Captain America #107 is undoubtedly a high-water mark both for Captain America as a title and for Marvel comics as a brand. Published in the year 1968, issue 107 is a fast paced psychological thriller focusing on Cap’s guilt over the death of his young side-kick, Bucky Barnes. Nothing world shaking here; no earth devouring menace on the order of Galactus or universe threatening crisis courtesy of the Beyonder or Thanos; rather the book centers on Steve Rogers’ struggle to cope with a rapidly changing world and the challenge of finding his place in it, all whilst wrestling with demons of his personal past.
Stan Lee’s gift for generating catchy titles is showcased here with the memorable “If The Past Be Not Dead” whilst Jack Kirby’s unsurpassed pencils drive home the point courtesy of a splash page depicting Cap flying into action against a backdrop of helmeted shadowy figures and a suitably nightmarish gaping mouthed Adolph Hitler.
Captain America is a man of supreme integrity possessing a will to fight on against impossible odds; itself a trait that personifies the American spirit. To understand Captain America is to see him as the living embodiment of the United States of America. Yet co-existing with this living symbol of American power is the man Steve Rogers, and Rogers is a deeply troubled individual.
Lee’s dialogue and Kirby’s pencils unite to illustrate a tortured man under relentless pressure.
Lee employs a clever, albeit deceptively simple writing device to emphasize the intense psychological pressure assaulting his protagonist, that of repetition. On page 2 we note the words “again! again! again!” and on the following page Bucky’s ringing accusation of “Why? Why? Why?”. The “why” is of course “Why did you let me die?” Why didn’t you save me?”
Cap’s main antagonist in this tale is Dr. Faustus. No, not the Dr. Faustus of Marlowe’s famous play. However, Lee may have used the name to illustrate the common element of deception and trickery that appears thematically in both works. Certainly, deception is at the root of Faustus’ attack on Steve Rogers.
Somehow the use of hallucinogenics got past the censors at the Comics Code Authority. Perhaps it’s because Steve consumes them unwittingly? At any rate, the drugs leave Steve susceptible to Faustus’ manipulations and a series of encounters arranged by the nasty doctor are strung together to undermine our hero’s confidence, to make him question his very sanity.
Again, Lee uses repetition to up the intensity level and the blurring of past and present is again perfectly illustrated by Jack Kirby as seen in the panel below:
The Nazi’s are in fact actors/henchmen hired by Faustus to facilitate Cap’s decent into madness—to utterly break him, psychologically. But as is often the case with fictional villains, Faustus overplays his cards and unbeknownst to Faustus (or the reader at this point) Cap has the prescription he’s been taking sent to S.H.I.E.L.D for analysis.
Steve then sets Faustus up for his comeuppance courtesy of some play-acting of his own. It’s a good thing he did too because, Faustus had slipped Cap an aging pill to break him in body as well as mind. Just when it looks like Cap is down and out he rallies like the super soldier he is and puts the hurt to Faustus’ hired goons.
Lee and Kirby save the best for last and I’ll let the closing panels speak for themselves:
Cap’s revitalization and return to form following a book length adventure where he increasingly doubts his abilities and is at his most vulnerable is welcomed to say the least. Cap’s flying fist sans sound effect graphic is completely satisfying— a one punch knock-out blow redressing the psychological pounding Cap took throughout this tale. The sight of an unconscious Faustus and the haunting ethereal visage of Bucky over a weary Captain America is visual poetry and a suitable ending to this well crafted tale.
Anyone wishing to understand the character of Captain America is encouraged to obtain a copy of this issue. I think it rates as one of Marvel’s finest and is certainly amongst the very best that I ever read.