“Making Sense of Things” – understanding the world through senses and experience

This is the third part of a six-week program, “Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life,” given at Life Community Church in Mahomet, Illinois

A major shift in worldview during the Classical Age in the West can be traced to a single sentence, purportedly uttered by Greek philosopher Xenophanes (d. 475 bc): “Men have created the gods in their own image.”

The rejection of “the gods” as mythical realities was certainly not as abrupt as this. Ancient cultures long continued to revere mythic deities, but more as a matter of civil pride than of actual worship. If we no longer look to the heavens and our “gods” for our story, what’s next? Simply look around you and shape your “Story” around the things you can actually experience (touch, taste, smell, hear, see). This is the beginning of what we now call “science-based” worldviews: materialism & naturalism

“Science” comes from Latin skiente “to learn.” There’s no doubt God created us with intellectual curiousity and the ability to learn from our environment. The Big Question is: can we learn all there is to know about the human identity, condition, destiny only through experience and our senses?

“Natural philosophy” in many civilizations challenged imaginative stories and supernatural explanations as the valid ways of understanding the “real” world. Two big questions to begin with were:

  • Is there a basic substance everything is made of? If so, what is it? (the beginning of materialism)
  • Is there a constant order to everything? Or is there constant change? (the beginning of naturalism)

At first, though, the new “natural” and “material” stories were just as imaginative as the old ones. Basic elements (earth, wind, water, fire) or essences (phelm, blood, bile). By the 5th C. bc, Greek thinkers were getting little more sophisticated in their considerations:

  • Parmenides (c. 515-450) viewed matter as an essential, unchanging substance. Our perception of change in the natural world reflected changing conditions, not changes in substances themselves.
  • His contemporary Heraclitus (c. 535-475) viewed change itself as the constant. We draw conclusions from experience, then look for the universal order (logos!) that transcends the change.
  • Democritus (c. 460-370) with his “atom theory” reduced all reality to matter alone. All things can be divided until reaching an indivisible “building block.” These atoms were the essences of reality.
  • Aristotle (384-322) centered his metaphysics what he called the four causes of being (“causal explanations” of being). The material cause of a thing is its physical properties. The formal cause is the structure or design. The efficient cause is the catalyst or acting element. The final cause is the ultimate purpose for which a thing exists.

If the material/natural world is all there is, that reality determines how should we live. Three famous Hellenistic “schools” of philosophy (c. 300 bc to 300 ad) offered these possibilities:

  • Epicureans—life is to be enjoyed; the greatest good is pleasure (a hedonistic extreme)
  • Stoics—life is to be endured; the greatest good is perseverance (a fatalistic extreme)
  • Cynics—life is as it is; there is not greatest good; it’s all up to me! (an existential extreme)

The triumph of Catholic Christianity in the West restored the importance of spiritual realities, but in the context of Medieval dualism (suffering on earth, reward in heaven). The subsequent cultural and religious challenges of the Renaissance and Reformation, in different ways, shifted focus to man himself and the desire to bring “heaven” down to earth through humanism, the arts, individual faith, and personal piety.

In the 17th-18th centuries, pendulum shifted back toward materialism and naturalism with the “Scientific Revolution.” Three important figures give us a framework for what becomes a “scientistic” worldview:

  • Bacon’s scientific method—science will help us explain all things (modern empiricism)
  • Descartes’ universal method—reason will help us understand all things (modern rationalism)
  • Newton’s universal laws—mathematical precision will help us control all things (modern physics)

Darwin’s theory of evolution (19th C.) was the turning point toward a fully materialist, naturalistic, “scientistic” worldview. Naturalism focuses on what can be gleaned only by experience using the senses, leading ultimately to science as a primary foundation for explaining the world and the materialist presumption that only physical substances and forces constitute “reality”.

Is this all there is? Let’s think Biblically about what the material, natural world is created for and what role experience is supposed to play in our “understanding”!

We know from Genesis that God created the “heavens and the earth”—creation consists of both a natural/material reality and a super-natural/immaterial reality (and that is was created “good”). He created humanity “from the dust of the ground” but also “in His image & likeness” (and he breathed life into us—Spirit is immaterial!)

So our IDENTITY and the CONDITION of life consists of both a natural/material reality and a super-natural/immaterial reality. How does God use our embodiment in the natural/material world for our good

  1. To make Himself known to us (Romans 1: 18-20)

“God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.”

  1. To provide sustenance and vocation (Genesis 1-2)

God placed the first humans in a garden “and caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God gave them charge to work it and watch over it and to be fruitful: “multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.”

  1. To allow us to learn! Proverbs 15 tells us “The discerning heart seek knowledge,” but it also extends a number of cautions into that process lest we be consumed by hubris and think ourselves equal to God. We don’t want to be like the people described by Paul to Timothy as “always learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

4. To give us a reason to look to Him in the struggles of life (Genesis 2, Job, Ecclesiates)

  • The natural/material world is cursed because of the fall (consequences of disobedience)
  • Our faith will always be tested (can we say with Job, “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him”)
  • All of our “worldly” experiences and achievements, while often beneficial, are ultimately insufficient in providing fullness of meaning and purpose
  • But there is hope! In John 16 Jesus promises, “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

The World in its present form has always been “passing away.” It is not where we are called to look for eternal truths or for answers to questions about meaning, purpose, destiny. Remember the admonition in Col. 3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

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Three More Questions

This post originated as the Commencement Speech I delivered May 19 to the Graduating Class of 2018 at Judah Christian High School, where I teach.  These graduating Seniors were in my Worldviews class.

I am honored to have one last opportunity to share some thoughts with you on this momentous occasion.  We’ve spent a lot of time in class this year wrestling with “the Big Questions of Life”:

  • Who Am I? Why am I here?
  • What gives meaning to life?
  • Is there a way we “ought” to live?
  • And most importantly . . . do grades really matter?

I hope you’ve come away from the year with confidence that there are, indeed, real and true answers to these questions:

  • You are a unique human being created in God’s image and likeness, placed purposefully in this particular place and time to reflect and proclaim His glory.
  • Life is a gift from God, and you will find fullness of purpose in loving Him—and everyone you encounter–with all of your mind, heart, soul, and strength.
  • A life well-lived is sown in faith, rooted in truth, cultivated in virtue, and evidenced in fruit. What does God require of you? To act justly, love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with Him.

As for grades . . . well, we all know the answer to that one J.   The good news is that you are all here today, prepared and equipped for the journey ahead. Now I’d like to set before you three more “Big Questions” that will shape the rest of your life. They are questions Jesus asked his own disciples. Each was asked in a particular context, for a specific purpose, and with an important lesson in mind. I think they each also have a fitting application for you –- and for all of us—here and now.

By the time of what we call Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s disciples had been following his public ministry for more than a year. They had witnessed him performing miracles. Listened to his teaching. Learned how to fast and how to pray. Yet at the end of this amazing discourse on how to live out the Gospel, Jesus says to everyone gathered there, including his disciples, in Luke 6 . . .

“Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?

 He follows this question with a familiar illustration of two men. The one who “Hears My words, and acts on them builds his house on a firm foundation. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built.”

“But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The river crashed against it, and immediately it collapsed. And the destruction of that house was great!”

Of course, Jesus isn’t just offering advice on good construction techniques. He want his followers to know that a profession of faith in Him brings you life, but obedient faithfulness to Him builds your life upon the firm foundation of His truth. You will need that foundation to weather the storms of life and stand firm against the lies that try to shake your faith.

Jesus’s next “Big Question” comes in Matthew 16 after an encounter with the Pharisees & Saducees, who come to him asking for a sign. Jesus knows what they are really testing Him, looking for proof that he is who he claims to be.

Later, when he’s alone with his disciples Jesus warns, “Watch out and beware of the yeast (or the leaven) of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” This confuses them. Why is he talking about bread? I can see them bickering about who forgot to bring the bread this time!

I imagine Jesus shaking his head and reminding them what happened last time there was no bread. And besides, he must have explained, that’s not what I was talking about anyway! Jesus wasn’t telling them to beware of the yeast in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Then Jesus suddenly seems to change the subject entirely, asking, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples offer various responses, but then he drives the question home:

“But you,” who do you say that I am?”

 Peter responds, with his famous confession of faith: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” Jesus commends his faith and pledges to build His Church upon the Rock of Truth expressed in Peter’s words. More than that—He promises that the very Gates of Hades will not overpower that Truth.

Now, by implication, we come back to the Pharisees & Sadducees. This phrase “Gates of Hades” is a metaphor for the powerful strongholds of this world that stand against the Truth of the Gospel. We’ve learned a lot this year about some of these strongholds. One of them is the need to have proof before we believe Jesus is who He says he is. Another is the idea that following the rules or doing good things without a repentant heart is “good enough.”

You will encounter strongholds such as these all of your life—we all do. As part of His Church, God is calling you to speak truth into these lies. Your ability to do so with confidence and power rests squarely on how you answer this question.

