Captain America #307-332; Annual #8 (July ‘85-August ‘87)
Written by Mark Gruenwald (#307-332 , Annual #8)
Penciled by Paul Neary (#307-329, 331), Tom Morgan (#330, 332), and Mike Zeck (Annual #8)
Inked by Dennis Janke (#307-312, 314-315-318, 320), Al Williamson (#313), Joe Sinnott (#319), John Beatty (#321-323, 325-327, Annual #8), Vince Colletta (#324, 328-331), Kent Williams (#326), Sam De La Rosa (#330), Bob McLeod (#332) and Joe Rubinstein (Annual #8)
Spoilers (from twenty-nine to thirty-one years ago)
Mark Gruenwald stepped down from being Captain America’s editor in 1985, and became the writer of the book for pretty much an entire decade. Early in his run, he discussed his vision of Cap as the embodiment of the potential inherent in the American Dream, and he clearly moved away from the slight interest in social issues that JM DeMatteis wove into his stories. Instead, Gruenwald had Cap reconnect with his country, travelling around in a van, and setting up a hotline for citizens to provide tips. This was a more universal Cap, who shied away from controversy (at least until the ULTIMATUM arc, but even that was more about Cap struggling to live up to his own ideals). Gruenwald got rid of Bernie, Cap’s fiancée, without ever really getting rid of her. He also minimized Cap’s involvement with the Avengers, while still coordinating line-wide non-events, like the Scourge storyline.
Gruenwald’s run is exceptionally long, so it makes sense to break it up into a number of columns. This one runs from his first issue through to the moment when Steve Rogers decides to stop being Captain America rather than work for the Commission.
Let’s take a look at the villains and guest stars featured in this pile of books:
- Madcap (#307, 309)
- Black Mamba (#307-308, 310-311, 313, 315, 319)
- Anaconda (#307-311, 313, 315, 319)
- Death Adder (#307-311, 313, 315, 318)
- Armadillo (#308, 316)
- Dr. Karl Malus (#308, 328-331)
- Sidewinder (#308-311, 313, 315, 319)
- Cobra (#309-311, 313, 315, 319-320)
- Princess Python (#309-311, 313, 315, 318)
- Constrictor (#309-311)
- Cottonmouth (#310-311, 313, 315, 319)
- Diamondback (#310-313, 315, 319, 320)
- Bushmaster (#310-313, 315, 319)
- Asp (#310-311, 313, 315, 319)
- Rattler (#310-311, 313, 315, 319)
- Scourge (#311, 318-320)
- Mad Thinker’s Awesome Android (#311)
- Kingpin (#311)
- AIM (#311, 315)
- Flag-Smasher (#312, 321-322)
- MODOK (#313)
- Remnant (#314)
- Mink (#314)
- Pinball (#314)
- Crossfire (#317)
- Knickknack (#317)
- Tenpin (#317)
- Oddball (#317)
- Bombshell (#317)
- Ringleader (#317)
- Blue Streak (#318)
- Firebrand (#318-319)
- Blacklash (#319)
- Jaguar (#319)
- Letha (#319)
- Ringer (#319)
- Foolkiller II (#319)
- Steeplejack (#319)
- Shellshock (#319)
- Cyclone (#319)
- Mind-Wave (#319)
- Hell-Razor (#319)
- Grappler (#319)
- Rapier (#319)
- Turner D. Century (#319)
- Mirage (#319)
- Vamp (#319)
- Birdman (#319)
- Hijacker (#319)
- Commander Kraken (#319)
- Cheetah (#319)
- Water Wizard (#320)
- Domino (Scourge’s assistant, not the mutant; #320)
- Overrider (Annual #8)
- TESS-1 (Annual #8)
- ULTIMATUM (Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind; #321-322)
- Super-Patriot (#323, 327, 332)
- The Buckies (#323, 327)
- Whirlwind (#324)
- Trapster (#324)
- Tinkerer (#324)
- Slug (#324-325)
- Doctor Faustus (#326)
- Mangler (#328)
- Bludgeon (#328)
- The Sweat Shop (#329)
- The Power Broker (#329-331)
- G.I. Max (#331)
- Warhead (#332)
- Captain Britain (#307)
- Nomad (Jack Monroe, #307, 309, 324-325)
- Hawkeye (#308, 316-317)
- Mockingbird (#308, 316-317)
- The Beyonder (#308)
- Falcon (Sam Wilson, #309, 317, 332)
- Nick Fury (#309)
- Black Knight (#310, 314, 323)
- Starfox (#310)
- Nighthawk (from Squadron Supreme universe; #314)
- Professor Imam (#314)
- Wasp (#314, 318)
- Hercules (#314, 318, 323)
- Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau; #314, 329, 332)
- Invisible Woman (#314)
- Mister Fantastic (#314)
- Porcupine (#315)
- Namor (#318)
- Wolverine (Annual #8)
- Jasper Sitwell (#323)
- Shroud (#330-331)
- The Night Shift (Brother Grimm, Needle, Gypsy Moth, Tatterdemalion, Werewolf by Night, Danse Macabre, Ticktock, and Digger; #330-331)
- Ms. Marvel (Sharon Ventura; #330-331)
- Bernie Rosenthal (Cap’s fiancée, #307-317, 323, 327)
- Edwin Jarvis (#309-310, 318, 323)
- Mike Carlin (Marvel editor; #311, 314)
- Hiram “Ram” Riddley (teenage hacker and Cap’s hotline support leader, #313, 321, 332)
- Josh Cooper (Cap’s neighbour, #316-317)
- Mike Farrell (Cap’s neighbour, #316-317)
- Anna Kappelbaum (Cap’s friend and landlady, #317)
- Holly Riddley (Ram’s mother; #321)
- Don Daley (Marvel editor, #325)
- Demolition Man/D-Man (#328-332)
Let’s look at the events of this series in detail, with some commentary as I go along:
