I don't know about you guys but if Lookback consists of too many standard-main-title issues of Spider-Man, I start to get a little... drowsy. I need off-the-beaten-track titles or half-forgotten guest-appearances every few months or so just to keep my tenuous attention span on course. Which is really pretty much the only reason for featuring this two-issue tale from Captain America and the Falcon. Except that it also features a little-used (and rightly so!) villain who I'm just dying to profile. (I have no idea why.)
Captain America is one of Marvel Comics earliest super-heroes. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Cap was introduced in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941) and held his own title until issue #75 in February 1950. (Well, actually, the last two issues were entitled Captain America's Weird Tales and featured horror stories but let's not nitpick here.) He was revived in his own book as well as in the pages of Men's Adventures and Young Men for a few months in 1954 (with art by John Romita Sr.), then faded away until the advent of the 1960s "Marvel Age of Comics". Brought back in Avengers #4 (March 1964), Cap earned his own feature in Tales of Suspense #59 (November 1964) then took over the whole mag, complete with title change, with Captain America #100 (April 1968). The Falcon first appears in #117 (September 1969) and becomes Cap's partner in #133 (January 1971). Just a few months after that, the duo encounters the Amaz ing Spider-Man, brought to you by the all-star cast of Stan Lee, Gene Colan (pencils in #137), Bill Everett (inks in #137), and John Romita Sr. (art in #138).
As our story begins, Captain America, the Falcon and Redwing (the Falcon's falcon) are levitating to the Earth's surface "on a solidified Levi-beam" (which sounds like it should be made out of denim) courtesy of the Mole Man. The Falcon thinks it is fortunate that the Mole Man kept his world about returning the two heroes to the surface because the fuel in the jet pack that he borrowed from Tony Stark has run out.
Or, to put it another way... Huh? What's this about the Mole Man? And why does the Falcon need a jet pack to fly? Well, to answer the second question first, this story takes place before the Falcon gains the ability to fly. At this phase of his career, the Falcon wears an extremely ugly green and orange costume and uses ropes to get around the city, much like the Batman. As for the whole Mole Man thing... it all refers back to the previous issue which has nothing to do with Spider-Man so let's just fake our way through it here, okay?
The two men reach the surface and notice a crowd on the bridge just above them. Amongst the crowd are Nick Fury and other agents of SHIELD, including Captain America's ladylove, Sharon Carter. Sharon is so stunned to see Cap alive after she was so convinced that her "whole world had ended forever" that she faints dead away! (Those tough female SHIELD agents!) Fury grabs her before she hits the deck. A doctor approaches and tells Nick that Sharon has "been under a great strain". "I'll let her rest in the First Aid shack" he says.
Huh? The First Aid shack? Where the heck are they? No, no, never mind. It's all from last issue. No Spidey, remember? Didn't I already say we were going to fake it?
After Sharon has been dragged away, Cap and the Falcon make their way to the bridge. Cap tells a suddenly materializing army general (who may be from the last issue for all we know but we're faking it) that he'll "have to get rid of your atomic waste matter somewhere else" since "the Mole Man doesn't want Earth's core polluted". The general realizes that "this is a lesson for all of us". With news photographers snapping shots, the general gets all environmental and declares, "We can no longer despoil the planet we live on. Sooner or later, we'll all have to pay the price".
As things quiet down, Cap thanks the Falcon for saving his life, as we all remember. (We're faking it, we're faking it.) He then notices that Sharon isn't around. Since no one has bothered to tell the big lunk that his girl friend is passed out in the First Aid shack, Cap concludes, "I guess she just didn't care enough to wait". With that thought, Cap "suddenly look[s] blehhh" (as the Falcon puts it) climbs on his motorcycle, tells his partner to climb on behind, and takes off.
Of course, as soon as the two heroes take off, Sharon comes to in the First Aid shack and tells the doctor she must go to see Cap. The doctor tells Sharon "he and the Falcon just left". With a tear in her eye, Sharon asks, "You mean... he didn't even wait to see me?" This kind of misunderstanding happened continually between Cap and Sharon Carter in these early 70s issues until you thought you were going to scream. Fortunately, for our purposes here, Sharon does not appear in this story again!
