Inside Pulse 12

Retro-Reviews: Captain America #333-350 Starring John Walker As Captain America & Steve Rogers As The Captain!

Captain America #333-350 (September ‘87 – February ‘89)

Written by Mark Gruenwald (#333-350)

Penciled by Tom Morgan (#333-337), Kieron Dwyer (#338-350), and John Byrne (#350)

Inked by Dave Hunt (#333-337), Tom Morgan (#338), Tony DeZuniga (#339), Al Milgrom (#340-350), and Jose Marzan Jr. (#350)

Spoilers (from twenty-seven to twenty-nine years ago)

 

This was a very interesting period in the history of Captain America.  It was the first era in modern, post-Bronze Age comics when major heroes started to be replaced with newer characters, and choosing to have a classic character be effectively fired from his role was a bold choice.  When Captain America stepped down, I remember not being surprised that John Walker, the Super Patriot, was chosen to replace him.  I also remember being excited at the prospect of being at the beginning of a new Captain America’s career, because twelve to fourteen year old me didn’t know that changes like this never last more than two years before being reversed.

It was interesting to see how Mark Gruenwald had to take Walker, who was firmly established as a jerk and hothead, and make him into a believable and likeable hero (before having to give the public a reason to want to see him out of the costume again).  I remember being vaguely annoyed by how much space was given to Steve Rogers as the Captain in this title.  I thought that Walker should keep this series, and that the Captain should have been given his own book (and a much better name).  

Instead, the two heroes shared space in the book, sometimes appearing in the same issue, sometimes not.  Here’s a handy guide to who could be found where:

  • Captain America (John Walker; #333-335, 338-339, 341, 343-350)
  • The Captain (Steve Rogers; #336-345, 347-350)

There was an interesting collection of foes for both heroes to face:

  • The Watchdogs (#335-336, 345, 350)
  • Brother Nature (#336)
  • Puff Adder (#337-338, 341-342)
  • Copperhead (#337-338, 341-344)
  • Fer-de-Lance (#337-338, 341-342)
  • Black Racer (#337-338, 341-342)
  • Sidewinder (#338, 341-342, 345)
  • Anthony Power (#338)
  • Famine (#339)
  • Mr. Hyde (#340)
  • Titania (#340)
  • Armadillo (#340)
  • Vibro (#340)
  • Griffin (#340)
  • The Buckies/Left-Winger and Right-Winger (#333-334/341, 347)
  • Black Mamba (#341-342)
  • Cottonmouth (#341-342)
  • Cobra (#341, 343-344)
  • Diamondback (#341-345)
  • Asp (#341-342)
  • Rattler (#341-343)
  • Bushmaster (#341-342)
  • Anaconda (#341-342)
  • Viper (#341-344)
  • Coachwhip (#341-342)
  • Slither (#341-344)
  • Rock Python (#341-342)
  • The Resistants (Occult, Paralyzer, Crucible, Meteorite; #343; Meteorite, Quill, Mist Mistress, Crucible, Occult, Paralyzer,  and others; #346; Rust, #350)
  • Boomslang (#343-344)
  • Mentallo/Think-Tank (#346)
  • Mr. Rockwell’s mysterious boss/Mr. Smith/The Red Skull (#346-348, 350)
  • Red Skull II (#347)
  • Scourge (maybe?; #347, 350)
  • Flag-Smasher (#348-349)
  • ULTIMATUM (#348-350)
  • Arnim Zola (#350)

Captain America is usually very guest star heavy, but there weren’t that many visits from established Marvel characters during this era, beyond the squad that Cap formed around himself.

  • Freedom Force (Avalanche, Blob, and Pyro; #333-334, 339; Destiny, Pyro, Blob, Crimson Commando, Stonewall, Spyral, Avalanche, Mystique, Super Sabre; #346)
  • Taskmaster (#334)
  • Iron Man (#339-341)
  • Black Panther (#342)
  • Ronald Reagan (#344, 348)
  • Nancy Reagan (#344)

The lack of guest stars was probably due to the large supporting cast that these issues featured, as Gruenwald gave The Captain a number of sidekicks, and peopled Walker’s life with familiar faces.

