Scout in a flag costume. Later writers dealt more substantially with the man-out-of-time aspect, especially as his time-on-ice expanded from 18 to 20 to now over 60 years, meaning that in any re-telling of his thawing out story, anyone who remembered him from the days of WWII would be well past retirement age, even if they were just 5 years old in 1945. In 1973, Cap’s old WWII flame could still be realistically depicted as in her late 40s but now she’d have to be in her late 80s unless she also spent time in suspended animation, like the revived Bucky, or had access to Nick Fury’s Infinity Formula. Very understandable that in the movies, Nick Fury was not a WWII veteran or even a super-spy in the 1960s.

Trajan: Besides the instant characterization hook (Cap adjusting to the modern age, etc), it also provided Cap with a kind of mythical grandeur. I doubt that this was in Stan and Jack’s collective brain (the Stanjack?) , but it actually made Cap akin to the legendary King Arthur, the once and future king. Here was a hero from a past struggle, now returned in his nation’s hour of need.

The other difference with this retcon is that Stan Lee was retconning stories he himself wrote. Most retcons are done with no respect shown to the writers of the original stories that are being changed or thrown out.

@T.

Yes, but that’s a good retcon, which most modern ones aren’t.

It is sort of fascinating, isn’t it?

Everything about mainstream comics has gotten objectively better over the years. The paper is better. The colors are better. The art is more fully rendered. The dialog is snappier and the themes are deeper. And yet … The comics as a whole are worse.

Regarding retcons, both Stan Lee and Roy Thomas had the advantage of being writer-editors. Lee had the additional advantage of working with Jack Kirby. If Stan and Jack were kicking around ideas about bringing Captain America back and landed on one they liked, then it was done. Stan typed what he remembered, Jack drew from their and Stan wrote the dialog. Done. No one else even knew what was happening before it happened.

Compare that to now. The writer and editor are two separate people. The editor reports to a larger editorial structure that exists within a larger corporate structure. If a modern Roy Thomas decided to roll out a post-war Cap in WHAT IF, then he would need to get it approved by his editor. His editor would then need to consult with the Captain America editor and whoever was in-charge of the various Invaders. They would then talk to their talent, who would give feedback. Maybe they’d ask not to use Human Torch, because of some big cross-over.

Fine. Now, they all have to bring the idea to their editorial summit. The editor-in-chief and chief creative people would need to weigh in. By then, Roy Thomas may, or may not, still be on WHAT IF. So, they need to hire a new writer to essentially adapt this mish-mash.

Nationalism is lost on me, but is that why I have no idea what the connection with the UNO has to do with “not daring to unleash a symbol of national interest”? (see the panel just after the end of the Korean War)

I realize the UNO used to receive some respect, but were things _that_ different in 1972?

@Luis Dantas

Nationalism is lost on me, but is that why I have no idea what the connection with the UNO has to do with “not daring to unleash a symbol of national interest”?

I really have no idea what this is supposed to mean. Maybe, it was just a contrived plot detail to sort of explain why ’50s right-wing extremist Cap went off the rails and took it on himself to subject himself to the super-soldier formula and go all crazy by attacking the commies, but not as part of any government program. (And by the way, Truman (who I think is supposed to be the president in those panels) was no longer president in the summer of 1953. Eisenhower had been elected in November 1952 and was sworn in many months before the events as depicted. And Ike, as I understand him, would have found something for Cap to do. (I’m sure Vice President Richard Nixon would have had some ideas.) I don’t really know what the writer is trying to say here in the context of 1950s America, the presidency and the existence of meta-humans.)

Agh. Hate the Avengers # 4 retcon. I hate it like some people hate how (writer X) did (thing) to (Character Y) and now my childhood is RUINED.

Also totally with Omar – having FOUR Captain Americas between the beginning of the Golden Age and his re-debut in the Silver Age is just a mess. I’d have preferred the Avengers # 4 retcon was just ignored, but if they HAVE to shuffle dates around, they shoulda just had the Defender be “THE” fake Captain America, He was in the first couple issues of USA comics and his first appearance was just a repurposed Captain America inventory story anyway, and his last apperance was in 1942 (I think) so he wasn’t doing anything during any of the time another Captain America was needed. No need to go retconning in more fake Golden Age characters when their were plenty of actual Golden Agers you could use

ALso the ’50s Captain America – in continuity – wasn’t crazy when he was the ’50s Captain America. That came later, as a result of an unstable super soldier serum. In the actual stories he’s generally more measured and calm than his Golden or Silver Age versions.