Who do you say Jesus is?

A good example? Yes, but not enough. A help in time of need? Of course, but still not enough. He is the Christ, the anointed one, God’s only Son, sent to save the world and restore God’s Kingdom. He calls each of you to this great work.

Which brings me to the third “Big Question” for today. After his Resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples on several occasions. In John 21, he finds a few of them returning from an unsuccessful fishing trip.   Watching from the shore, Jesus calls out, “Try again.” This seems familiar, they fishermen must have thought. They are not quite sure who the stranger on the shore was, but that nagging familiarity prompts them to listen and act. The net fills with fish, and they immediately realize who’s talking to them—it’s Jesus!

As you leave this place and the daily presence of “Jesus stuff,” you may at times feel yourself distanced from God. That’s a good time to listen and act when familiar old things remind you of His Presence. Respond to that urge to pray at the start of the day (for good measure, throw in a Pledge and Psalm 67!). Stay in fellowship with other believers, even though you no longer have to go to chapel. When you encounter some profound “Big Question” in life, write a thought paper!

Back to our story. Jesus prepares breakfast for the disciples, then asks Peter three times:

“Do you love Me?”

Peter responds each time, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love You.”  Jesus says back to him each time: “Feed My sheep.”

Now first, remember that Peter had previously denied Jesus how many times? Three. And Jesus asks the question how many times? Three. This is a reminder to us that God’s Grace is limitless, and his love for us is great. Even when we fail Him, He is always prepared to restore us. But there is another important point to the question.

God has given each of you unique gifts and abilities to use in service to His Kingdom. You may be a gifted leader, as Peter was. For you, “Feed my sheep” means “Lead my people.” Some of you are creative, some are compassionate, some are wise, some are encouragers. God is asking you: “Do you love Him? Truly? Unconditionally? Faithfully? Then, empowered by that love, use your gifts, talents, and skills to be a blessing to others. Feed His sheep.

We here at school, along with your parents, family, and other significant people in your life, have all done our best to establish a firm foundation to build upon. Now it is your turn to build. Do so in faithful obedience, loving service, and confidence that “He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Be blessed, be a blessing, and – as our friend Rich Mullins always said – “Be God’s”

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“Once Upon a Time”: understanding the world through the imagination

This is the second part of a six-week program, “Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life,” given at Life Community Church in Mahomet, Illinois

Before we had science, philosophy, theology, or Oprah to help us understand ourselves and the world around us, what did we use? We used our imaginations. We told stories. We created myths.

All human civilizations begin with a “myths,” stories used to explain who we are, why we are here (and how we got here), and why the world is the way it is. We imagine immortal beings that are the source of all things (and are in control of all things). We use their interactions with one another, with the world (and us) as a way to explain everything. Ultimately, we develop religious practices (rites) and beliefs (doctrines) around these stories.

So the wisdom of the modern world tells us. And of course, modern science and philosophy tell us such stories are untrue. But what if it really is the other way around? What if there is really One True Story given to us by the One True God so we could “see” and know Him (and all of reality) “through the eyes of our hearts”? What if the Gospel is the One True Myth?

In the video below, from EWTN’s “Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings:’ A Catholic Worldview,” J.R.R. Tolkien discusses the “true myth” of the Gospel with his friend Jack (C.S.) Lewis.  Based on an actual interchange between the two prior to (and instrumental in) Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.

Ancient Myths are rooted in culture and language and both reflect and project characteristics of those cultures. For example, mythical stories of agricultural societies would center on fertility, seasonal cycles, harvest offerings. Woodland societies would develop myths that are more natural and elemental, featuring animal spirits. Myths of seafaring societies focus on wind and water and longing for far-off lands.

Myths incorporate narrative archetypes (symbolic representations that provide motivation and meaning)

Myth and religion in early human history are intricately connected; both use stories to provide imaginative explanations for human origins and reveal deep truths about the human experience. What we want to consider is what they tell us about the Three Big Worldview Questions: Human Identity, Human Condition, Human Destiny (see the last post for a reminder if needed).

Most ancient myths begin with conflict (often murder) among deities prior to creation. Humanity is created as “puppets to serve the gods and tend to their needs. It is their task to tend to needs of material world and build temples to honor and appease the gods in their spiritual realm.” (see “A Tale of Two Worldviews,” Hearts and Minds podcast, Fr. John Oliver http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hearts_and_minds/a_tale_of_two_worldviews)

  • Man is created as an afterthought; the universe was not created for man, but for self-serving deities.
  • This served the interests of the powerful and elite in ancient societies. They come to see themselves as occupying the same position in the material world as the gods occupied in the spiritual world.
  • Society is divided between the powerful and the powerless. Only the former deserved any sort of life after death, and even for them eternity was reserved for royalty or the most noble/heroic.

The impact of this view of the human condition is all-too apparent in history: justification of power and privilege in a variety of forms. Royal families claim to rule by “divine right.” Industrial and commercial capitalists oppress and exploit workers. Darwin’s theory of natural selection becomes the basis for a “survival of the fittest” mentality in society.

By contrast, the Biblical story of creation depicts Father, Word, and Spirit working in unity to craft a cohesive reality—both material and spiritual–and declaring it “good.” This “Great Story” of human identity, condition, and destiny begins both in Old (Genesis 1) and New (John 1) Testaments.

“In the beginning God [the Father] created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” And, “In the beginning was the Word, [Logos, the pre-incarnate Christ] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.

In Genesis, God [the Father] proclaims, “Let there be light.” In John, we are told of Christ, “Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men.”  God [the Father] continues, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . . . So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God . . . male and female.”

This story gives us a quite different view of humanity and our place in the created order than that of other ancient “myths” (again, from Fr. John Oliver):

  • Man is created in the image and likeness of God as the “crown of creation; the apex, not the afterthought.”
  • Man is a distinctive part of creation, endowed with a glory found only in him.
  • All people matter, particularly the powerless. In fact, the worth of the least is emphasized.

The story goes on from here into a classical catastrophe as humanity falls from grace through disobedience to our gracious God. Disobedience brings sin into the world, banishment from God’s presence, and, ultimately, death. Yet even when we reject God’s good plan, he does not abandon us.

To borrow a word from J.R.R. Tolkien, God comes to us by putting a beautiful eucatastrophe into motion. He makes a covenant first with one man, then with one people, extending it through them to all of humanity. The Logos becomes incarnate among us, showing us the Father and paying the price for our disobedience. In His death and resurrection comes the promise of restoration and redemption—not only for humanity, but for the human condition as well. He indeed “brings life.”

Romans 8 fills out the picture of the human identity by assuring us we “are not [merely] in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in you . . . . And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through[d] His Spirit who lives in you.”

This truth of “the reality of all things” was, Colossians 1 says, a “mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”

As beings created in “the image and likeness” of God, we can experience true knowledge of Him, not just information about Him, and enjoy full relationship with Him. We find our identity in Him and find meaning and purpose in life in light of His nature. Ultimately, we find eternal salvation by His grace and have the promise of complete restoration of all! This is the Story God gives us, and it is this Story we are called to take to a world that so desperately needs to be reminded who they really are.

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What’s Your Story? Worldview as the L.E.N.S. of Life

“Whether we realize it or not, all of us possess a worldview. We make one of two basic assumptions. We view the universe as an accident or we assume an intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order, and for some of us, meaning to life. ”                — Dr. Armand Nicoli, The Question of God

This post comes from the first in a series of talks I’ve recently given on the topic of worldview at my local church.  This series has grown out of 20 years of experience teaching a class for high school Seniors.  It has been a challenge to boil an entire school year’s worth of material into a six week series of 30-40 minute talks.  It is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, though–and it has been a great blessing!

Let’s begin with the word itself. 

Dallas Seminary professor David Naugle, author of Worldview:  History of a Concept (2002), locates the origins of the term “worldview” in German philosophy’s Weltanshauung (Kant, Fichte, Shelling, Hegel, et. Al.), a word used to describe “a set of beliefs that underlie and shape all human thought and action.”  Christian applications of the concept first appear in the writings of Scottish Presbyterian theologian James Orr (1844-1913) in The Christian View of God and the World (1893).

Dutch Reformed statesman, theologian, and educator Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), addressed the topic systematically in his 1907 Stone Lectures at Princeton (revisited in the 1998 book, Creating a Christian Worldview).  Finally, the concept gained a wider popular audience through the late-2oth century ministry of American Presbyterian theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-84) and his classic work, How Should We Then Live?

