Let's Rap About Cap, Pt. 5: The Rise and Fall of Fifties Cap


We looked at William Burnside aka "Fifties Cap" in pt. 3 of this Let's Rap About Cap series, but today let's look more closely at his first (and second) appearance. For most intents and purposes, Steve Englehart created the character in Captain America 153. Here's how Steve explains things at his site:

"Cap was being considered for cancellation when I got it, because it had no reason for existence. Stan Lee had written it for years, and it was clearly his least favorite book; the stories had become not only lackluster but repetitive. Gary Friedrich had picked it up a year before and done some interesting stuff, but he hadn't stayed long; then Gerry Conway did two issues as a stopgap; and then I got it. The problem across the board at Marvel was that this was the 70s - prime anti-war years - and here was a guy with a flag on his chest who was supposed to represent what most people distrusted. No one knew what to do with him.

Me, I had been honorably discharged from the Army two years earlier as a conscientious objector - but I was supposed to also be a writer. So I did something for the first time that marked everything I've written since. I said, 'Okay, if this guy existed, who would he be?' Not 'Who am I?', but 'Who is Captain America?' *

Six months later, the wayward book slouching toward cancellation was Marvel's Number One title, and I seemed to have found my career. Roy Thomas (EIC at the time) had been thinking about the Captain America who appeared in Timely books in the 1950s. Marvel's Cap was supposed to have been frozen in ice during that time, so who was that man in the flag suit? He asked me that question as he handed me the book, and I ran with it for my four-issue initial story." 

* A commendable approach.

So he rebooted, essentially, a character who first appeared in Young Men, published by Timely (Marvel's predecessor) in 1953. And that character was himself a reboot of the Cap/ Steve Rogers who appeared in the Captain America Comics of the 1940s.

Stan Lee is the guy who revived Cap in Young Men and then again in The Avengers in 1964. With the latter, Lee established him as the same guy who was in WW2, who fell into a heretofore unknown state of suspended animation in 1945, thus pushing his own 50s-Cap stories out of official canon. Such was the state of affairs when Englehart took over in 1972. He reconciled the two characters by making one (Steve Rogers) the original and the other (William Burnside) a government-created replacement-Cap (working off Lee's suspended-animation angle) who (along with his sidekick, Jack Monroe) assumed both the public and private identities of the original Cap and Bucky. 

Here's an abridged origin sequence, as re-assembled from both Captain America #155 ("The Incredible Origin of the Other Captain America") and the Young Men issues and captioned by the usual gang of idiots in the Dog Star Bullpen:

"Welcome, scum. Welcome back to awareness." 50s Cap shares Steve Rogers' natural gifts for oration.
However innocent, all adult/ young boy interaction seem creepy in old comics.
Particularly when they involve shooting up together.
The U.N.??! That cabal of commies?? Oh, it's on.
We'll save the Red Skull's rebooting/ origin story for another post.

Right, so. Fifties Cap and Bucky start heading into Harlem and cracking heads. This attracts the attention of the Falcon.

The Falc takes quite a bit of abuse for the first part of the story, but he wins in the end. There's probably a metaphor in there.
"You're against me, like all commie scum!" Someone's been reading the minutes from the last Dog Star Omnibus Budget and Planning Committee...!

Where's the real Cap during all of this? Here's a little section I like to call


Okay, not really. I'm actually opposed to this whole way of thinking - not to the idea of keeping in mind how you might have unfair advantages or disadvantages based on your race, gender, or economic position, (though I suspect the last of those is 90% of any actual privilege going on) but to the mental shortcut/default of walking into a room and counting the white people and yelling "Check Your Privilege!" etc. Call me crazy - that's a viewpoint so racist yet so essential to the media-academe religion that they had to invent a way to protect it from being identified, obviously, as racist. 

But hey! I'm happy to appropriate such things for comedic purposes, though, as I hope is the case here. Where's Cap, you ask, while his nonwhite sidekick is getting beaten up by white supremacists?

Oh, I dig it.

I love that Cap's white skin in the Caribbean sun is the key to unraveling the whole Nazi Cap mess. Anyway, it all comes to a mano-y-mano at the Torch of Friendship plaza in Miami, FL, where Cap helpfully spells out the American New Wave subtext for us:

Amen. I've mentioned elsewhere that this idea of every hero needing a shadowy-reflection-of-himself archenemy is important. Sometimes it seems every Cap villain is some distorted reflection of his ideal, I grant you. But I like the idea of his having a rogue's gallery of Caps who, by taking one step to the right or left, go from ideal to fascist. 