One of the most notable retcons in recent history was the Winter Soldier, which turned out to be a massive success.

OR they coulda just moved the retcon forward a couple years. Baron Zemo was a Nazi who had outlasted the war by a couple years, Cap was iced/Bucky killed in 1949, ’50s Cap was still a different guy, problem solved.

I can see wanting to tie Captain America to WWII, but as noted above Captain America Comcs # 1 was published before the US was even in the war, so it’s not like they’re inexorably linked.

Now, see as a kid of Avengers #4, I always thought that was the way the war ended for Cap and Bucky. Wow. To think Cap made it back after the war and became just another super hero…That’s ONE retcon I’m GLAD for. It makes Cap cooler.

So Steve Rogers had a secret identity as Captain America. Since Bucky Barnes discovered his secret identity, he became his partner. And Bucky chooses the code name for his secret identity to be Bucky?

IIRC, they didn’t want an American symbol in the Korean War because it was sold to the public as an international “police action” by the UN and sending in Cap would have been admission the US was pulling the strings.
The 1950s Cap went crazy because he didn’t get the formula perfectly right (missing “vita rays” I believe), so his mind went unstable.
Regarding the remaining Big Three, it’s odd that when the original Torch first shows up in the Silver Age, Reed and Ben treat him as some incredibly obscure figure, when Cap was instantly recognized by people. As for Namor, I think the shifting timeline has been much harder on him than Cap as he’s now spent 50-plus years wandering the Bowery as a super-derelict.
As for What If, Roy Thomas implied the 1950s Avengers in #9 (who would later be the Agents of Atlas) might be in continuity but not definitely.

@Hoosier X- maybe it isn’t Truman but some high-ranking government official. He’s never referred to as Truman.
@Fraser- but this is AFTER the Korean War ended. Why would they be willing to unleash Captain America during the war but not after?

MarkAndrew:”OR they coulda just moved the retcon forward a couple years. Baron Zemo was a Nazi who had outlasted the war by a couple years, Cap was iced/Bucky killed in 1949, ’50s Cap was still a different guy, problem solved.

I can see wanting to tie Captain America to WWII, but as noted above Captain America Comcs # 1 was published before the US was even in the war, so it’s not like they’re inexorably linked.”

I would argue otherwise. Cap is inextricably linked to WW2. The USA had clearly chosen sides by 1941 and was clearly preparing to enter the war (first peace time draft in US history was enacted in 1940, etc). It was just a matter of when, not if. Cap is part of this mindset. Heck, Cap was famously depicted punching Hitler on the jaw in CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS # 1. Having Cap be frozen while battling some holdover Nazi in ’49 would have weakened the mythic impact of a Cap who was frozen in the midst of WW2.

One of the most notable retcons in recent history was the Winter Soldier, which turned out to be a massive success.

True, but I think it’s one of the exceptions that proves the rule in my opinion.

To be honest, maybe I’m being unfair the more I think about it. Maybe the bad retcons just stick out more. I personally don’t hate all modern retcons, I just hate the unnecessary ones that make something simple into something more complicated, or that change characters for the worst or undermine a better story for a worse one.

For those reasons, I disagree with Dean above that Roy Thomas was an example of good retcons. He’s actually one of the worst retconners. His stuff tends to make things more convoluted and generally worse all around.

so the Bugle headline says “Captain America disappears / Bucky dies in flaming explosion” … how did they assume Bucky’s dead when the russians took his body ?

@T- it depends. I think that his “there was a real Donald Blake but he was accidentally killed by Loki’s wife and replaced with a double” retcon was a disaster but the first Invaders series was largely inoffensive. (Although I still don’t see why he needed to explain that Namor was pantsed by a Nazi to explain a minor costume difference,)

“It’s also striking how quickly Roy got bored with the basic premise of his own “what if” book, since both #4 and #5 broke the “what fi this old story had ended differently” premise.”

I don’t think that was the case. Roy is very opportunistic in the sense that he had stories he wanted to tell and if there were a comic available, he’d stick it in. His thrust has always been the integration of the Golden Age and it was just a good place to put this story.

@T.

For those reasons, I disagree with Dean above that Roy Thomas was an example of good retcons. He’s actually one of the worst retconners. His stuff tends to make things more convoluted and generally worse all around.

To clarify,my point is about process and not a defense (or attack) on anyone.

I am kind of in the Bob Haney school when it comes to continuity. The major thing for me is the story at hand and not the “grand corporate narrative”. I have more faith in nearly every writer whose name I know than in either company at the corporate and/or editorial level. The very occasional pleasures of having the Cask of Ancient Winters produce snow in every Marvel title is not worth having talented people whose work I follow beholden to the whims of less talented people whose work I avoid that happen to have better job titles, or relationships with management.

