Monday, 7 December 2009

Nomad - The Man Without A Country

We're back! Well, sort of, still haven' t got the ol' scanner fixed properly, but it's been ages since I posted something, an' here's a doozy! Nomad!

I never much cared about Captain America. He always seemed to be one of those middle-aged, slightly dull characters who were fine as part of a group, or in a guest spot, but who I could never get into enough to regularly buy his book. Which is not to say I didn't buy it, it just never bothered me much if I missed an issue. But I really liked him when Steve Englehart wrote him, particularly when he wasn't Cap at all, but 'Today's Most Together Hero' Nomad-The Man Without A Country.
Stainless Steve had been beavering away, scripting Cap's adventures for a year or so, producing solid, but not spectacular work on the book. But he had a plan. Like most Americans at the time, he was shocked at the way the country was going, and the way it's so-called leaders were behaving, and wanted to reflect that in the nation's most visible Defender Of The Faith. And this shows yet again the magic of The Bronze Age to any nay-sayers left in the house. Over to Steve: They said, " Take this series and do what you will with it. " If I want to write eight months of Captain America without Captain America in it, " sounds weird to us, but ok, if you can do it, give it a shot. "It all started when a villain called The Viper ( a bad guy who'd previously been an ad-man, an idea that could only've come from Steve Gerber ) hatched a plan for revenge on Cap and his right-on partner The Falcon. To wit: Using the power of advertising against Liberty's Legionnaire by turning the country against him, making Cap out to be nothing but a violent, publicity-seeking gloryhound. The plan worked spectacularly, and even though ol' Vipey was soon slung in jail for his pains, sleazy ad exec Quentin Harderman ( head of the Committee to Regain America's Principles, acronym fans ) soon took up the baton, framing our man for the murder of another third-division villain The Tumbler, and replacing Cap in the nation's hearts with a new hero, the beefy bully-boy Moonstone.

Throughout all this, Cap wandered through his own book, dazed, confused, and extremely pissed off, sure that his glowing record would stand him in good stead, and that the American people would, in the end, stand by him. Cap, you sap.

Meanwhile, The Falcon was gettin' a good thang goin' on with black militant hot mama Leila Fox, and was regularly quitting the partnership over some imagined slight or another. Cap was never better than when he was with The Falcon, by the way. Leaving aside the fact that I just like buddy-superhero teams, Falc's coolness seemed to rub off onto dull ol' Steve Rogers. Not to worry, though, 'cos Steve was about to become very cool indeed.

Natch, at that tender age, I had no idea of the political undertones going on in these stories. I just enjoyed seeing a generally cocksure hero having his world pulled out from under him on a regular basis. Anyway, it all came to a head in Cap & Falc 175, where the whole thing is revealed to be part of an attempted military coup of the United States by an organization calling itself The Secret Empire. The coup fails, natch, and Moonstone & Hardeman are exposed on The White House lawn ( so to speak ), but the mysterious leader of The Empire, No.1, flees right into the Oval Office, where Cap's faith in the American government is shattered once and for all. Just like, presumably, Englehart's.

Yep, this was Watergate, and yep, the bad guy was Tricky Dicky. Who'd'a thunk?
So where does a guy who drapes himself in the american flag go after this?!! Well, he chucks it all in, obviously. As Englehart says: I was writing a man who believed in America's highest ideals at a time when America's President was a crook. I could not ignore that.
So, for the next few issues, there was no Cap, just Steve Rogers glumly assuring everyone that this was it, Captain America was gone, never to return. Falc, for one, took the news extremely badly, and went off in a huff yet again. Long-time squeeze Sharon Carter, however, thought it was the best news she'd heard all year.

Meanwhile, that leather-clad dominatrix Madame Hydra was back in town, and setting up a new version of The Serpent Squad with every reptile-themed villain she could find. Breaking The Viper out of protective custody for seemingly no reason whatsover, she then killed the hapless bad guy, stealing both his name and his uniform ( hope she washed it first! ), before setting up shop with The Cobra, Princess Python & The Eel ( who turned out to be The Viper's brother. What're the odds? ) Hey, didn't they miss one there? I'm sure there's another snakey villain...well, whatever.
In the meantime, Hawkeye had shown up, disguised as The Golden Archer ( maybe, like Fred Hembeck said, he was bucking for a sponsorship deal with McDonalds ) and demonstrated to Steve that, although he wasn't Cap anymore, that didn't mean he couldn't be another hero. Thinking Sharon would be thrilled, he couldn't wait to break the news. Man, you really don't know chick's, do ya?

And so began four ( was it only four?! ) of the most exciting issues of Captain America I, for one, had ever read at that point, as Steve became Nomad!! It was a good costume, it was a great name, and for a little kid, it was a fantastic concept. Not that Nomad started out covered in glory. His first outing, he ran into the new-improved Serpent Squad, and, well, tripped over his glitzy new cape and fell on his dimpled chin. As Viper said, I always knew I'd see somebody do that one day.
Answerable to no one but himself, and no longer needing to provide a symbol for the nation, Nomad fascinatingly floundered, seemingly unwelcome wherever he went.

