I read every comic in that box cover to cover (yes, boys and girls, there was a time when youngsters read their comics with ungloved hands and then simply tossed them into a pile in the corner next to the dirty clothes your ma picked up twice a week) and became engrossed in the Marvel Universe.
Marvel’s writers would dream up the coolest ongoing storylines and they weren’t afraid to pull rabbits out of their big hats. Remember when you found out the Vision was really the Golden Age Human Torch?; Gwen Stacy and The Green Goblin died and then rose from the dead?; Thor ave up his godly powers for the sake of his earthly love?; Reed Richards was forced to “shut down” his son and then watched helplessly as his wife left him?; Bill Everett returned to the Sub-Mariner?; you almost couldn’t stop yourself from reading that “sizzling shocking surprise” that awaited you in the final panel? God, what fun it was taking the bus downtown to see what was out that week. We didn’t have the internet or Diamond shipping lists to check. We just showed up and got what was there.
No, true believer, it’s not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an alternate-universe story! This ain’t Bizarro Cap and Bucky. And, as The Falcon learns the hard way, these guys fight like the real Cap and Bucky because, in a sense, they are the real Cap and Bucky.
After beating up on The Falcon, the bogus Cap gains entrance to Avengers Mansion and discovers the location of Steve and Sharon. There the two psychopaths head to destroy the man they believe to be the fake Captain America. Getting confused yet? Well, hang on another paragraph or three. I’ll get to the flashback shortly.
So “Cap and Bucky” track down the two frolicking lovebirds on a remote beach and, in a chilling scene, catch him off guard with a glimpse of his long-dead partner. The two pound Steve, Sharon, and The Falcon, who arrives as the action is taking place.
Tied up, the three listen to the fake Cap tell his story.
He grew up obsessed with Captain America and, after the hero disappears and Bucky is killed in an explosion (we know now that Cap went into a deep freeze), becomes equally obsessed with taking Cap’s place. He grows older and the obsession grows with him, until finally as a young man he discovers the formula for the Super Soldier Serum ad convinces government officials that the Korean War is the perfect training ground for the new Cap. He has plastic surgery to make the charade complete, but, in a cruel twist of fate, has his dreams dashed as the Korean War comes to an end and America decides it doesn’t need another hero. Taking the name Steve Rogers, he settles down quietly as a history teacher until one fateful day, as he’s walking through th park, he happens upon a young boy reading “The Life Story of Captain America.” Turns out the boy’s idol is Bucky. The two decide to inject themselves with the Serum and go off to fight super-baddies like The Red Skull and The Man With No Face.
But the boys begin to fight with a little too much verve. The government fears “schizophrenic paranoia,” zaps the heroes, and places them in suspended animation until “we can cure them.” Years later, one of the men in charge of the bodies develops a bit of “schizophrenic paranoia” himself (when then-President Nixon visits China) and thaws Cap and Bucky. Crazier than ever before, the two lunatics set out to right all the wrongs perpetrated by the “home-front traitor” known as Captain America.
Eventually, as expected, the two Caps have their showdown and the real Cap shows who’s the better trained super-soldier. Cap exits the final panels telling Sharon Carter: “I guess the authorities will put (the fake Cap and Bucky) back in their suspended animation tanks until a cure can be found—if one can be found. And I’ll go back to fighting for a better America while they sleep. But all the time, I’ll be thinking... that he could have been me.”
A great story. Great stories were few and far between for Captain America and The Falcon after this arc, though. Falcon would quit every fourth or fifth issue, tired of being “Cap’s puppet” or “Cap’s shadow” or whatever. Cap himself would quit and become the Nomad, only to see the error of his ways and re-don his red, white, and blue uniform in time for the return of Jack Kirby to Marvel and Captain America and The Falcon in 1975.
A few years ago, in a very popular arc in the newest reboot of Captain America, Bucky Barnes returned as The Winter Soldier. But that’s fodder for another column and, frankly, another writer.