 

  • Valerie Cooper (#333-335, 344, 347-348, 350)
  • Henry Peter Gyrich (#333, 335, 347)
  • Ethan Thurm (#333-334, 347)
  • Bucky/Battle Star (Lemar Hoskins; #334-335, 338-339/341, 343-350)
  • Bernie Rosenthal (#336)
  • Nomad (Jack Monroe; #336-340, 342-345)
  • D-Man (#336-340, 342-346, 349)
  • Falcon (#336-340, 342-343, 345)
  • Vagabond (Nomad’s girlfriend; #336-337, 339-340, 342, 345)
  • Douglas Rockwell (Head Commissioner #346-348, 350)

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

  • Surprised by Steve Rogers’s decision to quit being Captain America over working for the Commission, they are left trying to figure out who should wear the costume now.  They consider and rule out Jack Monroe, Sam Wilson (claiming that America is not ready for a black Captain America), and Nick Fury.  Valerie Cooper suggests Super-Patriot.  The FBI approaches him after a TV interview, and he meets with Cooper, who offers him the job.  We learn that Super-Patriot is John Walker, a Southerner who lost his brother to the Vietnam War.  He’s always wanted to serve the country, and after getting augmented by the Power Broker, he’s taken on the guise of Super-Patriot and worked with his PR man Ethan Thurm to do good.  Thurm wants him to add a bunch of demands to this new job, guaranteeing himself a good pay day, but Walker is more interested in the job than the wealth.  Walker reaches out to Steve Rogers via his hotline, but is instead attacked by the Buckies, his colleagues.  He promises to take them with him in his new career.  He gets his new uniform and shield, and trains with Freedom Force for a bit.  When he finds out from the Commission that he has to drop Thurm and two of the Buckies, he has no problem with this.
  • Walker continues to study to replace Steve Rogers, but is stymied by his superior skill, especially with the shield.  Lemar Hoskins, who was one of the Buckies, is introduced as the new Bucky to Walker’s Cap, complete with the terrible classic uniform.  Ethan Thurm keeps calling Val Cooper, and she blames Walker for this.  Walker and Lemar sneak out to meet with Thurm and the other two Buckies, who basically blackmail them.  Walker is trained by the Taskmaster in the use of his shield.  Walker and Lemar steal Guardsman uniforms, and go to threaten Thurm into silence.  A fight breaks out, and Walker blasts one of the Buckies, injuring him badly.  He later confesses to Cooper that he did this.  Gruenwald is working hard to take a character who was originally a complete creep and make him at least a little bit likeable.
  • New Cap and New Bucky prove themselves to the Commission by running through a high-tech obstacle course, and then shower together (this scene makes sense, but I am wondering if this is a theme in Gruenwald’s work now).  We see that a militia group blows up a porn shop in Alabama, killing the proprietor.  The Commission gives New Cap his first mission – he’s to infiltrate the Watchdogs, that same militia group, and shut them down.  John is a bit concerned, he generally agrees with the Watchdog’s morality (being anti-porn, sex ed, abortion, and evolution) but has to do his job.  He’s uncomfortable with the fact that these activities take place in his old home town.  While he asks around for information about the group, Lemar poses as a pornographer and starts interviewing local girls.  John busts in and they fight (it’s staged).  John is freed on bail by an old friend, who takes him to meet the Watchdogs.  Later, he is initiated into the group, and they plan to go and burn down the town library.  Before that, though, they want to lynch Lemar, who they have also captured.  The rest of the Watchdogs leave to attack the library, and John decides he has to leave Lemar behind, hoping he can look after himself (I think, since they both went through the same Power Broker treatment, that they would have very similar strength levels, so this is a bit patronizing).  At the library, John changes into Captain America, and takes out the Watchdogs.  He goes back to help Lemar, only to find that his friend is fine, and has taken out two more Watchdogs.  John wonders if the Commission arranged this specific mission as a test of his resolve, but decides to not complain.  Personally, I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of having the black character in the book lynched, but at least there weren’t any racial epithets slung at him, unlike issues that had the Falcon in them only five or six years earlier.  
