Retro Reviews: Captain America #387-413 By Mark Gruenwald, Rik Levins & Larry Alexander From Marvel Comics

Captain America #387-413 (July ‘91-March ‘93)

Written by Mark Gruenwald (#387-413)

Penciled by Rik Levins (#387-413), Dan Panosian (#387), Larry Alexander (#388-391, 393-400, 402-406, 408), Kevin Kobasic (#407)

Inked by Danny Bulandi (#387-393, 395-404, 406, 408-413), Dan Panosian (#387-388, 390-391, 394, 396-400), Bud LaRosa (#389, 393-394), Larry Alexander (#395), Kathryn Bolinger (#400), Ariane Lenshoek (#402-403, 405-406), Don Hudson (#404, 408), Ray Kryssing (#404), Steve Alexandrov (#405), Rodney Ramos (#407)

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

This era was one of increasingly diminishing returns.  I remember that, after Ron Lim left, I felt this book began to stagnate, as plotlines ran for years, and each individual issue showed little in the way of forward momentum or real character growth.  These comics came out during a period of rapid change at Marvel – the Image founders left, and the company often over-compensated in its attempts at trying to give its fans what it thought they wanted.  Compared to the artistic excesses we saw in other titles (I’m thinking of the X-books), this title began to look very staid and dull.  As well, the Man and Wolf arc, with its awkward and pointless inclusion of Wolverine and Cable, signalled to me that Gruenwald was beginning to lose his grip on this book.  That, coupled with my imminent departure for university and the accompanying feeling that it was time to tighten my pull-file in an attempt to save money, meant that I gave up on this title, after collecting it for more than one hundred consecutive issues.

Rereading it now, I kind of regret that I don’t have more of these issues (although I refuse to start tracking them down in the $0.50 bins) because reading them at the pace of one issue a day, I’m very impressed with Gruenwald’s multi-year plotting, which is something that only happens in creator-owned books like East of West or Revival today (even books like Saga and The Walking Dead are plotted with collected editions in mind).  

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

  • Rock Python (#387, 413)
  • Puff Adder (#387)
  • MODAM (#387-388, 391, 412-413)
  • Anaconda (#387-391)
  • Crossbones (#387, 389-391, 393-397, 399-410)
  • Red Skull (#387-389, 391, 393-398, 407, 409)
  • Mother Night (#387, 389-391, 393-398, 402, 407-410)
  • Baron Von Strucker (#387, 394)
  • Machinesmith (#387, 389-391, 393-394, 396, 398, 409)
  • Arnim Zola (#387, 393-396)
  • Quicksand (#388-390)
  • Moonstone (#388-389)
  • Blackbird (#388-389, 411-413)
  • Snapdragon (#388-390, 411-413)
  • Ion (#389-390)
  • Dr. Nightshade (#389-391, 403-408)
  • Princess Python (#389)
  • Screaming Mimi (#389-390)
  • Ferocia (#389, 392, 402-403)
  • Dragonfly (#390, 412)
  • Gypsy Moth (#390)
  • Yellowjacket (#390)
  • Mindblast (#390)
  • Battleaxe (#390, 395)
  • Vapor (#390)
  • Frenzy (#390-391, 412-413)
  • Pink Pearl (#390)
  • Titania (#390-391)
  • Poundcakes (#390)
  • Knockout (#390)
  • Dansen Macabre (#390)
  • Superia (#390-392, 411-413)
  • Sleeper (#390-391, 393, 410)
  • Bombshell (#392)
  • Arclight (#392)
  • Mysteria (#392)
  • Wrangler (#392)
  • Whiteout (#392)
  • Iron Maiden (#392, 411-413)
  • Ice Princess (#392)
  • Doughboy (#393, 395-396)
  • Watchdog Prime (#394)
  • Scourge (#394)
  • Crucible of the Resistants (#394)
  • Sin (#394)
  • Power Broker (#394)
  • Taskmaster (#394, 396, 403)
  • Minister Blood (#394)
  • The Sweat Shop (#394)
  • Viper (#394-398)
  • Mangler (#395)
  • Deathstroke (I didn’t know Marvel had a character with this name, and it’s weird that he looks just like the Walter Simonson Manhunter; #395)
  • Cutthroat (#395-398, 402, 405-408)
  • Steelwind (#395)
  • Golddigger (#395)
  • Jack O’Lantern (#396-398, 405-410)
  • Blackwing (#396-398, 405-410)
  • Warstar (#398)
  • Supreme Intelligence (#398, 400)
  • Supremor (#398-399)
  • Shatterax (#399)
  • Ronan the Accuser (#399)
  • Ultimus (#399)
  • Korath the Pursuer (#399)
  • Flag-Smasher (#400)
  • ULTIMATUM (#400)
  • Moonhunter (#402-407)
  • Random werewolves (#402-408)
  • Dredmund/The Druid/Starwolf (#403-408)
  • Infinity War doppelganger versions of Captain America (#408) and D-Man (#408-410)
  • Brother Wonderful (#410-411)
  • The Trump (#411)
  • Flying Tiger (#411, 413)
  • Batroc (#411-413)
  • Machete (#411, 413)
  • Zaran (#411-413)
  • Mad Dog (#411)
  • Ramrod (#411)
  • General Wo (#411-412)
  • Razorfist (#412)
  • Mr. Brannex of AIM (#412-413)
  • Scorpion (#412)
  • Icicle (#412)
  • Melter (#412-413)
  • Stilt-Man (#412-413)
  • Beetle (#412)
  • Shocker (#412-413)
  • Rhino (#413)
  • Wrecker (#413)
  • Man-Bull (#413)
  • Man-Ape (#413)
  • Killer Shrike (#413)
  • Piledriver (#413)
  • Titania (#413)
  • Tarantula (#413)

