Inside Pulse 12

Retro-Reviews: Captain America #301-306 By Mike Carlin, Paul Neary & Dennis Janke

Captain America #301-306 (January ‘85 – June ‘85)

Written by Mike Carlin (#301-306)

Penciled by Paul Neary (#301-306)

Inked by Dennis Janke (#301-306)

Spoilers (from thirty-one years ago)

When I write these columns, especially when I’m looking at a long running series that I bought for many years, I tend to break it down into runs that group easily together, often based on the creative team.  After JM DeMatteis left Captain America, Mike Carlin wrote it for only six issues before it transferred to Mark Gruenwald, who then wrote the book for over a decade.  My DeMatteis column was getting to be too long to include these issues there, and the Gruenwald run is massive and will have to be broken up.  The result?  Carlin’s issues get their own column.

When DeMatteis left, he left some unresolved plotlines from his long Red Skull storyline, chief of which being an aged and infirm Steve Rogers.  Carlin first had to fix that, and then, I suspect, he was charged with clearing the decks a little for Gruenwald to take over.  He packed Steve’s friend Arnie off to Florida, and had Nomad go through a small identity crisis, beginning to feel overshadowed by Steve, making it easy for Gruenwald to pack him off too early into his run.

Since he didn’t set up any new plotlines during this run, I figure Carlin always knew he was on the title short-term.  I imagine he set up the two-part Captain Britain story as a gift to artist Paul Neary, who inked (and also maybe drew?) the character for Marvel UK.

Anyway, let’s take a look at who was featured during this run:

Villains

  • Mother Superior (#301)
  • The Sisters of Sin (Sister Dream, Sister Pleasure, Sister Agony, and Sister Death; #301)
  • Machete (#302-303)
  • Zaran (#302-303)
  • Batroc the Leaper (#302-303)
  • Stane International (#303-304)
  • Modred the Mystic (#305-306)

Guest-Stars

  • Vision (#301)
  • Scarlet Witch (#301)
  • Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau, #301)
  • Starfox (#301)
  • Hercules (#301)
  • Wasp (#301)
  • Hank Pym (#301)
  • Hawkeye (#301)
  • Captain Britain (#305-306)
  • Merlin (#306)

Supporting Cast

  • Nomad (Jack Monroe, #301-306)
  • Bernie Rosenthal (Cap’s fiancée, #301-303, 305-306)
  • Falcon (Sam Wilson, #301)
  • Arnie Roth (Cap’s childhood friend, #301, 306)
  • Josh Cooper (Cap’s neighbour, #303)
  • Nick Fury (#304)

Let’s look at the events of this series in detail, with some commentary as I go along:

