Monday, May 12, 2014

CAPTAIN AMERICA #254

"BLOOD ON THE MOORS"
Writer/Co-Plotters/Penciler: Roger Stern & John Byrne
Inker: Josef Rubinstein | Letterer: Joe Rosen | Colorist: Bob Sharen
Editor: Jim Salicrup | Peer: Jim Shooter
Special Thanks to Colin Campbell for his kind assistance!
Dedicated to Frank Robbins, creative artist and storytelling wizard... and the man who first drew Union Jack...

The Plot: Captain America escapes Baron Blood thanks to the chain mail lining his costume, but the Baron eludes capture and gets away. Cap, along with Ken Chrichton, Joey Chapman, and the local authorities, spends the next day scouring the countryside for Blood. Ken and Joey deduce Blood's identity when Jenny, a barmaid Ken has been dating, falls ill while serving them drinks, and they find puncture marks in her neck.

That night, Lord Falsworth attempts to don the Union Jack uniform once more to lure Blood out of hiding, but takes ill in doing so. Informed by Ken and Joey that Baron Blood is actually the town doctor, Cromwell, Cap sets a trap for Blood using Joey, in the Union Jack costume, as bait. Cap and Union Jack work together to defeat Baron Blood, and Cap is forced to decapitate his foe in order to end his threat.

As our heroes burn Baron Blood's body on the moors outside the Falsworth estate, Lord Falsworth passes peacefully away.

Continuity Notes: Jim Shooter's editorial influence is all over the first couple pages of this issue, as the splash page clearly explains who every character in the story is, and the subsequent page provides a succinct but detailed recap of how Captain America found himself at Baron Blood's mercy.

Cap is shocked to realize that Baron Blood possesses all the powers of a vampire, having previously believed that the Nazis had removed some of those abilities when they made him resistant to sunlight.
Cap briefly believes Joey may be a pawn of Baron Blood, but when Ken vouches for him, Cap backs off. Later, Ken provides Joey with a rundown of Baron Blood's origin, and explains that Blood eventually bit Lady Jaqueline, leading to her receiving a blood transfusion from the original android Human Torch, which is how she developed her superspeed and became Spitfire. He also adds that her power faded over time.

We learn this issue that Baron Blood has been masquerading as Dr. Cromwell for over a decade, and that it was actually he who murdered the doctor's daughter (originally descibed last issue as having perished in a house fire started by the locals). This of course explains why the doctor had no qualms about continuing to live and work among the people who had killed his daughter.

(And I still think Blood's disguise resembles modern day John Byrne!)

A brief scene back in Brooklyn shows Bernie Rosenthal and Mrs. Kappelbaum, the landlady, looking after Steve Rogers' apartment in his absence. Mrs. Kappelbaum has already begun to plan Steve's and Bernie's life together.

My Thoughts: As I said last issue, this is my favorite story in the Stern/Byrne run. The second chapter does not quite ooze as much atmosphere as the first, but what it lacks there it makes up for in emotional resonance. First off, from a technical standpoint, I'll admit that the resolution of the Baron Blood "mystery" leaves something to be desired. After being set up last issue as something we should be curious about, Blood's identity is revealed first to the readers, and then figured out by the characters through a pretty big coincidence.

However, the double-feint at the story's climax -- first the fact that it is not Lord Falsworth in the Union Jack costume, followed later by the revelation that it is Joey and not Kenneth who has adopted the identity -- makes up for the earlier misfire.

But beyond the plot, the theme of this issue is what really hits home for me. This is a story about aging and dying, and tying up loose ends before you go. There's plenty of action, but the entire story is presented in a sort of morose light, leading up to Captain America's final fateful decision to kill Baron Blood. Technically he's undead, but the gravity of the situation -- Captain America taking someone's life, such as it is, with his own shield -- is not lost in either Stern's narration or Byrne's artwork.

Moreseo than Cap's killing of Blood, however, I find the real meat of the story to be in the aging of Jackie and the end of Lord Falsworth's life. At the time the issue was published, Falsworth was probably considered to be over eighty years old (he had served as Union Jack in World War I, too), while Jackie would've been in her fifties. Out of action for decades, Falsworth knows that Baron Blood is still at large, even if no one will believe him. Captain America is the only character in the story who treats him respectfully as an equal. To everyone else, he is a doddering old man.

Even after Baron Blood's existence is proven, Falsworth is forced to stay out of the action. He wishes he could make a difference, but he knows he can't. And at the same time Falsworth struggles to don his uniform one last time, Jackie gazes longingly at her own costume and realizes that as much as she might like things to be different, even Spitfire can't outrace time. She is old and her father is older, and neither of them has anything left to contribute to the fight against their own vampiric kin.

And then finally Baron Blood is defeated, and at the same time the mantle of Union Jack is passed to a successor in Joey Chapman. Falsworth's work in this life is done, and he finally gives up the ghost. Every time I read this story, I'm touched by that. His life is complete. He's done all he can, and all he needs to do, and he has seen his legacy continued. He's ready to move on, and he does.

Vampires in England, mystery on the moors, and even an incredibly moving character arc. Superhero comics rarely get better than this.

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