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Longbox Junk Captain America Annual #5

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Welcome to Longbox Junk! It's the place to find comic book reviews you never even knew you wanted.

 
It's July! That most patriotic month of the year. . .if you happen to live in the United States, that is.  If you don't it's just hot.  That's it. Hot.  Well, it's hot here in the states too, but July is ALSO the month to celebrate all things red, white and blue!
 
I like to consider myself a proud American. A real life nephew of my Uncle Sam. A lover of baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. Yeah, yeah. . .I drive a KIA.  BUT I BOUGHT IT IN AMERICA, SO THERE!
 
ANYWAY. . . 
 
If you don't mind indulging me in a little bit of flag waving here at Longbox Junk, I have a tradition where I spend the month of July looking at some comics featuring that star-spangled Super Soldier, the one and only (okay, there's actually 5 or 6 of them) CAPTAIN AMERICA!
 
So stand up, true believers! Put your hand on your heart and say it with me. . .
 
AMERICA, YEAH!!
 
Or don't.
 
Captain America. Let's do it!

CAPTAIN AMERICA

ANNUAL #5

Marvel (1981)

 
 
COVER: Frank Miller / Joe Rubenstein (inks)
 
DEATHWATCHER!
 
SCRIPT: David Michelinie
PENCILS: Gene Colan
INKS: Dave Simons
 
THE COVER:
 
Now THAT'S a cover that catches the eye! A great example of prime Frank Miller before he went insane with his scratchy art he puts out today.  It's a beauty. Just a wonderful portrait of the star-spangled shield slinger. . .perfectly framed by the bright yellow star contrasting with the stark black (which makes finding this issue in decent condition a bit difficult) background.  I LOVE this cover.
 
If you're a fan of Captain America, how can you NOT love this cover? Let's get inside!
 
THE STORY:
 
We begin our tale at night in New York bay, with Captain America silently swimming toward a Coast Guard cutter that has been hijacked by the villainous Constrictor and his henchmen.  They have demanded a ransom of ten million dollars or they will turn the cutter's guns onto the World Trade Center.  
 
Captain America isn't there to pay a ransom.
 
 
Stealthily boarding the ship, Cap easily deals with Constrictor's henchmen on deck and goes hunting for their leader.  It isn't long before he finds Constrictor in the wheelhouse, and Captain America leaps into battle!
 
Constrictor isn't much of a match for Cap.  As the battle turns against him, Constrictor shouts for his remaining men to fire the cannon!  But before they are able to do so, the ship rocks with an explosion.  
 
 
Both Cap and Constrictor are confused by the explosion.  It wasn't part of either of their plans.  But Cap figures he can sort it out later and finishes beating Constrictor down and then turning him in to the police.
 
As Cap leaves the scene, little does he know that the entire incident was being filmed by a mysterious crew of men.  It seems that there was a third, unknown, player on the board that night. . .
 
 
Later, we follow the mysterious red van that the unknown film crew was in earlier that night.  It drives to a secluded mansion.  We are introduced to its driver, one Kenneth Hanson. . .ex-soldier, ex-mercenary, ex-many-things, but currently the right hand man of a reclusive multi-millionaire.
 
We follow Hanson as he makes his way through the dank, dusty, and unkept corridors of the mansion.  He enters the only clean room in the mansion. . .filled with high-tech computer equipment and video screens.  We are then introduced to the master of the mansion (and of Hanson), one Samson Scythe.
 
As Hanson feeds Scythe intravenously, they discuss another "project" scheduled for the following day.
 
 
THE NEXT DAY. . .
 
We begin by following Steve Rogers in an amusing little side story where he fails a job interview because he declines the. . .er. . .amorous advances of a female executive who just can't resist.
 
 
And then we shift scenes uptown to the Hearth Club, a swanky restaurant where prominent New York crime boss Carlo Ferrini is celebrating his birthday along with his most trusted Lieutenants.  The party comes to an abrupt and "shocking" end when Ferrini is electrocuted while cutting into a turkey!
 
As chaos ensues and Ferrini's men quickly blame rival crime boss Sean Gamble of the dirty deed, we see that the whole incident is being filmed by hidden cameras and greatly enjoyed by the mysterious Mr. Scythe at his mansion.
 
 
Shifting scenes again, we find ourselves at Manhattan's Eleventh Police Precinct, where Captain America has answered a call to meet Lt. Powell. . .a detective Cap works with on occasion. 
 
 In Powell's office, Cap is introduced to Sean Gamble and filled in on the details of the Ferrini assassination earlier that day. Powell, Gamble, and Cap all agree that even if Gamble wasn't behind the hit, there will probably be retaliation.  
 
Cap offers Gamble a deal, his personal protection in exchange for Gamble allowing himself to be bait to draw out the killer.  Gamble agrees.
 
 

We follow Captain America over the next three days as he stealthily follows Gamble during his routine throughout the city.  There's no sign of the killer and Cap is about ready to give up, thinking that maybe they're on the wrong track.
 
BUT THEN. . .
 
Cap finally senses a trap as Gamble steps into an elevator! Rushing into action, Cap narrowly saves the crime boss from falling into an elevator shaft with deadly spikes at the bottom.  Cap almost falls victim to the trap himself as we see Mr. Scythe watching from hidden cameras with great interest.
 
In the aftermath, Captain America and Lt. Powell discuss their next move. Cap is now convinced that there's something more going on than a simple gang war situation, and he's going to find out what!
 
At the same time, we see that Mr. Scythe has now become interested in Captain America and is now plotting against the superhero that ruined his "entertainment". . .
 