- Gruenwald starts off his run strangely, having Cap use his fame and Avengers card to talk his way onto a flight from London to New York without buying a ticket. He reminisces briefly about his days in the Invaders, and then we don’t see him again. Bernie gives Nomad a hard time about sleeping all day and not having a job, so feeling like a freeloader, he goes and gets a job bagging groceries in the Village, while Bernie learns that the rent on her handblown glass store is going up to a price she can’t really pay. Madcap, a truly weird villain, wanders Manhattan, making people act crazy (which consists of them yelling weird things or making strange sounds). When he is outside Nomad’s new job, Jack suits up and goes to fight him. He goes nuts, and sees himself as being half Captain America. After he gets over it, he returns to work to find he’s been fired (but is paid the $16 he owned during the day). He goes to visit his hot coworker in the hospital (she got hurt when Madcap first showed) but finds out she has a boyfriend. Angry, he’s rude to Bernie, and then decides to move out. We also see three of the Serpent Squad looking for one of their own; these guys are going to be a big part of this book during Gruenwald’s tenure.
- Having ended up in LA during the first issue of Secret Wars II, Cap goes to the West Coast Avengers compound to borrow a Quinjet to get home. Instead of knocking on the door, he decides to test the compound’s security. Just as he’s about to leave, Armadillo breaks in, looking to kidnap the comatose Goliath so Dr. Karl Malus (who turned Armadillo into a giant armadillo-man) will continue to care for his comatose wife. Cap and Armadillo fight until our hero traps him, and they talk about his motivations. Cap agrees to let him go, but he can’t take Goliath, as the canister of ‘shrinking gas’ he taped to his armpit broke open during their fight (yet didn’t shrink anyone). Bernie wonders if Nomad has moved out. Cap follows Armadillo to Malus’s lab and confronts him, but ends up leaving him and just informing the police about his actions over the phone. The Beyonder has spent the issue following Cap around and now decides to copy his body for himself. Sidewinder finds the three serpent-themed villains in his home, and makes them an offer.
- Issue 308 has a picture of Captain America where his nose is missing. I remember being freaked out by this picture as a kid, as I always wondered how it didn’t get noticed in the editing process, or how Neary forgot to put someone’s nose on their face.
- We learn that Madcap has been hanging out in Coney Island. Steve returns home and hangs out with Bernie for a bit, and learns that Nomad’s set out on his own. We learn that Nomad has tracked down Madcap, and they start hanging out. Jack learns Madcap’s sad origin story, and spends a night in his chair while the crazy villain sleeps shirtless on a cot lacking a mattress. The Serpent Society recruits Cobra, Princess Python, and the Constrictor. Steve goes to check in on his job, and even though he’s not fired, he decides he should quit because he cannot be counted on to meet deadlines, due to his superhero lifestyle. Cap learns from Jarvis that Nomad is hunting Madcap. Jack and Madcap steal lunch together, but after Madcap starts making people around him crazy again, Nomad begins to fight him on top of a rollercoaster. Cap arrives just in time to see Nomad triumph. They talk, and Nomad decides to leave his partnership with Cap and strike out on his own. Gruenwald has now gotten rid of Cap’s job and partner. I guess Bernie won’t be around much longer.
- Cap works out with Black Knight and Starfox, teaching them fighting techniques. Afterwards, he sees some kids reading comics (Marvel comics, of course) on the subway, and thinks that maybe drawing them would be a good job for him. He helps Bernie pack up her store. The Serpent Society has their first meeting, and Sidewinder discusses the various perks of unionizing in a snake-themed criminal enterprise, but Constrictor is not interested. When Sidewinder divides his group into different teams to complete some missions, Constrictor, who has already phoned Avengers Mansion to report on the group (so they don’t take over his market for snake-themed villainy), follows Anaconda, Rattler, and Cobra. They end up at the Brand Corporation building last seen in the Deathlok issues of this book. Steve calls up Marvel and gets a portfolio review arranged. Constrictor calls the Avengers again, and Jarvis sends Cap out to look around. He moves to stop the thieves; Anaconda stays and fights him while the others escape. After Sidewinder frees Anaconda from jail after her fight with Cap, she goes and beats up Constrictor.