A good working definition of “worldview” might be:  a defining and interpretive narrative used to explain/understand the world and your place in it.  It “reflects, interprets, and assigns value to reality, providing a model of the world that guides in the world” (Fr. John Oliver, “Hearts & Minds” podcast). Your worldview does not just inform, it motivates and directs your beliefs and actions. “How we see determines who we are” (Fr. John again).  Prov. 23:7 (NASB): “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

Listen to Fr. John Oliver’s podcast episodes on Worldview at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hearts_and_minds/the_christian_worldview

and http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hearts_and_minds/a_tale_of_two_worldviews

Here’s my personal definition:  your worldview is the “story” you believe about who you are, why things are the way things are, and what really matters in life. All worldviews address three “Big Questions” about the human experience, either explicitly or through passive implication:

  • The Question of Human Identity (Who are we? What makes us human? Where do we come from?)
  • The Question of Human Condition (Why are we here? How should we live? Who decides things?)
  • The Question of Human Destiny (What gives us meaning, purpose, direction? Where are we going?)

The Worldview “L.E.N.S.

Keeping in mind the fact that worldview not only informs but also motivates human behavior, worldview education becomes a tool for “navigating the complexities of modern life” (the tagline for one of my favorite online journals, http://mercatornet.com). I see this task as a four-step process.

LEARN the human story in order to understand the human condition (cultural literacy), so we can . . .

ENGAGE the world from an informed perspective (call to action), helping us understand . . .

NEEDS that exist in your sphere of influence (call to compassion), so we can propose and pursue . . .

SOLUTIONS that truly understand the problem and offer genuine hope to people (call to recovery), allowing us to be “salt and light” in the world!

Too many times Christians tend to start at the end of this process, pointing the finger at what’s wrong with the world before taking the time (and doing the hard work of study) to learn why things are the way they are.  True and lasting solutions to cultural and social problems must come from understanding how things got to be the way they are first.

Consider the example of Paul in Athens in Acts chapter 17.  Before telling the gathered philosophers on Mars Hill where they were wrong and how things “really were,” he first took the time to observe and understand their culture and history.  He begins by recognizing their piety, then uses that as a starting point for telling them the true story behind their “unknown god.”

The call to be “salt and light” to the world begins with being informed and engaged agents of cultural influence and change.  We need to keep in mind the story we know about why things are the way they are so we can help our culture recover its true story.  J.R.R. Tolkien, in his essay “On Fairy Stories,” speaks to this need:  “We need recovery—a regaining of a clear view. I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’—as things set apart from ourselves.”

We also must be steadfastly committed to the Biblical account of the human story as the truth about the reality of all things. It is not merely one religious interpretation of reality among many others. We do not get to decide the nature of reality ourselves; we find the reality of God in His Creation and in His Word, and we align ourselves with it.

The Biblical account of the human story communicates God’s true intentions for humanity from Genesis through the Gospel and the Great Commission. Human disobedience allowed sin to set humanity on a path of progressive (and often destructive) self-determination. God’s grace provides the only means of personal redemption, cultural recovery, and the recognition of His Sovereignty over all things.

Finally, the Biblical account of God’s revelation of Himself and His Truth through the Jewish Witness and the Christian Gospel is faithfully depicted and foundationally essential. Institutional Judaism and Christianity, as “world religions,” express and extend God’s revelation into culture. But we must also humbly recognize that, because of the fallen nature of the world and their human leaders, religious institutions (and individual believers) have often failed to represent God’s Truth faithfully. Such failures do not, however, negate the Truth of the biblical account of God’s revelation.

We cannot allow fears that our culture is beyond redemption to cloud our vision for the people all around who have lost their story.  The challenge of Romans 1:16 must always be before us:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.” 

Because God created us in his image and likeness, we are blessed to share in the multi-faceted gifts we’ve been given by Him so we may fully know and engage our world.  Each week in this series we will look at various ways knowing and embracing the Truth of God’s Story about the human identity, condition, and destiny.  Coming up . . .

  1. Once Upon a Time” – understanding the world through the imagination
  2. Making Sense of Things” – understanding the world through senses and experience
  3. What’s on Your Mind?” – understanding the world through reason, logic & intellect
  4. How Do You Feel About That?” – understanding the world through feelings and emotions
  5. Truth Be Told” – understanding how the Gospel resonates with and redeems all the above and how we, as the Church, all called to be “salt and light,” bearing and embodying God’s Truth in our fallen world.
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War Stories (Part 2): Enter the Invaders!

This post is part of an on-going series, The Odyssey of Captain America, which follows Steve Rogers’ life and times as the Living Legend.  This segment continues to look at modern-era, retro-continuity stories that relate Cap’s earliest WW II experiences.

A new window into Cap’s WWII action opens with Roy Thomas’ ambitious efforts to more clearly connect and integrate Cap’s “Golden Age” and “Marvel Age” storylines. “I’ve been waiting 30 years to do this one,” Thomas wrote in a commentary piece. “After all, hadn’t Captain America been created solely to protect our shores from the Nazis and the Japanese—to serve as a living symbol of the Land of the Free?”[1] Except for the first few issues, the action during the entire run of Invaders comics takes place during 1942. We’ll highlight all of their adventures together at once, then turn to other Invaders stories that take place later in the war.

Giant-Size Invaders #1 opens “December 22, 1941” with Cap and Bucky fighting saboteurs on the docks near Washington, D.C. FBI agents inform Cap that “Dr. Anderson” (from the ToS #63 origin story) is dying and needs his help. Following this is a flashback of Cap’s origin story (drawn largely from ToS #63).[2] Cap and Bucky meet Anderson at Walter Reed hospital, where he relates the story of his discovery of a Nazi “super-soldier” program, which has produced a new threat: “Master Man.” Cap and Bucky are joined by the Human Torch, Toro, and Submariner to fight the menace; they save Winston Churchill, who dubs the team the “Invaders.”

    G-S Invaders #1 (Frank Robbins,  John Romita, G. Saladino;  Invaders #1 (Romita & Saladino)

These proto-Avengers reassemble in late Dec. 1941 in response to seeming Teutonic versions of the Nordic Gods, who turn out to be aliens (#1-2)! In the early weeks of 1942 (#3-4) they save Churchill again, this time from a rogue Atlantean super-soldier dubbed U-Man. Churchill addressed a joint session of Congress Dec. 26, 1941 and traveled through the U. S. and Canada for four weeks; so this must be sometime before he returned to England. We also get a glimpse of Namor’s volatility here when he roughs up a U-boat captain to get information. As Cap stops him, Namor protests, “But – he’s a lousy Nazi!” The response is classic Cap:

And we’re no better if we start using their methods—beating up defenseless prisoners. We’re in the was, Namor, and we’re going to win it—but lets make sure we’re still the ‘good guys’ when we do! Or else—we don’t deserve to win.

Enraged, Namor goes after the renegade Atlantean himself, with a reluctant Bucky in tow.[3]

The Red Skull returns in issue #5. FDR remarks at a briefing, “he was presumed dead,” which connects nicely with the Skull’s last Golden Age appearance in CAC #7 (Oct. 1941). The Skull captures Cap, Torch, Toro, and Namor, leaving Bucky behind as “of little use.” In a story that weaves through Marvel Premier #29-30 and Invaders #6, Thomas reintegrates several Golden Age heroes into the “modern” Marvel Universe as members of the home-front “Liberty Legion.”[4] MP #30 introduces NY Yankees batboy Fred Davis, who plays “Bucky” in a ruse to lure the Red Skull to his defeat (and will later figure prominently in Thomas’s reworking of Cap & Bucky’s end-of-the-war “demise”).[5]

     Invaders #6 (Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott, Saladino); Marvel Premier #30 (Kirby, Frank Giacoia)

In Fantastic Four Annual #11 (1976), the FF travel back in time to “Early 1942,” arriving in the middle of a meeting in London in which the Invaders are being briefed about the “Nazis planning something big” in occupied France. A container of Vibranium, sent to the past by Doom’s time machine, has given Germany a technology advantage which they will use to win the war (alternate future/time paradox and all that!). The Invaders team up with the FF, traveling to France and encountering Baron Zemo. This story depicts Cap’s first battle with Baron Zemo, resulting in the “Adhesive X” incident that permanently fixed Zemo’s hood to his face. The FF return to the present having retrieved only half of the missing Vibranium. It’s up to Ben Grimm, the Ever-Lovin’ Thing, to return to 1942 himself to finish the job (Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 and MTIO #20 (both 1976). This time Grimm teams up with the Liberty Legion to battle Master Man, Warrior Woman, U-Man, and SkyShark, stopping the Nazis from developing a prototype “Flying Swastika” sky fortress.

