Bantam Books published July 1968; 118 pages; the story starts on page 1! There are no illustrations or ads in the book.
This paperback book was NOT part of the Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books Marvel Novel series. In fact, this book was released ten years prior.
Because of the phenomenal success of the Batman TV show, in 1966 and 1967 everything comic book-y was all the rage.
Marvel wanted to cash in on the rage by publishing novel-length prose paperbacks of their superhero line. For some unknown reason, Marvel’s owner, Martin Goodman, did not want to license his two best-sellers – Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four – but he allowed an Avengers book, published in 1967 as The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker by legendary comic book writer Otto Binder.
The book tanked – either because of the poor-writing style (hard to believe with Otto Binder, but supposedly Binder knew nothing of the “Marvel Style” and Stan Lee did not approve of the assigned writer) or lack of promotion on Marvel’s part (perhaps because of Lee’s dislike of choice of author). The latter argument has some meat to it. If Marvel hyped this paperback the way it hyped its comics and cartoons, it would have done reasonably well. It would not have outsold One Hundred Years of Solitude, but …
Because the Avengers book was such a bust, the follow-up novel with Captain America was not published until July of 1968. It sold about 98,000 copies and only had one printing.
Author Ted White is the Hugo-award winning author of the Qanar series published by Lancer. He acknowledges his homage to Doc Savage in this Captain America novel.
The unsigned cover is by Mitchell Hooks who also did, among his many other works, the movie poster for Doctor No. Ted White also acknowledges his love of Ian Fleming in this Captain America novel.
And what a fun mix of Doc Savage-pulp and James Bond this story is!
Throughout this series of novels I read the book before looking up anything about it. That way I am not influenced by the reviews and commentary of others. All through the story I imagined this could have been re-written as a Doc Savage story with very little effort.
And I knew I was onto a Doc Savage homage when one of the characters was named Monk.
The prior (later) Captain America novel Holocaust for Hire was also pulpy fun, but for a younger audience. This novel was aimed at all ages.
A “tsk-tsk” goes to Mr. White for his dedication: “To Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, without whom there would be no Captain America”. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created Captain America. Without them, there would be no Captain America. Even Stan would admit that.
An unidentified man was mysteriously killed searching for Captain America. The police and Cap discover he was killed by a laser to the back!! He had a gold ingot in his pocket – from the US Federal Reserve in the heart of New York.
Cap and some police officers head down to the vaults containing the billions of gold bars and find the thieves access from an abandoned subway tunnel – they had already stolen millions of dollars of bars.
Cap goes into the tunnel to find a thief still there! After dispatching the crook, Cap lifts the receiver of the radio in the tunnel. One of the lieutenants on the other end detonates an explosive in the tunnel – they think Captain America is killed!
But because of his incredible training and physique, Cap works his way out of the rubble.
The lieutenants of the gold thieves were named Sparrow, Starling and Raven. We learn they work for the Eagle – all very pulpish, too!
They eventually capture Captain America and resume their theft of the gold. Captain America escapes and follows the lieutenants to their lair on Staten Island where the identity of the Eagle is finally revealed!
The revelation and conclusion literally takes place in the last four pages of the story.
I particularly enjoyed the prose on Cap’s physical abilities – something straight out of a Doc Savage novel! For example – controlling his healing ability and consciously increasing his adrenaline to work his way out of the rubble caused him to lose seven pounds.
The author spends almost a quarter of the novel on Captain America’s origin. Since it was so well done I am not complaining. I enjoyed how he added more pulpish-ness to the origin. It was not just a chemical formula injected into weak Steve Rogers, but Rogers was also – prior to the injection of the super-serum – put through months of physical training, examination of his bio systems and even his DNA and RNA (acknowledging that Dr. Erskine was decades ahead of his time). Interestingly, steel rods were put into his bone marrow for strength and to allow his bones to support the extra musculature. Early shades of Wolverine there …
Odd that the book begins with a two-page recap of the Captain’s origin, but then given much more details beginning on page 13.
As a super-hero book, The Great Gold Steal is good but not great. As the Marvel Novel Series shows, it is hard to transfer the visual impact of a comic book into prose form – as good as some of the stories are. The weaker novels are simply prose versions of the comic book.
However, as a pulp book, The Great Gold Steal is wonderful fun! Narrow escapes, bone-crunching battles and a dum-dum-duuuuummmm-style reveal of the true villain – not once but twice! Some bad guys are not as they seem!
Better to think of this book as a pulp novel. If this were a new Doc Savage or Avenger (Richard Benson, not the Marvel super-team) tale, it might have been better received.
Original Material Copyright 2017 Michael Curry
Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Bantam Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.
I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.