- Cap goes to the hospital to talk to Constrictor, and ends up saving him from Scourge, the guy who spent the 80s killing C-list villains. Steve goes to Marvel Comics for a job interview, and gets hired by Mike Carlin, the book’s real editor, to draw Captain America. This is amusing stuff. While there, he reads a letter from a boy in Iowa alerting him to some strange stuff happening in a rural barn. He flies out, and discovers that the Mad Thinker’s Awesome Android is hiding out in a barn. Whenever he enters, the android tries to kill him, but it won’t step out of the barn. Eventually Cap realizes that it is following some command to stay out of sight, and just leaves it there. The Serpent Society starts going about building their client list, visiting the Kingpin, and getting hired by AIM to assassinate MODOK.
- The Flag-Smasher appears on the scene, flying a jetcycle around the UN building in New York, and knocking down all the flags. Steve receives a cheque for one million dollars, back pay from his time in WWII, and decides to use the money to set up a hotline, so people can better get in touch with him when they have problems. Diamondback and Bushmaster hunt for MODOK at an abandoned AIM base. Cap prepares a press conference to announce his hotline while Flag-Smasher escalates his anti-flag activities, going so far as to wreck the Acme Flag Company, the largest producer of American flags in America (I guess this is before they all started being made in China). Flag-Smasher attacks Cap’s press conference. Quickly getting ahold of Cap’s shield, and holding the crowd at gunpoint, he takes the chance to preach his anti-nationalist opinion and agenda. He’s surprised to learn that the people are not with him, and Cap manages to knock him out. He then launches into a speech about how he doesn’t agree with Flag-Smasher’s ideals, because he sees America as proof that people from different nations and ethnicities can work together and still be American. I remember, as a kid, kind of seeing some logic in Flag-Smasher’s idea that over-identification with the idea of a nation-state (or, by extension, a single religion) can lead to problems among neighbouring states. Cap comes off naive in comparison, but I’m writing this at the beginning of 2016, where it’s all sectarian violence and Donald Trump. And I’m Canadian.
- Bushmaster and Diamondback finally track down MODOK in an abandoned underwater AIM base. They fight, but the big-headed creature escapes them and, his energy depleted, hides out in a tractor trailer and then a New Jersey mall. Bernie and Cap realize that his hotline is too successful, and they wonder how they are going to be able to handle the volume of calls they receive. Cap notices that his hotline is being hacked, and traces the call to New Jersey. The Serpent Society track MODOK to the mall, and assemble. Cap pays a visit to young Hiram “Ram” Riddley, a young hacker. The editor explains to us that a hacker is a ‘computer enthusiast.’ He has started aggregating the hotline data with his online friends. Cap is impressed, and learns that weird things are happening at the mall. He goes there, and runs into Princess Python, who is running away out of fear of MODOK. He enters the mall and arranges to evacuate it. He starts fighting the Serpents, and is able to knock a bunch of them out, but is not in time to save MODOK, who has had his throat cut. He arranges for Ram to run the hotline for him.
- Mark Gruenwald was also writing the classic Squadron Supreme maxi-series while he was writing Captain America, and in issue 314, he decided to write a small tie-in. The Nighthawk of the Squadron’s world got Professor Imam to send him to the 616 to look for allies in his fight with the Squadron. He appears in Avengers Mansion and interrupts Cap’s workout. When he explains what’s going on back home (basically, the Squadron are putting together a totalitarian system that they run in the hopes of creating a utopia), Cap convenes a meeting of Avengers and some of the Fantastic Four to decide how to help out. They all agree that they have no business interfering in another dimension’s politics. Cap and Nighthawk respond to a hotline call and Nighthawk realizes that some of his villains are on the 616 Earth as well. Steve goes to Marvel to hand in pages and point out that he doesn’t agree with how Cap is portrayed in the comics he now draws. Bernie does well on her LSATS, wears yet another pair of leggings with leg warmers, and starts to feel that it’s hard to be in a relationship with Captain America. Nighthawk finds his villains – Remnant, Mink, and Pinball – and gets into a fight with them. They end up in an oversized prop warehouse (there are a lot of Batman homages here), and Cap arrives to stop their fight. He convinces the villains to return with Nighthawk to help him fight the Squadron. They return to their world. I would love to reread Squadron Supreme, but it’s in a very inaccessible longbox, so that’s not going to happen any time soon.