William Burnside takes several steps away from right and left when he returns like a repressed trauma pushed way down into the muck of Cap's unconscious as The Grand Director. (Cap 232-236 by Roger McKenzie and the ubiquitous Sal Buscema.)

"And all that stuff!" indeed.

This time around, the Grand Director is under the thrall of Dr. Faustus, "Master of Men's Minds," an Austrian psychotherapist who moonlights as a supervillain. With his own zeppelin. The good Doctor has perfected a method for enslaving groups to his will through the power of rhetoric, drugs, and fire - three tried and true methods for the supervillain narcissist! - as Cap and Agent 13 (aka Sharon Carter aka his girlfriend, lest ye forget) learn the hard way.

Uh-oh, again.

The storyline is notable not just for the pulp KKK-hypnosis-and-repressed-psychosis storyline but for a few different things. First off, there's Nazi Cap, when Steve Rogers, too, falls under Faustus' thrall, and requires a few haymakers from Daredevil to come back to his senses.

Second, there's the death of Sharon Carter -

who stayed dead (if memory serves) at least until they started rebooting things around 1990 or so but probably came back after. 

Ditto for William Burnside. As for 50s Bucky -
Despite appearances here, we'll see him again in a few more posts.

To be honest, this second appearance of the character, despite the death of Sharon Carter, isn't really the greatest story. The most visually and conceptually dramatic villain - the Grand Director - isn't really necessary to the story. Cap is brainwashed into burning a swastika on his shield, but this gets kind of lost in the other details. Compare, for example, to Indy briefly becoming a servant of Kali in Temple of Doom and you can clearly see the lost dramatic opportunities here; it could have been better. 

Or maybe it's that I just never really took to Dr. Faustus. If Scientology ever gets around to publishing its own comics, though, he'd be perfect villain fodder for the Knights of Xenu.

The rest of Burnside's post-mk-1-era can be read here. There was a rumor that he was to be the villain in Cap: Civil War, but that didn't materialize. I'm sure they will find room for him somewhere. The idea of a rogue and mentally deranged Cap leading the country into angry tribalism and herd instinct bigotry is too good not to use. Like I said to a friend the other day, whatever the circumstances in America, certain villains - and the opposition to them that Steve Rogers represents - are always in style. 

Or at least they should be. Woe to us all when an era of American history fails to produce a shadowy reflection of Cap and instead turns Cap into that distorted image.



  1. (1) "But I guess TALKING wasn't enough for Bucky." I bet the offices of NAMBLA have this displayed as a banner on a wall.

    (2) "You're AGAINST me, like ALL Commie scum!" Somewhere in America, that sentence has been said aloud at least once this year, guaranteed.

    (3) My eyes went cross reading the definition of "intersectionality." I tried, like, three times, and my eyes simply refused to focus on it. So I gave up. This makes me a lazy man, and I guess I can live with that.

    (4) I'm with you on that quasi-Caps-as-fascists thing. That does seem like a great use of Captain America villains. One wonders if there are any writers at Marvel with the moxie to come up with ideas that good right now; lord knows there are real-life opportunities.

    (5) Cap carrying a swastika-branded shield is unsettling.

    (6) Seems to me like all of this stuff could be turned into a heck of a movie. I think it'd work, once they wrap up the next couple of Avengers movies. They probably wouldn't want to get that political; but you never know what the climate will be like by then, so who can say for sure?

    Man, another great post here, dude! I'm really enjoying this Captain America series.

    1. Did I just use "man" and "dude" in the same sentence?!? For shame!

    2. I'm happy you're enjoying the series. Me, too. I've really got to wrap up Watchmen before I start the next round, although there'll be one more coming up today or tomorrow.

      (3) It's nuts. Seriously, somewhere over the past 10-20 years, the lunatics took over the academe asylum. Following New Peer Review on twitter (that one feed which publishes excerpts from the craziest examples of academic myopia and Newspeak) scares the living hell out of me. Cap needs to fight a shadowy-reflection villain that embodies that kind of crap. Marvel would never go for it - and I can understand, somewhat - but it'd be nice to see some pushback that wasn't, I don't know, Trump-related.

      (3.5) Removing Trump for any pushback, push-forward, or discussion altogether would of course be preferable.

      (4) - (6) Agreed completely.