Secret Origins: 1950′s Captain America!
Today’s featured origin is an interesting one, and probably can use a bit of setup. Captain America was of course created in the early 1940′s by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, he fought in WWII and all of that fun stuff. Eventually super-heroes fell out of favor and Captain America sort of went away for a while. Then, in the mid-50′s Stan Lee decided the time was ripe to bring Cap back to fight the “Red Menace”, but it didn’t take and Cap went away again. Lee decided to resurrect Cap again in the 60′s at the dawn of the Marvel Universe. This time it stuck, but there was a problem. Lee gave the in-story reason for Cap’s absence since the war due to the whole “frozen in a block of ice” thing. Because of this, there was no explanation for Cap’s 1950′s commie smashing adventures. Then in the early 70′s Steve Englehart came along and came upon an idea that fit those stories back into continuity without negating any of Stan’s stories. If he were a fan, Englehart would have won the ultimate No-Prize, but instead we got… The Secret Origin of the 1950′s Captain America!
As our tale begins, caption boxes nicely set the scene: Steve (Captain America) Rogers and Sharon (Agent 13/Cap’s girlfriend) Carter are vacationing in the Bahamas, unaware that two madmen calling themselves Captain America and Bucky are out to kill them! Cap and Sharon are oblivious to this fact for the time being, and they have some beach fun, until Steve catches a glimpse of a boy who looks amazingly like his former partner, Bucky! Cap gives chase. He can’t be sure the boy was Bucky, but he has to make sure, even though “Bucky looked like a lot of boys”. Sadly for Cap, but not for the story, Steve is ambushed by a flurry of fists, and we find that his attackers are of course the impostors mentioned before.
With Cap subdued, “Fake Cap” says all that’s left is to capture Sharon. He switches outfits to dupe Sharon, but the lady is a smart cookie and knows something is up. You see, her Cap has a bit of a sunburn from going shirtless in the Bahamas for so long. Sharon turns tail and flees. Ersatz Cap and Bucky are in hot pursuit, and things aren’t looking good for her, as she is about to be caught. Just as hope seems lost, fate (or the Falcon) intervenes! He initiates a stand-off, Sharon gets him up to speed, which causes Falcon to launch into a rage. Fake Cap recovers from Falc’s initial attack to shout some racial epithets and implies that Sharon and Falcon are Russian agents. Falcon is fed up with the bigotry of Fake Cap (they had words last issue, apparently) and calls upon his partner to deal with it, and Redwing, the Falcon’s, um falcon rakes his claws on Fakecap’s back. The evil Cap recovers and spouts more hate-speech. Falcon says what everyone else is thinking and Fakecap replies in such a way that makes it really hard to take him seriously.
The fight continues, but Fakecap is full of rage at being called “A Hitler” so he channels said rage… by beating a black man and a woman into submission. Very un-Hitler-like indeed. Once everyone has regained consciousness, Fakecap (now in full costume), reveals why he went to the trouble of capturing them all: So he could have a captive audience for his origin story! He then introduces himself as the Captain America of the 1950′s and turns on the flashback machine (not literally)! You see he was 11 in 1941 when Captain America came on the scene, and the young lad was enraptured. His world came crashing down when he read the news of Cap’s apparent death. Instead of being overcome by grief with the death of his hero, the boy decided to make it his life’s work to study Captain America’s life, in essence, he was the ultimate fanboy. As the years passed, the young man graduated summa cum laude in American History, writing his thesis on Captain America, because in the Marvel Universe, you could get away with that. It wasn’t enough though! Sure, the guy knew everything there was to know about Cap from the American perspective, but what did the Nazis think about the Star-Spangled Avenger? It turns out they didn’t like him. On a trip to Germany, the young man is poring over many volumes of text, most untouched for years, when he makes a startling discovery!
Of course the young man takes his finding directly to Washington, because a nameless guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of Captain America apparently has that kind of access. The government suits decide it’s a good idea seeing as the Korean War is going on and they could use a Sentinel of Liberty. They want to hand-pick someone to be their super-soldier though, but ‘ol Fakecap won’t give them the formula unless he gets to be Captain America. The government must have been desperate for a super-solider, because they agree to these insane terms. After some tests on monkeys (because why not?), our nameless “hero” is ready to undergo the process himself, but not before a makeover…
It wasn’t to be though. As soon as Fakecap is ready for his injection, the government gets cold feet, because the war has ended, so why bother? Fakecap is pretty PO’ed about this, but goes with it, seeing as you know, he’s not about to defy his government… yet. As it is, he is a little on the odd side. He decides to legally change his name to Steve Rogers and becomes a teacher. Life seemingly goes on until he comes across one of his young charges that is as big a fan of Captain America as he is.