The Invaders saga moves to England in mid 1942 (#7-11), introducing the original Union Jack (Lord Montomery Falsworth, a member of a WWI team called “Freedom’s Five) and his daughter Jacqueline. Falsworth’s brother Jonathan turns out to be the Nazi super-vampire Baron Blood. When Jacqueline is bitten by the vampire, a blood transfusion from the Human Torch interacts with the vampire venom in her bloodstream, giving her super-speed. She takes the costumed identity “Spitfire” and eventually joins the Invaders. Baron Blood is impaled, but Lord Falsworth’s legs are crushed, ending his brief career as the first Union Jack in the Invaders.[6]

       Fantastic Four Annual #11 (Kirby, Sinnott); Invaders Annual #1 (Alex Shomburg)

After travelling to the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland to rescue a Jewish boy who has the ability to turn into the super-human Golem of Hebrew myth (#12-13), the team returns to London and encounter a group of British superheroes called the Crusaders. The team includes one Yank–The Spirit of ’76–and the diminutive Dyno-mite, later revealed to be Roger Aubrey, a close friend of the missing Falsworth heir, Brian (#14-15).[7] The team’s next adventure (#16-21) takes them to Germany, where they face Master Man, his new “mate,” Warrior Woman, and Hitler himself! This storyline is precipitated when Nazis kidnap G.I. Biljo White, who turns out to be the creator of a popular Cap knock-off comic, Major Victory. Since that hero’s origin story was a thinly-veiled imitation of Cap’s own, seems “the Nazis may suspect that a comic book artist . . . knows something about the carefully-guarded Super-Soldier Formula!”[8]

Thomas took advantage of a summer Annual to return to events first depicted in a “pre-Invaders” time travel story he’d written in Avengers #71 (Dec. 1969). both stories repr. in GS Avengers/Invaders #1, 2008). In the original Avengers story, Cap, Black Panther, and Yellow Jacket travel back in time to Paris in the summer of 1942 (“1941” in the Avengers story), where they battle Namor, the Human Torch, and—Captain America! This time the story is told from the Invaders’ point of view, reconciling, as much as possible, every little detail which had not been considered in 1969 (including the mistaken dating)![9]

The subject of Japanese-American internment during the war is tackled when the team travels to California to seek medical treatment for the wounded Toro (#25-26). When they find most qualified surgeon for the task (a Japanese-American) and his family have been sent to the camps, Cap rips into the openly racist camp C.O.: “These people–herded here like so many animals! While we’ve been off fighting the Fascists, has our own country taken a page from our enemies?” With Bucky and Toro remaining state-side, Cap, Torch, and Namor return to Europe, reconnecting with Spitfire and Union Jack to confront a new menace: Komtur, the Teutonic Knight. Meanwhile, Bucky and Toro form a new team of youngsters called “Kid Commandos” and Hitler finds a way to summon Thor (yes, the actual MU God of Thunder) to aid the Nazi cause! (#28-34).[10]

The Liberty Legion returns for a run (#35-37) in which Golden Age heroes the Whizzer and Miss America replace Union Jack and Spitfire on the team. A new Nazi menace, the Iron Cross, also makes his first appearance. The first Invaders series winds up (#38-41) in something of a mega “All Star” bout featuring the now “All-Winners Squad”-styled team of Americans against Baron Blood, Master Man, Warrior Woman, Merrano, and a new Asian villainess called Lady Lotus. Nothing like going out swinging!

       Invaders #15 (Kirby, Sinnott)                                Alter Ego #20 (Al Milgrom)

“For yours truly,” Thomas later reflected, “The Invaders was always, despite its World War II setting, a giant stage on which almost any drama could be played—or any type of homage be paid to heroes and/or villains of yesteryear . . . .”[11] For Captain America, it foreshadowed his later role as “The First Avenger,” placing him in a team context for the first time (chronologically, at least).

[1] Giant-Size Invaders #1 (June 1975). The Invaders series was more than just an imaginative presentation of war-time action. Thomas determined to bring together the “old-style long-on-action-short-on-sense” style of stories of the Golden Age with the “sensational super-villains which are such an integral part of today’s comics scene.” Yet he was also very specific about maintaining flexibility in the connections between past and present. Events in Golden Age stories may have “actually happened, more or less, [but] we’re ordinarily not going to consider ourselves bound by anything which occurred in the old Timely mags unless we also verify it in the ‘Invaders’ tales themselves” (he even specifically mentions a story in CAC #9 (Dec. 1941; though he writes #7) to head off objections to his dating the first Invaders story on December 22, 1941). Still, few people (except, perhaps, Ed Brubaker) have done more give Golden Age characters contemporary relevance. Early issues of Invaders are peppered with Thomas’s wonderful “Nostalgic Notes on the Golden Age of Comics.”

[2] Thomas also “reconciled the ‘Dr. Reinstein’ of CAC #1 and the ‘Dr. Erskine’ . . . of ToS #63” in this Invaders story (“World War II Forever (But Only In Comic Books!), Alter Ego #20 (Jan. 2003), p. 6. In this article, Thomas provides many insights into the creative process behind the Invaders, his various reinterpretations of Golden Age heroes, as well as a general synopsis of each story in the title’s 41-issue run.

[3]Invaders #3 (Jan. 1976), Thomas. The opening scene of issue #4, with Cap, Torch and Toro in “hot” pursuit across a D.C. Army Air Corps base, is later recalled by journalist Ben Urich in Conspiracy #1 (Feb. 1998).

[4] The Liberty Legion was formed in June 1942, according to CA:Patriot #1 (2010). When Cap makes specific reference to the Patriot in Invaders #5, Bucky protests: “Aw, get serious, Cap! He may wear your colors, but he’s not in your league!” Cap chastises him: “They’re not ‘my colors’, lad. They belong to 134,000,000 Americans.” This issue also shows Bucky and Toro reading early issues of Captain America Comics and Marvel Mystery Comics. Bucky points to two defects in the stories: “they’ve got a lot of details all wrong” and “they have us fighting most of our battles here in the states.”

[5] After Cap and Bucky’s “death’” near the war’s end, Davis will ultimately become the new Bucky for real along side William Naslund and Jeff Mace in the late 1940s (see “Post-War Caps” below). Davis also will later join the V-Batallion and become a member of the revived Penance Council in 1951. For more on the reintegration of Golden Age Heroes in the “modern” MU, see Appendix 1.

[6] In the midst of this arc (issue #10), Thomas makes a direct connection between Cap’s Invaders activity and an actual Golden Age story. Reflecting on Lord Falsworth’s recent brush with death, Cap recalls “The Reaper . . . the Nazi foe [Bucky] and I fought months ago back in the states.” Noting that while the “hard facts” of the encounter remained classified, “A basically accurate account of it is going to be published state-side, any day now. The comic book version’ll be called – “Captain America Battles the Reaper!” The remainder of the story reprints the original tale from CAC #22 (Jan. 1943). Thomas will also use the Invaders platform to reinterpret Toro’s origin (#22) and reprint (in #24) an early team-up between Torch and Namor from MMC #17 (March 1941).

[7] In his previously mentioned Alter Ego article, Thomas the Crusaders were designed with specific “Golden Age lineages” in mind. The Spirit of ’76, “clearly based on Nedor’s Fighting Yank,” will be used again by Thomas just a few months later in his classic What If? #4 reinterpretation of Cap’s 1945 “demise” (Aug. 1977; see more in “Post War Caps” below). Brian Falsworth is revealed to be Golden Age hero the Destroyer in Invaders #18 (he then becomes second Union Jack in #21, and Aubrey takes up the role of the Destroyer). See more details on Thomas’s reinterpretation of these characters in Appendix 1.

[8] Biljo White, an actual artist and friend of Thomas’s, was not only featured in the story as a fictional version of himself, he even drew the artwork of Major Victory’s origin story in a full-age “comic within a comic” (#16). Major Victory was an actual Golden Age hero who appeared in 1941-42 issues of Chesler’s Dynamic Comics and Yankee Comics (as related in Thomas’s Alter Ego article).

[9] Invaders Annual #1 (1977). This tale fits between events in Invaders #15 & #16 and includes a nice editorial from Thomas carefully explaining the connections with the original Avengers story.

[10] Issue #29 includes a flashback to Cap & Bucky’s first encounter with Komtur in late 1941, “some weeks before there was a team called the Invaders.” The Kid Commandos include a Japanese-American girl (“Golden Girl”) and an African-American boy (“Human Top”). The Thor encounter ends with the Thunder God coming to his senses, but wiping the memory of his appearance from everyone (albeit with a nod to Avengers future): “’Twas not meant that Thor should walk amongst mortals at this time. Mayhap one day, ere long, as ‘twas prophesied . . . .” The story also features a cryptic appearance by time travelling Victor von Doom, his face wrapped in bandages.

[11] “World War II Forever . . .” Alter Ego (Jan. 2003).

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War Stories (Part 1): Cap Meets Logan, Fury, & the Howlers

This post is part of an on-going series, The Odyssey of Captain America, which follows Steve Rogers’ life and times as the Living Legend.  This segment continues to look at modern-era, retro-continuity stories that relate Cap’s earliest WW II experiences.