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

  • Paladin (#387-393)
  • Vision (#389, 392, 401)
  • Hauptmann Deutschland (#389-391, 393-394)
  • Blitzkrieger (#389-391, 393)
  • Zeitgeist (#390, 393)
  • Sersi (#394, 396-397, 399-401)
  • Quasar (#394-395, 401)
  • Thor (Eric Masterson; #395-397, 401)
  • Hercules (#395, 399-401)
  • Rick Jones (#398)
  • Delphi (of the Pantheon; #398)
  • Crystal (#399-401)
  • Black Knight (#399-401)
  • Goliath/Hawkeye (Clint Barton; #399-401)
  • Iron Man (#399-401)
  • Wasp (#400)
  • She-Hulk (#401)
  • Black Widow (#401-402, 408)
  • Scarlet Witch (#401)
  • Wolverine (#402-407)
  • J. Jonah Jameson (#402)
  • Dr. Druid (#402-409)
  • Wolfsbane (#406-408)
  • Cable (#406-407)
  • Shatterstar (#406)
  • Werewolf by Night/Jack Russell (#406-408)
  • Feral (#407)
  • Nick Fury (#411)
  • Shang-Chi (#412-413)

Gruenwald liked sharing this book with a variety of characters, and this was the era of the back-up story that featured secondary or supporting characters.  The same faces returned again and again through this stack.

  • John Jameson (Cap’s pilot, driver, and general assistant; #387-389, 392, 395-398, 408)
  • Peggy Carter (Avengers’ communications specialist; #387-388, 392-393, 395-396, 398, 400-402)
  • Diamondback (#387-397, 399-413)
  • Asp (#387-397, 411)
  • Black Mamba (#387-397, 411)
  • Edwin Jarvis (#387, 393-394, 397, 402, 404-405, 409)
  • Impala (#388-390, 395-397, 411)
  • Bernie Rosenthal (Cap’s ex-fiancée; #393-395, 404-406)
  • Fabian Stankowicz (Avenger’s tech support; #393, 408)
  • D-Man (#400-405, 408-411)
  • Falcon (#400-401, 408-413)
  • USAgent (#400-401)
  • Dr. James Kincaid (the Avenger’s doctor; #403)
  • Michael O’Brien (Avengers support staff; #404-405)
  • Zack Moonhunter (Cap’s new pilot; #408-410)

