Wednesday, May 7, 2014

CAPTAIN AMERICA #253

"SHOULD OLD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT"
Writer/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Roger Stern & John Byrne
Inker: Joe Rubinstein | Letterer: Jim Novak | Colorist: Bob Sharen
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Captain America is summoned to England by Lord Falsworth, the retired Word War II hero called Union Jack, to investigate a string of murders around Falsworth Manor. Falsworth is convinced that his brother, the Nazi vampire Baron Blood, is behind the killings, and Cap does some sleuthing to determine that Blood is indeed on the loose. That night, Blood sneaks into Falsworth Manor to kill Captain America.

Continuity Notes: Cap foils a robbery in the early pages of the issue before going on a date with Bernie Rosenthal as Steve Rogers. The couple sees "Oklahoma!" at Steve's insistence, despite Bernie's preferred choice of the risqué "Oh! Calcutta!", which Steve believes he is not yet ready for. Bernie then comments on Steve's generally old-fashioned tastes.

Bernie and Steve's first kiss is prevented when Avengers butler Jarvis calls from Avengers Mansion to inform Steve of the telegram which summons him to England. When Steve tells Bernie has to leave, she makes up a story about an old boyfriend to make him jealous. The resultant panels are two of the finest examples of Marvel angst you'll ever see.

As he flies to England, incognito aboard a passenger jet, Cap reminisces about life in World War II, when he fought the Axis alongside the Invaders.

Upon his arrival at Heathrow Airport, Cap uses his Avengers priority card to get through customs. Somehow I doubt that's all it would take nowadays.

At Falsworth Manor, Cap first croses paths with Jacqueline Falsworth-Chrichton, formerly known as Spitfire of the Invaders, and explains to her that he never caught up with his old teammates due to the gaps in his memory, which were only recently filled in by Stern and Byrne in CAPTAIN AMERICA #247. Jackie also has a moment of angst when she realizes that she was once younger than Cap, but now she is decades older.

Captain America begins his investigation by speaking with the local coroner, who kicks the Avenger out of his office when the subject of vampires comes up. A detective explains to Cap that when the doctor first moved into town, there was a local vampire scare and the townspeople burned down his home, with his daughter inside, so the subject is understandably touchy for him. Why he chose to continue living among the people who formed an irrational mob and killed his daughter goes unexplained.

By the way, does anyone else think the doctor (right) looks kind of like modern day John Byrne? I don't know what Byrne's father looked like, but if he perhaps used him as a model here, that could explain how Byrne was able to draw a self portrait of himself from thirty years in the future. Or maybe I'm totally mistaken.

It is noted that, as a member of the British nobility, Baron Blood was entombed in state within the Tower of London, even though he was also a vampire Nazi war criminal. Cap deduces that the entombed Blood is actually a decoy corpse -- a young woman, at that -- and medical examination reveals that the body has been in Blood's tomb for about twelve years.

Jackie's son, Kenneth, returns home from art school for a visit, and brings with him a chum named Joey Chapman. The elitist Jackie is none too pleased to see her son socializing with a commoner like Joey.

My Thoughts: This two-parter is my favorite of the Stern/Byrne issues. Previous stories in their run made much mention of Cap's time in World War II, but this is the first time they revisit that past in any format other than a simple flashback. Fighting a vampire on the foggy moors is not a scenario one envisions for Captain America, but I think that's what makes it work here. Cap is out of his element. In America he's a living symbol, but in England he's just another superhero. He's treated with respect by the detectives and other civilians he encounters here, but not with the sort of awe and reverence Stern typically shows when he's on his home turf.

Besides that, Cap spends much of the issue doing detective work, asking the local coroner about the recently discovered bodies, and exploring Blood's tomb in the Tower of London. Really, the entire story reads like Captain America has been transplanted into a Batman plot, but thanks to the Invaders connection and their typically perfect handling of the character, Stern and Byrne pull it off. I suppose it doesn't hurt that Byrne spent part of his childhood in England, so he's able to inject what I assume/hope is some authenticism into the scenery.

At any rate, whether this is or is not an accurate example of a village north of London circa 1980, Stern and Byrne certainly make me believe, through narration and artwork, that I'm someplace real. And the verisimilitude is what's truly important for such stories.

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