  • Carlin begins his run right where JM DeMatteis left off, with the artificially aged Cap walking out of Skullhouse with the dead Red Skull in his arms.  Mother Superior and the Sisters of Sin ask for the body, and he hands it over.  As he leaves the house and sees his friends, just as the Avengers arrive.  The team works to reverse the effects of the aging, while Superior and the Sisters cremate the Skull.  Vision and Hank Pym set up the Skull’s equipment in Avengers Mansion, figuring they can bathe Cap in some sort of rays to reverse the aging.  The only thing is that no one can enter the room while the ray is working.  Of course this means that Superior and the Sisters show up.  Cap fights them long enough that not only his youth is restored, but theirs as well.  The issue ends happily.
  • Late one night Cap picks up his motorcycle from the Brooklyn garage where he stores it, and goes for a ride when he is attacked by Machete, who wants to test himself against him, and just happened to know where he was going to be.  They fight, and Machete manages to slice through the straps on Cap’s shield, but runs away when he knows he can’t win the fight.  Cap goes home to fix his shield, chats with Bernie for a bit, and then goes on patrol with Nomad.  We learn that Machete is supposed to be working with a pair of other mercenaries, the leader of whom sends them out to fight again.  Zaran leads the attack this time, and he and Machete do a lot better, and take off with Cap’s shield.  This makes Batroc, their leader, very happy.
  • Unable to find Cap’s shield, Steve and Jack return home.  We learn that the shield was acquired by Stane International, the evil corporation that used to be Tony Stark’s company.  They’ve kidnapped the scientist who originally made the shield, in the hopes that he can create more of the same metal.  Cap and Nomad search again later in the day, but Nomad’s growing sense of insecurity has him thinking about leaving his partnership with Steve; they split up to better search.  At a bar, the very drunk mercenaries argue about whether or not Batroc could beat Captain America; they make a bet that he can’t.  They find Cap and start fighting.  Cap figures out that something is up, and makes a deal with Batroc that he will give him one hit, if Batroc tells him where the shield is.  After a good hit, Cap knocks the French criminal out, and goes off to find his shield.
  • Knowing that Stane International has his shield, Cap goes to SHIELD for intel, learning (through using a rather problematic surveillance system that SHIELD employs to track its retirees) that the guy who created his shield has gone missing.  Cap infiltrates the company’s headquarters in disguise, while Nomad creates a diversion (while continuing to question his own inadequacies, and general discomfort when he’s around Cap).  Cap finds the scientist, but the guy holding him puts on a suit of armour that has been plated with the scientist’s latest attempt at duplicating the metal in Cap’s shield.  They fight, but Cap uses his shield to bust up the armour.  The heroes and the scientist go home.
  • The Statement of Ownership in issue 304 lists average press runs of 297 000, with 147 000 average newstand returns.  I figure that this would be Marvel’s mid to low-list at that time.
  • Working away at his commercial art (and worrying about how he’s able to pay the bills when being Cap keeps him so busy), Captain Britain’s new uniform suddenly appears on Steve.  Not recognizing the uniform, but seeing it’s connection to England, he decides to fly commercially to London to see if there’s anything wrong (even though he was just worried about money).  Nomad stops some robbers and starts to feel good about himself, but then a deli owner gets him confused with Captain America (despite the fact that their costumes are completely different).  Steve arrives in London and decides everything looks fine.  He is about to leave when he is attacked by Captain Britain.  They fight in the air.  Bernie is worried that she can’t find Steve, but feels fine when she sees that he left a note saying he’d gone to England.  Because that’s how relationships work.  Captain Britain knocks out Cap; he wakes up in a dungeon, and learns that he’s really been fighting Modred the Mystic.  The real Captain Britain sent the costume to Steve to try to keep it away from Modred.  Now Modred wants to summon Merlin so he can kill him.
  • As Modred continues to attack London, calling Merlin out, Cap manages to free himself and Captain Britain from the dungeon where they are chained up.  Arnie visits Bernie at work to let her know that he’s leaving for his uncle’s place in Florida.  Nomad stops a thief and feels good about himself.  The two Captains find Modred, and Captain Britain convinces him that the only way to summon Merlin is for him to be wearing his own uniform.  Modred returns it to him, but Merlin doesn’t arrive.  Modred then reanimates a bunch of dead people in the yard of the Tower of London, which the Caps defeat.  They then stop Modred by turning his arms so he blasts himself.  Merlin arrives to take Modred away, but Captain America argues that he deserves a fair trial.

For fill-in and wrap-up issues, these were fine.  Carlin didn’t do much that was memorable with the characters, but the fight with Batroc was cool, and I remember being excited about Captain Britain, who I didn’t know anything about, when this comic first came out.  

Paul Neary, inked by Dennis Janke, remained a little stiff and unremarkable, which is strange because his covers are excellent.  I wonder if he was under a lot of pressure to get these issues turned around quickly, because I know that his later work is also way more impressive.

These issues are from that era when Marvel began experimenting with a new colouring process (I remember the term starting with the letter r; I also remember it being explained in an issue of Cap that is coming up in the next column – we’ll see how good my memory really is when I get there).  The pages are very bright; sometimes distractingly so.  It makes a huge contrast to the more realistic and drab colours that were used throughout Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.

Anyway, these are comics that I remember buying and enjoying quite a bit.  It’s nice to revisit them, and I look forward to diving into the start of Gruenwald’s epic run.  Next time, we’ll talk about the issues that led up to Cap being replaced by the American government.

If you’re interested in looking at my column for JM DeMatteis’s run, it’s here.

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