James “Logan” Howlett is certainly one of the most enigmatic figures of the MU. His pre-Wolverine past, shrouded in mystery, includes late 1941 encounters with Cap that were first revealed in X-Men #268 (1990) and then in a story arc in the Wolverine: Origins series in 2007. The two first meet sometime before November in the southeast Asian city of Madripoor, where Logan was living at the time. In this story, they wind up working together to rescue Natasha Romanov, a child at the time, who’d been kidnapped by Nazis (led by Baron Strucker) working with the Hand.[1]

Uncanny_X-Men_Vol_1_268   Wolverine_Origins_Vol_1_16Uncanny X-Men #268, Jim Lee Cover              Wolverine:  Origins #16, Marko Djurdjevic cover

After recalling the story of Natasha Romanov’s rescue, Logan turns to a second meeting between the two, which took place in November 1941. “Operation Blueboy” was a secret mission in North Africa that is presented as Cap’s first experience leading soldiers in the war (which the U.S. has not yet even joined!). There’s still more of Steve Rogers than Captain America in this Cap, whose recently-adopted symbolic image and costume are initially off-putting to the “real” soldiers he’s meant to lead. Logan observes that this costumed character still needs to “earn the men’s faith as a leader.” When Bucky erupts in violence and profanity at one point, Steve chastens him: “James, let’s watch the temper, okay, pal? And the language.” (“Yeah, he really said that!” Logan adds in an ironic aside).

Wolverine: Origins #17-18, Marko Djurdjevic covers

This story is significant on a number of levels beyond depicting the first Cap-Logan meeting. The fates of these two old soldiers are poignantly contrasted, and Logan is shown simultaneously ridiculing Steve’s image and inexperience while marveling at his noble character, physical prowess, and growing command of respect. Sgt. Nick Fury is introduced in what appears to be another “first meeting” (until this, their first meeting has always been presented as taking place in 1942 in Europe).[2]

Bucky’s “darker side” as a high-trained commando is established, and he’s shown pursuing solo aspects of the mission under separate orders he tells Steve, “you just can’t be privy to,” meaning the symbolic CA image must be kept above reproach. (In another aside, Logan reflects, “Bucky . . . had what it took to get the job done. Any job. He was like me.”). Finally, Steve and Bucky meet Baron Zemo (already wearing his signature hood) for the first time—the Nazi scientist who will orchestrate their demise at the war’s end.[3]

Cap and Bucky are also shown to be in North Africa with Nick Fury and his Howling Commandosjust before Christmas, 1941” (they also meet up with the Howlers after the mission (as Steve & Bucky) in a hotel in Casablanca). They are assigned to a new mission with the Howlers, but en route over the Atlantic their transport plane is shot down. Bucky saves cap from drowning, but has to cut his shield away in the process and it sinks to the bottom. The group manages to make it to shore, where Namor appears from the sea and flings Cap’s shield with a thunderous “Imperious Rex!” “One of our allies,” Cap remarks to an incredulous Fury. “Uh-huh,” the Sarge replies. “What’s next? That Human Torch fella gonna roast s’mores with Dum Dum?”

The only way out from the beach is up a sheer cliff, and after an arduous climb the run smack into Nazis. Captured. Wherever they are it’s cold. There’s snow. They bide their time, then turn the tables on their captors, don their uniforms, and continue on to wherever they were being taken. They run into a beautiful women, “The Gypsy,” Fury informs everyone, “our contact in France. She’s accompanied by an odd ensemble of seeming circus performers. The make their way into Paris to discover the target of their mission: the Red Skull. Bucky, already seen as a “sidekick mascot” by the Howlers, begins to feel pushed aside by Cap’s increasing involvement with the resistance group (particularly Marilyne, “The Gypsy”). He goes off on his own to get the Skull, only to be captured and find him selves wired to explosives on the Eiffel Tower. Cap comes to the rescue, and on New Year’s Eve the duo receive new orders. Cap gets a good-bye kiss—his first ever! He and Bucky roar off together on a motorcycle. “So . . . didja kiss her?” “Yes.” “And . . . ?” “And a gentlemen doesn’t talk about these things.”[4]

[1] Uncanny X-Men #268 (Sept. 1990, Chris Claremont) and Wolverine: Origins #16 (Oct. 2007, Daniel Way). The latter is the first issue of a story arc, “Our War,” that extends through issue #20, depicting the two meeting again shortly after this in North Africa.

[2] The classic version of Cap’s “first” meeting with Fury and the Howlers was told in SFHC #13 (1964).

[3] Newsreel footage in CA #281 (May 1983, J.M. DeMatteis) depicts Cap and Bucky battling “militarists who call themselves the Defenders” on November 22, 1941, foiling their plot to murder President Roosevelt and take control of the United States.

Mike Zeck cover

[4] CA: White (5 issues, 2015), Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. The entire CA: White series is somewhat of a requiem for Bucky, narrated by Steve in the “present.” Shortly after this, according to Cap’s old war journal, on December 27, 1941, false memories about his past were implanted in his subconscious “to confuse the enemy” should he be captured (CA #247, 1980).

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Captain America Among the “Marvels”

This post continues an ongoing series, “The Odyssey of Captain America,” a narrative of Steve Rogers’ life and times as the Good Captain.  Earlier segments have looked into Roger’s youth, the birth of Captain America (and background), and Cap’s earliest Golden Age adventures (both solo and with his new sidekick, Bucky Barnes).  Some attention has been given to contemporary interpretations of Cap’s early years, particularly as depicted in The Marvels Project series (2009-10).  To read earlier chapters of the story, click  the “Comics” category on the margin menu.  This entry takes up the story with a greater emphasis on retro-continuity sources. 

Captain America’s origins as the “Living Legend of WW II” began in the pages of Golden Age Captain America Comics and several other Timely titles published during the war years (see earlier posts for details).  But for most Cap fans now, his exploits a WW II hero have been largely the product of “retconning”–the wonderfully creative Marvel affinity for re-imagining and connecting Golden Age stories with the evolving Marvel Universe.

This new development in Cap’s narrative is rooted in his “return” to the modern MU in the landmark Avengers #4 (1964), followed by reinterpretations of Golden Age stories in Tales of Suspense #63-68 (1965-66).  Roy Thomas’ Invaders series and What If? #4 from the 1970s, practically Ur-texts in the “retconning” process, will be discussed in detail in an upcoming post.  A key effort in crafting a more comprehensive Marvel mythos for the modern age is found in Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross’s masterful Marvels series (1994).

marvels-01-nm-marvel

Cover for Marvels #1, Alex Ross

Over four wonderfully-creative issues, Marvels chronicles the emergence of super-humans in the mid-20th C. as viewed from the perspective of photographer Phil Sheldon. Sheldon dubbed these new hyper-humans “Marvels” as he recorded their impact, both for good and ill, for New York newspapers and ultimately in a book of that title.

In first issue, Sheldon and a colleague walk down the street as “Fall turned to Winter and Forty turned to Forty-one.” They pass two kids playing “good guys vs. Nazis,” and Sheldon’s friend pauses: “Take a listen, Phil.”

marvelscap1  marvelscap2

A nearby youngster, pulling an issue of Life Magazine out of his back pocket (with a nice two-page spread of the new phenomenon that is Captain America), proclaims,

“I wanna be Cap’n America.  He’s the best! He’d jump onta ya. Rip off yer canopy—and stuff them bombs down yer Nazi throat! Nothin’ stops him! A tank? He’d kick onto its back like a turtle! A platoon? Scattered like duckpins! He’s Cap’n America, Maxie! He’s the best!”

Sheldon’s take on the new hero?

He hit like a blitzkriek. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about him. Nobody admitted to knowing anything at the Department of the Army—but they were sure smug about something . . . . The Nazi saboteurs—the assassination rings—the Fifth Columnists—every day it seemed like there was something new. He strolled out of Nazi strongholds like he was walking through the park. Shrugged off bayonets—and we ate it up like candy . . . . He was as much of a Marvel as the Torch or the Sub-Mariner—but he was never a threat like they were. Was it because they were outsiders—and he was one of us? Our own personal American champion?

After Pearl Harbor and the American entry into the war, Sheldon becomes a war correspondent and writes home to his wife.

“The Marvels are here to stay. And there’s more of them all the time—Citizen V, the Whizzer, the Blue Diamond. And nobody has any idea what the future’s going to bring. But do you know what? It’s going to be one heck of a ride finding out!”[1]

The same year that Marvels was published, CA #423 (Jan. 1994) featured a story set in “early 1941,” that opens with a classic Torch-Submariner battle over New York. In this story, Namor kidnaps FDR, and Cap and Bucky go to his rescue. This story shapes up as the first meeting of Cap and Namor (the two did not meet in Golden Age comics until the war’s end). The Marvel’s Project storyline depicts Namor stalking the streets New York “in the summer of 1941,” plotting his revenge against “the Flaming Man” and all humanity. The cataclysmic confrontation between Fire and Water devastates New York (echoing somewhat events from Human Torch Comics #5, Sept. 1941) and ends with Namor being taken out by Captain America’s shield. As Cap and the Torch look upon their stunned foe, Cap queries, “Who is this guy?”[2]

July 1941. Cap is at the docks in NYC, busting up some “swastika-sympathizing saboeurs” who have infiltrated the dock workers. The scene is covered by Daily Bugle reporter Jeff Mace, who nabs a fleeing bad-guy. Meeting after the altercation, Cap extends a grateful hand to Mace, who responds, “It’s an honor, sir! I’d do it again in a New York minute!”