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

  • This set of issues starts off with the six-part The Superia Strategem.  Cap checks out Diamondback’s ruined apartment, and finds a case with electronic devices in it.  He puts in a call to Paladin, who is not able to help him learn of Diamondback’s location.  Cap and Paladin travel to see Rock Python and Puff Adder, and learn that a “giant head” took the women.  We see that MODAM is taking the BAD Girls, and Anaconda to the SS Superia luxury liner, as guests, and gives them each one hundred thousand dollars.  Anaconda does not go willingly, but the others agree to take the cruise.  Diamondback triggers a signal device.  Cap, Paladin, and Jameson travel to the Caribbean to check in on AIM, to see if they have rebuilt MODOK.  AIM has gone corporate, and own their own island – I thought Jonathan Hickman came up with that stuff recently.  The girls enjoy their cruise, but when Cap’s plane begins to approach, someone on the cruiseship sends another vessel to destroy it.  Jameson somehow gets knocked out, Cap tries but can’t save the plane, and the three men eject.  Cap is angling to help the still-unconscious Jameson when MODAM attacks.
  • We learn that the Red Skull has opened the Masque Club in his office building.  While Crossbones entertains a young lady, the Skull and Mother Night hang out with Baron Von Strucker.  They are interrupted by Machinesmith, who brings word from Arnim Zola that someone has destroyed the Skull’s other clone bodies.  He assembles the Skeleton Crew to figure things out, and then returns to his party.  He passes someone who we know is responsible for the death of the clones, but it’s not clear who this person is yet.
  • Cap, Paladin, and Jameson fall into the ocean as MODAM attacks them.  Cap saves the unconscious Jameson while Paladin is able to damage MODAM’s chair so she has to withdraw.  On the cruise ship, the BAD Girls hang out, meet Impala, and watch Anaconda get in a fight with Quicksand.  Paladin finds Cap’s shield in the ocean, and they hang out on an inflatable raft and wait for an Avengers rescue.  As everyone watches Anaconda fight, someone snatches Rachel.  Moonstone and Blackbird attack the raft and everyone gets wet again.  Cap gets knocked out trying to save Paladin from a snare.  Rachel finds out that it was Snapdragon who grabbed her.  They have history going back to Taskmaster’s academy, and they fight.  Snapdragon throws Rachel overboard.
  • A group of Taskmaster’s graduates get dressed as Captain America to fight the Red Skull, as part of his exercise regime.  He dispatches four of them easily, but the fifth grabs him and teleports away.
  • Paladin saves Cap this time, and takes out Moonstone.  Cap wakes up and grabs Blackbird.  Dr. Nightshade, who is in charge of the cruise but working for someone who hasn’t been named yet, has Ion go looking for Diamondback once they realize that Snapdragon threw someone overboard.  When she finds her, the ship staff are able to resuscitate her.  Cap takes out Blackbird just as Vision arrives with a quinjet.  He is sent to incarcerate the two villains while Cap and Paladin take the sky-cycle to find Diamondback.  Rachel wakes up, and decides she wants out of the super business.  Cap and Paladin find the cruise ship and wait for dark to climb aboard.  The supervillains (there are a lot of them) are demonstrating their powers for one another, with Princess Python acting as MC, when Ferocia smells our heroes and everyone attacks.
  • The Red Skull discovers that he is the prisoner of Hauptmann Deutschland, who is taking him to Germany to be tried and executed as a Nazi.  The Skull uses a signal device in his tooth to alert the Skeleton Crew of his presence, but we learn that HD is expecting this, and wants to take in his cronies as well.
  • Cap and Paladin are attacked by a massive number of female super-villains (I’ve only listed ones with speaking roles or who play a significant part in the issue – there are a lot more, but I don’t think I can even name them all).  They fight hard.  Black Mamba and Asp sneak away to visit Diamondback, who now claims that while she was dead, she heard a voice tell her that she will only get one more chance at life, which is why she wants to not be a villain or a hero.  Paladin gets taken out by the villains, and is almost quartered.  Knockout knocks Cap out.  The BAD Girls think about helping, but then Rachel sees Snapdragon and gets scared.  Superia orders Dr. Nightshade to bring the prisoners to the island, which may be called Femizonia.  When they arrive, Superia says she is going to make Cap and Paladin into women.  Seriously.
  • The Skeleton Crew attacks the facility where they believe the Red Skull to be.  After a few pages of fighting, Hauptmann Deutschland, Blitzkrieg, and the invisible Zeitgeist take them out.