So you’d think sharing his sordid tale would ease “Steve’s” burden. This Bucky is a bit of an enabler though. “Bucky” keeps egging “Steve” to don the costume he made and take on the commies. “Steve” insists that he can’t because the Soviets would take that as a personal affront or somesuch. It isn’t until the twosome hear on the radio that the Red Skull has returned that “Steve” finally gives in. While “Steve” is still unsure about this course of action, he decides that this is fate. He offers to give “Bucky” an injection as well, to which the youngster is super-enthusiastic about. Their destiny lies ahead, so it’s time to shoot up!
And so America’s Fighting Force is reborn! They easily topple the Red Skull (who isn’t REALLY the Red Skull, but that’s a whole other story), and go on to smash commies left and right! All is not well though, it seems that as time passes, Cap and Bucky start seeing communists everywhere (much like America itself– zing!) When the star-spangled duo start seeing Reds in Harlem and Watts though, it’s apparent to the higher-ups in the government that things have gone very wrong. The government bigwigs try to talk them down, going in for treatments, that sort of thing. “Captain America” isn’t really receptive to this though, so drastic measures are taken.
And so, because the government never learns from their mistakes, the two were freed in the 70′s. The catalyst? Richard Nixon’s trip to China. Their emancipator was afraid that America was about to be swallowed in a Red Tide, so not only did he let them out, he told them about the real Captain America, saying that he was a poseur. Now back in the present day, Fakecap is smug about his capture of who he thinks of as his successor rather than his predecessor. It’d be deliciously ironic if it wasn’t so tragic. Falcon continues to be ballsy and calls out Fakecap as a loser. Why? Well, have a look!
Not to take you out of the story, but I wanted to make an interesting observation here. Both the Captain America of the 1950′s and the Captain America from the movie serial lack stripes on the back of the costume. Both are also not the real Cap. Coincidence? Probably, but it’s still interesting. Anyway, Falcon’s gambit paid off. His tirade caused Fakecap to run off in a huff, giving the real Captain America a chance to free himself and the others. Now knowing the full scope of Fakecap’s madness, Steve Rogers vows to take him down, because as he says “It’s not his fault he’s dangerous, but that doesn’t make him any less malignant!” Now this is where the issue ends, but I didn’t want to end the column there without finishing the story. I’ll be back with part two of the 50′s Cap saga… right now!
As it turns out, Falcon, Sharon and Cap were aboard a plane after their capture. They wisely decide to bide their time until landing. As soon as they get back to U.S. soil it is, as they say, on. Cap takes the fight to his captors and is so clearly the superior fighter than Fakecap resorts to using a gun. He blows a hole in the side of the plane and the fight kind of comes full circle on the beach.
A Coast Guard cutter happens to be off shore and orders the Caps to knock it off, but like that’s going to happen, this is a Bronze Age Marvel comic! Fakecap’s atom gun misfires and ends up putting a massive hole in the cutter as well. Cap is galvanized by this, and disarms his foe. Fakecap and Fakebuck know they aren’t on the winning side of this battle so they scurry away, but not before challenging Cap to a rematch. In the interlude, Cap, Falcon and Sharon save the members of the Coast Guard and inform the local authorities to the trouble. Cap intends to face his impostor one-on-one, but his partners nix that idea, reminding Cap that with the fake Bucky it’s wouldn’t be mano-a-mano anyway. The trio make their way to the appointed rendezvous with fisticuffs, but before they can reach their destination, “Bucky” ambushes them. His job is to distract Sharon and Falcon so the Caps can indeed duke it out without any interference. I could go on about the fight between a super-powered Bucky and our two protagonists, but suffice it to say “Bucky” lets out more epithets, pisses our heroes off and they end up using the power of teamwork to lay him out in a spectacular way.
With “Bucky” laid out, It’s time for some Cap on Cap action! As they fight, the two Steve Rogers talk about their ideals and how Fakecap is twisted by his tainted super-soldier serum. Now, if you think that Cap was able to reason with Fakecap, you’d be very wrong. All of the things “our” Cap tells Fakecap just further incense him. It isn’t until our Captain America reveals that he is indeed the original that Fakecap truly goes off the deep end.
With that, Cap has actually won the battle. The overwhelming madness has made Fakecap lash out blindly and Cap takes him out with one mighty fist of justice! While the battle is won, Cap can’t help but feel down. You see, if he had gotten the same dose of the serum that Fakecap got, he very well could have gone down the same mad path, albeit he’d be obsessed with goosesteppers and not pinkos. So the story closes on a somber note…
That isn’t the end of Fakecap’s story though. In later years, he was revived as the “Grand Director”, a true villain, albeit a mind-controlled one. Recently, he was used to great effect in the pages of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, where his real name was finally revealed as William Burnside, although he’s as crazy as ever. I personally think it’s really cool that what was originally a Stan Lee afterthought could be turned into such an interesting story in the hands of clever writers. That’s all for this week, why not hit the theater and see the real Captain America in action on the big screen?
This story originally appeared in Captain America #155-156, reprinted in Essential Captain America Volume 3.
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