And now it’s time for another one of those posts where I eschew cynicism and snark to just talk about the things I love about comics. Because if you’re here reading this, you probably love them too. Today, I’m going to talk about a single-issue story that always brings a goofy grin to my face every time I think about it: Tales of Suspense #83, “Enter…the Tumbler!”
Technically speaking, it’s not a totally self-contained story, so let me set the stage. In #82, Captain America has returned to the Avengers Mansion after a long day of trouncing the hordes of HYDRA, only to find himself hallucinating and flashing back to World War II. At first, he assumes that he’s finally succumbed to some sort of PTSD after years of combat, but in reality, Jarvis has drugged his tea! (Insert dramatic sting.) He finally collapses, and Jarvis reveals himself to be not Jarvis, but a robot designed by HYDRA to destroy Cap and SHIELD. The Adaptoid (this was before he was Super) impersonated the Avengers’ butler to get close to the perfect physical specimen, Steve Rogers, and now duplicates him precisely in order to become the ultimate living weapon against SHIELD. He ties up the unconscious Cap in a closet and prepares to attack SHIELD HQ, using his enemy’s face…
And then, as the title of this story suggests, the Tumbler enters. He’s a small-time crook who read about Captain America’s exploits and realized that any man can do amazing things if only he trains hard and perserveres. With this inspirational message in his heart, he goes off to become the best darned criminal he can be! And after years of intensive training in acrobatics, weight-lifting, and unarmed combat, he’s ready to show that he’s no small-time crook anymore. He’s going to defeat Captain America, and then take over New York’s mobs!
The Adaptoid assumes, at first, that he’ll be able to handle this enemy easily. After all, he’s duplicated Captain America, the perfect physical specimen. But he quickly finds out that while Cap is stronger and faster than any other human, the difference between him and an Olympic-level athlete is minor, at best. The Tumbler quickly overwhelms him, using his aggressive acrobatics to confuse and disorient the android, and proceeds to beat six kinds of hell out of him. Capdaptoid tries to take him out with a shield throw, but the Tumbler adroitly dodges out of the way and starts beating him with his own shield. The Adaptoid actually tries to adapt to the Tumbler, assuming that he must be superior to Cap because after all, he’s beating the living shit out of someone in Cap’s body, but he’s being hammered too hard to make the switch. Finally, the Tumbler throws his defeated foe clear through the wooden doors leading deeper into the mansion, and prepares to strut off with his trophy–Captain America’s shield–while saying, “I’m a dozen times the fighter Captain America ever was!”
And then Cap walks right back out of those same doors, because he’s been recovering from the drugs and untying himself while the Tumbler and the Adaptoid fought. The Tumbler doesn’t even have time to get cocky before Cap pastes one on him for the crime of being mouthy, and then asks, “Who are you? And what are you doing here?” Because Cap doesn’t have time to ask questions of people before starting the beating. He’s on a schedule, people.
The Tumbler tries to fight back, throwing Cap’s own shield at him. Cap catches it “like it was nothing more than a toss from shortstop to first”, and proceeds to wing it right past the Tumbler’s head at slapshot speed. He could have hit him with it, of course, but why knock a man out when you can show off by ricocheting a piece of metal past his head three or four times in less than a second? The Tumbler tries some of his acrobatics…so Cap hits him with a table. Then the beat-down starts in earnest. The best part is that this is 60s Cap, before he became all “Eat your Wheaties, kids!” He’s openly smack-talking the guy while he fights. (The Tumbler at one point says, “I was set to be the kingpin of the whole underworld after I’d beaten you!” To which Cap responds, “But it would have put you in the higher brackets! Think of the taxes you’d have to pay!” I think this is an argument still being used on Fox News.)
After a few pages, Cap literally knocks the man into comics obscurity (literally–this is the Tumbler’s first and only appearance) and rounds up the unconscious Adaptoid for later study. If you want to find out what happens next, you can find the story in ‘Essential Captain America, Volume One’…or, if you just want to see one of the most hilariously inept supervillains ever and his one, shining moment of thinking he’d just trounced the greatest hero of World War II.