Marvel Madness

That Time Captain America and an Evil Gorilla Journeyed To the Center of the Earth

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If there’s one thing that would shock my teenage self more than the fact that I no longer find the Joker to be an interesting villain, it’s my love for Captain America. Growing up Cap seemed like one of the most boring superheroes imaginable. He was this incredibly square and bland hero that stood for a bygone era of jingoistic pride for our damaged country. But those are the angry thoughts of a stupid high-schooler who had never actually read a Captain America comic. But over the last few years I’ve given Cap a shot, and he’s quickly come to be one of my favorite superheroes of them all. It probably started with the MCU portrayal of Cap, which couldn’t be more likable. After seeing Chris Evans’ earnest and eternally optimistic performance as Captain America, I began looking up the comics of the character, and while he’s a pretty different character in the pages of the comics, he’s just as great. I’ve mainly had experience with more modern stories of Captain America, specifically the spectacular Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting run that’s rightly considered some of the best comics of all time. But lately I’ve been going back, and reading some of the classic stuff. And guys, it’s a blast. There’s some insane comics from this early run, and some truly great stuff. There are beautifully illustrated comics from Jim Steranko and some iconic Jack Kirby work. But in this story I’ve found something deserving of Marvel Madness. Because this is some of the silliest stuff I’ve ever written about on here.

The story starts off with Captain America and his new friend Sam Wilson, the Falcon, stopping by a secret SHIELD base under a barbershop to introduce Sam to Nick Fury. Now, this was pretty early on in Sam’s existence, and the guy has changed a lot in the impending years. First of all, there’s his shockingly bad green and orange  costume, and then there’s the fact that he doesn’t have his wings yet. He’s basically just a really good fighter with a pet hawk. But I guess that’s all it takes to be a superhero, because Steve and Sam have been getting along great, and now Cap wants to show him off a bit with his SHIELD buddies. So they go down to the base, and Nick offers to help test Sam’s fighting skills. They then pile in an elevator with Dum Dum Dugan and head down to some secret training room, which is also the laboratory for a hideously ugly scientist named Doctor Gorbo. And as Sam starts sparring with Dum Dum we see that Dr. Gorbo is an interesting little man. He’s incredibly bitter of these strong, virile men, and is just sitting up in his lab, lamenting the fact that women always are interested in them, and not him. Yeah, Dr. Gorbo is basically one of those whiny men’s-rights-activists that think that it’s a crime women aren’t lining up to be with their repellent personalities.

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Ugh. What a prick. Anyway, Sam has managed to beat up Dum Dum, and gained the respect of both senior SHIELD agents, and made Captain America proud. So after some time congratulating each other on being badasses, Cap goes to chat with Sharon Carter and complain about their constant on-again-off-again relationship that’s currently off. She kind of blows Steve off, saying that she’s busy focusing on some important SHIELD experiment called Project Earth-Dig, which is pretty on the nose, and ditches him.

But while all of this is going on we see that Dr. Gorbo has been working on some secret experiment that wasn’t exactly sanctioned by SHIELD. He had to wait until Cap and the rest of the guys left the training room/laboratory in order to test it out, but when they leave he starts filling a beaker up with a weird chemical, and downs it, all while monologue to himself about how awesome he is, and how everyone will start to appreciate him soon. It’s clear that he meant this to be some sort of supersoldier drug, but when he takes it he almost immediately realizes something is wrong, when his heart starts racing, and he starts growing hair everywhere. And after a moment of panic, he blacks out and awakens as a giant gorilla! Hell, he even refers to himself as King Kong!

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And no, I didn’t find two stories in a row that rip-off the plot to King Kong. As hilarious as it would be to see Captain America and the Falcon fighting a gorilla that starts climbing the Empire State Building, that isn’t where this story is going. It’s going down, not up. Anyway, Gorbo manages to find the antidote to the serum that he concocted, and drinks it just in time to revert to his human form right before his laboratory assistant, the woman he was pining for in the panel earlier, shows up to check on him. And he immediately starts creeping on her. So she awkwardly leaves, and he decides that he now has no choice but to keep turning himself into a gorilla in order to win her affection. Somehow. Listen, he isn’t he doesn’t have it all worked out yet, all he knows is that he needs a lot more monkey DNA. Which means he needs to sneak into the zoo and start draining blood from the captive gorillas. And I think when you’re breaking into zoos at night to steal blood, you kind of need to reassess your goals.

