Inside Pulse 12

Captain America Pre Civil War Retro-Reviews: Captain America #351-386 By Mark Gruenwald, Kieron Dwyer, Ron Lim & Mark Bagley From Marvel Comics


Editor’s Note:

With Captain America: Civil War set to hit theaters in North America on May 6, 2016, now is the perfect time to get caught up on the publishing history of Marvel Comics’ Captain America. Comics Nexus’ stalwart columnist James Fulton continues his journey through Cap’s history this week! Let him know what you think.


Captain America #351-386 (March ‘89-June ‘91)

CaptainAmerica351Written by Mark Gruenwald (#351-386) with Kieron Dwyer (#352-353, 358-362), and Tom DeFalco (#383)

Penciled by Kieron Dwyer (#351-354, 357-365, 367), Rich Buckler (#355), Al Milgrom (#356-357), Mark Bright (#358-365), Ron Lim (#366, 368-378, 380-386), Mark Bagley (#366-369, 371-383, 385), Chris Marinnan (#379), Ron Frenz (#383), Ron Wilson (#383), and Dan Panosian (#386)

Inked by Al Milgrom (#351-357), Danny Bulandi (#358-378, 380-386), Don Hudson (#358-369, 371-373), Dan Panosian (#374-383, 385-386), D. Hedd (#379), Bob Petrecca (#383), and Fred Fredericks (#383)

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

 

Mark Gruenwald’s tenure of Captain America is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is the consistency of quality, and of artists.  When I write these columns, I often look for natural ways to group issues; the transfer of the uniform to John Walker made sense as good places to divide up my thoughts.  After Cap gets back into costume, things just keep going for a very long time.  I decided to end this column with Ron Lim’s departure from the book, because it fit nicely in a place before another six-issue arc began, and it kind of wrapped up the long-simmering subplot around John Walker’s redemption, which was not, in any way, a focus of this title for more than the occasional backup feature.

This run covers the time when Steve Rogers returned to being Captain America through the take-down of the Serpent Society.  During this time, Cap experimented with entering the War on Drugs, helped rebuild the Avengers, and developed strong feelings for Diamondback, which were tested by the return of his former fiancée Bernie.  This group of books also introduced the terrific villain Crossbones, as the Red Skull worked to reestablish himself as a villain to be reckoned with.

Here is a list of the often-recurring group of villains Cap had to deal with in this run:

  • Watchdogs (#351, 385-386)
  • Scourge (#351, 358-362)
  • Machinesmith (#354, 368-370, 378)
  • The Sleeper IV (#354, 367-370)
  • Coachwhip (#355, 365, 367, 380-382)
  • Rock Python (#355, 365, 367, 380-382, 385-386)
  • Puff Adder (#355, 365, 367, 380-382, 385-386)
  • Sisters of Sin (#355-357)
  • Sin (#356-357)
  • Mother Night (#356-357, 369-370)
  • Malachi/Scarbo (#356-357)
  • CaptainAmerica355Batroc (#357-362)
  • Machete (#357-362)
  • Zaran (#357-362)
  • Baron Zemo (#357-362)
  • Tristram Micawber (#357, 359-362, 370)
  • Power Broker (#358-264, 375-378)
  • Crossbones (#360-370, 375-378, 383)
  • Dr. Karl Malus (#363-364, 375-378)
  • Red Skull (#364-367, 369-370, 376-378, 383)
  • Loki (#365-366)
  • The Controller (#365-367)
  • Doctor Doom (#365-366)
  • The Wizard (#365-366)
  • Kingpin (#365-366, 373-378)
  • Cobra/King Cobra (he adopts the new identity in #367; #365-367, 380-382)
  • Bushmaster (#365, 367, 380-382)
  • Asp (#365, 367-369, 371, 380-382)
  • Cottonmouth (#365, 367, 380-382)
  • Black Mamba (#365, 367-368, 371, 380-382)
  • Anaconda (#365, 367, 371, 380-382, 385-386)
  • Rattler (#365, 367, 380-382)
  • Fer-De-Lance (#365, 367, 380-382)
  • Black Racer (#365, 367, 380-382)
  • Mister Hyde (#365-367)
  • Magneto (#366-368)
  • Mandarin (#366)
  • Juggernaut (#366)
  • The Voice (#366, 369-370)
  • Boomslang (#367, 372)
  • The Resistants (#368)
  • The Black Queen (#368-369)
  • The Tinkerer (#369)
  • Gamecock (#371)
  • Trump (not Donald; #371)
  • Poundcakes (#371)
  • Jackhammer (#371)
  • Bullseye (#372-377)
  • various drug dealers with names like Tone-Def, Kid Gloves, Moosemeat, Napalm, Lowlife, Hotwire, Potshot, Rubout, Jerkweed, Ground Chuck,  (#372-375)
  • Typhoid Mary (#373-377)
  • The Power Tools (#374, 376-377)
  • CaptainAmerica357Nefarius (#379)
  • Moonstone (#379)
  • Sidewinder (#380-381)
  • Father Time (#383)
  • Arnim Zola (#383)
  • Doughboy (#383)
  • MODAM (#386)

Here are the various cameos and guest stars that made appearances in this batch:

  • Ted Koppel (#351)
  • Nick Fury (#351, 383)
  • Gabe Jones (#351)
  • Dum Dum Duggan (#351)
  • Speedball (#352)
  • Blue Shield (#352)
  • Gladiatrix (#352)
  • Mechanaut (#352)
  • Soviet Super Soldiers (Vanguard, Darkstar, Ursa Major; #352-353)
  • Supreme Soviets (Red Guardian, Sputnik, Crimson Dynamo, Perun, Fantasia; #352-353)
  • Sersi (#355, 357)
  • The Living Mummy (#361)
  • Namor the Sub-Mariner (#365-367)
  • Hank Pym (#366-367, 377-378)
  • Thor (#366, 384)
  • Scarlet Witch (#368)
  • Black Widow (#373-374, 376-377)
  • Iron Man (#373)
  • Wonder Man (#373)
  • Daredevil (#374-376)
  • Quasar (#379)
  • Paladin (#381-382)
  • Hawkeye (#383)
  • Jack Frost (#384)
  • Rage (#385)
  • Sandman (#385)

One thing Gruenwald did that made his run stand out was include a very large group of support staff and other supporting characters for the book.