Retcons are mostly alterations in the details of the backstory. In a perfect world, there would be some kind of process for determining which old stories ‘stick’ and which don’t. Absent that, it is a question of who has the most leverage. Right now, it is a 99% in the hands of the “owners”. Of course, those owners aren’t really owners. They aren’t the share-holders. They are indirect employees of a movie studio that acquired a comic book company to get the rights to adapt its properties into other media. Their careers have almost no correlation to whether the stories they are involved in are any good, which is all I care about.

I just want a fair return on my entertainment dollar.

@T- it depends. I think that his “there was a real Donald Blake but he was accidentally killed by Loki’s wife and replaced with a double” retcon was a disaster but the first Invaders series was largely inoffensive. (Although I still don’t see why he needed to explain that Namor was pantsed by a Nazi to explain a minor costume difference,)

Well that’s exactly it. His best retcons were inoffensive at best but his worst are really, really awful. He never in my reading experience created a retcon that elevated a title or character to the next level, like what Stan and Jack did with their Captain America retcon or what Brubaker did with Bucky/Winter Soldier.

I can see wanting to tie Captain America to WWII, but as noted above Captain America Comcs # 1 was published before the US was even in the war, so it’s not like they’re inexorably linked.

Despite his original appearances before Pearl Harbor, Captain America’s existence is inextricably tied to World War II. The Nazis invaded Poland in the fall of 1939, way before Captain America #1, and the Roosevelt administration picked sides almost immediately, even if the US didn’t officially enter the war for two years. And the creators of Captain America knew that the chances of US involvement were growing as the war went on.

Captain America may have been created before the US was officially at war, but the war had started, it was already a world war and the US was involved through Lend-Lease and economic sanctions against Japan. The isolationist movement was quickly losing steam. Captain America was an early strike against the Axis because the creators knew US would almost certainly be in the war sooner or later.

I may have deduced the problem here.

The COVERS of Captain America comics often showed Captain America at war or punching Hitler or what have you. The ACTUAL STORIES were rarely war stories per se – Cap would fight nazis all the time, but he’d fight werewolves and… dudes who were possessed by black peoples hands (???) or whatever that was.

The actual content of Captain America comics during the Golden Age was more Gothic horror than anything. And Gothic horror stories that were – again, in actual reality – retitled into an actual horror comic in 1949. Lots of mad scientists, lots of shadow-lit castles. The World War 2 stuff was flavoring and minimally important to the stories.

Stan Lee seemed to view Captain America as a wartime only character – the Silver Age Captain America strip took place in World War 2 after four weak modern day episodes, and then dealt with fallout from the war after it returned to present times – but I see that as a total misread, maybe brought on by faulty memory. Stan probably looked at the Schomberg covers and saw Cap gunning down Nazis, and didn’t actually remember what the stories were about.

I get that some of you think that Captain America dying at the end of World War 2 is an awesome idea. As a Golden Age Cap fan I don’t see it. And the actual comics that were published during the actual Golden Age disagree with you, and the actual Captain America writers, artists, and editors didn’t cancel the book because they thought Cap would only work during the war. I’d rather continuity be built around actual comics than random, flashback retcons.

Plus the attempts to patch over the (needless) hole in continuity are such a mess! We don’t need FOUR freaking Captain Americas runnin’ around between 1940 and 1960. Pathos derived from losing a partner is the same in 1949 as it is in 1945. And if you put it in 1949, you don’t have to handwave away almost half of Captain America’s actual 1940s appearances.

Stan Lee seemed to view Captain America as a wartime only character – the Silver Age Captain America strip took place in World War 2 after four weak modern day episodes, and then dealt with fallout from the war after it returned to present times – but I see that as a total misread, maybe brought on by faulty memory. Stan probably looked at the Schomberg covers and saw Cap gunning down Nazis, and didn’t actually remember what the stories were about.

I don’t think it’s so much a misread by Stan Lee so much as a preference. I notice in those early Marvel books Stan liked to reduce every book to a single, easy hook. I think when writing so many books, it probably helped a lot to have a single hook for each book. X-Men was just a gang war between the good mutants and the evil mutants as Magneto and other evil mutants came back over and over in different combinations. Fntastic Four was interesting things happening either from someone from elsewhere exploring earth or the FF exploring elsewhere. Iron Man was corporate espionage, often from people using their own cutting-edge technology or armor. I think Stan simply did the same with Cap, reduced it to an easy hook that he could use over and over.

