Captain America…Commie Smasher!!!

A couple of years ago when Captain America was being “Reborn” I posted about his early adventures in the Golden Age of Comic Books.  As a new movie featuring the “First Avenger” is rapidly approaching, I thought I would explore Cap’s last adventures in the Golden Age before he was later revived in Avengers #4 (March 1964).
 
As most of you know, Captain America and his sidekick Bucky made their debut in the pages of Captain America Comics #1 (1941).  Captain America Comics was published by Timely, who already had  hits with the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner.  Both had been introduced in the pages of Marvel Comics #1 two years earlier.  To capitalize on the patriotic fervor of WWII, Timely (along with many other publishers) decided that a superhero clad in red, white and blue might sell comic books.  They were right!  As the story goes, Steve Rogers was the proverbial 90 pound weakling who wanted only to serve his country in the war effort.  After rejection by the army, he was selected to be the first to try Dr. Reinstein’s super soldier formula and was miraculously transformed into Captain America.  Unfortunately, Reinstein was killed by a spy and the formula died with him, making Rogers one of a kind.  He later met up with Bucky Barnes at Camp Lehigh, and the two began their adventures as Timely’s version of the Dynamic Duo.  Cap’s adventures appeared in the pages of his self-titled magazine for 75 issues until it was cancelled in 1950 (Actually, his last appearance was in issue #74 in 1949, with issue #75 being devoted to horror stories – a sign of the times in the comic book world in 1950.  The last two issues were titled, Captain America’s Weird Tales).
 
Later, in the pages of Marvel Comics’  Avengers #4, we learned that Captain America was still alive and kicking, having been frozen in a block of ice since the end of WWII.  After the Sub-Mariner in a fit of rage hurled the frozen form of our hero into the ocean, he thawed just in time to be found by the new superhero team, The Avengers.  He later became the leader of the group and the rest, as they say, is history.  Undoubtedly, Marvel received a lot of questions asking why Cap was frozen in a block of ice for twenty-years, and finally filled in all of the fans in the pages of Tales of Suspense #63 (Cap had his first Silver Age solo stories starting with issue #59) in March 1965.  Here, we learned that towards the end of the war, Cap and Bucky were trying to stop a flying bomb as it was launched by the Nazis, only to have it explode in mid-air.  Bucky was killed and Cap was thrown into the north Atlantic where he was ultimately frozen into a block of ice and left in suspended animation for twenty years.
 
Ok, so how does all of this fit into the title of this post – “Captain America…Commie Smasher!!!”?  As it turns out, for a short time in 1953 and 1954, Captain America and Bucky were revived by Atlas Comics to fight for truth and justice against communism.  I know, I know, Bucky was dead and Cap was a popsicle in 1953 and 1954, so how does all of this jibe with the story told in Avengers #4 and Tales of Suspense #63?  Stay tuned and I’ll fill you in on that.  But first, let’s talk about the 1953 and 1954 adventures.
Young Men #24 (December 1953)

Young Men #24 (December 1953)

Although by 1953 the superheros had all but disappeared with the western, romance, horror and crime genres getting the most attention, the folks at Atlas thought it might be a good time to try a superhero revival.  They decided to focus on their most popular WWII heroes, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner and Captain America.  Perhaps due to uncertainty, they did not immediately revive each character’s own title, and instead chose the action magazine, Young Men. With the December 1953 issue (#24) of that title, Captain America and Bucky return to the scene.  Given what we learn of Cap’s fate almost ten years later, it’s ironic that his first revival story is titled, “Back from the Dead!”

This story features none other than the Red Skull (with a sporty red cape) proclaiming to his thugs that Captain America must be dead because, “If he were alive, do you think I’d dare to start on a scheme like this one I’m working on now?  Captain America was the only one who stopped me in the old days! Now he’s deep in his grave and the Red Skull’s going to start a crime wave-like the world’s never seen before!”  Sounds more like wishful thinking to me!  The scene of this story shifts to Professor Steve Rogers at the Lee School teaching his history students the origin of Captain America, including all of the details of Reinstein’s super soldier experiment (a fairly complete retelling of the origin).  Later, Professor Rogers (complete with glasses and a pipe) breaks up a fight in the school yard between Bucky and some other kids.  Bucky hasn’t aged a bit!  Later, as Rogers and Bucky are driving to New York to get some new text books, Rogers explains that the world no longer needs Captain America.  As if on cue, the radio blares a special news bulletin that the Red Skull has returned, and Rogers realizes it’s time for Cap to sling his shield again.  Cap and Bucky quickly track down the Skull who is in hysterics as he shouts, “HE’S BACK FROM THE DEAD! STOP HIM! STOP HIM!”  Of course, Cap quickly dispatches the Skull’s thugs and slings his shield into the Skull’s…err…skull, just in time to prevent him from shooting Bucky.  Captain America is back!