  • Valerie Cooper (#351-352, 354-355)
  • CaptainAmerica363Battle Star (Lemar Hoskins; #351-355, 372-378)
  • USAgent (as John Walker, #351; as USAgent, #354, 358-362, 372-373, 376-378, 380-383, 386)
  • Peggy Carter (Avengers Support Staff; #351-352, 355, 363, 365, 368, 370-371, 373-374, 377, 379-381, 384-385)
  • Michael O’Brien (Avengers Support Staff; #352-354, 358, 363, 365, 371-372, 374)
  • Edwin Jarvis (#352, 365, 368, 370-371, 380, 386)
  • Raymond Sikorsky (Avengers government liaison; #352, 354-355)
  • Dr. Kincaid (Avengers Support Staff; #353, 377, 384)
  • Fabian Stankowitz (Avengers Support Staff; #354, 358, 366-368, 370-372, 380, 383, 386)
  • General Haywerth (#354, 358, 380, 382)
  • Henry Peter Gyrich (#354)
  • Bernie Rosenthal (Cap’s ex-fiancee; #355, 357, 380, 382, 385-386)
  • Falcon (Sam Wilson; #355)
  • Diamondback (Rachel Leighton; #357-366, 368-371, 373-382, 385-386)
  • John Jameson (Avengers Support Staff; #358-363, 365, 368, 370-384, 386)
  • Vagabond (#358-364)
  • Ethan Thurm (Battle Star’s former agent; #373-374, 378)
  • Anna Kappelbaum (Cap’s former landlady; #380)
  • Mike Farrell (Cap’s former neighbour; #382, 385-386)
  • Bucky Barnes (in flashback; #383)
  • Asp (upgraded from villain to supporting cast; #385-386)
  • Black Mamba (upgraded from villain to supporting cast; #385-386)

