Thursday, January 9, 2014

Captain America #127

Captain American #127 (On Sale: April 1970) has a cover by Marie Severin and Joe Sinnott, which is nice, but the real artistic fireworks are inside.

"Who Calls Me Traitor?" is by the standard Captain American team of Stan Lee and Gene Colan, but this issue is inked by the amazing Wally Wood. The story begins with one of those patented Stan Lee scenes of false action/confrontation. Ends up it is just Nick Fury wanting Cap to throw his shield at him to test a new "Protecto-Suit" and Lee's over-dialoging makes a one-second scene last for 10 seconds at least, drawing out all of the tension and suspense. Lets not forget that the idea of asking a man to heave a metal disk at your stomach to "test" out a new suit of armor is pretty stupid. Cap then hits Fury with a "force bolt blast" designed to take out a tank. The new protecto-suit designed by SHIELD's new resident genius, Doc Ryder, works perfectly.

Marie Severin's original layout for Cap #127.
At Ryder's suggestion, Fury orders the suits put into production for all field agents, but when Fury and some men test the suits outdoors, they are ambushed by AIM agents, who have a device that nullifies the protecto-suits. They defeat the AIM agents but realize there is a traitor in their midst. Fury gathers everyone who knew about the protecto-suits together at SHIELD HQ to try and flush out the traitor. Ryder mentions that one person is missing, Captain America, "Even though it could't be him..."

Or could it? Fury says, "Cap's the only one who ain't had a SHIELD Security Check!," and "How can we be sure--he's the real Captain America? Anyone can make 'imself a mask 'n costume!" Cap's on-again-off-again girlfriend, Sharon Carter, adds, "Even the way he's been avoiding me! What if he's not the real Cap?" Of course Cap is avoiding Sharon because he is still traumatized by the death of his sidekick, Bucky Barnes back in WWII.

Cap gets a call from SHIELD saying his security clearance has been revoked. Looking for answers, Cap heads for Fury's apartment, where Fury and Sharon are currently talking with Joe Robertson of the Daily Bugle who wants answers to the rumors that Cap's SHIELD security clearance has been pulled. Fury won't say yes or no, which Joe takes to be a yes. On his way out he runs into Cap and asks him what he had done to deserve this. Cap gets pissed and leaves without seeing Fury.

A short time late Fury meets Tony Stark at his lab where Stark provides him with a prototype Android X-4. Later Cap gets a call from Fury to head over to SHIELD. Once there, Fury explains about the traitor and how they can't be sure he is the real Cap, so he and Android X-4 will be put through a series of tests that only the android or the real Captain America could pass. In quick order, Cap proves he is the real McCoy, but just then Android X-4 goes crazy ans starts attacking Cap.While Cap tried to stave off the metal man's blows Sharon Carter uses a geiger counter to track who is controlling the android. It is Dr. Ryder.

Sharon gasses him and returns to the scene of the fight to let Fury know that the traitor was Dr. Ryder as he suspected. Cap realizes that he was just a decoy to flush out the real traitor. When Sharon tried to comfort Cap he turns and leaves saying, "I've--always been able to be on guard--against my enemies---but, how does a man protect himself from--his friends?"

OK, pretty silly story if you ask me, but the art is so worth the trouble. I started reading Cap just as Colan took it over, so for me, he was the Captain America artist. Like he was doing with Daredevil, he imbued Captain American with this graceful, flowing, acrobatic style, yet grounded him in a photo-referenced real world that took the mad int he silly costume and made you care about him as flesh and blood.

Except for the issues inked by Tom Palmer and Bill Everett, this is my favorite Colan Cap story. Wally Wood leaves enough of the Colan magic to make the penciler unmistakable, yet adds enough of the Wood slick cleanness to make the panels pop! His Sharon Carter is sleek and sexy as all get out. His Nick Fury is tough and gruff, lean and mean. When he gets into the bodies, particularly Fury in the protecto-suit, it rivals his best work at Tower.

According to the Wally Wood Estate on Facebook, this is the only time Wood ever inked Gene Colan and "Colan never knew Wood had inked him. We would assume the original art to that one issue of Captain America was among so much that was stolen... from the Marvel offices as, Colan told us that not a single page was returned to him. When we showed the work to Gene years later (at a Dallas Fantasy Fair), Gene and Adrianne were amazed and fascinated with how Wood had tightened and polished the work and called it 'beautiful.' The Nick Fury in that story may be the best rendition by anyone other than Steranko."

As a side note on the artwork. I am reading Sean Howe's Marvel Comics The Untold Story right now and in discussing Gene Colan's artwork Steve mentions how Gene would sometimes get so carried away with big panels of flowing action that he would run out of pages and have to cram way too much into the final page or two. This story definitely has that feel. At the beginning we have an entire page of Cap throwing his shield at Nick Fury, while in the last page of the story, Sharon searches for the real traitor, finds him, subdues him, reports back to Fury, tried to comfort Cap and Cap gets pissed off and leaves. That page is more than a bit rushed.

Reprinted in Essential Captain America Vol. 3 TPB.

Edited by Stan Lee.

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