- The Serpent Society recovers MODOK’s body from the Coroner’s Office, and take it to AIM, where they are paid. Cobra runs into Alexander Gentry, the Porcupine, who is there trying to sell his battle suit. Cobra gives him the Society’s business card. Sidewinder tortures Princess Python for betraying the Society, and then gets mad at Cobra for giving Gentry his number. Gentry calls Cap’s hotline to see if the Avengers would buy his suit, since he’s determined to retire, and needs $10 000 dollars to fund his retirement (which, I guess, was a lot of money in the 80s). Cap, upon discovering that Gentry can contact the Serpent Society, gets Gentry to help him lay a trap for them. When a small squad, made up of Death Adder, Cottonmouth, Rattler, and Diamondback arrive, Cap starts fighting them. Porcupine runs away but is chased by Diamondback, who doesn’t want to fight or kill Captain America. Cap takes out the three male Serpents, but Diamondback escapes. In the fight, Porcupine fell on one of his own quills, piercing his heart, and he dies. Cap watches Sidewinder bust his men out of jail, and puts Gentry’s costume in a display case at Avengers Mansion. Weirdly, despite Gentry’s being identical to the Porcupine currently working with Spider-Woman in her book, that’s a different guy named Roger Gocking. I had to look that up.
- Bernie tells Steve that she is going to be going to law school in Wisconsin. Their talk is interrupted when Hawkeye and Mockingbird drop in in their civilian identities. Clint is in town to testify in a court case, and has decided to stay with Steve for the weekend (although I don’t know why they aren’t staying at Avengers Mansion). They all go out together, and learn that Armadillo is wrestling in the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation. They agree to go see him wrestle the next night. We see Armadillo at his hotel. His wife has been cured, but now she is cheating on her husband and using his new abilities for her own wealth. Steve and his friends see the match, and when Steve goes to congratulate his former opponent, he walks in on the wife and her friend. Later, Armadillo finds out that his wife was using him, and he tears up 34th Street. Cap goes to stop him, but can’t calm him down. Armadillo climbs up the Empire State Building, with Cap following, but when Hawkeye shows up to help, Armadillo jumps in an attempt to commit suicide. He does not die, but is badly injured.
- The Death Throws, a group of villains with a juggling theme, help Crossfire escape before his court appearance (which is the reason why Hawkeye and Mockingbird are in town). Steve helps Bernie finish emptying her apartment, and lets his landlady know that he is also going to be leaving the building. Their friends decide to throw them a party. The Death Throws learn that Crossfire is broke, and decide to use him as bait to kidnap Hawkeye and then ransom him back to the Avengers. At Steve and Bernie’s party, their neighbour Josh boasts about how all “inner city black guys are natural break[danc]ers” and then tries to get Steve to dance with him. Seriously. Hawkeye tells Steve about Crossfire’s escape, and checking Cap’s hotline, they learn that he is being ransomed. They go to an abandoned railroad building, and weirdly exchange weapons, before falling for the Death Throw’s trap. They fight, Mockingbird shows up to help, and the bad guys are all taken into custody. Steve returns to the party, only to learn that Bernie has already left, and more or less, that their relationship was over.
- Death Adder has been tasked with ransoming Princess Python to the Circus of Crime, but his jetcraft is shot down. He stashes the unconscious Python, but is then killed by Scourge. Cap moves back into Avengers Mansion, but doesn’t stay for long before hitting the road in his Wakanda-customized Chrysler van to see America. He passes near the Bar With No Name, where villains hang out. Blue Streak is there, and he is contacted by Firebrand, who is alerting C- and D-list criminals to the fact that someone (namely Scourge) is killing them. The next day, Blue Streak robs an armored car, and passes Cap’s van. Cap follows, and finds a police car that has been run off the road by Blue Streak. Later, he finds the villain at a rest stop, and they fight. Cap gives chase on his new motorcycle (he’s especially proud of his new helmet), but Blue Streak convinces him that he’s fallen off a cliff the road runs along the top of. As Cap looks to help him, Blue Streak hitches a ride in a truck, which is being driven by Scourge. Blue Streak is killed.
- Cap takes down Blacklash in Cleveland, and learns from him that a number of villains are being killed by Scourge. Sidewinder returns to the Serpent Society headquarters with Death Adder’s body, and sends the Society on the hunt for Scourge. Firebrand continues to gather villains at the Bar With No Name to handle the Scourge situation. Cap investigates the possibility that the Foolkiller, who is insane, is behind the killings, but decides that’s not the case. He runs into Diamondback there, and they agree to team up to investigate further. When Diamondback tries to get Cap to have sex with her, he literally bails (threatening to jump out of her airship to escape her). She chases him through a cornfield and gets shot by a farmer. At the Bar With No Name, Firebrand gathers seventeen low-level costumed villains to discuss Scourge, but they are all shot by the bartender, who is Scourge in disguise. Justice is served! I remember thinking the Scourge stuff was hella cool as a kid, but now I wonder if Gruenwald ever explains how this guy was able to position himself where villains were going to be so often.
