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The Book and Record Relic That Was A Precursor to Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War is sure to be a huge hit for Marvel Studios. No one is going to even remotely doubt the film's box office prowess. Even casual fans probably know the film will be loosely based on the Civil War mini-series of several years back. Very few are likely to know the origins of the movie date back to December of 1973 when Captain America Issue 168 was released. Titled "...And a Phoenix Shall Arise!", the comic debuted an extremely minor villain who would return in a big way about 100 issues later. And then he would become even bigger as the years went on.
Issue 168 might have become a forgotten footnote in Marvel Comics' history. What made the issue so memorable was the live version that was produced on a 45 rpm record. And it came with a redux of the comic book.
Books, Records, and, Well, Nothing More
1974 was the year scores of book and record sets - comic book reprints with accompanying radio theater adaptions to read along with - were released by Newark, NJ's Peter Pan Records. The adaptions were produced under the Power Records label and were wildly popular at the time. They remained in circulation until the early 1980's and then disappeared. Do they seem quaint and antiquated in modern times? To a degree, they do. Like Mego Toys, they could easly be revived and become embraced by a new generation of kids.
Or at least long-time fans of these classic works would like to think so.
Today, with so much technology available to even the youngest of consumers, it is hard to imagine an era when home entertainment was limited. Record albums provided audio entertainment and books provided reading enjoyment. Book and record sets helped combine the two. Power Records/Peter Pan produced scores upon scores of excellent, fun, and enjoyable radio theater designed for young persons. A few of those releases such as the notorious "Night of the Laughing Dead" Man-Thing comic was outrageously dark and grim. That particular release would never, ever even be thought of as a kid's release for a nanosecond today.
Other releases were a lot more fun such as "The Incredible Hulk at Bay" and "Drago vs. Spider-Man". The issue selected for the Captain America book/radio theater release is a mix of heroic potboiler and Marvel Comics' angst.
The original 15 minute book and record
The Rise and Revenge of The Phoenix
The plot of this particular comic/book & record is straight-forward in some ways, but has enough twists and turns to make the whole thing engaging. Captain America and The Falcon are the lead heroes and the mysterious villain, The Phoenix, is out for revenge against Captain America. Why does he want revenge? That is what Captain America tries to figure out. Without giving to much away and ruining the surprise twist, let's just say it has something to do with Baron Zemo, a villain soon to be brought to the screen in Captain America: Civil War.
The first half of the story focuses on Captain America trying to figure out who The Phoenix is. Captain America also spends a lot of time attempting to dodge The Phoenix's laser death ray during the first act, too. And, as the cover reveals, things are not exactly easy in the second act as the famed Avenger is shackled to a slab ready to be lowered into a...boiled vat of the nefarious ADHESIVE X!
The plot and writing (by Tony Isabella and Roy Thomas) are hardly sophisticated by modern standards, but the comic is far more fun and enjoyable than a lot of dreary work found on comic shop shelves. The book also isn't connected to some sales gimmick either. The work just exists for kids to have fun reading and listening to.
One classic comic book tactic of yesteryear is employed on a page in which Captain America ponders the secret identity of The Phoenix. Cap wonders if The Red Skull, Solarr, or Baron Zemo are hiding behind The Phoenix's mask. This tactic helped re-establish the past contiuity of prior stories while leading the young reader to look forward to seeing certain villains in future. Fun touches like this are somewhat lost in modern days.
That's not to say the book doesn't have its moody seriousness though.
Marvel Comics' Avengers - The Tragic Character
"What made that old bugaboo creep up on you again?"
- The Falcon to a waxing tragic Captain America
The Captain America of the early 1970's was a brooding character. In Captain America issue #122, writer Stan Lee chose to have the First Avenger refer to himself as "a dinosaur in the Cro-Magnon age". The approach taken with Captain America/Steve Rogers was brilliant. He was a man displaced from time trying to fit into a new culture while retaining the values of the past. The past for everyone else was Captain America's present.
In the book and record, Captain America appears tragic and utterly wallowing in Silver Surfer-like guilt. If superheroes existed in real life, the psychological pain the great Captain feels makes him a candidate for a serious psychiatric study*. The pained lamenting of the hero found their way unedited into a book and record aimed at very young children - a sign of the times and something (for better or for worse) wouldn't exactly occur these days.
The recurring theme of Captain America being a Peckinpah-like character of an unchanged man in a changing society is once again on display. The melodramatic manner in which the Avenger expresses himself is overblown, but there is still a downbeat and sad edge to the hero.
- Captain America: "Some night's it just gets worse...."
- The Falcon: "Worse? What gets worse?"
- Captain America: "I just can't shake it...The feeling that I'm a walking anachronism."
Melodramatic yes, but not without reason or motivation.
Captain America's unresolved feelings over the Second World War deliver the dramatic subtext to the short heroic potboiler. The parallels to the Vietnam War are obvious since the article was written only a short time after major hostilities in southeast Asia came to an end.
During the Silver and Bronze Age, Marvel Comics always had that unique way of writing a work for children that also presented mature touches for older readers of sequential art. And those themes were never explored in a way that sacrificed the sense of wonder and fun comic books were intended to deliver.
This book and record, like many other Power Records releases, really is a lot of fun and well worth revisiting.
*Actually, Captain America did turn to a psychiatrist for help with post-traumatic stress disorder. The psychiatrist was Dr. Faustus, one of the villains whom Cap speculates may be hiding behind The Phoenix's mask.
Captain America: Civil War Trailer
You can listen to the 1973 story on YouTube while counting down the days to the release of Captain America: Civil War.