Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A round of big warm fuzzies, on me.

I love comics. Love, love, love.

My recent reviews in Comics Should Be Good were downright grumpy. This led me to think I owed the medium I enjoy a big fat love letter. So today I thought I’d write about two comics that meant a lot to me. Both were Captain America comics, seperated by about fifteen years.

First was Captain America #284, August 1983, written by J.M. DeMattis, drawn by Sal Buscema, cover by Mike Zeck. I picked it up off a spinner rack from the Lift Bridge Bookstore in Brockport, New York. That Mike Zeck cover drew my eye.

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The issue begins with Captain America rushing to the hospital to visit a dying friend. Along the way he stumbles across a standoff between the police and a rooftop shooter who has hostages. Cap, naturally, lends a hand.

Reaching the roof, he finds that the shooter is a drunken man and that his hostages are his own wife and children. The man, driven to despair by losing his job and his savings, is taking out his rage on anyone he can.

Rather than beat the hell out of the guy, Cap talks to him. He talked about his childhood during the depression and the need to fight despair. As Cap speaks, he notices a police sniper taking aim at the man. He lunges to save the man, only to have the police bullet crease his skull, rendering him unconscious.*

The shooter, enraged by the action, levels his gun at the unconscious Captain. Just before he plants a few slugs into the hero’s brain, the man’s wife intervenes. To save the Captain, she tells him that if life is so awful, he should kill her and the kids instead to spare them the horrors.

The shooter breaks down in sobs. Cap wakes up and takes the man into custody.

Okay, it’s simple and heavy-handed. Amazingly heavy-handed. But it blew my young mind.

A superhero comic with no costumed badguy? A comic that showed the difficulty of defining justice in a manner that a ten-year old boy could understand? Morality that extended beyond hero-villain? Whoa.

That simple piece of four-color melodrama showed me that comics don’t have to be about guys in silly suits trying to take over the world.

(Though I still love it when they are.)

Then there was Captain America (third series) #12, December 1998, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Andy Kubert.

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The issue continues a story involving the mystical bad guy Nightmare, who enslaved Our Hero at the end of the previous issue. Cap breaks free from the villain’s control and stomps the bad guy into the dirt. But that didn’t end the issue. Oh no. Nightmare had wanted to ignite a nuclear war and exploited the Captain’s security clearences to do so. Nightmare was on the verge of succeeding in his eeevil scheme, despite the beat-down administered by Our Hero.

At the climax of the tale, Cap finds himself unable to stop the countdown to one nuclear missile. To prevent the launch, he goes into the silo itself, climbs to the top, and jams the hatch shut. He then slides down the missile and manages to escape incineration by the narrowest possible margin.

An above-average action story. Nothing too memorable in the grand scheme of things.

But I had been away from comics for a spell in the late nineties. I had just come back to them when this story was published.

My life was deeply, powerfully crappy at that time. My long, long job hunt continued to come to zippy, my roommates and their hangers-on were driving me insane,** and my love life was a sick joke. I woke up in the morning only out of habit and a sense of resentment. (I refused to give the world the satisfaction of letting it know it had beaten me. I can be very ornery.)

As I read the book, for a few minutes, I escaped the suffocating ocean of crap that was my everyday life. When Cap slid down the side of the missile, using his shield to rip open the side of the rocket, I felt the same excitement and freedom I’d felt as a boy.

As I read it, I almost yelled out “Kick ass! Kick ass!” in an empty room.

So yeah, Captain America comics broadened my horizons a little bit and helped me get through dark times. So did a lot of other comics.

I love the stupid things.

*Man, how many times did that happen to superheroes in Los Olden Days? Were I a superhero, I’d invest in some protective headgear.

Okay, okay, and an ab-cruncher. You don’t wanna see me in spandex just now. Stupid tasty donuts.

**Note to readers: do not, under any circumstances, live with a fledgling rock band. Not a good idea. It led to the first of my evictions.


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