Mike Dell ventures back to the 70s for Jack Kirby’s controversial return to Captain America!
Captain America #212 (August 1977)
Writer/Penciler/Editor – Jack Kirby
Inker/Letterer – Mike Royer
Colorist – Petra Goldberg
Editor – Archie Goodwin
When our story opens, Captain America and some foxy brunette named Donna Maria are confronting mad scientist Arnim Zola in his castle laboratory. For those unfamiliar with Zola, he’s an evil biochemist who worked with the Nazis and the Red Skull on various cloning projects. Zola’s genius enabled him to transfer his own mind into a headless android body that displays a holographic projection of his face on its chest, making him look like a slightly less frightening Teletubby.
Zola’s new plan is to resurrect Adolf Hitler, implanting the Fuhrer’s preserved brain into a powerful synthetic body. But that Hitler fella wasn’t exactly a looker, so Zola wants to give this new and improved version a handsome visage to charm the masses. And he’s chosen Captain America to be the unwilling donor.
Now, good ol’ Cap is quite fond of his face, and he has no intention of letting Zola slap it on Hitler 2.0. But Zola’s genetic manipulation has transformed his castle stronghold into a living organism. One mental command projected from the ESP box mounted to Zola’s android body could have the castle walls ensnare the Captain or spray him with anesthesia.
Before Captain America can respond to the threat, Donna Maria grabs some chemicals from a nearby shelf and chucks them at Zola, setting off a terrible explosion and providing a chance to escape. This Donna Maria is quite the minx. She made her first appearance in Captain America 206 and was the cousin of The Swine, a South American prison warden who had kidnapped Steve Rogers. Donna Maria helped Captain America bring down her cousin, but in the process they crossed Zola. She doesn’t have any superpowers or anything, unless one counts her ability to fill out a halter top and hot pants.
Anyway, as Captain America and Donna Maria scoop up some more explosive chemicals and make a break for it, the story cuts to the Red Skull and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Sharon Carter striking an unlikely partnership. The Red Skull is flying Agent Carter to Castle Zola in the Swiss Alps so she can see her beloved Captain America playing a pivotal role in resurrecting Hitler. Sharon refuses to believe it, and she knows better than to trust the Red Skull, but she’s willing to do anything to see her boyfriend alive and well.
Back at Castle Zola, Captain America and the scantily clad Donna Maria continue blasting their way through the demonic funhouse. They burst through the castle walls and seem on the verge of freedom when two of Zola’s genetic freaks attack. Donna Maria dispatches a big-eared, walking eyeball with one of her final chemical bombs, but Captain America struggles with a razor-clawed savage. Donna Maria tries to intervene only to have the savage snag her last chemical bomb. Just when all seems lost, Sharon arrives and shoots the chemical tube, blowing up the monster and saving the day.
Unfortunately, the happy reunion is cut short when Sharon realizes the monster had scratched Cap’s eyes to ribbons, leaving him temporarily blind. Cap doesn’t seem real concerned, but he’s probably just relieved Sharon is too busy worrying about his eyes to notice Donna Maria’s rack.
Even though he’s bummed his plans with Zola have gone awry, the Red Skull makes lemonade from lemons, seizing the opportunity to sucker-punch his blind nemesis. Before Sharon can exact revenge, a series of explosions erupt within Castle Zola, triggering a catastrophic firestorm. The resulting chaos separates Cap and the Red Skull from the two women, leaving Cap at the Red Skull’s mercy. But a subsequent explosion topples a tower, forcing the Red Skull to run for cover. Seconds later, S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives to evacuate the heroes.
In a lot of ways, this issue is like an episode of “Three’s Company.” Cap is Jack Tripper to Sharon’s Chrissy and Donna Maria’s Janet. And the Red Skull is Mr. Furley, right down to the swank fashion sense. And in the end, Furley ruins any chance Jack has of getting some action.
While known for his genre-defining artwork, Jack Kirby wrote plenty of titles, and he was a triple threat here, serving as writer, penciler, and editor. Kirby and Joe Simon created the star-spangled super soldier in 1941 for Timely Comics, mixing moral integrity and jingoistic propaganda into one patriotic paragon of virtue. After a five-year stint at DC, Kirby returned to Marvel in 1976, and he took total control of Captain America. His run lasted from issue 193 to issue 214. No one will confuse this tale with great literature, but Kirby came through with a couple of gems, like Zola’s plot to steal Cap’s face and Castle Zola being a living organism.