So, Cap and the Falcon ride a bridge into Manhattan with Redwing flying alongside. Cap asks the Falcon if he's ever been in love. He doesn't mean just any old kind of love. He means, "the one time, when it counts". Falcon asks Cap if he's feeling bugged about Sharon. "I dunno," says our star-spangled hipster, "Maybe it's just something I ate." The Falcon notes that Cap "must be uptight" because "you always told me not to wheel around in costume 'less we had to" and here Cap is riding right into Harlem in their super-hero suits. Yep, Cap has been so distracted that he "didn't realize" but he reasons that "it's late and it's dark" so that "no one's apt to see us now". Cap rides the bike into a seedy-looking alley (or, as the Falcon puts it, "this crummy hole in the wall ain't no Bat Cave") where the duo park and dismount. Falc jokes about "someone swipin' Captain America's cycle" but Cap doesn't see much humor in it. When the Falcon gets on him for being in a f unk, Cap jabs back, "Get off my back, Mister! If you're lookin' for a straight man, try someplace else!" As they change into their civvies at Cap's place... or is it Falcon's place... (faking it, faking it), Falc decides to leave his partner alone. Now, dressed in a brown suit with a green tweed overcoat, Falcon resumes his true identity of Sam Wilson, Social Worker. He walks to his office carrying a bag that contains his costume, mulling over Cap's current anti-social attitude. He has never seen Cap in such a state. "That chick's got him bugged but good" he decides. Still, "I never signed no contract to be his whipping boy", Falc reasons, "Any time he wants'a trade gripes, I'll match 'im two for one. I figure any black man can." Soon after, Sam climbs the steps to his office. He picks up Figaro, a cat, off the stoop and deposits him on the floor in his office (leaving Redwing outside). Then he removes his civvies and gets back in his costume. He has decided to prove his worth without his temperamental patriotic partner. He opens the window, tells Redwing, "We're gonna make the Falcon as famous as Captain America or bust a gut tryin'!" swings out on a rope, and climbs to the roof. (And he calls Redwing "Soul Brother" as he's doing it, which is such a classic "Stan Lee on the cutting edge" moment that you just gotta love it.)
But when Sam gets to the roof, he finds that someone is upstaging him. Spider-Man is swinging by in a great hurry. "That cat's way outta his territory" says an annoyed Falcon, "It's bad enough I gotta compete with Cap."
(This issue, by the way, appeared at the same time as Amazing Spider-Man #96 and the story seems to take place just before that whole Green Goblin episode, just before Harry Osborn's overdose on drugs.)
The Falcon looks down to the street and sees three police officers and a police car. He naturally assumes that Spidey is hurrying because "the fuzz are after 'im". This seems to be a golden opportunity. Sam knows that no one has stopped Spidey yet and "the guy who does will have it made". So, he leaps into action right behind the web-slinger, heedlessly plunging off the roof, grabbing a laundry line strung up between two buildings, and somersaulting himself over to the next roof. But while Redwing stays on the wall-crawler's trail, the Falcon cannot keep up. "That webbing of his is the next thing to flyin'" says the Falcon of the webhead, "and I'm runnin' outta clotheslines and fire escapes". Still, he figures he can find Spider-Man as long as he can find Redwing. But, just then, all thoughts of pursuit are put on hold as the Falcon hears a woman crying for help.
He leaps down to the street in time to find two men stealing a woman's purse. The woman pleads with them not to rob her. "It's my food money!" she cries but the crooks don't care. "Let's shut 'er up," one of them casually says. But they're the ones who get shut up instead as the Falcon jumps on top of them and starts mopping the floor with them. "Stay with it, sister!" he tells the intended victim, "They ain't gonna get nothin'." In the meantime, he is counting on Redwing to "spot where [Spidey] goes then fly back and lead me there."
Now that the Falcon has managed to knock the two would-be thieves senseless, a cop decides to show up. He asks what's going on and our wisecracking hero replies, "Can'tcha tell? We're filmin' a documentary. Just ask the lady, mister! She's the script girl." And with that, he leaps a fence and heads back to the roof of his building to wait for Redwing. When he gets there, the Falcon discovers he's got company. Captain America is throwing his shield against the wall, getting "in a little practice while [Falc is] off sulking". Sam denies the sulking but Cap doesn't want to quibble over words. All he knows is "I shouldn't have let off steam the way I did" and, as he performs various stunts with his shield, he offers an apology. When the Falcon doesn't reply, Cap adds, "Well, say something, willya? Want me to think you're a racist?" (This is Stan, trying much too hard.) The Falcon takes it all goodnaturedly. He even tries to stand by politely as Cap shows off his "boo merang toss". (Pretty exciting stuff there, Cap!) But the return of Redwing distracts him. When Cap finishes showing off and suggest splitting a pizza, Sam turns him down. "I'm in the mood for soul food," he says (This is also Stan trying too hard.) but what he really wants to do is ditch Cap so he can follow Redwing and catch Spider-Man. Cap realizes that Falc has "something he's keeping from me" on his mind but he doesn't push it. "He'll tell me when he's ready" he figures and he lets his partner go off on his own.