  • Superia explains to Dr. Nightshade why she wants Cap and Paladin to become women (it doesn’t make much sense, even to Nightshade, who thinks that Superia’s choices are risky).  Superia explains to the assembled supervillains that she knows she is the ancestor of Thundra, and that she wants to bring about the changes that will lead to the creation of Femizonia in the future.  Asp and Black Mamba decide to go looking for Rachel and perhaps to rescue Cap, since they don’t want to live in a world of only women.  They find Dr. Nightshade in front of the tanks that Cap and Paladin are in, and are able to create enough of a distraction that the two men escape, albeit in their underwear.  This leads to them putting on Asp and Mamba’s costumes, so they will look more feminine (they don’t), while those two dress as guards.  They split up; Cap and Mamba find his uniform and shield, but also find Superia, who explains that she has already launched a rocket that will sterilize all women who aren’t on her island, which she figures will put her in a position to rule the world.
  • The Germans prepare the Skull and his Skeleton Crew for their show trial.  We learn that Machinesmith is in a locking mechanism, and is able to jump into his own body and get free.
  • Superia explains her master plan again (because it’s a new issue), and then has four villains (Bombshell, Arclight, Mysteria, and Wrangler) fight Cap.  Asp frees Rachel from the room where she’s being held, and she and Paladin get stopped by four other villains (Whiteout, Iron Maiden, Ferocia, and Ice Princess), and they fight.  Rachel overcomes her reluctance to fight, and gets involved.  Cap defeats his foes with help from Black Mamba, and they bluff their way into the island’s command centre.  Cap warns Peggy Carter about the missile and gets attacked by Superia.  Their fight takes them outside, and Cap maneuvers her into blasting at the force shield that protects the island.  He convinces her that she is now in danger of letting her microbes ruin her plan.  She flies off, and Cap makes his way to the docks, rendezvousing with Mamba.  The others, dressed like villains, join them.  They get away in a boat, which stops dead.  Vision and Jameson arrive in a quinjet, and they learn that Quasar destroyed the missile, and that Superia’s island is invisible.
  • For a change, #393 opens with a prologue by the usual back-up team, as the Skull and his Skeleton Crew free themselves from their bonds, and take hostages in the German show-trial courtroom.  The Skull gives an impassioned speech about how he is not the original Skull, and as an American citizen should not be on trial in Germany.  Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man appear to bust in, and demand to take custody of the prisoners to return them to the US.  Hauptmann Deutschland lets them go.
  • We learn that Arnim Zola used some of his bioplastoids to impersonate the Avengers, and that they are flying home in Doughboy.  Cap says goodbye to Paladin, Black Mamba, and Asp, but Rachel wants to stay with him for a while.  Bernie shows up, but doesn’t see Steve and Rachel together (Jarvis is a first-class wingman).  Hauptmann Deutschland calls to check up on the prisoners, and then gets upset when he realizes he’s been duped.  The Skull makes plans to abandon his office tower headquarters.  Cap goes to check out the Skull’s office, and is attacked by Hauptmann Deutschland (who has made it to DC from Germany in the time it took Cap to get there from New York).  They fight, with HD still thinking Cap is an imposter.  He breaks into the Skull’s office, where they find his dead body with the “Justice is Served” calling card painted above his head.
  • Cap and Hauptmann Deutschland investigate the Skull’s apparent murder.  Cap finds the bodies of Crossbones and Mother Night as well.  The two patriotic heroes come to an understanding, and call the authorities.  Unsurprisingly, we discover the Skull still alive in a mountain chalet.  He meets with representatives of the various groups he’s been running, including the Watchdogs, the Resistants, Scourge, Power Broker, Taskmaster, and Strucker.  I have no idea who Minister Blood is.  The Skull kills Scourge for failing to kill Gamecock.  For real.  Cap returns to Avengers headquarters, expecting the Skull to still be alive.  He hangs out with Rachel, who wants to work for Steve as Avengers staff.  Mohter Night gives the Skull coffee that is too weak, so he berates her, making her clean it up while he stares at her rear end yelling, “Wipe, wipe, wipe!” in a weird scene.  He gathers the Skeleton Crew and tells them that he wants them to free Viper from prison.  When Crossbones objects because of Viper’s craziness, the Skull fires him.  Later, Mother tries to convince Crossbones to ask for his job back, but he feels confident it will be offered to him if he waits.  Cap trains with Sersi and Quasar, but is interrupted when Bernie visits again, and meets Rachel, who is introduced as Cap’s executive secretary.  The Power Broker’s Sweat Shop attacks a penitentiary in Washington and busts Viper out.  The Skull offers her a job.
  • Rachel is sunbathing at Avengers Headquarters when Asp and Black Mamba visit.  She tells them about her new job, and they don’t believe it will work out, and Mamba manifests a vision of Snapdragon.  Rachel freaks out and sends her friends away.  They go to a costumed criminal bar, looking for Snapdragon, but are interrupted by a woman I don’t recognize, who says that Superia has put a price on their heads.