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

  • At a press conference in Washington run by Valerie Cooper, John Walker officially returns Captain America’s shield to Steve Rogers, and is then shot dead by a Watchdog in the audience (who has made it into a Washington press conference in his paramilitary uniform, carrying a shotgun).  Cap gives chase while Battle Star sees to his friend, but the Watchdog makes it outside the building before being shot by Scourge, who drives off before Cap can react.  Later, Cap is interviewed by Ted Koppel and meditates on how, the older he gets, the more people he knows die (seriously).  Cap discovers that Nick Fury has been fired from SHIELD, and calls up Peggy Carter.  They meet for coffee, and just happen to see Fury drive by.  They follow him to an old SHIELD base that he is in the process of closing down, alongside Dum Dum Duggan and Gabe Jones.  We learn that SHIELD has been shut down completely, and that Fury is selling the building to Donald Trump (who unfortunately doesn’t appear).  While the others wipe the computers, Cap and Fury go to destroy all the weapons.  The building attacks them, as do various mechanized suits, until they are able to destroy the building mainframe by shooting it.  We never learn who is behind the attack, but they think it was a hacker.  Val Cooper and Battle Star go to a hospital to collect John Walker’s body, but find that it is missing.
  • Cap is running a try-out session for new Avengers, and is putting Speedball, Blue Shield, Gladiatrix, and Mechanaut (I don’t know if the latter two ever appeared before) through their paces, and they basically suck.  Cap is called away to talk to O’Brien, one of the Avenger’s new support staff, and the Soviet Super Soldiers (Vanguard, Darkstar, and Ursa Major) appear on the island.  The try-out candidates think they are attacking, and begin to fight them.  Cap stops everything and learns that they Soviets are there to defect.  He sends the candidates away kindly, and sets the Soviets up in the mansion.  We learn that John Walker’s sister claimed his body and had it cremated.  Battle Star is disillusioned.  Cap tries to figure out what to do with the Soviets, and is called away to deal with an attack in Maine.  On the very next page, we see Cap, acting strangely, get the Soviets into a training room, where he, Thor, Iron Man, and Vision, can test their powers.  The Avengers are pretty vicious, and take out the Soviets.  Lemar (Battle Star) resigns from the government.  After the Avengers have knocked out the Soviets, we learn that they are really the Supreme Soviet, a team sent to discredit the team.  They turn invisible.  When Cap returns from what was a wild goose chase, he is surprised to learn that the Soviets have been attacked.
  • It appears that the Soviet Super Soldiers have died at Avengers Island.  Cap has flown to Russia, where he is working to set up closer ties between the Avengers and the Soviet Union, but where he is also investigating if the Soviets were behind the attack on the SSS.  Cap apparently speaks perfect Russian.  At night, he sees a large beast made out of darkness attack the city; he intervenes, but it disappears.  In America, Battle Star goes to see John Walker’s sister, only to learn that she and her family have disappeared.  In Russia, Cap is assigned the Red Guardian as an escort.  They are attacked by the beast again, and it absorbs Red Guardian before disappearing.  Cap is accused of having something to do with the attack, but when the creature attacks again, he is allowed to assist the rest of the Supreme Soviet in fighting it.  It absorbs the Russian heroes, and Cap dives into the creature, where he learns that the spirits of the Soviet Super Soldiers have somehow combined their powers, and are attempting to siphon life force from their enemies (including Sputnik, an android, but no one talks about that) to save their own life.  Cap convinces them that this is wrong, and it turns out they are all fine anyway when he gets back to Avengers Island.
  • Issue 354 made interesting use of parallel structure, splitting the entire issue between two stories, one running atop the other.  In the upper story, Steve goes to a place where 109 issues earlier, he fought the Machinesmith, just to make sure that all the wreckage from the battle is still there.  He takes the head of one of Machinesmith’s robots with him.  At Avengers Island, he hires Fabian Stankowitz to help support the team.  Fabian is an inventor of some great skill.  Together, they fly to Massachusetts where they find the fourth Sleeper robot, which Cap left there 252 issues earlier.  They take it back to the Island, where it wakes up and attacks them.  Cap figures out Machinesmith is behind all of this and stops him.  Along the lower half of each page, we get a different story.  Battle Star investigates the morgue where the Watchdog who killed John Walker was taken, and learns that the Watchdog was not a real member of that organization.  He lets Valerie Cooper in on what he’s learned.  General Hayworth rents a suit of Iron Monger armor from Stane International.  Later, he unveils the new USAgent to the Commission, and has him fight the Iron Monger.  We learn that the Agent is John Walker, and that Hayworth was behind faking his death, and reconditioning the man to make him a better hero.  Walker defeats the Monger, and we learn that he’s off to the West Coast Avengers.  I really liked the way Kieron Dwyer often had the events of the top story match those of the bottom one; it made for some very cool-looking pages.
  • In his office, Cap worries about the number of loose ends he’s left lying around lately, and about how he is spending more time as the Avenger’s chairman doing paperwork than actual good.  His ex-fiancee Bernie calls to report that her teenage sister is missing, and Cap decides to look in on it.  Battle Star attempts to break into Fort Meade to look for John Walker.  After fighting some Guardsmen, he is taken to Valerie Cooper who admits that Walker is still alive, but is undercover.  Cap decides that the best way to investigate a rash of missing teenagers is to go undercover as one so he gets Sersi (who is not yet an Avenger) to de-age him to fifteen years old for forty-eight hours.  Battle Star goes looking for Falcon, to try to get help in tracking down Walker, and finds him under attack by two of the Serpent Society, Coachwhip and Rock Python.  He gets in on the fight.  Teen Steve arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and is immediately approached by two girls who want to help him.  They take him to the YMCA.  Battle Star, having taken out Rock Python, is attacked by Puff Adder.  The girls try to get Teen Steve high, but he refuses, so they pin him down.  Falcon and Battle Star finish off the serpents, and Teen Steve wakes up on a bus full of teens.  He realizes that the de-aged Sisters of Sin are on the bus.
  • Teen Steve arrives at a summer camp run by the Sisters of Sin, the group of girls who had been artificially aged by the Red Skull.  The camp is run by Mother Night, who is wearing a costume that is basically identical to the one that Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter wore as Mother Superior in the issues around #300.  The group is indoctrinating kids into great hatred.  Teen Steve and the other new arrivals are locked in isolation boxes.  Teen Steve manages to escape, and witnesses the kids burn a member of the Watchdogs alive.  He rescues Jennifer, a claustrophobic girl who was brought into the camp with him.  They go looking for a phone (the ubiquity of cellular phones really did a lot to ruin a lot of classic plotlines) but get discovered by Sin (I’d always thought it was Ed Brubaker that gave her that name, but I’d completely forgotten about the adventures of Teen Steve) and are captured.  When Teen Steve comes to, he’s in his Teen Cap outfit, and tied to a pole.  He figures out that Mother Night and Malachi, her henchman, are Suprema and Scarbo, who he last fought 233 issues previously.  The Sisters kill Jennifer, then start beating on Teen Cap.  Sister Torso gets ready to deliver the final, killing blow.
  • Squabbling keeps the Sisters of Sin from killing Teen Cap, and when they all try to pummel him to death, he suddenly reverts to his adult self.  The girls all run away, leaving Cap to face Malachi, who is now going by his original name of Scarbo.  Cap defeats him, and discovers that Jennifer is not dead; Hoodwink’s hypnosis made him believe that.  Cap tracks down Mother Night, who is trying to evacuate the camp, and knocks her out.  After the cops arrive to take care of the rest of the camp, Cap calls Bernie to update her on his search for her sister, only to learn that she was off following the Grateful Dead.  Seriously.  Cap has dinner with Sersi and she propositions him.  It’s weird that shortly after this, she joins the Avengers…
  • The Bloodstone Hunt story arc begins halfway through issue 357.  Batroc, Zaran, and Machete steal a crate from a museum that they take to Baron Zemo.  They learn that the crate holds the skeleton of Ulysses Bloodstone, the famous monster hunter.  A ‘psychic detective’, Tristram Micawber, fills everyone in on Bloodstone’s backstory, and gives them the purpose of finding a bunch of gems using Bloodstone’s breastbone as a divining rod.  They learn that Diamondback is listening in on them, and Zaran goes after her.  They put her in the crate with Bloodstone and drop her in a deep pit.
  • The rest of The Bloodstone Hunt’s issues, which came out bi-weekly during the summer of ‘89 (man, Marvel’s been double-shipping for a long time) were split between the longer main story and a back-up featuring USAgent.
  • Cap has gone deep underground after the transmitter he got from Diamondback a while ago started going off.  He finds his way through a very deep death-trap, and into a cavern with the dead bodies of three men, a woman, and a dolphin.  This is clearly a reference to something, but I don’t know what.  He eventually finds Diamondback down a deeper hole, and frees her.  He takes the skull of Ulysses Bloodstone with him.  They go to Avengers Island, where Fabian is able to make a sort of compass out of the skull that will help Cap find the other gems, and presumably, Baron Zemo.  He, Diamondback, and his new pilot, John Jameson, head out in Cap’s new customized quinjet to follow the skullcompass.  They end up in the Brazilian rainforest, where Cap and Diamondback are captured by some Inca folk.  They discover that Zemo, Batroc, Zaran and Machete are already their prisoners, tied to a ‘wheel of death’, and Cap and Diamondback are shot with curare darts.  The extent to which this arc is “Cap as Indiana Jones” is kind of incredible.  
