Thursday, November 16, 2017

365 Days of Defiance, Day 320: Okay, go ahead, fear the Reaper if you need to

Probably the very first Golden Age Captain America story I ever read has stuck with me since I first read it, the delectably titled "Captain America Battles the Reaper! (The Man the Law Couldn't Touch!)". This relatively early adventure pits Cap and the Buckster against a Nazi villain who uses the power of lies to undermine the democracy of the United States. In other words, the Reaper was the first comic book villai9n whose power was...fake news! Now, as I'm not either Roy Thomas nor that Rockefeller feller, I don't happen to have a copy of Timely's Captain America Comics #22, but what I do have is 1976's Invaders #10, which reprinted the whole furschlugginer story in an attempt to battle the Dread Deadline Doom! (And thus you see why it was the first Golden Age Cap your truly's little shiny button eyes ever peeped at!)

Splash page from "The Reaper (The Man the Law Couldn't Touch)!" in Captain America Comics #22 (Timely/Marvel, January 1943), layouts by Syd Shores, pencils by Al Avison, inks by Al Gabriele;
as reprinted in The Invaders #10 (November 1976)

The story begins with a brilliant jab at Herr Schicklgruber — the self-own in the second panel is one of the moments that resonated and stayed with me — who champions the weapon of disinformation, misdirection, and outright lies. Heck, let's call 'em fake news., not in the way our current-day orange menace uses it, but to define the sheer war against provable facts we've gotta fight every day we look at the internet or pick up a paper. Stop callin' it "alternate facts," networks! Start calling it the way the Thompson Twins lyrically described it: "Lies, Lies, Lies!"

So Hitler dispatches one of his chief agents: Gunther Strauss, the deadly Mister the Reaper, to America to stir up doubt and discontent. The papers portray him as a preacher man with a vision (WRONG!) but natch Steve 'n' B3 (Bucky Buchanan Barnes) are suspicious. That's because they only get their news from The Stars and Stripes newspaper and from Edward R. Murrow personally!

Cap 'n' Buck wanna check this sinister-soundin' guy out, but...haw haw!...they've been delegated to K.P. duty, peeling so many onions their body hydration goes down about two quarts. Now that's a job with a lot a-peel!

The Reaper speaks, broadcast to the entire country and all the ships at sea, and everyone's taken aback by his bold statements that everything you know is wrong!, thus beating the Firesign Theatre to the punch by several decades. Look who's baffled: Farmer Clem Huckenshucker! The Grey-Haired Lawyer! Lovely Little Mary! Bazooka Joe! Brain-Head! Confused Connie! And, in his first Marvel Comics appearance, Doctor Druid! Lookit 'em all gobble up this tripe! It's easy to feel superior because we would never fall for such a blatant scheme of lies and untruths, right?

I love Syd Shores's layout of second panel below, showing one man's progressive interior decision that maybe that crazed unbelievablelunatic he's heard on the radio is actually our god and we must obey him! Boy, people were gullible listening to radio in those days, as can be proved by the period Jack Benny ruled the airways and everybody smoked Lucky Strikes, even the children. Lucky Strike means fine tobacco! Why, I'm smokin' one right now!

Not only are the Reaper's arguments persuasive, he also manages to encourage an entire upheaval of the moral code. Ah, I'm certainly glad this was in the 1940s and not today, where people would never feel emboldened by hate speech from a supposed leader to justify their crimes and bigotry.

Suddenly: Korea Captain America! he arrives in a flash of panel gutter and a bold ultimatum for the Reaper: cut the crap!

The Reaper calls on his goons (it's true, they all have goons, those bad guys) to dispose of the First Avenger and the Second Boy Sidekick, but it's absolutely zero contest in one of the most low-key, hilarious fight sequences I've seen of Cap and Buck.

Cap and Bucky have to flee for their lives to avoid being torn apart by the reaper's mob, and the angry assemblage convinces them to start goosestepping, sieg heiling, and what's that...praising Hitler? Gosh, that's scary, and under no circumstances would anyone be trying that today, you betcha!

Cap's stentorian tones, thankfully, remain the voice of reason, cutting through the bull and standing up for his patriotic beliefs of democracy and equal rights in a manner that it's good that Cap actor Chris Evans doesn't have to resort to in this day and age, huh?

While Cap's been facing off against the Reaper, Bucky's got evidence on paper that Herr R. is actually a Nazi spy. Yeah, I dunno...maybe a photostatic copy of his Captain Nazi fan club certificate or something. Whatever it is, the Reaper's now on the run, pursued by the dynamic duo Timely Two...

...down into the New York subway, where Reaper makes the same mistake every villain does: stepping on the electrified third rail. Thus perish all Nazis. It's true! The largest cause of death among homefront sympathizers of the Bund is electrocution in the subway. Look, I don't make up these statistics, I just read 'em, out of the back of comic books.

All's well that ends well, right, Captain America? "Which is why we should trust our leader and not listen to rabble-rousing troublemakers," he points out.

Er, Cap...what if our leader is the rabble-rousing troublemaker? For the answer to that question, please see 1974's Catain America #175:

Panels from Captain America (1968 series) #175 (July 1974), script by Steve Englehart, pencils by Sal Buscema, inks by Vince Colletta, colors by Petra Goldberg, letters by Artie Simek


Dave said...

Bucky Buchanan? Any relation of Bob Banner or Peter Palmer? Or is it ... #FakeNews?

Bully said...

Looks like I can't hit the broad side of a Barnes, Dave! Thanks, and corrected!