“I’m sure you would,” Cap replies, “even if I wasn’t here.” As he pulls away on his motorcycle, Cap tosses back, “We’re going to need a lot more like you, mister! If you ask me, you’re not just a citizen . . . you’re a patriot!”[3]

from CA: Patriot #1 Mitch Breitweiser

from CA: Patriot #1
Mitch Breitweiser

The Marvels Project narrative concludes (#8) in December 1941.  Knowledge of impending invasions both at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese and in Washington, DC by a German/Atlantean force brings the “Marvels”  into action.  The Pacific threat is met by Torch and Toro; Cap, Bucky, and Namor take up defensive positions on the East Coast. The Torches’ involvement at Pearl Harbor and the East Coast invasion were kept secret from the general public so as not to detract from the heroic efforts of the soldiers involved “who fought without the benefit of science.”

The Marvels Project #8 cover by Steve Epting

The Marvels Project #8 cover by Steve Epting

By the end of the year, FDR has commissioned a new super-human team called the Invaders.  Namor is pardoned for his crimes against humanity on the condition he join the group.  Their story is coming up soon, but before we go there, we’ll take a brief look at some of Cap’s earliest war-time adventures.

Next Up:  America Goes to War

[1] Marvels #1 (Jan. 1994). One panel features newspaper headlines from Boston Globe: “Captain America Nabs Spy!”; the Daily Star: “Captain America Prevents Dam Explosion”; New York Times: “Captain America Nation’s No. 1 Spy Buster”; the Daily Bugle: “Who is Captain America?” The issue closes with beautiful two-page spread painted by Alex Ross depicting Cap & Bucky, Namor, Vision, Namor, Torch, Toro, and several other Golden-Age heroes parachuting into a German stronghold.

[2] The Marvels Project #6 (April 2010), Brubaker. Namor, at this point, is unaware of an impending Atlantean collaboration with Nazis in the works during his absence.

[3] Captain America: Patriot #1 (Nov. 2010).  In this four-issue miniseries, Karl Kesel traces Mace’s emergence as the home-front Patriot, telling much of the story in Mace’s classic mid-century reporting style and drawing masterfully from both Golden Age (Human Torch #3/4 and 4/5, Summer-Fall 1941; Marvel Mystery #21-44 (July 1941 – June 1943) and #49 -74, Nov. 1943 – July 1946) and modern ret-conned sources (What If? #4, Invaders #5-6, Marvel Premier #29-30; more on these events to come).

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Cap in WWII (part 1): Golden Age Adventures

Steve Rogers’ early adventures as Captain America unfold in relative sequence throughout 1941 in the pages of Captain America Comics. Since the U.S. is not yet involved in the war, Cap & Bucky go into action mostly against Nazi spies, “Bund” operatives, assorted criminals, and occasional bizarre monstrosities. Betty Ross, who became a series regular, debuted in the second story of CAC #1, captured by members of a Nazi spy ring she has been “investigating for the U. S. Government.”

from CAC #1, Simon & Kirby

from CAC #1, Simon & Kirby

The third story in issue #1 introduces the Red Skull, a villain destined to become Cap’s greatest nemesis. Cap seems to have heard of the Skull, but at the end of this initial encounter, this “Red Skull” is revealed to be aircraft industrialist George Maxon, who appears to commit suicide. The cover of issue 2 (April 1941) again shows Cap & Hitler, obviously in Germany. In the issue’s second story Cap and Bucky make their first appearance in Europe, where they actually do punch out Hitler and Goehring![1] The Red Skull returns #3 (May 1941), still identified as “Maxon” (having survived the poison thought to have earlier killed him). After using his “Power Drill” to dig up NYC, he again “dies” in a bomb blast at the story’s end. Issue #5 (August 1941) takes Cap and Bucky to the Pacific for the first time, where they encounter the “Dragon of Death” super submarine (an unusual vessel described as “Asiatic” and controlled by “Orientals”).[2]

CAC #5, Simon & Kirby

from CAC #5, Simon & Kirby

Cap’s exposure broadened in two new titles, both published in the summer of 1941. Young Allies was Timely’s version of the popular “boy gang” comics of the time, but this gang also included Bucky and the Human Torch’s sidekick, Toro. The gang’s first adventure took them around the world (Germany, Russia, China, and across the Pacific) and up against the Red Skull. Cap and the Torch have to step in to rescue the boys in the end, the two heroes’ first Golden Age meeting. All-Winners Comics was launched as a character showcase title, and every issue of its five-year run featured a Captain America story.[3]

All_Winners_Vol_1_1 Young_Allies_Vol_1_1  cover art by Alex Shomburg (All-Winners) and Jack Kirby (Young Allies)

By the end of the first year’s run of CAC, only a few of Cap’s 40-some stories showed him in action outside of the U.S. But soon after America’s entry into the war after Pearl Harbor, Cap and other Timely heroes began taking the fight to the Japanese. The cover of All-Winners #4 (Spring 1942) shows Cap leading the charge flanked by Torch, Namor, Bucky, Tory, Whizzer, and the Destroyer. Cap is shown punching Tojo on the cover of CAC #13 (April 1942). Both titles featured stories set in the Pacific and/or Japan; each hit the newsstands in early 1942.

All_Winners_Vol_1_4 Captain_America_Comics_Vol_1_13  cover art (both) Al Avison

Tales of Suspense “Retellings”

Not long after his “modern day” revival in Avengers #4 (1964), Cap began to share the Tales of Suspense title with fellow Avenger Iron Man. As we’ve already seen, Lee and Kirby retell “The Origin of Captain America” in ToS #63, and the next several issues continue to draw from material from early CAC stories. ToS #65 (May 1965) retells the first Red Skull story (CAC #2) in more or less the same detail, but with some significant differences. Here neither Cap nor Bucky seem to have previous knowledge of the Red Skull. When this “Skull” is revealed as “Maxon,” he claims he’s “not the real John Maxon.” He escapes rather than committing suicide, and Cap and Bucky still believe this man is the Red Skull.

In ToS #66 (June 1965) Lee & Kirby give us “The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull,” a story that resolves the “Maxon/Skull” mystery. The story opens with Cap in Germany–with no explanation as to how or why he got there–a captive of the Red Skull! “Tell me,” the Skull says, “How did you learn that Maxon wasn’t the real Red Skull last month?” Cap replies it was because he was so easily defeated, “And I had heard of your fighting prowess!”

Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_66 Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_68  cover art by Jack Kirby

The “real” Skull now reveals his “true” origin: an orphan neglected and unwanted, he was a bellboy at a hotel where Hitler, on a whim, selected him to be trained “to be evil personified.” Hitler gave him a uniform, mask, and name: “Henceforth, you shall be known as the Red Skull—answerable only to me!” More backstory indicates Skull’s infamous activities in Europe began well before this encounter with Cap. He had grown in power second only to Hitler, to the point of having control of entire naval wolf packs (which sank a convoy Cap was with, leading to his capture). Cap is given a chemical potion that makes him renders him the Skull’s mental slave.[4] Over the next two issues (#67-68) Cap encounters Hitler himself, is rescued by Bucky, and returns to Britain, where his Army unit is training.

With the U.S. now directly involved in the war, CAC covers during 1942-44 more often showed Cap and Bucky involved in war-related activities, but many of his Golden Age stories continued to be centered on his home-base at Camp Lehigh. His forays into Europe, Africa, and the Pacific theater increased significantly after CAC #31 (Oct. 1943), but stories involving home-front plots, criminals, and occult/sci-fi themes continued to appear regularly. Cap’s shelf-presence expanded with his becoming the feature character in USA Comics #6 (Dec. 1942; continuing through issue #17 in 1945). Along with Torch and Namor, Cap was also featured in All-Select Comics #1-10 (1943-46). The stories in these two titles run the gamut from war action to mystery to monsters.

All-Select_Comics_Vol_1_1 U.S.A._Comics_Vol_1_6  cover art (both) by Alex Shomburg

Almost always, even when Cap was shown in war action, the details (and often the locations) in Golden Age stories were sketchy, generic, and always fantastical. It would not be until the modern Marvel Age and the magic of “retconning” that the “real stories” of the Living Legend of WW II would finally be told.

Next Up:  Cap Among the “Marvels”

[1] Since the U. S. is not yet officially involved in the war, this is perhaps a propaganda-motivated exaggeration of Cap’s early activity in Europe (as many Golden Age stories are later said to be). In a flashback in Avengers #213 (Nov. 1981, Jim Shooter), Steve Rogers is shown “on a recon patrol with [his] unit” in Germany. “It was early in my career,” he recalls, “after I had established myself but before I had seen much front line combat.” The Official Index to the Marvel Universe places this flashback during the events of CAC #2, but specific dates for events are difficult to pin down at this point unless they are clearly mentioned.