  • In the USAgent back-up, we see that Scourge has decided to attack the California home of Curtiss Jackson, the Power Broker.  He cuts power to Jackson’s estate, but Jackson has a secret phone hidden in the neck of a statue of a woman, and is able to call his buddy General Haywerth (who has changed the spelling of his name, apparently), who in turn calls in the USAgent.
  • Paralyzed, Cap makes his heart beat faster to help him metabolize the curare.  To motivate himself, he puts himself down a lot, while Diamondback bemoans the fact that she will become an Incan sacrifice without being able to prove her love for Cap, while previously she just wanted to jump his bones.  Just as our heroes, and Zemo’s crew, are about to be sacrificed at spear-tip by “red-skins” (seriously, the casual racism of this issue is problematic today), Cap recovers use of his body, and frees himself.  He fights the various Incans in their temple, knocking out their leader and causing the headdress with the bloodstone gem on it to fall near the paralyzed villains.  By the time Cap has beaten the Incans, Zemo’s crew has disappeared.  He and Diamondback give chase, but the bad guys get away.  Later, using their various bloodstone gem tracking devices, Cap arrives off Bermuda, and dives just as Batroc, Zaran, and Machete attempt to leave a downed passenger jet with another gem.  They fight, but Batroc stupidly leads a blood-crazed swarm of sharks right to them all.
  • USAgent arrives at Power Broker’s place, and starts trying to find and stop Scourge.  Power Broker has yet another bed-elevator (that’s a weird fetish thing, right?) and uses it to escape to a tunnel.  Scourge gives chase, and then so does USAgent.
  • As Cap continues to fight Zaran and Machete under the water, Batroc leads a group of bloodthirsty sharks at them.  They take shelter in a downed jetliner that is full of skeletons, despite being in easily-diveable water, but Cap has to fight off the sharks alone, at least until Batroc comes to his rescue (while also creating a diversion that allows him and his friends to escape).  Diamondback tracks down Baron Zemo’s yacht, and gets the drop on him and Micawber.  When Batroc and his crew reach the surface, they manage to free Zemo.  Diamondback falls into the water, injured, but she has managed to steal Zemo’s two bloodstone fragments.  Cap rescues Diamondback from drowning and they get picked up by Jameson.  As they leave, we see Crossbones watching through binoculars.  Cap’s bloodstone compass leads him to Egypt, where he finds his way into an open structure just sitting in the shadow of the pyramids unnoticed.  As he and Diamondback explore, they fall into a pit full of snakes, because this story really is an Indiana Jones adventure.
  • USAgent continues to track Scourge, who is shooting at him, while Power Broker continues to hide out in his compound.  Scourge brings the ceiling down on Walker, who is knocked out of the fight, and then plants explosives on the door to the Power Broker’s lab.
  • Cap rescues himself and Diamondback from the snake pit, but then loses her in the tunnel.  Zemo and his friends arrive in Egypt and decide to wait for Cap to collect the Bloodstone for them, and then steal it from him, rather than enter the tomb.  Cap discovers that Diamondback has been taken by a mummy, namely the Living Mummy.  They fight for a bit, but then Cap realizes that he was only trying to help Rachel.  Since Asp taught Rachel ‘modern Egyptian’ (I presume they mean Arabic?), they are all able to communicate with each other, and the Mummy gives over his Bloodstone fragment, after Cap promises to return and use the gathered fragments to help him restore his body to life.  We learn that Crossbones is on Cap’s jet, and when Cap and Diamondback leave the temple, they are attacked by Zaran.  They beat him, but as they climb a ladder to their ship, Zemo shoots at their ladder from his airship.
  • As Scourge gets closer to the Power Broker, Curtis decides that he must augment himself using his own device.  He gets the woman with him to turn it on, and she then strips to her sexy underwear (which, I finally realize, is actually her Vagabond costume, making me realize that this has been Vagabond in these backups all along, even though she’s never identified as such, except by her first name, which I’d forgotten).  Walker is under rubble for this whole chapter.
  • Cap and Diamondback escape Zemo’s attack, but Cap loses the Bloodstone piece in the process (it falls out of his belt) and it is retrieved by Batroc’s crew.  Everyone ends up in Tokyo (I’m not sure how Cap got his skull-compass back), and Batroc and his men attack a restaurant where all the karate-trained waiters and busboys are praying over a dead man’s body in a kitchen.  They get the gem, and then run into Cap, who wants to negotiate.  They go their separate ways, planning on meeting again so Cap can meet with Zemo and talk things out.  Diamondback is secretly trailing the bad guys.  They meet hours later on an inactive volcano.  Zemo threatens to blow up a Tokyo neighbourhood, so Cap agrees to give him the gemstones.  Going through their vessel, Diamondback discovers Zemo’s dead father’s body.  Going to retrieve the gems, Cap finds Jameson beaten up, and the gems missing.  He tries to explain this to Zemo, saying that his word should be believed (although he already lied about where Diamondback is).  They are interrupted by the floating body of the first Baron Zemo, who has been possessed by another entity.  While things go crazy, Diamondback fights Crossbones.  Batroc and his guys run away while Zemo goes a little nuts.  Cap throws his shield at the dead Zemo, just as Crossbones shoots an arrow at him, and that breaks the Bloodstone again.  Living Zemo falls down a chasm, despite Cap’s efforts to save him.  Cap returns to find that Diamondback is missing.  We don’t see what happened to Micawber, who was still mostly unconscious.
  • USAgent pushes all the rubble off of himself, and goes after Scourge.  He stops him, and discovers that the Power Broker is still alive, just gigantic and unable to move.  Vagabond has fled.  As he flies away with Scourge on his skycycle, someone shoots the villain and he dies.
  • Crossbones takes the unconscious Diamondback away from the battle scene, and steals a rowboat.  Cap returns to Avengers Island, and is upset to learn that Diamondback hasn’t called him.  We learn that Crossbones intends to use DB as a way of appeasing his boss, since he didn’t get the Bloodstone gems.  He takes her to Madripoor, where he rents his usual room in a brothel, and ties her to a bed.  He calls her Ratsel, which suggests that they knew each other a long time ago.  Crossbones calls Avengers Island to arrange a meeting with Cap, who is surprised to have feelings growing for Rachel.  DB works at escaping, while Cap arrives in the Asian city state.  She gets away, just as Crossbones manipulates Cap into chasing him across the city, leading him into a bear trap.
  • The USAgent back-up spot is now given to Vagabond, who is hanging out in a diner after her escape from Scourge.  A couple of augmented goons show up, and take her to Karl Malus, who wants the Power Broker’s fingertips so he can access his machinery.  He gets her to go visit the muscle-bound invalid, and she feels guilty.
  • Cap and Crossbones fight.  Diamondback, still running from the brothel, is pursued by a big guy called Mister Phun.  Cap captures Crossbones, who leads him to an abandoned building where he says Diamondback is.  He runs from him, and leads him into the building.  He tells Cap that he’s standing on a plate that is linked to a bomb.  Diamondback fights Mister Phun on the rooftops of Madripoor, and ends up killing him by dropping him in a vat of molten plastic used to make knock-off Wolverine toys.  Crossbones calls in to his boss, who we learn is the Red Skull, who does not want Crossbones to kill Cap.  Cap puts his shield under his feet and triggers the bomb.  Cap and Diamondback find each other, and all is well.
  • Vagabond gets the Power Broker’s fingerprints, and then meets with Dr. Karl Malus in the hospital.  He tries to inject her with something, so she instead injects him, clamps him into the bomb-wristlet thing she put on him, and leaves him in the lady’s room.  She later calls USAgent (somehow) to report him.
  • It’s time for Acts of Vengeance!  The Red Skull sends Crossbones out to recruit recent escapees from the Vault, and is then visited by a man in a suit (who we later will learn is Loki), who attempts to recruit him in a plan to disrupt super heroes by pooling resources.  Returning to Avengers Island from Madripoor, Cap is surprised to find the island missing.  He sends Jameson off to land the plan in Newark, while he and Diamondback disembark and find the Avengers’ support staff on a pier.  Cap dismisses Rachel, claiming Avengers’ business, and is upset to learn that he island is sunk.  Under the Atlantic, Namor is visited by the disguised Loki, who tries to recruit him.  Crossbones ropes the Controller, and offers him work for the Red Skull.  Later, Namor finds Avengers Mansion at the bottom of the bay, and while investigating the ruins, is attacked by the Controller, who puts a control disc on him.  Later still, as Cap flies around, he is attacked by the controlled Namor.  They fight until Cap breaks the disc, which knocks Namor out.  The Red Skull goes through the magic door Loki left him, and joins Doctor Doom, the Wizard, and the Kingpin.
