Yesterday, graphics novel author, expert, and historian Gary Phillips brought us the first of a double-fisted episode about crime-fighting duos. Today he returns with episode 2. Ka-pow!— Velma
Those Crazy Crime Fighting Defiant Ones
Comics Team-Ups of Yore, part 2
Take for instance in 1971 Cap & Falcon #138, “It Happens in Harlem” written by Stan “The Man” Lee and illo’ed by John Romita. The two, with an assist from Spider-Man, take out the local jive turkey mobster Stone Face and his crew.
In issue 143, “Power to the People,” again drawn by Romita but written by Gary Friedrich, a masked firebrand has arrived on the scene and is getting the brothers and sisters riled up. In chapter two in the book, “Burn, Whitey, Burn,” the Falcon in his civilian identity of social worker Sam Wilson has to prevent a riot. Sam is outnumbered and only the intervention of militant Leila Taylor of the People’s Militia saves him from a ass whuppin’.
The following issue is quite the trip. Remember in our last episode Leila and Sam kiss in his office? When that happened peeping in on them from a nearby handy rooftop was Cap. One of his thought balloons read: “Sam – with the militant girl! I can see this is no time to try and square things with him!”
We’ll get back to that. This outing starts with the tale “Hydra Over All” by Romita and Friedrich, and has Cap working with Colonel Nick Fury, head of the spy organization SHIELD and… wait for it, the Femme Force, a special attack squad led by Agent Sharon Carter, Cap’s girlfriend and the grand-niece of Cap’s WWII-era old lady, Peggy Carter. It gets weirder. The good guys mop up the Hydra goons with ease. It turns out the attack is being televised live to the White House, viewed by President Nixon, Vice President Agnew and what seems to be the Chiefs of Staff. Turns out this whole deal was an elaborately staged demonstration. The Hydra hoods are LMDs, Life Model Decoys, and Fury wanted to show the effectiveness of his projects.
As Fury says to the prez, “… do we or don’t we get the bread…?”
Oh jealousy, thy name is… anywho, on the following page we again see Cap peeping in on Sam and Leila only this time he’s talking to himself and his dialogue starts with, “If he’s that close to her… then he couldn’t be with me!” After Leila splits, Cap and Sam have a showdown which leads to:
“But I’m gonna change all of that!” Sam said. “I’m gonna be proud, baby… proud to be black… and proud to be me! And it’s all gonna start right now! Then, “… the Falcon Fights alone!”
To underscore his point, Sam steps back into his office from the restroom where he’d been changing into his costume. Only it’s not his original green and orange get-up, but some new threads that are red and white. The two may be going their separate ways, temporarily as it worked out, but still buddies as they slap five just before a cat busted in to tell the Falcon two pushers have his friend tied up in an abandoned tenement.
“Maybe I’m only dreaming, but I know it all really happened.”
2008 saw the publication of 76, a retro comic book miniseries set in that year and ably taking up the Wu Tangness of it all. It was planned as an 8-part effort with two separate stories playing out each issue, one in New York and the other in Los Angeles B. Clay Moore and Ed Tadem, writer and artist respectively, gave us kung fu street fighters Jackie Karma and Marcus King, looking into who was backing the dangerous Gil Gunn and his super-heroin on the East Coast. As things developed, swordswoman Holly Gold, PI Samantha Jones and the Soul Brigade all lent a hand.
Out west, in “Cool” writer Seth Peck and artist Tigh Walker told the adventure of Vietnam vet pals Pete Walker and Leon Campbell. In an interview with Peck posted on Comic Book Resources he noted, “[this] is the story of two bounty hunters, a stripper, a suitcase full of money, a sadistic midget, a porn star hit man, crooked cops, geriatric mobsters and L.A. lowlifes spending 48 hours trying to kill each other.”
Sadly, the groove thing that was 76 only saw five issues produced. As the real time seventies closed out, Don McGregor and the aforementioned Marshall Rogers produced Detectives, Inc.: A Remembrance of Threatening Green published in 1980 featuring Bob Rainer and Ted Denning. No kung fu’ing chumps through windows but both men carried a lot of emotional baggage we learn in the course of their case. The PI duo had an interesting genesis as the white McGregor (a writer on Black Panther and editor at Marvel in his career) related creating the pair for him and black artist-writer Alex Simmons (Blackjack) to play in Super 8 movies McGregor was making. Check out the trailer here.
To borrow from the 1975 Isley Brothers’ song, these defiant ones sure knew how to fight the power.
Gary Phillips has a retro pulp novel coming out from Polis, Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem. He is story editor on Snowfall, a show on FX about crack and the CIA set in 1980s South Central.