Another major reason it can’t be a misread of Cap is that Stan Lee himself actually wrote most of Captain America’s post-WWII adventures!! I know his memory was bad, but I’m sure it wasn’t THAT bad!

testing

T, wasn’t Roy Thomas less a “retconner” (per se) than someone who felt the need to connect every little #$%ing detail of every #$#%ing story ever published, instead of just being able to say “hey, these things don’t fit together — must be because they were created seat of the pants with no thought of how the future would see them”. To me, that’s what I don’t like about some of his stuff.

Although the thing mentioned by someone above where there was a missed issue number and supposedly that was the story of a death of Cap that was censored by the government is actually a neat idea. Less so is having to match up each of the Cap replacements by publication date.

And on another note, that Kesel Patriot series was pretty cool from what I remember. Give Karl Kesel more work, Marvel!

MarkAndrew: Some interesting points, but I’m not quite sure about them.

1. Covers: Those are hardly an incidental part of a comic book, especially in the Golden Age. Hence, the fact that Cap was shown taking the fight to the Nazis even before the USA was officially at war is hardly insignificant to the character’s mythos.

2. Cap was a product of the American mindset in 1940-41, a period when people knew that the USA was eventually going to join the fight. Indeed, Cap is only the most prominent of a whole slew by patriotic heroes who were engendered by the spirit of the era: The Shield. Major Liberty, The Fighting Yank, The Patriot, etc. WW2 is in Cap’s DNA.

3. The Gothic horror flavor of many of Cap’s GA stories is an interesting point, but it might also be pointed out that many of Cap’s Gothic tinged adversaries were also affiliated with the Axis powers: The Red Skull, Fang, The Reaper, the original Ringmaster, etc.

RE: the Harry Truman business,

Frankly, I don’t think that the elderly official looks much like Truman. More importantly, we are explicitly told that the ’50s Cap found the formula in March of ’53. Eisenhower was sworn into office on January 20, 1953. Hence, it is impossible for that guy to be Truman.

Something that I’ve always found interesting about the ’50s Cap is that his insanity is always traced to his faulty Super Soldier treatment. However, when you look at his origin, it seems pretty clear that he was fairly nutty from the get go. Here is a guy who is completely obsessed with Captain America from childhood on. He devotes his academic career to the man. Then, after discovering the Super Soldier serum, he legally changes his name to Steve Rogers and actually has himself physically transformed via plastic surgery into a duplicate of his hero. That’s pretty creepy. It seems to me that the faulty Super Soldier process merely exacerbated an underlying psychosis.

I love the Golden Age. To me, the defining characteristic of GA comics was that they were the only period when there was absolutely no distinction between what was appropriate for kids and what was not. You had childish elements like kid sidekicks and lame jokes co-existing with lurid elements like serial killings in decrepit houses (with no blood, though). The distinction between “fun” and “gritty” was non-existent. How cool is that?

But I have no problem with the stories being out of continuity. Maybe that is for the best. Continuity isn’t as important to me anymore. They crapped out on it too many times since the 1990s.

Incidentally, has anything ever been done to reconcile the two conflicting accounts of Steve Rogers’ family history? Jack Kirby, in his MADBOMB arc, established that Cap was descended from a Revolutionary War ancestor named Steven Rogers (CAPTAIN AMERICA 194). Cap’s descent from the Revolutionary War hero plays a role in the story, as the arc’s villain, William Taurey, wishes to avenge the death of his ancestor at Steven Rogers’ hands. This 18th century Steven Rogers also pops up in X-MEN: HELLFIRE CLUB 1 and 2 as well in an excellent story by Roger Stern in CAPTAIN AMERICA: SENTINEL OF LIBERTY 6-7. In Stern’s story, we learn that Cap’s costume is based on his conception of a “Yankee Doodle” type outfit that Steven Rogers wore in the story.

Other writers, however, have depicted Steve’s parents as Irish immigrants, which would seem to conflict with the idea of a Revolutionary War ancestor. Of course, the two stories could be reconciled. Perhaps one of the 18th Century Steven Rogers’ descendants married into an Irish family. Indeed, a real life parallel exists for such a thing. The famed 19th century Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell was the grandson of War of 1812 naval hero Charles Stewart.

