Soundtrack: The Young Fresh Fellows– Because We Hate You
Just to clarify: the only reason I ripped into Steve Englehart’s Captain America run, a couple of days ago, is that you will often find comments to the effect that the John Walker storyline covered the same ground as the “Nomad saga”, and was therefore redundant. Darren Madigan, in one of his Martian Vision pieces, calls Gruenwald “creatively larcenous” (I’m sorry Darren, I couldn’t find the exact passage, but I swear it’s in there somewhere!!), and I imagine he had Captain America in mind when he wrote this (and if I’m wrong, I am sure Darren will let me know–I expect no less!!!).
The late Mark Gruenwald has acquired a strange reputation, over the years. Yes, he liked working with established characters, and avoided adding new ones to the continuity, whenever possible–in fact, his grasp of the “overpopulation crisis” in the Marvel Universe led him (and Scourge) to take drastic measures in 1986… Indeed, Gruenwald’s role as Marvel’s “continuity cop” has become a lightning rod for criticism in recent years. His detractors act as if that’s all he was…
But he was so much more. For one thing, he may have been the only creator working in the industry in the eighties who understood just how wrong the “grim n’ gritty” trend was, and had the deep structural knowledge and wherewithal to critique it effectively (although, obviously, since Cap never became a huge seller, the critique had its’ limits). And his vision of Steve Rogers as the exemplar of Emerson’s notion of the “infinitude of the private man” was so exactly right that I really can’t read anything that came before without finding it wanting somehow (how’s that for a Bloomean triumph of misprision?). I know that Jack Kirby & Joe Simon didn’t conceive the character this way–back in the forties, Cap was an anti-Nazi whirlwind, pure and simple. I also know that Stan Lee didn’t write him this way once he was revived–the sixties Cap often got forced into the role of “old fogy” and straight-man for upstarts like Hawkeye. Yeah, everyone always wound up loving Steve, because his “professionalism” and never-say-die heroism were awe-inspiring (amongst his comrades, I mean–I don’t get too excited about it) and often won the day for the good guys. But Stan’s Cap was pretty freakin’ stodgy, and, really, at least for me, not very interesting. His role, it seems, was to serve as a reminder of how easy it had been to be a liberal back in the “good old days”, when Fascism threatened to engulf the earth. All of his thought bubbles (when he wasn’t pining for the dearly-departed Bucky) concerned the question of whether he was an anachronism. Stan channelled all of his middle-aged “nostalgia” issues through Cap, and, as a result, he did nothing with the character, at least nothing that makes sense when you try to align him with Peter Parker, or Dr. Strange, or most any other Marvel protagonist of the Silver Age.
Now, Englehart did something with the strip, but I’m convinced it was the wrong thing! The “disillusioned hero” bit is fine, but it just doesn’t suit a liberal paragon like Cap–the whole point of liberalism (as I’ve defined it, and will go on defining it) is that it is impervious to disillusionment… Gruenwald’s “Cap no more” storyline differs from Englehart’s on precisely that point!
Okay, as usual, I’ve gone on for too long trying to place my argument in context, but I hope it’s worth it. I think I can safely dispense with my assault on DeMatteis’s take on Cap–I’m prepared to say “it sucked” and just leave it at that (although, if anyone cares to debate the matter with me, I’ll be happy to oblige). Now, I’ve got to go to bed! But I’ll leave you with this Gruenwald fun-fact (and keep in mind that I’m no fan of post-modern punning, but it does complicate the picture of Gruenwald as a staid continuity nut):
the title of Captain America #309 (which takes a look at the world though the eyes of three very distinct–and yet strangely linked–characters is:
I don’t know what it means, but there’s food for thought in those three lines, no?
And there’s a lot more (of greater substance) in that issue and the subsequent hundred or so that Gruenwald wrote. I’ll get into Madcap tomorrow. And maybe Flagsmasher too. It’ll be fun.