As in the next issue, where those pesky Serpent's team up with Namor's old enemy, Warlord Krang ( waitaminnit, he's not named after a snake. Oh, he's got The Serpent Crown with him. Ok, you can be in our gang, Krang. )
Krang & chums have a frankly barmy plan to raise the lost city of Lemuria from the ocean depths by kidnapping the head of Roxxon Oil, again for no readily sensible reason, and after getting the obligatory ass-whipping from a passing Subby, Nomad is off to stop them. He does, eventually, succeed in capturing everybody bar The ( New ) Viper & The Cobra, but Roxxon Oil's security team ( who presumably get outfitted at the same store S.H.I.E.L.D agents go to ) didn't need his help anyway, and tell him so.
Nobody, but nobody, seems to want Steve's new alter-ego around! Man Without A Country is right! Geez, how's a new superhero supposed to make his rep? Even old buddy Falc doesn't want to pal up with The Nomad.

Although this scene is a classic Marvel cheat cover, and never actually happens in the story, the point is still valid. Used to people cheering Cap's every move, Nomad, by comparison, is shunted aside by cops & crooks every time he shows up. It's a sobering experience for our new hero.
Anyway, with Krang's useless plot, maybe Stainless Steve was making a point here about terrorists who don't actually have a real cause, just the spreading of violence. I'm not sure, but it's a cracker of an issue.

The next one, though, is the corker. 'Inferno' is the most blatantly political episode, as the cops ( sorry, the pigs ) trap Viper & Cobra in a burning house, while Nomad tries to reason with the increasingly insane Uberbabe, and get the, by now terrified, Cobra outta there. As Viper extols the virtues of Nihilism and the beauty of an epic death, wishing only to inspire others to the legend of her story, the strips political edge is thrillingly to the fore. Over to Englehart: The Serpent Squad...represented The Symbionese Liberation Army, a domestic revolutionary group of the time. I was excited about writing an ongoing journal of contemporary American reality-but soon realized that as immediate as comics were, they weren't immediate enough to stay up with current events.
Nevertheless, this is a blistering issue, and the fever dream madness of Frank Robbins art suits the hothouse pressure cooker of insanity perfectly. ( Even though, like all of you, I hated it at the time. )

Meanwhile, of course, Englehart had cleverly got around the problem of having the star of the book not appearing in costume, by having various Cap replacements trying out for the gig, including a dumb jock and an even dumber biker. By this issue, Roscoe, the hero-worshipping kid who worked at the gym Steve Rogers worked out at, had convinced Falc to take him on as a partner, and Sam had reluctantly agreed. What a time for The Red Skull to show up!

By the next issue, Steve / Nomad had finally got around to wondering what his old partner was up to, and after a fight with that month's spectacularly lame ( and thankfully fleeting ) villain The Gamecock, catches up with both Falc and the new ( and late ) Cap. The Red Skull, in a rage over this kid adopting the look of his most hated enemy, had gone all out and medieval on the new team's asses.

Gruesome stuff, indeed. But it settles Steve's mind for him in no uncertain terms..

And that was it for The Nomad, the best idea anyone'd had in years for Captain America. Englehart carried on for a few more issues before moving on, perhaps knowing you couldn't really follow such a multi-layered, exciting storyline. As a kid, it worked just 'cos Nomad was so cool. As an adult, it works 'cos there's so much going on, and so much to think about. The definition of great comics, in fact. And yeah, I know other characters have called themselves Nomad since, but there's really only one man Without A Country as far as I'm concerned.


  1. Glad to see you back Pete! And what a great post!

    The Nomad storyline is one of my all-time favourite comics stories. Even though the American flag-waving can get a bit much for us UK comic fans, Cap's crisis of conscience is compelling stuff.
    The last part of the saga, no. 183, sums it all up perfectly. While searching for the missing Falcon ( and beating on lame-o badguys ) Cap hears conflicting views on his relevance to the modern world from radicals, crooks, SHIELD agents and even the X-Men's Beast. This all leads to the wonderful, soul-searching scene you've posted above: "I won't be blind again!"
    Fantastic stuff! Marvel have recycled this plotline a couple of times over the years, but Englehart's is the original and the best.

    Thanks for posting, Pete. Looking forward to whatever else you've got up your sleeve...

  2. Add my voice to the choruses of "Welcome back!" This was one of my all time CAP sequences....even with the weird (and obviously heavi;y retouched in spots) Robbbins art toward the end.

  3. Good to have you back Pete, I haven't read the piece yet (I should be working !!) but Englehart's run on Cap was always great,that Kane cover on #180 meant it didn't last long on the newsagent's shelf when I spotted it.

  4. I love this stretch of issues.

    Just seeing that Robbins art put a big smile on my face.

  5. Just terrific! Englehart's someone I've enjoyed more via reputation, though I immersed myself in his 80s Marvel stories. I have visited several times and think I'm a follower; thanks for digging into what made the story, in its Bronze Age tic fashion, multi-layered and interesting. The art's a treat; I can almost smell the newsprint.