Soundtrack: Cadallaca — Introducing Cadallaca
Let’s get started, shall we?
The streets are on fire, traffic is piling up vertically, people are behaving rather badly–Madcap and his fun-gun have wrought this spectacle, “for no reason at all”. So Jack Monroe ducks out on his new bagboy job to put down the revolt, in his guise as “Nomad”. That much you know, if you read this post.
But let’s think about what’s going really going on here. Captain America, the protagonist of the mag, is off in Britain, reminiscing about his anti-Nazi roots with an old RAF pilot. Yes, the character was conceived as the sentinel of American liberalism–a walking, judo-chopping Why We Fight reel. But what does this symbol of the “infinitude of the private man” do when his raison d’etre (the war) comes to an end? Well, according to Marvel, he went for a nice cold nap in the arctic, because, even in 1964, it was no longer cool to bash the snot out of commie fifth-columnists, and that’s the kind of foolishness that Timely/Atlas had put Cap up to in the “fabulous fifties”. So Stan & Jack started on a new Cap, out-of-step with the times and unsure of what to do with his hands without Nazi chins to rest them upon. See, that chainmail suit they trussed Steve up in, after injecting him with the “super soldier” serum, wasn’t just battle-garb–it was his “scarlet letter” (only the A is white), and, like Hester Prynne, he is basically “emptied of personality” by the symbol. In Steve’s case, he becomes the sublime site of America’s collective dedication to “the pursuit of happiness” and the destruction of Fascism. No fascism left? Go after commies! Commies proven to be somewhat less of a threat than previously thought? Go after one-man-fascists like Red Skull and Kang, when you’re lucky enough to find them… the rest of the time you can just cool your heels, Steve–or mix it up with Hawkeye. Did Stan Lee ever ponder the possibility that Cap could perform his Sublime role without a fascist antagonist? ‘Pears not–and anyway, Stan seems to have felt that the Cap-Bucky relationship was the reason for the title’s success in the 1940’s. Do we wanna discuss Bucky here? No. Nothing good can come of that, I assure you…
But what about Cap just dealing with the “Pursuit of Happiness”, and the threats to that quest generated within the American polity itself–and by reality itself? Do I mean nasty crooks in the government? Sure, I suppose–Steve Englehart did it, and it was a fun story, but can a symbol actually disown its symbolic meaning? No way. Throughout the seventies and early eighties, Cap was written as a normal joe/super-patriot–first he throws a hissy-fit about political corruption, and then he gets a job as a commercial artist! These might make fine storylines for Spider-Man, but Captain America is a pure symbol and he doesn’t get the luxury of having unreasonable expectations about the political process–or of earning his daily bread… He subsists upon the gaze of the millions–which doesn’t happen in real life, but in the province of romance, anything goes (and again, this applies to Hester Prynne too).
Okay, so, the Greenwhich Village apartment complex, the job, the political volatility which is anathema to cold-blooded Liberal Democracy, which bets the farm on abstract principles because it believes that all human beings deserve a chance to make a life for themselves, and believes just as surely that all of those loveable human beings will turn instantly into demons as soon as they gain power over others… All of these things are dispensed with in Cap #307 & #309, which, as I’ve argued, is a manifesto–although, typically for the eighties–it is a manifesto disrupted by an incursion of all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing cross-over fun of the very worst kind in issue #308 (we’re talking Secret Wars II here people). While Cap is across the sea–away from the “human characterization” context that Englehart and DeMatteis had saddled him with–experiencing life as a pure symbol again, Nomad is following Cap’s seventies/eighties arc, looking for work, and flirting with the irrational.
Enter Madcap! And his “fun-gun” loaded with acid-trips that shed light on the world “as it really is”–a complete madhouse… Madcap is just your basic dadaist, prancing around in a clown-suit and living off of maxims like “Reality is a junk concept. A mass-produced, mass-marketed product that people use everyday then throw away. To heck with junk! To heck with reality! To heck with heck!”. (he might as well have said “to heck with Original Sin” and “to heck with incompleteness and the subject/object relationship”). The best thing about the Nomad/Madcap encounter is that, while under the influence of hallucinogens, Nomad sees his relection in the mirror, and he’s got half of a Captain America uniform on–this triggers the chant-rant: “From outta time past, where the time went by fast, comes the nutcase known as Nomad… He’s a foolish fellow, he has brains made of Jello…The nutcase known as Nomad! Nomad… He’s half as good as Cap… Nomad… the world’s biggest sap!”
At the time that this issue was written, the idea that Englehart’s Nomad arc was “half as good” as Cap could be would probably have seemed absurd (except perhaps to Jack Kirby), but that, in essence, is how I read Gruenwald’s little nursery rhyme critique.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss Nomad and Madcap’s further convergence upon the point inanity, and the way Gruenwald pulls a different Cap out of the wreckage!
Good night friends!