Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CAPTAIN AMERICA #247

"BY THE DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT!"
Writer/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Roger Stern • John Byrne
Inker: Josef Rubinstein | Letterer: Jim Novak | Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Plagued by the recent revelation that several of his own memories are in conflict with each other, Captain America travels to SHIELD headquarters for answers. Dum Dum Dugan takes Cap to Ft. Dix, where Cap finds his old footlocker from World War II. His journal is inside, and reading it, Cap realizes that he had a false set of memories implanted on top of his true life history, to trigger in the event of enemy interrogation. The journal allows Cap's true memories to fall into place, supplanting the false ones.

Meanwhile, Nick Fury has paid a visit to his incarcerated enemy, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker -- leader of HYRDA -- to inform the baron that he is being deported. But Strucker uses this opportunity to escape, kidnapping Fury in the process. Strucker goes straight to Captain America and attacks him, but with aid from Fury and Dum Dum, Cap defeats the Baron, who promptly explodes, revealing that he was a robot all along.


Continuity Notes: An editorial note informs readers that S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division, and that the organization is commanded by Nick Fury.

Cap recalls thinking of his sixteenth birthday during a surprise part for his neighbor, Josh Cooper, "last week" in CAPTAIN AMERICA #245. He then recalls that he regained his "lost" memories via a machine created by a Dr. Harding in issue #225.

Upon entering SHIELD headquarters, Cap informs the agents standing guard that the Avengers' priority clearance was recently reinstated by the National Security Council, though there is no issue referenced for this occurrence.

Josh attempts to deliver a letter to Steve Rogers, but is informed that Steve is away from his apartment, so Josh hangs onto the letter. Their other neighbor, Mike Farrell (no relationt to the MASH actor), also puts in a brief appearance.

Fury references Strucker's death in STRANGE TALES #158, and his seeming return and capture in CAPTAIN AMERICA 130-131, which Strucker notes took place two years ago.

Cap's footlocker would go on to play a role in Stern's famous "Under Siege" storyline in AVENGERS.

During cap's flashback, a reference is made to his joining the Invaders, in INVADERS #1. We also learn a great deal about young Steve Rogers's childhood through Cap's thoughts, including the fact that he doesn't have a middle name.

After the Strucker robot blows up, Cap states that this is the second time in weeks that he's fought a man who turned out to be a robot. The first such incident was in CAPTAIN AMERiCA #242. The robots' creator, Machinesmith, watches Cap's confusion on a video monitor and declares that he will test his next robot against Cap as well.


My Thoughts: Roger Stern and John Byrne come on board CAPTAIN AMERICA with a story that plays to a chief strength for each of them -- the ability to creatively explain and remove the sometimes contradictory barnacles which had accumulated on the character's history over the decades, restoring Cap to his much less complicated roots. Ironically, their final issue on CAPTAIN AMERICA would be a full retelling of Cap's origin, taking the morsels provided here and canonizing them into a definitive mythos. But we're still several issues away from that story.


I have never read the stories that Stern and Byrne are ret-conning here, but based simply on the narration and expoisition provided in this issue, I'm not certain what previous creators thought they were adding to the character by changing his background and origin. I suppose it's possible those creators simply didn't know Cap's backstory well and thought they were filling in blanks. But in any case, it's good to see Stern and Byrne fixing the continuity issues, both with regards to Cap's backstory and to Strucker's survival of his death (though that death would be undone again -- for real -- a decade or so later).

I take a peculiar pleasure in seeing continuity repairs take place, even if I wasn't previously aware that anything needed to be fixed. There's just something gratifying about knowing that there are writers who care enough to not only tell entertaining stories, but to use those stories to fix other writers' mistakes in the process. It's a rare gift to be able to do one of those things well, and an even rarer one to do both at the same time, as seamlessly and gracefully as Stern and Byrne do it here.

As for this story -- it's a pretty good start to the Stern/Byrne run. It hits all the beats you'd want from a "first issue" -- Cap's backstory is recapped succinctly, there's an entertaining fight scene, and a mystery is set up at the story's conclusion -- namely, what is Machinesmith up to? If I bought this off the rack as a kid, I'd be ready and waiting for the next installment.

Plus, as evidenced in the panel at left, Stern has a great grasp on how to write Captain America! Cap doesn't lose. He just doesn't. Sometimes he doesn't win, but he never loses.

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