  • In a news broadcast, we see that Captain America has continued to fight the Watchdogs in various locations, while a man name Brother Nature has been attacking the Washington forestry industry.  Steve Rogers, wearing a full beard, stops some angry loggers from causing problems in a bar, then drives around in his van feeling sorry for himself since losing his Captain America identity.  We learn that Bernie had wanted him to fight the Commission in the courts, while his various former partners gave conflicting advice.  He drives his van into a crevasse on a remote road.  Nomad, D-Man, Falcon, and Vagabond (Jack’s girlfriend) meet at D-Man’s place.  D-Man, who has been looking after the Hotline, wants to track down Steve.  Steve, meanwhile, gets out of his van and discovers that Brother Nature caused the crevasse to open in the road.  They fight, ripping up the forest, and putting all sorts of endangered animals at risk (Brother has nature-controlling powers), and Steve identifies himself as The Captain.  After they fall down another crevasse, Steve tends to Brother’s wounds, and they spend the night talking.  In the morning, Steve climbs up, carrying Brother, and the latter is upset by how much destruction he has caused.  Steve sees this as a metaphor for his own life, and resolves not to fight the Commission, lest America be injured in the process.  I remember, when this comic came out, being disappointed that Steve Rogers returned so soon; I’d been enjoying seeing John Walker take on the Captain America role, and wanted more of it.
  • Falcon, Nomad, D-man, and Vagabond find Steve’s van, still in the crevasse created by Brother Nature, and D-Man tosses it back up to the road, which further earns him Nomad’s enmity.  The group decides to wait for Steve to return.  In Las Vegas, four serpent-themed villains (Copperhead, Puff Adder, Fer-de-Lance, and Black Racer) rob a casino.  Steve’s friends talk about what they think he should do about the Commission taking his identity; only D-Man thinks he should do whatever he wants, and is willing to bankroll him.  Steve shows up, and announces he’s ready to return to crimefighting, using the name The Captain.  D-Man has already made a black, red, and white costume for him.  In Vegas, the serpents run into trouble, and hole up with hostages on the top floor of the casino.  Copperhead, their leader, keeps hinting at an ulterior motive, which I assume would be catching the attention of the Serpent Society.  Steve and his friends discover the hostage situation from the Hotline, and use D-Man’s money to get to Vegas quickly.  They are turned away by police who don’t recognize them, but attack the villains from the roof anyway.  They subdue them, but The Captain worries about having crossed a line by defying the police.
  • Captain America and Bucky (who now has his own shield based on the original triangular-shaped one) are in upstate New York looking to take Anthony Power into custody for the Commission.  Power, who used to run the Secret Empire, has a bunch of Roman soldier lookalike guards, and gas-dispensing robots, to protect him.  The Captain and his allies are locked up in a Vegas jail, in a cell across from the four Serpent-themed villains they fought last issue.  Nomad is angry, while the Captain is trying to persuade the cops that they were acting as heroes.  There is no mention of why they don’t just use the Falcon’s status as a reserve Avenger to clear their names.  Captain America and Bucky keep fighting robots in NY, and are attacked by a giant.  Sidewinder appears in NV to free the serpents and offer them membership in the Serpent Society.  Captain America and Bucky defeat the giant, who is not smart.  D-Man busts the Captain and Nomad out of their cell, and they try to stop Sidewinder.  Cap grabs ahold of him, and teleports with him.  Power’s people try to get him out of his castle base using a rocket (in a set-up reminiscent of the one that killed the first Bucky), but Captain America disables it with his shield.  Sidewinder is able to bluff his way to freedom, taking Fer-de-Lance with him, leaving the Captain to explain what happened just as the Falcon secured his release.  Anthony Power attacks Captain America, who flips out and beats him to death.  He feels like he is failing in his mission.
  • Famine, one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, trashes farmland in Kansas in this Fall of the Mutants tie-in.  Steve has a bad dream about the Commission, and wakes up in a private jet with D-Man, Nomad, Falcon, and Vagabond, who is sleeping again.  They discover what’s happening in Kansas, and divert the jet there, eager to help.  In Maryland, Captain America and Bucky learn from Freedom Force that the X-Men are dead, and then also get sent to Kansas to stop Famine.  The Captain and his friends drop in on Famine, who Falcon first tries to stop.  It takes all of them to stop her and her robot horse thing, and then they teleport away, which is frustrating for Steve.  During the fight, Steve thinks about how much he misses his shield, and worries that America’s breadbasket might never recover from Famine’s attack.  Captain America and Bucky arrive at the scene of the fight, only to find everyone gone.  They don’t know what happened.  Steve visits Tony Stark to get himself a new shield.  He’s very happy with what Tony gives him, and we see that Tony is trying to manipulate him, as he is in the middle of his Armor Wars at the time.  I love when comics lined up like this back in the day.  This story is continued in an issue of Iron Man, but I’m not going to read that right now.