[2] The Dragon Ship shows up again near the end of the war in an Invaders story in the short-lived Marvel Universe series (#1-3, 1988).

[3] Cap made guest appearances in Young Allies #1-2, 4-7, 9 and 12. In the Young Allies 70th Anniversary Special (Aug. 2009), Bucky remembers his “first mission” with the group: “Of course, the propaganda office played up that exploit, calling us the “Young Allies.” For a while, we even had our own comic book. The comics exaggerated the story, inventing wild fantasies about us. The art was more caricature . . . it made us all look like twelve-year-olds. And, of course, the publishers altered my friends’ names as well.” The re-imagined tale names the “allies” as Patrick O’Toole (“Knuckles”), Washington Carver Jones (“Whitewash”), Geoffrey Worthington Vandergill, and Henry Yosuf Tinklebaum (“Tubby”).

[4] “Maxon,” it seems, was a mere puppet for the real Red Skull, whose name is revealed to be Johann Schmidt in CA #298 (1984). The Red Skull also appears in Young Allies #4, CAC #7 and #16, and All-Select Comics #2 (all 1942). He is constantly “dying,” then inexplicably reappearing. In “The Red Skull’s Deadly Revenge” in CAC #16 (July 1942) he’s shown breaking out of prison. His green jumpsuit is at first shown with a Japanese military flag on the chest, then switches toward the story’s end to the more familiar swastika! Once again, he is shown “killed” at the end. Finally, Cap fights the Skull (now in a yellow jump suit) again in All-Winners #12 (Fall 1944).

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Marvel Milestones (part 4): from Silver to Bronze

Imagine a time when nearly all the heroes of the Marvel Universe could appear in five small panels across a single page! The image below is from the Nick Fury story in Strange Tales #156 (May 1967), by Jim Steranko. Who’s missing? Dr. Strange (but he was elsewhere in this same comic); Quicksilver (who should be in the middle Avengers panel), and Namor, the Sub-Mariner (who was more of a villain in these early days).  The mysterious Inhumans, descended from prehistoric humans genetically modified by the Kree (see below), first appeared in FF #45 (Dec. 1965) but had not yet become major players in the MU.

Marvel1967

That was all about to change as Marvel entered a new expansion phase that brought the end of core heroes sharing Atlas-era titles and launched a whole universe of new heroes and titles.

1966-68 The Marvel Universe animated with the premier of “The Marvel Super Heroes” TV show (followed by FF, Spider-Man shows)

In 1966 Marvel also introduced two new characters that would open new horizons for the MU.  In Fantastic Four #48 the Silver Surfer arrived on Earth as the herald of the planet-consuming Galactus.  The backstory of this enigmatic cosmic surfer was told two issue later, and he was given his own title and storyline in 1968).  FF #52 introduced the Black Panther, ruler and protector of the African nation of Wakanda, the first black superhero in mainstream American comics (FF cover art by Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnot).

Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_50 Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_52

The modern MU began with the FF’s journey into space; the late 60s and early 70s brings the cosmos to Earth and takes Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the cosmos. The expansion-minded Kree Empire sent Captain Mar-Vell to Earth as a spy, but he instead betrays his orders and becomes Captain Marvel, Earth’s cosmic protector (Marvel Superheroes #12, Dec. 1967). The original Guardians of the Galaxy fight alien invaders in the 30th century (MSH #18, Jan. 1969; they would later time-travel to the “present” in Avengers stories).  In the early 70s, one of Marvel’s first extended story arcs appears in Avengers #89-97 (1973-4), as the Avengers (along with Captain Marvel) are drawn into the Kree-Skrull War. One of the MU’s most nefarious villains, the Thanos of Titan (who debuted in Iron Man #55) makes a big splash in new-look Captain Marvel #25-33 (1973).

Marvel_Super-Heroes_Vol_1_12 Marvel_Super-Heroes_Vol_1_18

Captain_Marvel_Vol_1_33    Avengers_Vol_1_97_002Marvel Super-Heroes covers by Gene Colan.  Captain Marvel cover by Jim Starlin.  Avengers cover by Gil Kane & Bill Everett.

The cover of the final issue of the Avengers Kree-Skrull War  (above) depicts Rick Jones’ psychic manifestations of several Golden Age heroes:  The “Big 3” (top) plus (bottom l-r) Patriot, Blazing Skull, Vision, and the Fin.  One of the feats of “Marvel Magic” of this era was Roy Thomas’ determination to connect Timely’s Golden Age with the contemporary MU.  A modern reinterpretation of the Vision had already been introduced in Avengers #57 (Oct. 1968).  In Avengers #71 (Dec. 1969), Thomas sent the Vision, Yellowjacket, and Black Panther back in time to face the Golden Age “Big 3.”

1970-75  Thomas’ boldest Golden Age retcon came in the mid-70s, but before we go there, let’s take a quick survey of major Marvel highlights of the early to mid 1970s:

  • Prehistoric “Sword & Sorcery”Conan the Barbarian #1 (1970) followed soon by Kull the Conqueror and Red Sonja.
  • Supernatural & “Neo-Horror”Man Thing debuted in the Conan mag, Savage Tales #1 (1971) and was given his own title three years later.  Tomb of Dracula #1 (972) followed by Frankenstein. The new Marvel Spotlight title introduced “Werewolf by Night” (#2-4): Ghost Rider (demon-possessed motorcycle stunt-man Johnny Blaze, #5-11); and Son of Satan (#12-24), and Moon Knight, mercenary Marc Spector restored to life by the Egyptian god Khonshu (#28-29).
  • Martial Arts & “Jungle Action”Shang-Chi first appeared in Master of Kung-Fu #1 (1974); Danny Rand as Iron Fist debuted in Marvel Premier #15. Ka-Zar (Marvel’s “Tarzan”), a frequent guest-star in other comics, headlined Astonishing Tales #1-20 and his own a short-lived title; Black Panther went solo in Jungle Action #5-24 (and later his own title and as an Avenger).
  • Blacksploitation, Marvel Style—African-American hero Sam Wilson, The Falcon, first appeared in CA #117 (1969) and then became Captain America’s partner (with issue #134, Cap’s title became Captain America and the Falcon). Luke Cage, a tough urban former gang member, was introduced in Hero for Hire #1 as the first African-American hero to have his own book (he later teamed up for many years with Iron Fist).  Eric Brooks debuted as Blade, Vampire Slayer in Tomb of Dracula #1 (1973).
  • Still Winning the West—Classic Atlas-era Western Heroes Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, and Kid Colt, which continued to run reprints and new stories, were joined by new Native American hero Red Wolf (1st in Marvel Spotlight #1, then in his own short-lived title).
  • Off the Bench—some characters who had been either frequent guest-stars or team members were given a chance to go solo. The Inhumans (genetically-altered by mysterious “terrigen mists”) and Black Widow (originally a Soviet spy) shared space in Amazing Adventures #1-8; X-Man Hank McCoy (“Beast”), having turned even more “beastlier,” went solo in #11-17. Adam Warlock headlined Marvel Premier #1-2; this new “try out” title also featured Dr. Strange (#3-14), Iron Fist (#15-25) and a host of one-shots.
  • Back to the Future—alternate futures for the MU were settings for bionic soldier Deathlok (Astonishing Tales #25-36 and Marvel Spotlight #33) and “War of the Worlds” (Amazing Adventures #18-39, where Killraven leads resistance fighters after the Martian invasion of Earth).
1975 poster by John Buscema shows many new faces in the expanding MU

1975 poster by John Buscema shows many new faces in the expanding MU

1975-80 Marvel ends out this era with the formation of several new teams and a few new characters that proved to have long-lasting appeal:

Defenders_Vol_1_50    Champions_Vol_1_1  Defenders # 50 (1977) cover by Al Milgrom; Champions #1 (1975) cover by Gil Kane

  • A few of Marvel’s early “majors” who’d suffered sometimes erratic publishing histories (Hulk, Dr. Strange, Sub-Mariner), had gathered as the Defenders in 1972.  This misfit “anti-team” eventually included members such as Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Moon Knight, Hellcat (and others) and remained popular until the mid 80s.
  • The short-lived Champions gathered together two X-Men, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, and the demi-God Hercules on the West coast.
  • Roy Thomas reached back to the Golden Age with retconned stories of Cap, Torch, Namor, and their sidekicks teamed up as the Invaders.
    In his new What If? series, Thomas explained why Captain America was still in action long after the end of WW II (his role had assumed by other Golden Age heroes).