Captain America and Bucky appeared in the next four issues of Young Men as follows:
  • #25, “Top Secret!” (February 1954)
  • #26, “Captain America Turns Traitor!” (March 1954)
  • #27, “The Return of the Red Skull!” (April 1954)
  • #28, “The Cargo of Death!” (June 1954)
All of these stories, as drawn by none other than John Romita, features anti-communism themes, with Cap and Bucky foiling various plots against the USA.  Interestingly, with issue #27, Cap and Bucky are back on an army base and Cap is no longer “Professor Rogers”, and in each story his shield is drawn slightly differently.  Notably, in issue #27, the Red Skull  is apparently killed.
Men's Adventures #27 (May 1954)

Men’s Adventures #27 (May 1954)

After the run in Young Men, Captain America (along with the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner) continued to appear in Atlas’ Men’s Adventures, starting with issue #27, “The Girl who was Afraid!” (May 1954) and ending with the next issue, #28,  “Kill Captain America!” (July 1954).  Romita continued to draw these anti-communism themed stories.
Captain America #76 (May 1954)

Captain America #76 (May 1954)

At the same time Cap and Bucky were appearing in Men’s Adventures, Atlas finally revived Cap’s own title, continuing the numbering from #75 that had been on the stands four years earlier.  Atlas really plays up the anti-communism theme in these books, emblazing the front cover with, “Captain America…Commie Smasher!”.  John Romita continued drawing the Cap stories in this title that ran for three issues until being cancelled with #78 in September of 1954.  Cap and Bucky appeared in several stories in each issue.
 
Captain America #76 (May 1954)
  • “The Betrayers!”
  • “Captain America Strikes!”
  • “Come to the Commies!”
Captain America #77 (July 1954)

Captain America #77 (July 1954)

Captain America #77 (July 1954)

  • “You Die at Midnight!”
  • “The Man with No Face!”
  • (No Title)
Captain America #78 (September 1954)

Captain America #78 (September 1954)

Captain America #78 (September 1954)

  • “His Touch is Death!” – Battles a “Commie” Electro
  • “The Green Dragon!”
  • “The Hour of Doom!”

The Human Torch had a story in each of the three Captain America titles.

With, “The Hour of Doom!”, Captain America and Bucky met their Golden Age doom, as Atlas ceased publication  of Captain America and the Human Torch.  The Sub-Mariner was apparently popular enough that his magazine continued until October of 1955, but ceased publication at that time.

So, how do the sixteen Captain America stories listed above fall within the Golden Age continuity that was extended through the 1960’s revival of the character in The Avengers and Tales of Suspense?  Put simply, they don’t.  Whether Stan Lee “forgot” about the Atlas stories (as he claims) or simply chose to ignore them, it is almost impossible to reconcile the Atlas stories with the rest.  So, Marvel simply ignored these stories from 1963 until 1972 when they finally gave the fans an explanation.  As told in the pages of Captain America #153-156 (1972), the Atlas “Steve Rogers” was not Steve Rogers at all.  He was actually a replacement Cap (and a replacement Bucky) planned by the FBI to take the place of the missing Golden Age heroes.    As I am not an expert on th Bronze Age, I will defer to someone else to explain the convoluted story lines that grew from this 1972 explanation.  If you want to read more, just Google, “1950’s Captain America”.

For me, I like to live in the past (at least as far as my comics are concerned) and am happy to simply imagine that the “real” Captain America and Bucky were still in the hero business in 1953 and 1954, working hard to smash the commies.  Maybe that’s not the official Marvel version of things today, but it was certainly their intention in 1953 and 1954.  However you look at it, the 1950’s Captain America stories are fun to read and offer a glimpse into the “red scare” that pervaded popular culture at that time.

So, did I pique your interest in these 1950’s adventures of the “First Avenger”?  If so, you’ll be glad to know that you can read them all, along with the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner stories in the pages of Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes.  This three-volume series was published by Marvel in 2007 and 2008.  The first two volumes contain all of the Captain America stories, with the third volume being devoted to the final Sub-Mariner adventures.  Check it out!



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About Bill Jourdain

Bill is the host of the Golden Age of Comic Books Podcast. Learn more about Bill in the "About Bill" page to this site.
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4 Responses to Captain America…Commie Smasher!!!

  1. Pat Curley says:

    Hi, Bill, good to see you’re back at the old popsicle stand. I confess, I knew about the Young Men issues, but didn’t know that Marvel resurrected Cap’s own title around the same time. I remember reading one of the later 1940s GA CA issues where his sergeant, a real hardass, was turned into a vampire. Very strange stuff!

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