- Cap meets Water Wizard, a villain who had missed being killed by Scourge because of a flat tire. He takes Cap to the Bar With No Name, and shows him Scourge’s massacre. Cap stashes him somewhere safe. Scourge chats with his accomplice Domino (a guy in a tiny hat and a domino mask) about possible targets and decides to go after Diamondback, who is still in hospital in Ohio. Cobra gets to Diamondback first and sneaks her out of the hospital; Scourge arrives as they leave and shoots at their airship. Cap arranges a sting with local police; he has them announce that Mirage survived the massacre, and Cap dresses in the dead man’s costume. He goes to hide out at the Sheriff’s hunting cabin, where Scourge comes to kill him. They fight, and Cap manages to stop the killer, who won’t shoot him because he is a ‘good guy’. We learn Scourge’s origin, when he is shot himself by a figure that uses his “Justice is served” tagline, suggesting that there may be more than one Scourge. I don’t remember if that was ever followed up on, but I also remember that there was a Scourge in Jeff Parker’s excellent Thunderbolts run, and I wonder if it was ever explained if that was this same guy.
- Annual #8 came out between #321 and 322, but I think it fits best before the Flag-Smasher story began. This was a very memorable book, because it featured Wolverine in one of the few stories that featured Cap and Logan working together (long before Chris Claremont decided that they knew each other during WWII). Logan is trying to enjoy a quiet drink, but the newly-depowered Nuklo gets into a fight with everyone. Logan tracks him and finds him getting attacked by the giant robot TESS-1. The robot leaves. Cap investigates a weird sinkhole that leads to an old basement where, behind a bunch of traps, there’s a room once housed the robot TESS. The Overrider, a mutant ex-SHIELD agent with the ability to mentally control electronics, hijacks a truck to take him to an adamantium plant. Once he gets there, he forces the workers to cover TESS with adamantium. Cap and Wolverine both arrive at this place at the same time, get into a short fight with one another, and then fight the newly indestructible TESS. The robot and its master escape. We learn that Overrider’s son is suffering from “nuclear psychosis”, a fear of nuclear devastation that has caused him to retreat into a near-comatose state. I don’t think that’s a real thing. We learn that TESS was devised as a failsafe in case the super soldier program that created Cap ever got out of hand. This is why the robot always wants to kill Cap. Overrider and TESS attack America’s nuclear command centre. Cap and Wolverine arrive and are able to behead the robot. They then take out Overrider. Wolverine thinks about killing him, and doesn’t. Interestingly, Cap tells him that he’d never be allowed on the Avengers because of his attitude. I have no idea what Nuklo had to do with this story. Mike Zeck’s Wolverine is amazing; it’s too bad that he didn’t ever get to draw him more.
- Flag Smasher and ULTIMATUM hijack a jumbo jet over the North Atlantic, taking all of its passengers hostage. Cap drops in on Ram Riddley, the young hacker who runs his Stars and Stripes hotline support network, to give Ram an American flag baseball jacket that would look right on a Donald Trump supporter. Cap stays for dinner, takes off his mask, and gets romanced by Holly, Ram’s mother, until Ram comes to let him know about the hijacking. Flag-Smasher threatens to kill all of the hostages unless Cap comes alone to trade himself for their lives. Cap and SHIELD figure out that ULTIMATUM is probably using an old Hydra base in the Swiss Alps. Cap slips in under their radar, and slowly infiltrates the base, attacking an outpost and stealing a guard’s uniform. He searches the main base, and learns that the hostages are being held at a monastery. He gets there just before Flag-Smasher’s deadline, but doesn’t know how to take out all of the guys guarding the hostages before they start killing them. He does his best, but one guard opens fire. Cap has no choice but to shoot him to stop him, but of course he feels terrible about this. Only four hostages are killed.
- I think that ULTIMATUM have the best uniforms of any criminal/terrorist/mad scientist group in the Marvel or DC Universes.
- The Statement of Ownership for 1986 has Captain America reporting an average print run of 290 000. Crazy.
- Issue 322 might be the best Captain America comic of Mark Gruenwald’s decade-long run. Cap, supported by SHIELD paratroopers, starts working his way through the ULTIMATUM soldiers, while narrating a long monologue about his ideals and belief in the American dream. He’s pretty shook up about having to kill the ULTIMATUM guy in the last issue, and he is looking for Flag-Smasher to avenge that death. He catches up the F-S as he is trying to take off in a small helicopter. Cap gets on the ‘copter and they continue to fight, causing the vessel to crash into the Alps. They continue to fight, and Flag-Smasher goes over a cliff, falling a long way. Cap shelters himself in a small dugout until the blizzard stops, and then begins the long climb down the cliffside looking for F-S. When he finds him still living, he uses the crashed ‘copter to splint his leg, and then digs them a small shelter. They spend the rest of the night huddled together for warmth. Come morning, Cap begins carrying the wounded man. When he awakes, Cap instead drags him on his shield, and they discuss Cap’s sense of morality and why he disagrees with Flag-Smasher’s ideology. A trio of ULTIMATUM soldiers arrive by helicopter, and Cap takes them out. Flag-Smasher could shoot him, having gotten a gun at some point, but instead he doesn’t, but he does still threaten Cap that once he’s healed, he’s going to fight him again and kill him. Cap flies them back to the ULTIMATUM base where SHIELD takes the Flag-Smasher into custody.