  • Picking up from Iron Man #228, we see that he has immobilized The Captain in the Vault as he’s gone through the place looking to destroy the suits of Guardsman armor based on his designs (this is the crux of the Armor Wars storyline at the time).  Iron Man leaves the Vault with most of its power down.  When Cap recovers, he is pretty angry, and wants to go after Stark.  As he climbs down the mountain the Vault is apparently at the top of, Falcon picks him up, and returns him to the rest of his crew.  In the Vault, Mister Hyde groups up with Titania to leave, and they shun Armadillo, who also wants out.  Vibro and Griffin find another way to escape.  Cap and his crew hear explosions from the Vault, and decide to go back to fight the escapees, leaving Vagabond to watch their van.  Falcon begins to fight the Griffin, while Cap fights Hyde through the windshield of a truck, D-Man gets tossed off the mountain by Titania, and Nomad stops Vibro.  Cap manages to take Hyde down, but D-Man lets Titania escape out of fear of being thrown off the mountain again.  We learn that Vagabond has talked Armadillo into surrendering.  Gruenwald clearly loves Armadillo…
  • Instead of running parallel stories, issue 341 is split into three short stories, one for each of the book’s main heroes, and the third for the Serpent Society.  The Captain waits in Tony Stark’s home, and when Tony arrives, they get into an argument about Tony’s recent activities.  Cap returns the shield, and tells him he is going to take him in.  Tony puts on his Iron Man armor, and they begin to fight.  Iron Man gets away, but promises Steve that when his Armor Wars are over, they will sit down and talk out their differences.  Steve decides to take him at his word instead of pursue him further.  We don’t know if he leaves the shield behind or not.  Captain America’s story is used to fix the gross insensitivity that came from putting an adult black male in the costume of a dead white boy and calling him Bucky.  To that end, we meet Battle Star, Lemar’s new identity.  At a large rally in Washington DC, the new Captain America announces that he is the new Captain America, and introduces Battle Star to the world.  The rally is attacked by Right-Winger and Left-Winger, the two former members of the Buckies who used to work with John and Lemar.  They expose John’s identity to the public before being taken down by the two heroes and the Secret Service.  In the Serpent Society story, the new serpents from a few issues back are inducted into the team.  Later, we learn that they are working for Viper, who teleports into the headquarters and poisons Sidewinder with her venom.  He is able to escape to Diamondback’s room, who treats him with anti-venom.  They get to the communications room, where they see that Viper has brought a number of new snake-themed folk into the headquarters, and is taking out their teammates.  Diamondback places a call to Captain America’s hotline.
  • The statement of ownership for 1987 lists Captain America as having an average press run of 280 000, with newsstand returns of 131 000.
  • Nomad gets jealous when D-Man once again shows Vagabond some wrestling moves, tries to fight the big guy, and gets dumped in the pool by his girlfriend.  A Wakandan airship arrives over D-Man’s mansion, and Cap is given a new shield to replace the one he returned to Tony Stark.  Falcon interrupts to inform Cap of Diamondback’s situation in NY, and the Wakandans agree to fly the team to New York state.  Diamondback and the barely conscious Sidewinder are attacked by Fer-de-Lance and Coachwhip, but are able to escape.  They rendezvous with Cap’s squad, and while Vagabond takes Sidewinder to the hospital, the rest make their way to the Society’s citadel.  Inside, Viper is having various members of the Society trussed up so she can poison them as a way of making them join her.  Some of the others have already joined her, and they are loading canisters into their airships.  One airship leaves and Cap and his friends use this as a chance to get inside.  They fight the combined forces of the Society and Viper’s snake-themed villains (somehow Diamondback knows Rock Python’s name despite having never met him).  Cap and Diamondback fight their way to the room where Viper is locking up the others, and there is more fighting.  Viper slips away, and Cap has to decide between helping the dying Serpents or going after her.  Black Racer attacks the ambulance carrying Sidewinder and Vagabond, but the neophyte hero is able to take her out.
  • Captain America and Battle Star chase down a capture a young man who shoots quills out of his skin.  They believe he is a mutant, although he claims otherwise, and need to apprehend him because he has not registered under the Mutant Registration Act.  Lemar considers that the Act is just a new way to oppress a minority group.  In the Serpents’ citadel, Cap and Diamondback continue to chase Viper.  She takes off in a Serpent Saucer, but Cap manages to grab ahold of the landing gear.  Falcon gives chase, but can’t keep up.  Diamondback, D-Man, and Nomad arrive in a second saucer, with Slither as their captive.  They learn that Viper sent some serpents ahead to carry out her plan.  Captain America and Battle Star are in a helicopter with their prisoner when they are attacked by the Resistants, a group of four mutants who are fighting the Registration Act.  They escape with the unnamed prisoner, as Captain America’s copter crashes.  In DC, Cobra and Copperhead pour some liquid into the city’s water supply.  Nomad and Diamondback shoot down Viper’s saucer; she escapes by teleporting away, while Cap uses his new shield to jump to Earth.  He takes out Viper just as his friends arrive.  Falcon phones the Avengers to alert them to the water issue, but we see that at the White House, an unseen Ronald Reagan asks Nancy for a glass of water.