  • The Cobra gets his own back-up feature.  It’s weird that I have absolutely no memory of these backups.  Cobra is upset to learn that Mr. Hyde has escaped the Vault (which escape is this?).  He is visited by the disguised Loki, but rejects his offer.  He later tells the Serpent Society about this (apparently Cobra is running the Society now), and then goes off to track down Hyde, who he thinks wants him dead.  He blows up a number of Hyde’s hideouts (Hyde-outs?) and then confronts him.
  • As Acts of Vengeance continues, Cap calls in Hank Pym to try to figure out how to help Namor, who is in a coma, and still under the influence of the Controller’s disc.  Cap asks for a device to track down the Controller.  Loki, still in disguise, has the various leaders of his Acts of Vengeance group meet.  Magneto shows interest in whether or not the Skull is the real deal.  The Skull sends Crossbones out to get the Controller, as he has a job for him.  The Controller is watching Thor and Juggernaut fight, in a ploy to gain control of the Asgardian (the fight was in current issues of Thor’s own book).  When the Controller tries to ignore Crossbones, he gets The Voice to control the Controller (it’s like a Who Watches the Watchmen kinda thing).  Cap sees the villainous trio taking off, and attacks them, fighting the Controller in the ship, and never seeing Crossbones.  He knocks the Controller out of the plane.  We see Diamondback consider robbing a store, and deciding not to.  The Controller tries to put a control disc on Cap’s neck, and then flies off, not realizing that Cap was protected from him.  The Skull uses the Controller to try to gain control of Loki, but his plan fails.
  • The Cobra continues to fight Mister Hyde, despite being deathly afraid of him.  He spits in the larger villain’s mouth, and claims that it is a venom that will kill him within an hour.
  • Namor recovers after Hank Pym removes the control disc from his neck, and decides to go looking for the mysterious man (who we still don’t know is Loki) who tried to recruit him for villainy.  The Red Skull broods over Loki’s plans when Magneto busts through the wall of his office.  He is unhappy that the Skull worked for Hitler, and wants revenge on behalf of the way his family was persecuted during the Holocaust.  The Skull tries to flee, leaving the Controller to fight him, although that doesn’t work.  Captain America arrives on scene (he was flying around Washington looking for Crossbones or the Skull).  He fights the Controller, while Crossbones decides to absent himself from the scenario, and as Magneto continues to pursue the Skull.  Namor can’t find his mystic door, and Cap comes across some destruction, including the Sleeper robot, and a bunch of Skull robots.  Magneto dumps the Skull into an underground bunker with some water, and leaves him there.
  • Cobra continues his fight with Mister Hyde, who he has convinced has only moments left to live without an antidote.  He negotiates his ongoing freedom from Hyde, and then gives him a powerful sedative to drink, since he never did poison the larger villain.  He returns to the Serpent Society renewed as their leader, and announces his new name – King Cobra.
  • The Acts of Vengeance stuff must have all happened somewhere else, as the event just fizzled out here.  The first issue without that trade dress (#368) really just continues the plotlines from that event, without really referencing it much.
  • Crossbones and Machinesmith try to figure out what happened to the Red Skull, and talk about a contingency plan.  Cap arrives at the old Avengers Mansion sub-basement, which is being turned into a new base for the team.  Machinesmith and Crossbones install a robot in the Red Skull’s place, and then make a plan to figure out what Magneto did with their boss.  Diamondback meets Black Mamba and Asp for drinks, and learns they are also looking for Magneto (Crossbones offered to pay the Serpent Society to find him).  She gives them a tip that he is a member of the Hellfire Club.  A Magneto robot, controlled by Machinesmith, appears at a Resistants’ Mutant Rights rally in Washington, and attacks it, in the hopes of drawing out the real Magneto.  Cap responds and destroys the robot.  We see that the Black Queen is watching all of this on a vidscreen, and learn that Magneto is in California, dealing with Scarlet Witch (this should be John Byrne’s run on West Coast Avengers that is being referenced.
  • Machinesmith gets his own backup feature, where, while he is working on the Sleeper robot, he narrates his life story.  Gruenwald hints at the robot love that Nick Spencer has been playing around with in his Astonishing Ant-Man series.
  • Cap pays a visit to Asp at the strip club where she works (for artistic expression and exercise, she explains) looking for Diamondback.  He acts all judgemental.  Diamondback goes to see the Tinkerer to restock on her throwing diamonds, and we see that she has shaved one side of her head, because it’s now 1990.  She calls Cap’s hotline to try to arrange a meeting, after getting a message from Asp.  Diamondback notices that the Skeleton Crew (Crossbones, the Voice, Mother Night, and Machinesmith in the Sleeper robot) have jumped into the New York sewer system, as they plan on infiltrating the Hellfire Club, looking for the Red Skull, who is still Magneto’s captive.  They get into the Club, but can find no proof that the Skull is there.  They leave, and are observed by Diamondback when Selene, the Black Queen attacks them.  As the villains fight, Cap finds the same hole in the street that Diamondback went through, and jumps down.  He tries to save Selene, and is about to be drained by here when Diamondback saves him.  The Skeleton Crew escapes, and Selene brings down the sewer tunnel roof on Cap and Diamondback.
  • The Red Skull gets a backup.  He’s still in the bunker where Magneto trapped him, and he hallucinates a number of visits from his father, Adolf Hitler, his daughter Sinthea, who all want him to commit suicide.  Then he imagines that Cap visits him and convinces him to live.
  • Issue 370 is the first in ages to not have a backup story, I guess because Ron Lim is a must faster artist than Kieron Dwyer?  Cap and Diamondback dig out of the rubble of their battle last issue and head to Avengers headquarters.  The Skeleton Crew, down The Voice, try to figure out how to find the Red Skull, and decide to use the services of Tristram Micawber, last seen in the Bloodstone Hunt.  Cap ditches Diamondback to meet with Erik Masterson (is he Thor at this point?  I don’t remember).  Crossbones hires Micawber, who leads him to a field in New Jersey, where they dig down to the bunker Magneto left the Skull in.  He is not well, physically, or spiritually.  They take him to Skull House and show him some of his old weapons to make him feel good about himself (despite the fact that every one of his schemes has failed in his whole career).  The Skull wants Captain America to come to him; at the same time, Cap receives reports of lights on at Skull House, so he and Diamondback head over there.  They enter the house, avoid a deathtrap, and end up fighting all the weapons and robots we saw earlier.  Cap makes his way to the Skull’s bedside, managing to reawaken his hatred and will to live. Cap leaves, feeling shocked that the Skull really has returned to life.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 1989 lists this book as having an average press run of 281 000 with average returns of 102 000.  
  • After their various adventures together, Diamondback gives Cap a hard time when he says goodbye to her.  She convinces him to go on a date with her that night, just as friends.  Steve (it’s been a long time since I’ve referred to him that way in Gruenwald’s run) is worried about being seen with someone with magenta hair, so Rachel calls up Black Mamba, who gets her in to her hairdresser.  Steve gets Jarvis to take him shopping so he can look 1989/90 fly.  While the two head out on their date, Asp and Black Mamba follow them, curious to know who has Rachel so excited.  They stop a few criminal happenings.  They stop Gamecock (that’s really his name) in a domestic incident, keep The Trump (no relation to Donald) from disrupting a magic show, and end an argument between Poundcakes (who has a very Liefeldian design, right down to her legs that end mid-calf) and Jackhammer, as we learn that Anaconda has been driving the other two ladies around.  Steve and Rachel kiss at the end of the night, and Steve goes home thinking about how his relationship with Bernie is over, and how different Rachel is for him.
  • Diamondback then gets a back-up feature, wherein she and Black Mamba argue over whether or not Rachel can go straight and give up crime for any man (no one knows that it’s Captain America she dated).  Rachel is upset, but by the next morning, has decided that she wants to work in retail with Sidewinder’s sister.
  • The 2nd bi-weekly adventure, Streets of Poison, begins in issue 372.  Flying around on his new skycycle, Cap wants to see if Diamondback wants to go for a ride, and instead finds Boomslang spying on her apartment. He confronts him, and the Serpent flees.  Cap chases, and is surprised to find that a bunch of street thugs have shot him.  He fights them, and some of them shoot each other by accident.  He returns to Avengers headquarters (there’s still no new mansion) where he finds that Fabian has lost thirty pounds and has become a raving paranoid.  He admits that he’s been using Ice (crystal meth) to help him focus, and it’s caused him to lose weight and hear voices.  Cap gives him a lecture, but then Fabian asks how the super soldier serum wasn’t also a drug.  Two guys check out the place where Boomslang got shot, and bothered by a shadowy woman in spandex who we assume is Diamondback.  Cap researches Ice, and worries that the fact that he used the super soldier serum once makes him a drug user (Gruenwald really should have left this stuff alone – it comes off as very awkward).  We see Bullseye in jail, in the act of escaping.  Fabian tells Cap who his dealer is, and he goes off to stop him, disguised as a homeless man.  The dealer, Kid Gloves thinks that Cap is the Punisher, so he tells him who his supplier is, who in turn leads him to his supplier.  In a warehouse, a guy called Napalm sets off a bomb next to Cap.