- The Super Patriot, a new hero, sets off fireworks from the Statue of Liberty, which is being restored (because it’s 1986) in advance of the Fourth of July, because he’s trying to make a name for himself. Flying into Manhattan on a skycycle, Cap is intercepted by two SHIELD vessels, which lead him to a meeting with Jasper Sitwell. Sitwell informs him that there is a lot of uproar over his killing of the ULTIMATUM goon, and as a way of sweeping it all under the rug, Sitwell offers him a place in SHIELD. Cap has to think about it. Later, at Avengers Mansion, Cap turns down a chance to party with Hercules and Black Knight, and moans over the fact that it’s too late to call Bernie (who is up studying in fishnet stockings with a guy in a cut-sleeve t-shirt). The next day, Steve attends a rally for Super-Patriot (who now has a hyphen in his name) where the new hero trashes Cap’s good name. He is then attacked by three muscley dudes in Cap masks who call themselves the Buckies. Super-Patriot stops them while our Cap approaches the stage (he’s promised SHIELD he won’t appear in uniform), and they are taken off by the police. Cap follows them. Later, he, wearing a red, white, and blue tie and wraparound sunglasses, interrupts a dinner between Super-Patriot and his PR man, letting him know that he knows that the fight with the Buckies was staged. Cap leaves, and is attacked by the Buckies, who he takes down with his shield, which is in a portfolio case. Even later, Cap goes on TV to apologize for killing the ULTIMATUM guy, and throws himself at the mercy of the Swiss courts.
- Cap responds to a tip but ends up scaring a bunch of teenagers playing with realistic water guns who expect him to kill them. This bothers him. Whirlwind, working for Baron Zemo (this is the same time that the Masters of Evil attack Avengers Mansion in the classic Avengers story), goes to the Tinkerer to upgrade his whole spinning schtick. He gets outfitted with spinning saw blades on his wrists. He also runs into the Trapster, who is excited because he’s spent months developing a lubricant and adding it to his whole glue crime thing. Yes, lube. In Miami, Nomad, sporting a terrible 80s moustache, is looking to find the Slug, a drug kingpin who makes the Kingpin look skinny. Cap considers hiring a PR man, but then gets waylaid to North Carolina, where Whirlwind has set a trap for him. This trap consists of Whirlwind luring Cap into a patch of Trapster’s glue, but by taking his boots off, Cap is able to defeat both criminals. Cap feels good about himself for stopping these losers without having to kill anyone (his confidence is badly shaken, I guess). Nomad has taken a job at a nightclub owned by Slug, but almost immediately gets promoted, and is taken to his yacht, where he gets to meet the extremely overweight man. Mark Gruenwald really buys into some fat shaming, having Nomad, upon seeing Slug, think the following: “That’s the Slug! I have never seen a more repulsive person in my life! If I ever had doubts that this guy deserves to die, this dispels them! It’s gonna be a pleasure to rid the Earth of this vermin!” I think it’s important to note that the Slug is just sitting on some cushions being fat. I’m curious to see if Cap has a similar reaction to him…
- Cap busts up a drug deal that was actually part of a police undercover operation, and an officer is rude to him. In Florida, Nomad continues to work undercover for the Slug, and we learn that his whole mission is to get the brother of a woman he’s seeing out of the Slug’s operation. One of the Slug’s employees, who screwed up something, gets dunked in a swimming pool full of slugs (not leeches) and this is apparently painful, although I can’t understand why. Jack talks to his girl’s brother, but the guy doesn’t want to quit. Steve goes to the Marvel offices, and he meets his new editor, Don Daley. The sister calls Cap’s hotline because she hasn’t heard from Jack in a while. The brother exposes Jack, and he gets thrown off the Slug’s yacht (which is in international waters). Steve arrives in Florida, rents a boat, and luckily comes across the floating Jack. They have a pleasant day on the boat, and at night infiltrate Slug’s yacht. Nomad secretly sets the boat on fire and attacks Slug while Cap helps evacuate the boat onto its supply ferry. He comes across Nomad, who is trying to beat Slug to death. Cap goes with Slug, trying to figure out how the unbelievably obese man will get off the boat. Nomad decides not to save the goons he’d knocked out earlier (I’m not sure why he’s so ruthless and bloodthirsty now), and the boat explodes. Nomad finds Cap, who is diving looking for Slug, but they instead decide to swim to shore. Later, Slug resurfaces and the issue ends with him floating in the ocean. This was a weird issue.
- Cap has heard from his hotline that something has been happening at Skullhouse, not seen since issue #301. He arrives, and as he investigates the bunker where he last fought the Skull, his enemy appears as a hologram. They move to the cabaret where the Skull explains that because Cap killed the ULTIMATUM guy, that gave the Skull the chance at redemption, and that the only way Cap can now redeem himself would be to commit suicide. Cap doesn’t go for this, and then ULTIMATUM guy, Scourge, Porcupine, and MODOK appear and start fighting Cap. This goes on for some time, and Cap brings a big part of the house down on his foes. We then learn that Doctor Faustus is behind all of this weirdness. He has Bucky, Sharon Carter, and Cap’s parents appear and try to convince him to kill himself, whereupon Cap refuses, and tries to leave. Faustus realizes his plan failed, and tries to escape, but another ghost of the Red Skull appears and chokes him. Cap finds the unconscious Faustus, and wheels him out of the house.