On the downside, I couldn’t really figure out why Red Skull would bring Sharon to see Captain America. Red Skull says they had made a deal he would take her to Cap if she promised not to bring the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. But why take her there at all? I was hoping Red Skull knew Cap had been catting around with Donna Maria, and he flew Sharon there to wreck Cap’s game. And then when Sharon is all sad and heartbroken, Red Skull puts his arm around her and says, “So, do you like Chinese food?”
“I love you, baby! Zola was so intrigued by Hitler’s brain that he overlooked yours!” — Captain America
“Keep going, girl! Don’t stop!” — Captain America
“Only a Nazi would pull that trigger!” — Red Skull
“Oh… to have the confidence of youth! Exercise one’s fantasies — and reach for the stars!” — Red Skull
“Foolish snip of a girl! You won’t bring me to heel!” — Red Skull
This is classic Kirby. When I was a kid, I never liked Kirby’s art; I thought his style was too flat and cartoony. But the older I got, the more I appreciated his work. And now, as a bitter old man, I fully recognize Kirby’s genius. This is comic book art at its finest. Kirby’s true strength was storytelling, and his dramatic posing and distinctive compositions convey emotion in every panel. His best work here probably comes during Castle Zola’s destruction, and colorist Petra Goldberg captures the mayhem in a maelstrom of reds, oranges, and purples.
And dig that cover. A blind and battered Captain America agonizes in the foreground, and Red Skull looming over him, preparing to deliver the killing blow. We also get captions and a dialogue bubble. Absolute perfection.
While there’s plenty of action when Cap and Donna Maria are escaping Castle Zola, the first true slugfest comes between Cap and Zola’s freaky monster. And for a walking goldfish in underpants, that dude was pretty, pretty tough. He hit Cap with a dropkick, a flying tackle, and then clawed him silly from the top position. If not for Donna Maria and Sharon, the freak could have scored a decisive KO. Cap was barely over that humiliation when Red Skull cold-cocked him. Tough times all around.
Hostess always delivers. In this issue, we get an ad for Twinkles featuring Spider-Man and a lovesick Madam Web. To get revenge on Spidey for rejecting her romantic overtures, Madam Web shuts down the harbor and pins the blame on Spider-Man. While he still refuses to go out with her, Spider-Man says he’ll give her some Twinkies if she clears his good name. She drops to her knees in front of Spidey and says something about wanting cream filling. The end.
The inside cover also offers a full-page advertisement for assorted tricks and gags like the traditional joy buzzer, sneezing powder, and disappearing ink. But you could also order your very own money maker:
“It’s sensational! Insert a blank piece of paper into the machine, turn the knob… and from the opposite side, PRESTO! OUT COMES A REAL DOLLAR BILL! Insert a one dollar bill and see it change to a $5.00 bill or $10.00. No skill required. Lots of fun and mystery.”
Pretty sure this is how the Feds got Capone.
Billed as “Letters to the Living Legend,” the letters page seemed more like a chance for readers to complain about Jack Kirby. First, Frank Antonides from 19 Lake Drive, Freehold, New Jersey, cries that Kirby’s stories are too rushed and should span more issues, and he closes with the backhanded compliment the art has improved immensely, meaning it used to totally suck.
Next up, Bill Dickenson from 5930 West Broadway, Apartment 8, Crystal, Minnesota, gripes Kirby is turning Captain America from a superhero title into a science fiction mag, noting “Cap was not conceived to fight monsters (Man-Fish, Night People, or Bio-Fanatic), but was created to defend the living freedom of America.”
P. Fenton Wagner (no, not the P. Fenton Wagner) from Pennsylvania harps on the “Bug-Eyed Monsters” and rips Kirby for “corny things” like having Cap say “Blow it out your moustache!” But at least Mr. Wagner has the decency to admit “Donna Maria is a real dish!”
This is Jack Kirby writing and drawing Captain America, and the story features the Red Skull.