  • We haven’t seen Battle Star in seventeen issues (since he was trying to get Falcon to help him track down USAgent).  Now he’s outside the West Coast Avengers compound, watching and waiting for USAgent to appear.  When he does, he shoots at him.  USAgent attacks him, while Battle Star claims they are friends.  He tells USAgent that he’s John Walker, and about his history as Captain America, but when he mentions the dead parents, the Agent attacks again.
  • Worried about Cap after the warehouse explosion, Jameson calls in to headquarters, and Peggy calls in Black Widow and Diamondback to assist.  As John and Diamond worry, Cap shows up in good shape, and kisses Rachel.  Bullseye shows up at Kingpin’s office, looking for work.  Cap wants to continue to investigate the drug trade, only without a plan.  We are supposed to notice that he’s acting strangely.  An unidentified man drives a truck full of explosives into a crackhouse uptown.  This crackhouse belongs to the Kingpin, and he sends Bullseye to figure out what is going on with exploding drug facilities.  Black Widow is trailing him (although I have no idea why she would be doing this).  Cap and Diamondback watch the site of the first explosion.  When Jameson sees Bullseye going in the wreckage (he never identifies him), Cap and Diamondback fly over with Cap’s skycycle.  He jumps off impulsively, and while Diamondback struggles to control it, Black Widow attacks her, thinking she’s done something to Cap.  They fight.  In the building, Cap tries to locate Bullseye.  Rachel and Natasha end up in the river, while Bullseye throws a flashlight and a shovel at Cap.
  • Battle Star continues to fight USAgent, who maintains that he doesn’t know him.  Iron Man and Wonder Man show up, and Battle Star decides to leave, warning them that the Agent is a ticking timebomb.  Battle Star hears from his former manager, Ethan Thurm, and goes to visit him, where Thurm tells him that people are trying to kill him.
  • Cap and Bullseye fight.  Diamondback recovers from falling in the Hudson, and flies off on Cap’s skycycle, leaving Black Widow in the water.  When Diamondback arrives, Bullseye flees.  Some punks shoot some people in a driveby, looking for drug dealers.  Kingpin is angry.  Cap is also angry, telling off Peggy for calling in Black Widow, then sending Diamondback home, and yelling at O’Brien and Jameson for having different opinions.  Diamondback puts on her new undercover outfit, while Bullseye looks for ice dealers.  Daredevil swings through the city and almost falls, in a scene that awkwardly narrates the fact that two days have passed, and DD and Cap have shared an adventure in DD’s book, where Cap acted strangely.  Cap goes looking for drug dealers and attacks a limo that he assumes was buying drugs, threatening the guy inside (it’s unclear if that’s the driver or the passenger).  Jameson meets up with Diamondback, and they decide that Cap is probably acting under the influence of ice.  The driveby car shows up, and Diamondback is shot in the back, protecting Jameson.
  • Battle Star and Thurm are attacked by the Power Tools, a trio of villains with power tool themes, and terrible costume designs (the backups are drawn by Mark Bagley, who has terrible character designs).  They fight, and we learn that Thurm’s newest client has been kidnapped.  When one of the Tools threatens to kill Thurm, Battle Star surrenders.  He is taken to a warehouse and placed in an elevator where he is gassed.
  • We learn that Diamondback survived the driveby shooting because of her kevlar suit.  Cap goes into a nightclub and threatens the owner, Jerkweed, into explaining the drug industry.  The driveby shooters are attacked by Bullseye, who makes their leader explain where their organization is getting its drugs.  Cap confronts the Kingpin in a restaurant, acting more and more like John Walker did when he was crazy.  Cap then runs into Daredevil, and gets all paranoid and crazy, attacking him.  They fight, and eventually Cap knocks DD down.  Right after that, Crossbones shows up.
  • We learn that Battle Star has been captured by the Power Broker and Dr. Karl Malus, who are working at reversing the augmentation procedure that gave Battle Star his strength, and made the Power Broker unable to move.  They begin to de-agument Lamar.
  • Crossbones stands over the conscious but pretending to be unconscious Daredevil, peeks under his mask, and walks away.  He goes into the Italian restaurant and tries to kill Kingpin, who escapes with Typhoid Mary once Daredevil comes in to fight him.  Cap, sitting in an alley, starts to hear voices.  Diamondback and John Jameson are joined by Black Widow; she and Diamondback apologize for fighting earlier, and they all go looking for Cap.  Crossbones is upset that Kingpin got away from him, and Daredevil feels bad about being beaten twice in one night, but then seems to forget about everything.  Crossbones reports to the Red Skull that he failed; the Skull tells him to meet him the next day.  Rachel, Natasha, and John find Cap beating on a couple of high school kids who wanted to try drugs.  They end up fighting Cap, who is acting more and more paranoid.  Natasha knocks him out.  We see that Bullseye is outside the room where the Skull is meeting with Crossbones.
  • Battle Star has been de-augmented.  After being given time to rest, he manages to grab Dr. Malus, and is planning on using him to escape, when he realizes that the Power Broker has a large number of augmented men around to stop him.  USAgent appears suddenly.
  • Bullseye carries out a hit on the Red Skull, shooting him in the head, and then escapes after fighting Crossbones.  We learn that the Skull was just a robot though.  Cap rests in the Avengers’ medical centre, and Black Widow departs.  Kingpin believes that the Skull is dead, when in actuality, he is en route to Newark.  Cap, sedated, dreams and worries once again that the super soldier serum has made him no different from people who smoke crystal meth.  He wakes up and trashes his hospital bed.  He asks Hank Pym for help with his drug problem.  We learn that the Skull has been behind the influx of Ice in New York, and that his employees were the ones going around shooting people earlier in the arc.  He kills an accountant for no good reason.  Pym figures out that the only way to save Cap from the Ice is to drain his blood completely and transfuse clean blood, which would leave him without the super soldier serum anymore.  The Skull and the Kingpin meet at Yankee Stadium while Cap, clean but super soldier serum-less, heads out on patrol to prove he can still be a hero.
  • As USAgent fights all the various augmented guys, Battle Star gets into a fight with the overly-augmented Power Broker.  Lemar threatens to destroy the machinery that can give him back his powers, when USAgent appears, insisting that Battle Star be re-augmented.
  • As Cap flies around musing on whether or not he can be a hero without the super soldier serum, Red Skull challenges Kingpin to single combat to decide whether or not the Skull can sell ice in New York.  We learn that the Skull thinks increasing the number of drug addicts in the US will weaken the country, whereas the Kingpin believes he is doing his patriotic duty to winnow out the weak.  Seriously.  They strip to their underwear and fight in a plastic dome.  Cap notices people at Yankee Stadium and shows up to see what’s going on.  He and Crossbones fight.  Cap has to compensate for not having the serum anymore, but does okay, knocking out Crossbones just as the Kingpin bests the Skull.  The Skull is rescued by a helicopter, while Cap chats with Kingpin.  Later, when he returns to Avengers Headquarters, he learns that Hank Pym can replace the serum in his blood, but he decides to go without out, since he can say no to drugs.  I still don’t buy that the serum is like a street drug.  
  • Battle Star gets re-augmented, and then fixes all the other victims of Malus and Power Broker’s experiments.  USAgent wrecks the de-augmenting machinery, trapping Power Broker in his overly-muscular body.  Later, USAgent admits that he is John Walker, but that he’s living under his new identity Jack Daniels (Jim Beam being a backup, I suppose).  He has been told that his parents are still alive; Lemar proves that they are dead, because that’s what friends do.
  • Cap goes for a jog with Quasar and John Jameson.  They hear of a problem at the courthouse, so the two heroes abandon Jameson, change, and head down.  Nefarius, the original Moonstone, now wearing Count Nefaria’s costume, has captured the current Moonstone.  He fights our heroes, escapes, and explains to Moonstone why he wants to kill her.  She uses her usual psychological skills and wiles to begin seducing him when Cap and Quasar arrive.  The heroes fight the villains for a while, and knock them out.  Chris Marrinan comes in as a guest artist for this issue, and draws some very ugly faces.  Nefarius is hideous.
  • Diamondback gets her own backup, wherein she receives a weird note at work warning her that she is in danger.  She goes to work out, and then decides to go to Avengers Mansion to hide out for a bit, until Cap comes back.  As she approaches the gate, she is abducted by someone named Ariana.
  • Diamondback has been captured by the Serpent Society, who want to put her on trial for betraying them.  Cap is working out with the Avengers support staff, and is happy to see Fabian return, now drug-free.  Cap tells him that he is also drug-free, and they pledge to help each other stay clean.  Once again, Cap is equating his super soldier serum with a street drug like Ice (although he does say they aren’t the same in this issue) and no one is calling him out for it.  Diamondback chats with Black Mamba, and learns that the Society knows about her relationship with Cap, although she maintains that she never gave him information.  Steve goes to a party at the brownstone where he used to live, and is surprised to see that Bernie is back in town.  While Steve and Bernie get caught up (although he doesn’t tell her about Rachel), Rachel is put on trial.  No one in the Society comments on the irony of King Cobra acting as a judge, with Mamba acting as defense, Coachwhip prosecuting, and the rest of the Society serving as jury.  In the end, the Society decides Rachel is guilty, and sentence her to death, unless she tells them everything about Cap.  Mamba and Asp threaten to quit if King Cobra goes ahead with the execution.  They decide to make a phone call.  Sidewinder rescues Rachel just as she is about to be executed.