Now that Gorbo knows that his antidote works and now that he has a whole supply of monkey blood, he decides it’s time for phase two of his plan. Turning into the gorilla to rob banks. The perfect crime! At least that’s what he thinks. He claims that robbing banks as a gorilla is the perfect hiding place, because no one would think that the gorilla is actually a scientist who looks like a monkey. Oh, and he also finds out that he somehow has the ability to control small animals with his mind. Sure, let’s go with that. So he keeps on robbing banks, with the help of an army of stray dogs.

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And of course this insane crime spree is enough to gain the attention of Captain America and the Falcon, who get on the case. They begin wandering the city at night, paroling for the gorilla. And they get lucky pretty quickly, running into the gorilla and starting a fight. Unfortunately he still has his army of stray dogs with him, and manages to escape while Captain America punches wild dogs. So that could have gone better.

But while Captain America and Falcon are nursing their egos, Gorbo is busy getting his quashed again. Because high on his string of robberies, he decides to ask his assistant out for dinner. And, visibly horrified about that, she gives the excuse that she’s going to go watch the beginning  of that Project Earth-Dig thing. Which enrages Gorbo. So he decides to ape-out and go wreck this weird project. And wouldn’t you know, Captain America is there too, getting an explanation of what exactly it is. Turns out it’s just SHIELD digging a massive hole to dump nuclear waste into. And as Cap is listening to that insane mission-statement, disaster strikes when Gorbo shows up and starts wrecking the equipment. Which Captain America cannot abide. So he begins fighting with the giant gorilla, the two duking it out on some cables suspended over the big pit, where packs of dogs can’t save Gorbo. But as they’re fighting one of the cables snaps, and the two end up plummeting down into the bottomless pit. Things could have gone better.

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And the people on the surface are not pleased. Everyone is freaking out at the destroyed machinery, the sudden appearance of a giant gorilla, and the apparent death of Captain America. Especially Sharon, who instantly becomes inconsolable with grief. So she and Nick Fury hop in a crazy little car and zip over to the pit, where they run into Sam, who is also devastated he wasn’t there. So Cap’s friends all start standing around the edge of the pit he seemingly just died in, having an impromptu funeral for him, while all refusing to believe that there isn’t something they can’t do to save him.

We then get a really weird flashback for several pages, that basically just recounts the last issue, which seems super needless, but whatever. We’re reminded of how Gorbo made his formula, and how he and Cap fell into the pit. And after that odd refresher we see that Cap and Gorbo are still just plummeting down the bottomless pit, seemingly forever. But as Cap begins making peace with his ape-related death, something odd starts to happen. They’re suddenly covered with a glowing yellow light, and their plummet is slowing. They’re getting slower and slower until they land at the bottom of the pit gently, without a scratch on them. And how was this accomplished?

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Oh hell yes.The Mole Man. One of the weirdest Marvel villains of them all. He rules basically the entire secret underworld of Earth, and he doesn’t seem happy to have to intruders. Although he did let them live instead of liquefy on their landing. He explains that he’s been interested in the giant hole that the surface-dwellers have dug, and he wants some information. So as he and Cap start talking about their mutual desire for peace, Gorbo begins thinking. Because neither Cap or Mole Man know that he’s actually a human, and it turns out that Mole Man is one of Gorbo’s heroes. Because just like him, Mole Man started off as a scientist who was so unbelievably ugly and creepy that he decided to leave society. But instead of turning himself into a monster, Mole Man just started wandering the world until he found a chasm that led him into the Subterranean World, and quickly established himself as king of the Moloids, a race of subterranean creatures that somehow view Mole Man as their better.