So, the Falcon follows Redwing through Manhattan until the bird lands on the windowsill of an apartment building. Falcon notes this from the street, then somehow gets up to the roof of the building and lowers himself down on a rope. Within the apartment, Peter Parker tells his roommate Harry Osborn that he is going out for the "last edition" of the newspaper so that Harry is the only occupant of the place by the time the Falcon arrives at the window. Naturally, Sam assumes that Harry is the web-slinger out of costume.
And so, he busts into the apartment through the window, interrupting Harry's reading. When young Mr. Osborn asks "who are you?" the Falcon replies, "One thing you can be sure of... I ain't Snow White!" Then he grabs Harry around the back and hoists him up under his arm. He doesn't understand how Spider-Man can be so weak and doesn't know why the web-slinger doesn't put up a better fight but he is so convinced that "Redwing doesn't make mistakes" that he is sure he has caught the wall-crawler. Telling Harry, "we got us a date at the precinct", Sam hauls Harry O. out of the window and up the rope to the roof.
Peter Parker has just bought his paper at a nearby newsstand when he hears his roommate calling for help. He looks up and sees Harry being abducted by the Falcon. He doesn't know what Harry can have to do with either Captain America or the Falcon but he doesn't have time to think about it. He races back up to the apartment, throws on his costume and runs up the wall in pursuit. When he gets to the roof, he sees the Falcon and Harry already down on the street. So, he shoots out a webline, swings down, and kicks the surprised Falcon ("Spider-Man! But... then who...?") right in the face!
The fight begins. Falcon grabs the back of his head, trying to clear out the cobwebs, as he realizes he "had the wrong man all along". Then he lunges at the web-slinger but Spidey easily jumps away from him. Then the webhead exacerbates the situation by treating the Falcon like he's Captain America's errand boy. He recommends that Falc "split while you can" and (as he's giving Sam a back kick right in the snoot) tells him, "You're boring me, Falcon! If Cap's bugged about something, he can tell me so himself." The Falcon's head swims from the blows but it's the words that are really hurting. "Cap!" he thinks, "Why must it always be Cap? I'll prove I can do it on my own!" And so thinking, he sends out a right hook and punches the wall-crawler solidly in the jaw. In quick succession, he karate chops Spidey in the back of the neck, and connects with a left hook across the web-slinger's cheek. But the battle isn't won and Sam wonders, "What's keeping [Spidey] up?" With that, the webhead stops the next punch by grabbing the Falcon's fist. He gives Sam a judo flip, explaining "Captain America can tell you about my strength. He'd have more sense than to slug it out. But some guys have to learn the hard way."
It's only at this point that Harry decides to beat it. "They can both brain each other for all I care" he thinks as he takes it on the lam. With the Falcon unconscious on the sidewalk, Spidey decides to leave too. But he plants a spider-tracer on the Falcon "so I can learn why he was so anxious to catch me". For now, though, he figures to let Falc "sleep it off".
Meanwhile, Cap has apparently been tinkering with his motorcycle. He has discovered some trouble with the carburetor and fixed it. Now he intends to "head for the highway so I can open her up". But as he starts to get on the road, he spots Redwing circling overhead. Concerned for the welfare of his partner, Cap follows the bird. By the time he arrives, the Falcon has gotten back to his feet and is shakily promising himself "I'll find Spider-Man! No matter how strong he is, I'll beat 'im, somehow". So, the Falcon is still in a mood. When Cap rides up and asks what's wrong, Sam snaps back, "Nothing! We're partners, that's enough. Don't try to be my chaplain too!" Cap rides off, leaving the Falcon behind.
Just then, a car pulls up a side street. One of the men in the back seat orders the driver to "turn down the block" so that they aren't seen. But he is also aware that Captain America is driving off, leaving the Falcon behind. This is his chance! With Cap gone, he plans to capture the Falcon. "And then, with no partner to help him, Captain America will be easy!" And when all that is accomplished, then Stone-Face will "have his revenge!"
Captain America was a book without a compass for a number of years after Jack Kirby's departure. Stan hung in there for a while but his scripts were often strained and uneven. The introduction of the Falcon and the attempt to inject race relations in the book was an admirable effort but mostly comes across as phony when looked at today. (And, I suspect, Stan's attempts at funk didn't read much better back in 1971.) This first issue is the better part of the story, what with the appearance of Spider-Man, Sam Wilson's insecurities, and the mistaken impression that Harry Osborn is the web-slinger.
Two and a half webs for Cap #137.