  • USAgent shows up at General Haywerth’s office angry about having had his memories erased.  He is hooked up to a machine that shows him his memories, from the time his brother died to when he joined the army and met Lemar Hoskins.
  • Having rescued Diamondback from the Serpent Society, Sidewinder refuses to help her any further, even though she is worried that Black Mamba and Asp might be in trouble now.  King Cobra splits the Society into teams to hunt down Diamondback.  Cap eats breakfast with Jameson, when Peggy calls to say that Rachel wants to meet him.  They meet, and Rachel offers to turn in the Society so long as Cap protects her two friends.  When he doesn’t agree to that, she storms off.  King Cobra and Bushmaster capture the two friends.  Diamondback asks a random bartender for help finding hired muscle, and he happens to have a business card for Paladin.  Rock Python, Anaconda, and Puff Adder stake out Rachel’s apartment, and get into a fight with Cap.  Paladin agrees to help Rachel provided she go on a date with him, and he generally acts in a very predatory way towards her throughout the comic, making him look like a real creep.  Paladin and Rachel infiltrate the Serpents’ headquarters, and when they go to free Mamba and Asp, are attacked by King Cobra and Bushmaster.  Rachel throws an acid diamond into Bushmaster’s mouth by mistake.  Rock Python is about to drop Cap off Rachel’s roof, and King Cobra hits Rachel with a venom and makes Paladin surrender.
  • USAgent continues to explore his memories, and we get a recap of when he got his augmented powers, became Super Patriot, and fought Cap.  We know all of this.  This flashback ends at the point where he is offered the Cap suit.
  • Rock Python drops Cap off the roof, but King Cobra orders him, Anaconda, and Puff Adder to leave him and go underground for twenty-four hours.  John Jameson was able to track their signal however.  King Cobra calls the rest of the Serpents back to base and beats on the captured Paladin for a bit, refusing to give Diamondback the anti-venom she needs to survive.  Cap finds their base, and hitches a ride on a Serpent Saucer inside.  He attacks Cottonmouth and Fer De Lance, and is later attacked by Bushmaster, who has apparently gotten over eating acid last issue.  Bernie visits with Mike Farrell, her neighbour, to talk about the fact that she has feelings for Steve again.  Cap finds the captured Diamondback, Paladin, Asp, and Black Mamba, and fights King Cobra.  He pretends the Avengers are coming, so Cobra takes off.  He frees the captured folk, and is attacked by the Society again.  Black Mamba gives Diamondback the anti-venom.  Rachel then throws the syringe at Coachwhip, hitting her in the forehead, and this is enough to knock her out somehow.  Later, the Vault collects the Serpents, except for Asp and Mamba.  Rachel is surprised that Cap has had a change of heart about them, so she decides to go on a date with Paladin to make Cap jealous.  Later, Bernie shows up at Avengers Headquarters with flowers.
  • USAgent finishes going through his memories, basically recapping his tenure as Captain America.  We learn that General Haywerth did alter his memories without his permission, but Walker doesn’t know that.  He decides he wants to keep his memories.  I have no idea why this needed a three-part story.  
  • Issue 383 is the celebration of Cap’s 50th anniversary, has a gold ink cover, and is triple-sized.
  • In the main story, Cap is out responding to reports that someone weird looking is prowling around.  He finds Father Time, an old dude with a terrible costume and a scythe, and gives chase.  When he throws his shield at him, it disappears into a portal, followed by the old guy.  Cap jumps in as well, and finds himself in a mythical land, where he has conversations with Johnny Appleseed, Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, and Uncle Sam, before confronting Father Time again.  We learn that he is an Elder of the Universe, and that he wants to permanently retire Cap in this world of American legends.  Cap fights him, they fall off a cliff, and he finds himself back in the same alleyway.  He sees Father Time running from him, throws his shield to trip him, and discovers that he is actually Hawkeye in disguise, keeping Cap busy so the Avengers can plan a surprise party for him (because it’s his fiftieth anniversary in the Marvel Universe too).  Cap eats cake.
  • The first back-up is a flashback story featuring Cap, Bucky, Nick Fury, and the Howling Commandos, during the Second World War.  It’s by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, and like everything they were doing together at the time (Mighty Thor), it’s boring.
  • The USAgent gets another backup story, in which he digs up the body of his friend Hector.  We learn that Walker doesn’t believe that he Hector is dead, even though a doctor explained how, after Walker left them burning, Hector and Jerome had painful existences, until they took their own lives.  Walker has a conversation with a scarecrow, decides to immolate himself with a rusty lighter, and when it doesn’t work, decides to become a better person instead.  This story is terrible.  I guess we are in the 90s now.
  • The final backup, featuring art by Ron Wilson (the third person named Ron to work on this comic, which is just weird), shows how the Red Skull and Crossbones first met, in Arnim Zola’s castle.  A group of mercs try to attack the castle, and only Crossbones survives a fight with Doughboy.  He engages in combat with the Skull (in his underwear again – he must love being a clone of Steve Rogers), and then is spared, given the name Crossbones, and hired.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 1990 lists this title as having an average press run of 294 000, with average returns of 123 000.
  • Cap gets a physical from Dr. Kincaid, who suspects that the super soldier serum has regenerated itself, explaining why Cap’s condition has not deteriorated since he decided to live without it.  Cap now feels that there’s no real connection between having the serum in his system and “being on drugs”, so that whole plotline kind of vanishes.  Kincaid is more interested in learning how Cap stayed alive during his suspended animation, and they wonder why he didn’t freeze up back when he was diving for D-Man’s body (see my last column).  Conveniently, as they think about poor D-Man, Peggy shows up with a tabloid that says some Eskimos (!!! It’s 1991, but this is still offensive) have been worshipping a man frozen in ice in the Arctic.  Cap thinks it’s D-Man, so he and Jameson fly up there.  Cap gets some locals to take him to the man, whereupon he starts chipping away at the ice, which apparently frees up an ice worm which attacks them.  It swallows Cap, and inside it, he finds Jack Frost, the former Liberty Legion hero, who has been frozen for decades, in order to keep the ice worm dormant.  They fight the worm, Jack sacrifices himself to put it back to sleep, and later Thor shows up too late to help.  As they depart, we see D-Man frozen in ice.  There was no back-up, for the first time in a long time, in this issue.
  • A group of Watchdogs torch a hiphop record label office in Brooklyn.  In the process, a janitor is killed, and Mike, one of the Watchdogs is upset about this.  Bernie visits Cap at Avengers Headquarters, and tries to get him to go shopping with her.  When Bernie goes home, she chats with her neighbour Mike, who we realize is the same Watchdog we saw earlier.  Another Watchdog comes to check on him, and after he leaves, Mike confesses to Bernie what he’s done.  She promises to not go to the police (and instead calls Cap, who was training Sandman and Rage).  It turns out that the Watchdogs had bugged Mike’s apartment, and now want to kill him or at least beat him up.  They break into his apartment, but he’s slipped out.  Cap arrives and fights them, while Mike goes to the art gallery that his group is targeting next (for displaying pornographic art).  One of the Watchdogs gets ahold of Bernie, and gets Cap to stop fighting.  They leave a bomb, which Cap defuses, but now Bernie is missing.  Mike returns to his apartment to find cops, and decides that Bernie gave him up.
  • Diamondback, Asp, and Black Mamba have been hanging out at Paladin’s apartment.  They go and get new outfits and decide to return to Diamondback’s place, trying to trap the three Serpent Society members still free (Anaconda, Puff Adder, and Rock Python).  They decide to call themselves the BAD Girls, and form a group of some sort.  When they get to Rachel’s, the Serpents attack.
  • The Watchdogs decide to hold Bernie prisoner in hopes of using her to lure our Mike.  Cap is stewing and working out when USAgent visits, wanting to help track down the Watchdogs.  They have a tense conversation, and Cap kicks him out of Avengers Headquarters (apparently he’d just been kicked out of the West Coast Avengers).  Mike shaves his moustache, to better hide out from the police, who aren’t even looking for him.  He goes to one of his Watchdog friends, who knocks him out.  Cap goes to the art gallery, suspecting that the Watchdogs are going to attack it, but the artist refuses to cooperate with him.  He and Jameson stake the gallery out, and witness the artist being kidnapped.  Cap follows on his skycycle, and sneaks into the same compound where Bernie is being held.  Just as he is infiltrating the place, USAgent busts in and starts beating on the Watchdogs.  As he’s about to kill some, Walker remembers the promise he made to a scarecrow to become a better person.  Cap frees the various prisoners the Watchdogs are holding, and Walker takes out the rest of the Watchdogs.  The two heroes argue, and then Mike asks to be arrested as a Watchdog.
  • Anaconda and the other Serpents are taking the BAD Girls prisoner, and Diamondback and Anaconda argue.  Then MODAM appears to rescue the BAD Girls.  This is the lead-in to the Superia Strategem arc that will start my next column.