  • Reagan wakes up in the evening, slowly turning into a snakeman.  Cobra, Copperhead, and Boomslang discover people rioting in the streets of Washington DC, turning into snakemen.  They make their way to their saucer, to discover the Captain and Diamondback, who take out all of them except for Cobra, who makes his escape.  He ends up in the other nearby saucer, where Nomad and D-Man are holding Viper and Slither.  Cobra tries to kill Viper, but ends up freeing her before escaping again.  Nomad goes after him, while the newly-freed Viper bites D-Man, poisoning him.  Captain America and Battle Star get called to DC to help out; Lemar is showing signs of chafing under the Commission’s control.  The Captain and Diamondback discover the unconscious D-Man.  Cap leaves Diamondback to watch him, and she feels like Cap will never love her, because of course that’s what she’s concerned with.  Viper breaks into the White House, while Nomad is taken out by rioters.  Viper almosts shoots Nancy Reagan, and then doses the President with more of her toxin.  Diamondback decides to ditch D-Man, who is starting to recover, and runs right into Captain America.  Battle Star gets into it with D-Man, and after a bit, both government-sponsored heroes emerge victors.  The Captain makes his way to the White House, where he reminisces for a bit, before getting into a fight with Snake Reagan, which Viper watches.  Cap gets Ronnie to sweat out the toxin or something, and then gives chase to Viper, who he finds knocked out by Cobra, who regrets ever siding with her.  After the dust settles, we learn that the Commission has Nomad, D-Man, and Diamondback in custody, and that they want to track down The Captain for his actions.  I have no idea where The Falcon has gone.
  • The Commission sends Captain America after The Captain, although Walker and Lemar don’t feel good about it.  Steve meets with the Falcon, who returns to Harlem, so he is stuck looking for D-Man and Nomad on his own.  In Georgia, the Watchdogs abduct John Walker’s parents, because they know he is Captain America.  When Walker discovers this, he goes AWOL to go rescue them.  Sidewinder appears in the Commission’s jail with Vagabond, to free Diamondback.  She convinces him to free D-Man and Nomad too, but D-Man refuses to go, claiming it’s what Steve would do.  Vagabond stays with him (which means she breaks into a jail where she doesn’t need to be), while Nomad takes off.  Later, Steve meets with a dunk Nomad, and they argue.  Captain America meets some Watchdogs, and lets them take him prisoner, while Steve turns himself in to the Commission.  The Watchdogs prepare to lynch Walker, but when he sees his parents, he breaks loose.  In the fight, his parents are shot dead by the Watchdogs.  He goes nuts and kills all the Watchdogs, and then cradles his dead parents, while talking to them like they are alive.  I think by this point, Marvel had decided to put Steve back in the proper costume, and decided that making him crazy would be the best way to write off Walker.  It feels abrupt and a little dark.
  • Captain America is bailed out of jail by one of the Commission and Battle Star.  He is pretty despondent over the death of his parents.  In Commission jail, D-Man keeps getting questioned about the whereabouts of the Captain, but can’t actually answer that question, considering that Cap already turned himself in.  A group of The Resistants attack a Vault convoy, freeing Mentallo and escaping with him.  Captain America is put on suspension by Mr. Rockwell, one of the Commission, who we learn is working for a smoking guy on a video screen, who actually wants Walker put back in the field right away.  Battle Star wants to complain about how Walker is being treated, but is called into a briefing with Freedom Force, who are planning a sting to capture the Resistants.  Walker is assigned to back them up, as Captain America again.  We learn that the Resistants are a group of mutants with deep Marvel history, who convince Mentallo to join them in their fight.  Freedom Force, playing the roles of officers of the court, pretend to put “Quicksilver” (actually Mystique) on trial in Nevada.  The Resistants attack, and Mentallo, who has changed his name to Think-Tank, is now sitting in a little tiny tank, and looks ridiculous.  Captain America joins in the fight, and is shown to be incredibly ruthless and violent.  It looks like Occult and Meteorite are killed (although it could be someone else – all of these characters look the same), and Battle Star stops Walker from beating one of the mutants to death.  We learn that Walker is missing his parents’ funeral by being on this mission.