Also, in looking at Englehart’s story of ’50s Cap, am I reading too much in or is it a sly commentary on the Wertham crusade/Comics Code stuff? You’ve got a guy who’s obsessed with all the fan club stuff and turns Cap into his life’s work, gets surgery to look like him, “happens” upon a young boy who looks like Bucky, apparently moves the kid in with him (a bit of a homoerotic undertone there), and then they’re stripping together and changing into their “special outfits” and shooting up drugs in an alley. Kinda everything that Wertham et al were saying comics would lead to — perverse sexuality, stunted emotional growth, loss of personal identity, and drug use.

The world demands the return of SUPER SOLDIER MONKEY!

@trajan23- But Jack Monroe was also affected in exactly the same way. Plus, why would Erskine use the vita-rays on Steve if he wasn’t worried about him going nuts?

Michael:”@trajan23- But Jack Monroe was also affected in exactly the same way. Plus, why would Erskine use the vita-rays on Steve if he wasn’t worried about him going nuts?”

Maybe a better way of phrasing it is that the ’50s Cap (real name, William Burnside) was already crazy before taking the serum, but the serum just added an extra layer of paranoia on top of his pre- existing madness. As for Jack Monroe, it seems fairly clear that his psychological makeup was pretty similar to Burnside’s (note how he is fascinated by Cap and Bucky, secretly calls himself Bucky, makes Cap and Bucky costumes, etc).

Mark, it’s hard to imagine setting Cap in a WWII setting and not having him go after the Nazis. The fact (as has been brought up in other comments on previous posts)he stuck to the homefront not withstanding, it’s a stronger angle.
It may be less that they thought of him as a WW II character and more that Stan and Jack had less of an idea what to do with him in the present. As you point out, the early solo Silver Age stories were pretty bland. And when they return Cap to a present-day setting, there was a text note that they’d have preferred WW II but fans wanted Now.

He always went after Nazis – or the Japanese (there’s this one story where a bunch of Japanese escape from an internment camp and sabatoge death valley !) but he tended to do so in such a way that you didn’t *NEED* the World War 2 backdrop for the stories to work…

Unlike the Sub-Mariner, who fought battleships and had adventures that dealt with large scale troop movements, and who’s whole personality was changed in response to the war

Or the Destroyer who was 100% conceived as a wartime hero and operated behind enemy lines

- You could remove the Nazi window dressing from (I’d estimate) 70-80% of the stories, and they’d work just fine – Although it was important to the Steve Rogers portions of the story that he was in the army.

Still, I disagree that Captain America inherently works best during World War 2 (I’d say the Sub-mariner *does*) and that having him survive the war weakens the concept. Cap spent most of WW2 jetting off to India or Canada or fighting dinosaurs or Moby Dick, which – if I remember right – was a haunted boat, not a whale. Which meant he didn’t have much time for anti-uniformed-Nazi combat. .

I grantcha that the post-War Cap stories – at least from what I’ve read – were relatively toothless and a lot weaker. But I always kinda dug the Steve Rogers-as-schoolteacher set-up, and I think that works best with the actual Steve Rogers. And that everything from that time period turns way more confusing than it’s worth if you have Jeff Mace doin’ the Captain America thing instead.

I always thought the schoolteacher idea was the worst aspect of all this. *Hated* that route.
Just a thought, just because people believe Cap works best as a WW2 concept doesn’t exclude the fact that he still works great in other eras. They go arm-in-arm. It works because the War was his heritage and helps to define him and how he reacts to (ever-changing) modern times.

One way to explain Truman was that he was there as a guest of Eisenhower, since he would have been involved with the WWII hero teams (and probably was privy to the secret reports on some of them, as well as the events depicted concerning the other substitutes).

The actual content of Captain America comics during the Golden Age was more Gothic horror than anything. And Gothic horror stories that were – again, in actual reality – retitled into an actual horror comic in 1949. Lots of mad scientists, lots of shadow-lit castles. The World War 2 stuff was flavoring and minimally important to the stories.

So Cap was a generic GA superhero? In that case, I’m glad about Lee and Kirby’s retcon.

JC Lebourdais

May 6, 2014 at 12:48 am

@Travis
I thought exactly the same thing you did when I read those Roy Thomas stories, when they were published, I thought “this guy must have OCD or something”. Now in hindsight, it seemed that Thomas had just found himself a nice little niche market, filling up holes in other writers’ stories, which requires a lot less creativity, and that he developed nicely into “adapting” the works of real creators like REH or ERB.
Interestingly, no one explained why in AVENGERS #4 no one doubted Cap’s story about Zemo, since there had been a Cap up until the fifties, or even thought about investigating who the other Caps were. See, that’s what you get when your audience has OCD too :)
Btw, which ones of the caps actually killed in the golden age ;D

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