Captain America #182, Englehart, Robbins

Captain America #182, February 1975

I’ve written previously how important this comic is to me. It was the first US comic I ever owned, and therefore the first super-hero story I ever saw in full colour.

I decided to give it a read again last night, just to see how it stood up. It’s been at least 20 years since I last read it, but, you know what? It still reads fine. Now, admittedly, I do know a thing or two about comics now that I didn’t know back in 1975, but the story here is clear and concise. Despite it coming near the end of a long saga, writer Steve Englehart makes sure to fill in the novice reader as the story goes along. There’s no scratching of head here, wondering just who that character is, or what this person’s motivation is.

What makes this all the more startling, is that, at the time, Captain America wasn’t even Captain America. For this issue, and the few previously, Cap had abandoned the old red, white and blue chain mail and the shield in favour of more drab gear. Thanks to his disillusionment with the Nixon regime, Cap had declared himself a man without a country and established a new identity as Nomad. Now, my young self had no notion of any of this, I was coming to it cold. And yet…

Captain America as Nomad, Frank Robbins

…it’s all perfectly clear. Right from page two, Englehart has Nomad castigated by two cops: “Does he think he’s Captain America or somethin’?” To which the struggling Nomand shouts, “Let me go! I am—” buts stops himself. And there we are. Right there I knew the set up, no more explanation necessary. It’s not like nowadays when you can read an eight issue mini-series and still have no idea who or what is going on. I really wish comics were still like this: accessible to all.

Things are cleared up even further later on, when for the last six pages Captain America shows up! It’s evident from the dialogue though that this isn’t the true Cap, it’s someone attempting to take his place. It’s all made beautifully transparent in Englehart’s script. Roscoe, the young imposter, speaks with a thick “Nu Yawk” accent, and the Falcon’s thoughts assert that this is a temporary arrangement intended to disabuse Roscoe of the notion that he can ever replace Cap. It ultimately cost Roscoe a heavy price—not that I found that out there on my sick bed.

Roscoe as Captain America, Frank Robbins

It was, of course, with some disappointment that I got to the end of the issue only to discover it was “to be continued”! Aaarrgghh! And I didn’t get to read the next part of the story for many, many years.

But that was the only downside. I loved Captain America #182 then, and I love it now. The overriding concern at Marvel then was to make sure that the comics were accessible. Any comic could potentially be someone’s first, and it would be good to cater to that audience. If it could be done unobtrusively through dialogue so much the better.

The big budget super-hero movies currently attract millions of paying customers with their easy-to-understand storylines, while the comics number their audience in the thousands. This is a lesson that perhaps current comics needs to appreciate—and learn from.

Images ©2013 Marvel Characters, Inc