Monday, October 21, 2019

The Falcon-werewolf and the Fury

Captain America #164 -- the absolute nadir of Englehart's run on the title, and the reason is very simple -- the artwork of the ever execrable Alan Weiss, who apparently thinks Nick Fury wears Conan the Barbarian's clothes to work at SHIELD.
Weiss is one of those dreadful artists who just does everything wrong. His anatomy is harrowing and hideous, his proportions are awful, his facial expressions range from queasy to psychotic, his panel compositions are appalling, and he's got the visual storytelling skills of nearly anything listed in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL that floats in water. ("Churches. Cider. Very small rocks. Gravy. Lead, lead!")

Perhaps put off his tucker by the ghastly graphics Weiss turned in for this issue, Englehart's scripting is lukewarm to say the least. Fortunately, this issue is really an isolated one off and the discerning True Believer can skip right over it without missing much -- and next issue, Salubrious Sal Buscema is back in fine form, inked by the always awesome Frank McLaughlin.

(Thankfully, by the time the next issue came out, some editor had emerged from his drunken stupor and instructed Sal to draw Nick Fury the way Nick Fury is supposed to be drawn, leaving Marveldom Assembled to wonder if we'd all somehow been exposed to some kind of low level skin contact hallucinogen while reading the previous issue.)
The Yellow Claw stories in Cap are hardly a highlight , and when I reread my Englehart runs I tend to skim through them. There are some genuinely horrific moments early on -- the Claw hypnotizing some Chinese soldiers into shooting themselves, and then sending giant spiders to attack Manhattan, and summoning up the spirit of a ruthless Egyptian princess to inhabit the body of his niece Suwan is all chilling stuff. But there's too much easy plot convenience nonsense too -- the Claw can apparently quite casually use his mental powers long distance to make Cap and Nick Fury see each other as the Claw and battle each other to the death, and if he can do that, how the fuck did the 50s Avengers ever manage to defeat him? How has anyone? And then, later on, when he captures Cap and the Falcon, instead of just killing them, he rigs up one of these wildly improbably supervillain death traps, which, naturally, they manage to escape from.

(Villains putting captured, unconscious heroes into badly conceived death traps instead of just, you know, jumping up and down on their masked heads until those same heads go squish, has always been one of the stupider staples of comic books. A year or so before this, when battling the minions of the Cowled Commander, Cap and Falcon were captured and rendered unconscious by the Plantman -- yeah, I know, seriously? But, yes -- and instead of just having his dipshit hirelings -- Scarecrow, the Eel, and the Porcupine, in addition to the aforementioned Plantman -- shoot our hapless heroes in the brains, he orders them locked up in a steel lined room rigged with a cool looking nozzle thingie and a close circuit TV. This so the Cowled Commander can rant at our two heroes after they wake up, just prior to filling their cell with poison gas.

This wasn't the dumbest thing Englehart ever did with a villainous warehouse HQ -- the 'abandoned warehouse' that just happens to have a steel lined room equipped to fatally gas captive superheroes would be outdone shortly thereafter when Taurus lured some rebellious members of the criminal Zodiac into a warehouse in New Jersey -- THAT JUST HAPPENED TO BE A SPACE SHIP!!!!!

But, still, the point here isn't the fabulous furnishings and equipage of the abandoned warehouses in the Marvel and DC Universes, but, rather, the sheer boneheaded brainlessness of managing to knock the superheroes out cold and then putting them into some contrived situation they will inevitably escape from, instead of just murdering them while they're helpless.

Of course, in a different article somewhere else on the internet, I once posited that many supervillains might not be actual cold blooded murderers, and therefore they might well contrive these traps so they can feel like they themselves didn't kill anyone with their actual hands. In the case of Captain America, I even find it likely that many supervillains might sneakily admire him and not want to kill him -- he may well have saved the lives of all four of the Fucked Up Four's fathers in WWII, after all. And more coldbloodedly calculating bad guys may well reflect that it's all fun and games going on crime sprees and robbing jewel stores and having fist fights with their opposite numbers on the side of law and order -- but if one of them ever DID actually kill Captain America, the entire superheroic and law enforcement apparatuses of the U.S. would descend upon their heads like shrieking furies.

As a final note of utter ludicrousness, I will point out that the Cowled Commander, who cheerfully tried to kill Captain America and the Falcon with poison gas, was, in reality, police sergeant Brian Muldoon, who created a supervillain persona to weed out the weak sisters in the police force and give the good cops an evil to fight, and a cause to rally around. However, I'm not going to put all the blame for this truly planet killing level of stupidity on Steve Englehart, as the Muldoon character, and, possibly, the Cowled Commander himself, were created by Gerry Conway.)

Okay. Deep breath, and back to the Yellow Claw silliness...

It was all silly enough to trouble even my adolescent self, and when I reread this stuff now I just have to snort at it. Once the Claw story was done, and we got past a badly scripted one issue Roy Thomas story introducing the son of Baron Zemo, we get to the start of the Moonstone/Secret Empire story, which leads into the Nomad story, which leads to the final Red Skull story and the death of Roscoe, which is all simply the best Captain America has ever been.

But that Weiss one shot is still really hard to deal with.