 
 
THE NEXT DAY. . .
 
While on a date in Central Park with his neighbor, Steve Rogers overhears a report on the radio about a nearby bank robbery in progress.  He makes an excuse to ditch his date and Captain America quickly makes it to the scene of the crime!
 
Cap makes easy work of the robbers, but one of them gets away. . .one that we learn is none other than Mr. Scythe's right hand man, Hanson.  Hanson leads Cap on a merry chase through the streets that ends up with Cap following him into the back of a parked semi-truck.
 
 
Unfortunately for Cap, it's a trap!  As he is overpowered by a gang of waiting men, Mr. Scythe himself makes an appearance.  The wheelchair-bound millionaire asks Captain America to stop interfering in his affairs.  After all, the only ones he kills are criminals.
 
Cap, of course, laughs in Scythe's face.  Scythe ignores the mockery and we get a flashback origin story of the reclusive killer. . .born rich and a world traveler at a young age, he soon tired of just about everything.  He joined the military and gained a for death during Vietnam.
 
But after the war, he found himself once again bored by literally everything. . .
 
 
He became a recluse, even being so bored by food that he was fed intravenously.  Nothing interested him at all. . .until he met Hanson.  Hanson began filming murders he committed, which are now the only things that make Scythe feel anything as he watches them from his mansion.  
 
Scythe is in control of a huge network of operatives and spies that find criminal victims for his viewing pleasure as they are killed.  Hanson tries to convince Captain America that they aren't that much different in wanting to rid New York of crime.  Captain America disagrees.
 
Prepared for Cap's reaction, Scythe tells him that he now wants to watch the death of a superhero, and that Captain America will come to his mansion to die, or Scythe will put into action a plan to kill police officers. . .the deaths of which will all be on Captain America's conscience.
 
 
Unable to prevent Scythe and Hanson from escaping, Cap decides to take the madman up on his offer and end his killing once and for all.  And so we find ourselves following Captain America later that night as he stealthily infiltrates the mansion grounds, only to be greeted by a gloating Scythe via hidden video screen.
 
Having lost the element of surprise, Cap finds himself fighting a pack of robotic dogs and handily defeating them before making his way into the mansion itself, where Scythe continually taunts the hero as he braves the madman's traps. . .
 

 
First, a room that fills with gold dust. . .
 
 
And then, a deadly sonic assault. . .
 
 
Before finally discovering Scythe's control room and bursting in to confront the madman and his assistant, Hanson!
 
 
As Cap rushes in to battle, Hanson fires a flamethrower at the attacking hero despite Cap shouting that he's an idiot that will set the whole place ablaze.  And yeah. . .Hanson sets the whole place ablaze.
 
As the mansion begins burning around them, Scythe falls out of his wheelchair and desperately crawls across the floor to a fire extinguisher. . .but as he does so, he catches sight of one of his video screens.  On it is himself, on fire.  Scythe is so entranced by watching himself die that it's too late for Cap to do anything for him.  
 
Cap grabs Hanson and rushes from the burning mansion, saving the henchman's life as the mansion collapses behind them.  Outside, Cap fills Lt. Powell in on what's happened as firemen try to douse the flaming mansion.
 
Powell is relieved that Cap has rid New York of a serial killer, but there's still a gang war to consider.  Cap agrees, but tells Powell it can wait until tomorrow.  He's had enough for one night.
 

The End. 
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Alrighty then, there it is.  A nice little one-off Captain America story.  Let's break it on down!
 
So what we basically have here is a pretty good Batman story.
 
Seriously.  If you replace Captain America with Batman and Lt. Powell with Jim Gordon, nothing changes in this story.  It's a Batman story.  Now, I didn't say it was a BAD story, it's just a little odd to see a Captain America story follow this kind of storyline that would normally be seen in something like Detective Comics.
 
I don't have too many Captain America comics from the early 80's, so I can't say for sure if Marvel was trying to go a more grounded and street crime oriented direction in general with Cap at the time, but I just find it interesting to see a Batman story in my Captain America comic.  
 
But like I said, it's not a BAD story at all.  It's not the best Batman. . .er. . .Captain America story I've ever read, but it's well-written and pretty engaging.  There's nothing huge going on here, basically Captain America following clues to a hidden killer and taking him down. 
 
It's a decent read, maybe a little darker than one would expect from a Captain America story, but not dark enough to call it grim. . .except maybe the part about Scythe watching himself burn to death. THAT'S pretty dark.
 
On the art side of things, it's hard to go wrong with prolific Bronze Age legend Gene Colan on the job.  This isn't really his BEST work (That would probably be on Tomb of Dracula), but I've never seen anything I didn't like from Colan and this is no exception.  His gritty pencils are perfect for a grounded and dark story like this one.
 

CONCLUSION

 
Overall, I liked this quite a bit.  It's an unusual Captain America story in that it's dark and grounded in the criminal element of New York and human madness with only a passing glance at supervillains (a few panels of Constrictor in the prologue) and the fantastic (a couple of panels of robot dogs later on). Not what I would usually expect in a (late) Bronze Age Captain America comic.
 
 
If you're looking for a good single-issue Captain America story, then here you go.  It's not anything world-changing, but it's a solid story with good art and a very nice cover.  It's just a nice little piece of Longbox Junk.  If you're a Captain America fan, grab it if you spot it (I bought it for the cover alone, why not?)  It shouldn't set you back much.  From what I can see, it looks like this one is pretty much ignored by specu-collectors.
 
Up Next. . .
 
I got this one out in pretty good time!  
It's still July, so why not more Captain America?
 
Be there or be square!
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