And after fan-boying out in his head for a while, and just after Cap told Mole Man that SHIELD was planning on dumping nuclear waste down into the pit, Gorbo decides to lose control and start attacking. And the Moloids quickly overpower him, tie him up, and drag him to a cell. Not really sure what Gorbo’s plan was here. But after a minor tussle with the Moloids, Captain America tells Mole Man that if he can make it back to the surface he’ll tell SHIELD not to dump the waste down here, because it’ll hurt Mole Man’s people. So Mole Man takes Cap into a room full of technology, and they plan on returning Cap to the surface.  But while all of that’s going on, Gorbo returns to his human form, slips out of his cell, and goes to warn Mole Man that Cap is a traitor. Mole Man doesn’t seem shocked by the sudden appearance of a second person though, and just goes along with it.

Oh, and back on the surface we see that Falcon is not taking his inability to help well, and has gone to some extreme measures to save Cap. Since this takes place before Falcon had his wings and flying harness he decides to visit Tony Stark and as for some help. And Stark helps him in the form of a goddamn jet-pack. So Falcon straps an untested rocked onto his back, drives to the pit, and jumps in.

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Falcon then plummets all the way down into the Subterranean realm, just as shit is hitting the fan. Because Mole Man’s paranoia has gotten the best of him, and he’s ordered his Moloids to attack Captain America after Gorbo told him he’s actually a spy. But to make matters worse, and more confusing, Gorbo has turned back into a gorilla and has started to attack the Moloids too. I’m really not sure what his game plan was here. I’m not sure if I missed something, and Gorbo was planning on supplanting Mole Man as king of the Moloids or what, but he’s all over the place.

Anyway, now that Falcon is in the mix things are going pretty well, and they’re able to hold the Moloids and the insane turn-coat gorilla off. Unfortunately Mole Man has decided that this whole situation is FUBAR nad he decides to turn on some sort of doomsday machine that will destroy all of SHIELD. And in true villain fashion he announces his attentions to the surface dwellers. And because Gorbo can’t make up his damned mind, the news that his beloved assistant who hates him will be killed is enough to make him turn sides one last time, and attack the Mole Man. And he does this by just jumping in front of the muzzle of the giant cannon that Mole Man was going to fire, blocking the show with his body. So his super-gorilla frame takes the blast, it kills him, he reverts to human form, and with his last words tells Mole Man that Cap can be trusted. So with this stupid sacrifice completed Mole Man decides not to destroy the world, and agrees to send Cap up to the surface to stop SHIELD from dumping radioactive garbage down into the center of the world. For now.

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This is some solid gold goofiness folks. The entire premise is just so insane, and for some reason it just gets more insane because Captain America is involved. In more recent years Cap has become one of the elder statesmen of superheroes. He usually stops political corruption, hate groups, terrorists, and other threats against the American Way. He usually isn’t involved in plots to hunt down bank-robbing gorillas and then follow them down to the center of the Earth. I’m not sure whose jurisdiction that would fall under, the Fantastic Four maybe, but not usually Captain America. And yet, it’s perfect. His dedication to his insane case, and his continuous striving for peace with Mole Man is so quintessential Captain America that it still feels the same guy we would normally see taking down Hydra. And beyond that, it’s just a lot of fun. I love seeing Cap and Falcon be little pals, and even though the relationship drama between Steve and Sharon feels just as forced and superfluous as it always does it’s still great seeing Cap hanging out with his crew. Plus I’m a big fan  of the Mole Man. What a ridiculous character. And between his appearance and Gorbo’s it really made me realize that a lot of Marvel supervillains would feel right at home on 4chan complaining about how all the stupid “bitches” of the world only go for “douche bags” and that they never give a shot at “good guys like them,” while being obnoxious and repellent human beings. So, just as a word of advice to anyone who has those thoughts, maybe the problem isn’t that ladies aren’t appreciating you, it’s that you have a horrible personality and are unlikable. So before you become king of a Subterranean civilization or turn yourself into a revenge-gorilla, maybe just work on your conversation skills and narcissism.

Captain America #135-136 were written by Stan Lee, penciled by Gene Colan, inked by Tom Palmer, and lettered by Artie Simek, 1971.

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