- The Buckies attack a house for international students at Bernie’s Wisconsin college, at the behest of the Super-Patriot. Apparently they’ve been going around the heartland doing this. Not so coincidentally, Steve arrives to visit Bernie on the same night. When everyone hears about the attack, he goes as Captain America to investigate, and some in the crowd feel that Cap should be supporting the Buckies. Steve and Bernie go to AmericAid ‘86, a huge benefit for poverty in America (we see Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Joan Baez (I think), and either Prince or Morris Day) because they know that Super-Patriot is going to be speaking. After his speech, Cap confronts him in the parking lot, and they fight for over an hour, without ever generating a crowd or getting any attention from the thousands of people at the event. Cap can’t beat Super (as he keeps calling him), and feels down about himself. They finally agree to call the fight a draw, and Super-Patriot goes off to give more speeches. Steve feels so down about the fight that Bernie decides not to break up with him. A functionary for the IRS figures out that Steve Rogers is Captain America because of his million dollar back pay cheque from the government. I find it really amusing to read about the xenophobic antics of Super-Patriot at this particular moment in American political history. John Walker would definitely be stumping for Donald Trump.
- Looking for information on Super-Patriot and how he got his powers, Cap goes to the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation headquarters in LA. After fighting some of the wrestlers, Cap befriends Dennis Dunphy, and while they shower together (seriously, Cap is not too worried about protecting his identity anymore) Dunphy tells him about how he got his powers from the Power Broker to become a star football athlete, but had to give up the sport because he was too powerful, which led to his wrestling and befriending the Thing. Cap and Dunphy, who got himself a superhero costume based on Daredevil’s first one and has started calling himself D-Man (short for Demolition Man, which I guess could have been a copyright thing), start investigating the Power Broker. D-Man gets a lead, and Cap goes in undercover. He gets impatient and blows his cover. A couple of goons – Bludgeon and Mangler – start to fight Steve. He loses them and starts to investigate the facility, finding Dr. Karl Malus, and getting tranquilized by some random guy in an Army uniform. D-Man busts into the place, but Steve has been hooked up to the Power Broker’s machine, and is in the process of getting enhanced. D-Man frees him, and Steve considers getting a powers upgrade so he can keep up with Super-Patriot, but decides in the end that he doesn’t need it. The investigation into Cap’s million dollar pay-out by the Army ends up in front of something called The Commission, which orders Cap be brought to them.
- Still in the Power Broker’s facility, Cap and D-Man break into the boiler room (which is a very elaborate, multi-storied affair) with Dr. Malus as their captive. D-Man goes to get snacks, while Cap questions Malus and they wait for something to happen. The Sweat Shop, a bunch of augmented guys arrive to get Power Broker’s equipment. They fight Cap, while D-Man fights others upstairs. Eventually they get the drop on D-Man and take him prisoner. They seal Cap and Malus (they don’t know he’s there) in the boiler room. Malus cries a bit, while Cap figures out that some toxic gases are leaking into the room. He figures out how to escape into the sewer, but Malus says this is where the failed augmentations, twisted, freakish people, get dumped. The FBI goes to Avengers Mansion to investigate Cap’s government money. D-Man is taken to the Power Broker, who plans something nefarious for him. Cap, in the sewer, gets attacked by the mutated augments, and Malus escapes up a narrow pipe.
- While Cap fights the misfit augments in the sewers under LA, Karl Malus runs away, right into a werewolf. Cap attempts to escape the augments, but ends up surrounded by them. He is rescued by five members of the Night Shift – the Brothers Grimm, Needle, Gypsy Moth, and Tatterdemalion, some of the weirdest and most forgettable Marvel characters. As they fight the augments, Cap goes looking for Malus. He finds the werewolf, and that Malus is with Shroud and the rest of the Night Shift (Digger, Ticktock, and Danse Macabre). Shroud explains to Cap, under the cover of his darkness, that he’s pretending to be a bad guy while trying to lead the villainous Night Shift into being heroes. They’ve been gathering up the misfit augments. Shroud has Cap pretend to be under Danse Macabre’s control to maintain his cover, and the whole group heads to the Power Broker’s mansion. They attack, and are held off by various augmented guys. Cap follows the Power Broker into his escape tunnel and captures him. He finds that D-Man and Ms. Marvel (the Thing’s girlfriend Sharon Ventura) are being over-augmented. D-Man, enraged and maddened, attacks Cap, who takes him down. D-Man collapses, his heart giving out on him. Cap performs chest compressions.