These are some very classic comics, which begin to make the transition into the 90s.  Gruenwald’s efforts to be topical come off as very awkward and artificial, especially his City on Ice arc, which has Cap convincing himself that the Super Soldier Serum is a form of drug, and that having taken it once makes him no difference from people who abuse street drugs.  Also, Gruenwald’s portrayal of drug dealers, and their colourful nicknames, comes off as terribly out of touch.

At the same time, Gruenwald was an early pioneer in working to make superhero comics more realistic.  Cap no longer works on his own, or relies on a bunch of teenage computer hackers to manage his affairs, but instead makes great use of the Avengers’ resources to put together a proper staff.  He makes frequent use of communications specialist Peggy Carter, or gadget guy Fabian Stankowicz, to make his life easier.  He also spends more time with Colonel John Jameson than he ever did with anyone this side of Bucky Barnes.  Jameson is his pilot, driver, workout partner, breakfast buddy, and good friend.  All of these people take on roles usually played solely by Edwin Jarvis, and this makes it all more believable.

I like the idea of the Avengers operating with a civilian staff, and remember when I recently reread my Avengers run that the idea died out pretty quickly there.  Gruenwald really makes good use of these characters to provide some balance to Cap’s personality, as well as to advance plotlines in more logical ways.

Another key feature of this run is the growing relationship between Cap and Diamondback.  When we first met Rachel, her infatuation with Cap was handled in a juvenile, slightly pathetic way, but in these issues, she begins to stand on her own as a character, and Cap’s interest in her feels natural.  Throwing Bernie back into the mix makes things interesting, and I suspect that this is something that is going to be explored in the upcoming issues.

I read all of these comics when they first came out, but aside from the Serpent Society stuff, and the Red Skull/Crossbones subplots, I don’t really remember very much about these comics.  I definitely did not remember that there were so many back-up stories running over such a long stretch.  Some of them, like the ones featuring Vagabond, or the USAgent recap ones, served very little purpose, while others tied up loose plotlines or set up future stories nicely.

I still wish there had been more Battle Star in the back-ups, as the character was essentially abandoned, but I did like seeing so many characters get short moments in the spotlight.

These issues were drawn by three main artists – Kieron Dwyer, who handled the first half of the pile; Ron Lim, whose run is shorter than I remember; and Mark Bagley, who drew most of the back-ups (at a time which must have been before his New Warriors run began, as his work is not as recognizably his as it later became).

Dwyer’s early art continues to surprise me, mostly because of where he took things later on.  Ron Lim was a favourite of mine in the early 90s.  I remember his run on Silver Surfer fondly, and see many of the same things that I liked in his Cap work, which somehow was completed at the same time.  The guy must have been an incredibly fast artist.

I really don’t remember the issues that came after this, with the exception of the Cap-Wolf story.  I know that I stuck with Gruenwald’s run for a while longer, probably until I left for university and had to slash my purchasing down to almost nothing.  I haven’t looked in my long-boxes yet to see how far things go, so I’m not sure if I’m going to be writing one or two more columns before moving on to post-Gruenwald Cap (which I’m pretty sure I didn’t pick up again until Mark Waid came onboard).
If you’d like to read any of the columns about Captain America that preceded this one, you can check 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

#333 – 350 – John Walker as Captain America run

If you’d like to read any of the stories I talk about here, you can follow these links for trade paperbacks that encompass some of these issues.

Captain America: The Bloodstone Hunt

Captain America Epic Collection: Streets of Poison

Captain America Epic Collection: Society of Serpents

 

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