  • Captain America shows up at Left-Winger’s mother’s home and threatens her son.  She calls her son, who is training with Right-Winger, and they decide that it’s time for them to stop Walker for good.  Head Commissioner Rockwell visits Steve Rogers in lock-up, who is starting to think that there is something personal behind the Commission’s treatment of him, and that this is a rogue operation.  Walker threatens Right-Winger’s mother, while Lemar writes a final to get his high school diploma.  In Algeria, an armed group bust Albert Malik, Red Skull II, out of prison.  The man who freed him shoots him and dumps him out the escape helicopter, shouting “Justice is Served”, which makes it look like Scourge is back.  We learn that it is Rockwell’s mysterious boss who ordered the hit on Malik.  Walker arrives at the job site where Right-Winger’s father works, only to learn that his two former friends are waiting for him.  Literally foaming at the mouth, Walker fights them, subdues them, and then ties them up against a fuel tank that he then causes to explode, leaving them for dead.
  • Flag-Smasher runs from and then kills two of his ULTIMATUM soldiers who want him dead.  The Commission decides to strip Walker of his uniform and position and imprison him after they learn about the Left- and Right-Winger incident, but Ronald Reagan walks in on their meeting, demanding that Steve Rogers be released, and that Walker keep his job.  Flag-Smasher takes over an Arctic weather station and sends a distress call to Captain America.  Rockwell talks to his boss, who we now know wants Walker to act crazy and wreck the image of Captain America.  Steve Rogers is in his cell when the power in his prison goes out, and he takes the opportunity to escape, which is clearly a set-up of some sort (there’s a tracker in his shield).  Captain America arrives over the weather station, and parachutes in alone, as per Flag-Smasher’s request (Battle Star plans to join him as soon as possible).  Walker and Flag-Smasher fight for a while, and F-S gets the upper hand.  Battle Star shows up, and is told that if he wants to save Walker’s life, he better get the real Captain up to the Arctic.  Rockwell has no interest in helping with this situation, hoping that Walker gets killed.  Meanwhile, the Captain discovers that his computer network is not working properly, a story that supposedly links into Avengers #298 (and, I think, Inferno).
  • The Captain arrives on Avengers Island (after an adventure with some Avengers in Annual #18), which is abandoned, and runs into D-Man, who has been waiting for him.  Battle Star shows up looking for the Captain, wanting to take him to help Captain America, against the wishes of the Commission.  In the Arctic, Flag-Smasher has Walker half-submerged in freezing water.  When Cap and his companions arrive, Flag-Smasher is fighting off a large contingent of Ultimatum goons.  Our heroes help him, and Cap learns that F-S is breaking from his group because their doomsday device, which is set to destroy all electronics world-wide, was funded by the Red Skull.  Battle Star finds and rescues Captain America, while Cap, D-Man, and Flag-Smasher fly off to destroy the doomsday device.  Cap and F-S fight their way to the device, but don’t know how to stop it.  They call D-Man to fly the quinjet into the device, but it is attacked by some Ultimatum guys.  D-Man fights them on top of the quinjet, which explodes, and then crashes into the device, wrecking it.  Cap spends two hours diving into the Arctic Ocean looking for D-Man (and doesn’t get hypothermia), but can’t find any trace of his friend.
  • Issue 350 is a massive square-bound affair that brings an end to the whole John Walker saga.  The mysterious man who has been pulling Rockwell’s and the Commission’s strings fights and kills six men dressed like Captain America in his underwear before checking in with Rockwell.  In New York, The Captain stops a runaway truck.  Rockwell visits Walker in the hospital, where he discovers that he is almost completely recovered.  Walker is rude to Battle Star, and then slips out of the hospital to make a mysterious rendezvous.  The Commission debate what to do with their Captain America situation.  Later, the Captain slips into Rockwell’s office and catch him on his videophone.  His boss triggers a gas capsule which kills Rockwell, leaving him with a face that looks like the Red Skull.  Cap traces the call.  Walker arrives at “Mr. Smith’s” office, and has to fight a collection of his foes, all of whom were being funded by Smith.  As he fights them, the Captain slips into the office, and is confronted by Smith on vidscreen, claiming to be the Red Skull.  Cap is skeptical.  The Captain finds Captain America, who attacks him.  He gets the drop on Walker, and then the Skull enters the room.  They talk, and Cap realizes that the Skull is about to dose him with the same gas that killed Rockwell.  Walker hits the Skull with the shield, causing him to inhale his own gas and transform his face into the familiar Red Skull look.  He runs away.  Later, in front of the Commission, Valerie Cooper tells the two heroes that they have learned about the Skull’s control of their actions.  They offer Steve his old costume, shield, and name back, free of their control, but he declines.  Walker follows him out into the hall and convinces him to be Captain America again.
  • In a flashback, drawn by John Byrne, we see how Arnim Zola cloned Cap, but transferred the Skull’s mind into the body after he died.  This leads to a lengthy recitation of the Skull’s complete history, following closely the work that JM DeMatteis did with the character during his run.