Invaders_Vol_1_1   What_If?_Vol_1_4  Invaders #1 (1975) cover by John Romita; What If? #4 cover by Gil Kane

  • Marvel Team-Up had been featuring Spider-Man teamed with another hero since 1972; a new Super-Villain Team-Up title (1976-80) did the same with Dr. Doom, Magneto, the Red Skull, and other prominent bad guys.
  • Marvel had been publishing reprints in the U.K. since 1972, but in 1976 the created a new hero for the market, Captain Britain (scientist Brian Braddock empowered by Merlin to be “Britain’s new champion”). The same year Marvel tried to channel early Spider-Man magic into Nova, an insecure teenager (Richard Rider) who becomes part of a cosmic law enforcement corps.
  • Three new strong female characters (though all quite derivative) joined the MU as the 70s ended: Marvel (Carol Danvers, empowered by mysterious Kree connections); Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew, a subject of genetic engineering); and She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters, who was transformed by a blood transfusion from her cousin, Bruce Banner).
Marvel's Women of the 70s, poster by Mike Mayhew

Marvel’s Women of the 70s-80s; poster by Mike Mayhew (too bad he left out Spider-Woman)

Of course, one of the major developments of Marvel’s Bronze Age was a new interpretation of the X-Men in 1975, which set the stage for the “mutant mania” of the 80s and 90s.  We’ll save that story for our next chapter..

Next Up:  “Make Mine Mutant!”

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Captain America’s Early Years: New Shield, New Partner

In the summer of 1941 Private Steve Rogers reported for duty at Camp Lehigh, where he got to know camp mascot “Bucky” Barnes and learned to deal with the routine abuse of Sargent Michael Duffy. He’s called to Washington D.C. to meet with President Roosevelt, who reviews the highlights of his career so far then gives him an updated uniform and his new circular shield. Both Bucky and the new shield will be his constant companions for the duration of the war; the shield, of course, for much longer.[1]

CA #255, John Byrne art

CA #255, John Byrne art

In an oft-recounted story[2], camp mascot “Bucky Barnes” enters Rogers’ tent unannounced and catches him changing into CA uniform. Here’s how various versions depict what happens next:

(CAC #1) “From now on we must both share this secret together,” Rogers says. “That means you’re my partner, Bucky.” (CA 109) Bucky promises, “I’ll keep your secret, Cap—I swear it! All I ask is—let me join you! Let me be your partner!” The story concludes, “And so was born the famous fighting team that battled tyranny and crime in every corner of the Earth!” The original story closes with Cap and Bucky (in uniform), going into action “against the vicious elements who seek to overthrow the U. S. Government!”

Jack Kirby's classic rendition from CAC #1

Jack Kirby’s classic rendition from CAC #1

(Mythos) Cap: “Things are going to change. You’re going to have to change, too.”
Bucky: “You’re Captain America. All along, it was you. I can’t believe it.”
Cap: “You can never tell a soul, Bucky. Everything that I am depends on it. Understand?”
Bucky: “Wh—what are you going to do?”
Cap: “It’s not what I’m going to do, son. From now on its what we’re going to do together.”
CapMythos1

In CA 215, Cap exclaims, “That crazy kid! He virtually blackmailed me into letting him become my junior partner!” Bucky’s origin story is related with much the same detail in CASL #12, which intermixes a retelling of their final 1945 Baron Zemo battle (see Avengers #4 and 56) with flashbacks to Bucky’s first adventures with Cap, including the Nazi sub episode from ToS #63.

CASL #1, Doug Braithwaite cover art

CASL #1, Doug Braithwaite cover art

In AdvCA Bucky’s discovery of Rogers’ secret is depicted in issue 3, but he does not become Cap’s sidekick right away. After some training, Bucky accompanies Cap on an adventure to Europe to rescue Col. Fletcher, who has been captured by the Nazis. In issue 4, Cap and the Red Skull face off in a gladiator-style battle; Bucky helps Cap defeat the Skull and they return; Bucky shown in uniform in a back-page splash. In the ToS #63 story a few panels elaborate a bit on Bucky’s training, followed by a seeming first mission together—stopping a Nazi supply sub offshore from delivering goods to sabateurs.

CA vol 4 #26 has a flashback set just after Bucky has discovered Steve’s identity as CA. Steve (in Cap uniform) and Bucky sit in the office of one “Colonel Price” as he questions them about the “SNAFU.” Cap defends Barnes’ youthful enthusiasm. Price replies, “Calm down, soldier—it’s not quite what you think. The brass has determined that we could use a propaganda figure against the Hitler Youth. Effective immediately, Captain Rogers, you’re to train this young buck as your new partner.” (Bucky flashes a smirky smile!)[3]

CA vol 4 #26 Chris Bachalo art

CA vol 4 #26 Chris Bachalo art

Bucky’s New Groove

Bucky’s origins have been revisited with his reintroduction to the Marvel Universe in 2006 (more on that later!). Recent stories have peeled back the myth of a naïve teenage sidekick that was presented in the Golden Age comics.[4] CA vo. 5 #50 follows Bucky through several birthdays, beginning in March 1941. He’s depicted here, turning 16, being sent to England for “special combat training.” He recalls, “Next thing I knew, I was meeting Steve Rogers, and the brass was making a cover story for the press . . . ‘Camp kid becomes Cap’s Sidekick.” Both the 2005 “Winter Soldier” arc (CA vol. 5 #11-14) and the 2011 “First Blood” arc (CA #620-25) revisit Steve and Bucky’s early months together.[5]

CA vol 5 #12, Steve Epting Art

CA vol 5 #12, Steve Epting Art

The “Bucky reinterpretation” is a prime example of trend in the contemporary Marvel Universe to distinguish between Golden Age “comic book stories” (presented to the public in embellished form, primarily for kids) and the “real-life” versions of said adventures (being “revealed” in our own time, presented in comics that are more artistically “realistic” and aimed at older readers). Bucky and Toro were occasionally shown reading the first sort of “Marvel Comics” in actual Golden Age Marvel Comics (even FDR was once shown reading Marvel Mystery Comics–in MMC #34!). This theme is being explored even more deeply in 2011’s All-Winners: Band of Brothers limited series and 6th Captain America series (see appendix), which literally depicts Timely Publications producing comics as propaganda under the direction of the government.

Of course, the most significant aspect of the “Bucky reinterpretation” came from the pen of Ed Brubaker, who brought Cap’s young lost sidekick back to life in his “Winter Soldier” CA arc and subsequent solo comics beginning in 2005. Rick Remender also provides a few flashbacks to Bucky’s early days training and later working with Cap in his 2014 Winter Soldier series. These historic vignettes are full of classic Cap wisdom, such as: “We’re here to fix what the Nazis have broken, not as some invading army. We don’t murder a defeated foe, for any reason” and : “It looks bad, Bucky, but we’re not done! As long as we draw breath—we fight!”[6]

Between Golden Age tales and Modern Age retcons, there are a lot of stories to tell about the war, it’s bitter end for our heroes, and all that lies between then and now. Let’s begin by getting Cap and Bucky into action together.

Next Up:  Cap & Bucky in the “Golden Age”

[1] CA #255 specifically set the meeting with FDR in June (also shown in CASL #7). Steve and Bucky are shown at Camp Lehigh in July in a scene with Bucky reading exploits of Captain America in the newspaper as in CAC #1. But CAC #1 also shows Bucky first in action with Steve when he has his triangular shield—again; more shield confusion!

[2] CAC 1; ToS 63; CA 109, 215; CASL #12 (1999); Mythos: CA (Aug. 2008), and elsewhere. A ToS footnote states, “When Bucky Barnes’ G.I. father died in training, Fort Lehigh adopted the orphaned boy as camp mascot.” The Mythos depiction places this event in early December, 1941, just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, news of which Bucky is bringing to Steve Rogers. While this is a nice literary devise, that date cannot be reconciled with many other established aspects of continuity, not the least of which is more recent assertions that this event was a PR fabrication. Bucky himself says in CA #603 (April 2010, Brubaker) that this was “just a cover the army made up. I was trained to be Cap’s partner before I ever met him.”

[3] CA vol 4 #26 (July 2004), Robert Morales & Chris Bachalo.

[4]See CA: Sentinel of Liberty 12 (1999), issue “0” of CA: White (Sept. 2008), Mythos: CA (Aug. 2008), CA vol. 5 #12, 14 (2006) and #50 (2009); CA #620-ff (retitled Captain America & Bucky for this arc). In the latter, more details are given about Bucky’s youth and his father’s death, c. 1935-38. His sister is sent to boarding school, and Bucky is placed “on the base, with Dad’s old pals looking out for me.”

[5] In CA #12 (2005) Steve Rogers is shown in August 1941 watching an athletic, combat-adept Bucky in training, with hints that he is being prepared to be his partner. Rogers and Barnes meeting in #14. An extended version of the scene, which also shows Steve and Bucky meeting for the first time, is in CA & Bucky #620 (Sept. 2011). While Steve has historically been portrayed as a Private during this time, and Bucky as “camp mascot,” in the #14 meeting Steve is introduced as “Corporal Rogers” to “Pvt. Barnes.”

[6] Winter Soldier: The Bitter March (5 issues, 2014).

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