- Cap is able to revive D-Man, but his health remains precarious. Ms. Marvel wakes up and is a little nuts, before Cap calms her down. D-Man goes through the de-augmentation procedure which didn’t work on Ms. Marvel. There is a lot of standing around while the Night Shift mops up the rest of the Power Broker’s goons, and Cap decides to not turn them in. An army lieutenant, Michael Lynch shows up to do business with the Power Broker, and Cap gets upset. Lynch brings out GI Max, a new super soldier, who fights with Cap, but starts to get winded. Lynch shoots at Cap, and a bullet ricochets off his shield, hitting and killing Max. With half a page remaining, Gruenwald opts to have an epilogue like the end of an episode of Hawai’i 5-0, filling in what happens to all the various characters in this arc.
- A guy calling himself Warhead sets up a little platform on the top of the Washington Monument, and starts tinkering with a nuclear bomb. Cap arrives at the Pentagon, and meets with a General to discuss his concerns around the army’s use of the Power Broker to set up a super soldier program. He is brought before the Commission, which explains to him that he is technically still under contract (from 1940) with the US government, and that they own the name, costume, and shield of Captain America. They offer him a job working directly for them. Cap asks for time to think about his decision. Super-Patriot and his publicist learn about the Warhead situation, and decide to travel to Washington. Cap reaches out to his friends to try to decide what to do, but only reaches Falcon and D-Man. Captain Marvel puts him on to the Avengers’ lawyer (who isn’t She-Hulk). Warhead demands that America declare war on some nation, or he will blow up Washington DC. Super-Patriot gets into the Monument and climbs it while Cap talks to his young hacker, Ram. Super-Patriot manages to toss Warhead off the Monument (and he blows himself up with a grenade on the way down). The next morning, Cap before the Commission and hands over his uniform and shield.
Reading over these issues in a short span of time, a few things stood out to me. First, I remember twelve-year old me thinking that Cap gave up his costumed identity too quickly and easily. I would have thought that Cap would have made a more principled stand, or perhaps made use of some of his friends in high places to argue his case, rather than just walk away, especially since he’d just spent a whole bunch of issues isolating himself from any sort of personal life (we hadn’t even heard about his job at Marvel Comics in a little while at that point). Now, I recognize that Gruenwald was plotting for the long-term, and knew that he’d want Steve back in the costume for issue 350, and that he had to get things moving.
I also find it interesting just how much time Gruenwald gave to the Serpent Society, to really have them basically fall out of the book after the Scourge stuff ran its course. Of course, they’d be back soon enough, as Gruenwald loved his snake-themed villains.
Gruenwald’s Cap is an interesting study in a character who is not all that interesting. The comics read very well, but it’s hard to like Steve Rogers as Gruenwald writes him. He’s a little too goody-goody (I liked when he worried that drawing toothpaste ads was too consumerist an endeavour, but that drawing comics was worthy, so long as the character was a heroic one), but without being grating. He’s just not, in and of himself, terribly interesting. I liked DeMatteis’s Steve, who was also a stick in the mud, but was trying to branch out a little bit.
One thing that is interesting about Cap at this stage in his career is that he keeps coming up against threats or adversaries which are difficult for him to manage. The Power Broker’s augmented men are a real struggle for him, as they outclass him in strength by a great deal. It’s interesting that he seriously considers becoming augmented himself; today, he’s running around in a ninety-year-old body fighting people without even his shield at his side. I like the idea of vulnerability here, which heightens the sense of determination Gruenwald gives him.
There were a few things that Gruenwald started doing in this era that I probably didn’t notice at the time, but stood out here:
- Steve was getting really loose with his secret identity, unmasking for Ram Riddley’s mother, D-Man, and on a few other occasions where it doesn’t seem like it would have been a good idea, namely to infiltrate Power Broker’s facility, or to give Super-Patriot a hard time in a busy restaurant. I don’t remember when Cap revealed his identity to the public, but I’m guessing it’s going to be during Gruenwald’s run.
- Steve seems to shower with super-powered people a lot. It makes sense that he might have a shower after a workout with Black Knight and Starfox, but his shower scene with D-Man was really pretty odd. I guess if he’s comfortable showing he’s face, he’s good with showing all the rest?
Art-wise, this is not a particularly impressive run. Paul Neary is a great artist, but over this run, he kept flipping from full pencils to breakdowns. Often his action sequences are very stiff, and sometimes his figure drawing is very generic. I don’t know what kind of deadlines he was under, but his stodgy drawings of a stodgy Cap really don’t compare favourably when you compare them to the Annual by Mike Zeck, which is incredibly dynamic.
It’s hard, when reading these comics, to not think of the current political situation in America. It would be very easy to picture Super-Patriot stumping for Donald Trump, as they seem to share a great deal, ideologically. I was too young to know much about American politics when these comics came out (especially since I’m not American), but I do think that we can see the effects of Reaganomics in this book. I’m curious to see how the Super-Patriot as Cap issues play out when read today. That’s for next time though.
Here are links to the first two articles in my Captain America series:
#266-300 – JM DeMatteis and Mike Zeck’s classic run
#301-306 – Mike Carlin’s placeholder run.
Tags: Captain America, Retro Reviews