I believe that the whole Walker storyline was pretty controversial at the time.  The letter columns showed a pretty solid streak of dissent among the fans, and I wonder if that had a large influence on where this larger storyline went.  Did Gruenwald always plan to have Rogers back in the red, white, and blue by issue 350, or did plans change after seeing fan response?  What effect did all of this have on sales?  I have no answer to these questions.

I do know that John Walker’s evolution and then devolution is pretty interesting to watch.  Walker legitimately wanted to do a good job as Captain America, and his earlier issues show him as earnest and dedicated.  After his parents were killed, however, he quickly became a nutbar, foaming at the mouth and looking very crazed while maiming and killing his enemies.

His partner, Battle Star, was being built into a very likeable character, but aside from a few scattered appearances, he more or less disappeared after this run.  The whole controversy of him being called Bucky is an interesting one, and was handled very well.  I believe the last time we saw him was in the pages of Avengers Initiative, which is a title I miss a great deal.

Gruenwald did some interesting work with Steve Rogers during this run too, as he has to confront his personal beliefs and apply them to his life as he is going through a very negative time.  Having him refuse the costume at the end of issue 350 feels forced, but I believe Gruenwald wanted that there to try to redeem Walker a little by having him insist that Rogers take the shield from him.

D-Man is probably the biggest hero of this whole run, as he is the most consistently positive and enthusiastic (aside from when he hid from Titania), and his death felt very sudden and poorly handled.  I’m not sure if we ever learned how he survived this explosion.  The next time I remember seeing him was in Busiek’s Avengers, but he must have shown up somewhere else first.  Likewise, I wonder if Vagabond ever showed up again.  She really was not an interesting character, as Gruenwald showed her.

The art in this issues was a pleasant surprise.  I’ve never been a fan of Tom Morgan, mostly because of his terrible handling of Alpha Flight during the 90s, but I didn’t remember that he had drawn the first part of Walker’s story.  He plays it safe here, but it’s all good.

Likewise, Kieron Dwyer’s art here was a big surprise.  I know him best as a more independently-styled artist, so seeing him do the classic Marvel house style was a bit of a surprise.  There are times when his Captain looks like it was drawn by John Byrne, which is kind of cool, and might account for why I couldn’t remember who drew this run.

Another pleasant surprise in this series is the beautiful lettering by Tom Morelli.  Unlike most letterers of then and today, he added a number of flourishes to his work that made it very endearing to me.  He used a lot of serifs on the first letter of keywords, and I really liked it.  It makes me want to look at more of his work from that era.

In all, this was a very interesting run, and I remember that the series kind of went downhill after Rogers got the solo spotlight back.  How good is my memory?  I guess we’ll find out next time…

 

This is the fourth in my series on Captain America.  To see my earlier columns, check out these links:

#266-300 – JM DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s classic run

#301-306 – Mike Carlin’s placeholder run.

#307-332 – Mark Gruenwald and Paul Neary’s run

These issues have been collected in the trade paperback Captain America: The Captain, if you are interested in reading them.

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