  • Cap and Rachel work out for a bit, and then Cap reviews Avengers business.  Bernie calls, and he tells her about Rachel; Bernie invites them both to eat.  The Red Skull convinces Viper to work for him, and they soak in a hot tub together, which makes Mother Night sad.  Crossbones goes for a beer.  John Jameson is friendly with Rachel, and she thinks he’s coming on.  Cap meets with the new Thor, Eric Masterson, to discuss a fight he got into with Quasar.  At the Skull’s hideout, three villains, Mangler, Deathstroke, and Cutthroat apply for Crossbone’s old job.  They are told to fight to the death for the job.  Cap and Thor go to Skullhouse to investigate if the Skull is still alive.  They get stuck in Doughboy, who is lining the hallway, and argue with Arnim Zola.  Cutthroat is the only survivor of the fight for Crossbones job; Crossbones himself is following Rachel to her computers class.
  • Asp and Black Mamba get into a bar fight with Battleaxe, Steel Wind, and Gold Digger.  Impala jumps in to help them, and they all run away.  The BAD Girls offer Impala a spot on their team.
  • Arnim Zola sends Doughboy to suffocate Cap and Thor, and then leave them at the bottom of a lake.  Taskmaster tries to train Cutthroat to be worthy to replace Crossbones, while Mother Night pines over the fact that the Red Skull has taken up with Viper, and moans to Machinesmith about it.  Thor busts Cap and himself out of Doughboy.  He leaves Thor to fight the creature while he returns to Skullhouse to find that the house has been removed from its foundations.  He leaves word for Thor to search for the missing house.  John Jameson drops Rachel off at her computer class, and awkwardly tries to kiss her.  Cap searches the basement of Skullhouse when Jack O’Lantern and Blackwing, who claims to the Skull’s son, arrive.  Cap attacks them and they fight.  The Skull has drinks with Viper.  Cap stops a bomb thrown at him by Jack O’Lantern, then falls into cracks in the ground, and looks to be falling into a giant pumpkin head.  Coming out of her class, Rachel jumps in a cab and discovers that Crossbones is in it, waiting for her.
  • The BAD Girls break into the old Serpent Society headquarters.  They are about to steal a serpent saucer when Sersi arrives (having been called in by Peggy Carter, who was monitoring motion detectors Cap left in the headquarters.  Sersi turns them into actual snakes, but then turns Black Mamba back into a (naked) human to find out who she is.
  • Cap figures out that Jack O’Lantern is making him hallucinate so he crouches down to wait it out.  Jack and Blackwing (who it is now made clear is not the Red Skull’s son, but the son of the man who owned Skullhouse before him) attack him, while Viper and the Red Skull watch via hidden camera.  The Skull sends Mother Night to recruit the two villains, and belittles her in front of Viper.  She grabs Cutthroat to go with her (although he’s not seen again).  Blackwing realizes that a force shield has been put over the remains of Skullhouse, so he and Jack decide to leave the still-hallucinating Cap behind.  John Jameson feels weird about how he acted with Rachel.  Feeling better, Cap pursues the bad guys into the catacombs beneath Skullhouse.  The Skull straps himself into a torture machine and gets Viper to turn it on, in a weird form of courtship perhaps?  Sometimes I wonder about Gruenwald’s kinky side…  Cap starts fighting Jack O’Lantern and Blackwing again, and knocks them both out.  As he is dragging them away, it seems as if Scourge shoots them.  He chucks one of Jack’s bombs at the fleeing Scourge, and we learn it is really Mother Night, who is now imagining she is being attacked by Viper.  The other villains have disappeared.  Thor arrives, and they take Mother Night away, confirming that the Skull is still alive.  We see that Crossbones has Rachel tied up in an abandoned subway.
  • Sersi figures out that the BAD Girls aren’t all that bad, and restores them to their proper (nude) bodies.  She decides to let them leave, and gets all testy when they convince her to open the roof for them so they can still steal the serpent saucer.  They decide that the best way to find Snapdragon is to move to Europe and hang out for a while.
  • Operation: Galactic Storm, the big cosmic Avengers books crossover of 1992, began in Captain America #398.  Rick Jones has a weird dream about being on Hala when a bomb goes off, killing everyone except Captain America, who turns into the Supreme Intelligence.  He gets some advice from Delphi (this is the era when he and the Hulk were part of the Pantheon) and then calls Cap.  Cap and John fly to Arizona to meet with Rick, but John is really testy and rude during the flight.  Cap and Rick speak awkwardly, when Warstar, from the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, shows up and attacks the diner they are in.  While Cap fights the two beings that make up Warstar, Rick flies away on Cap’s skycycle.  He gets taken into a spaceship via tractor beam.  On Hala, the Supreme Intelligence plots.
  • In the backup to this issue, Cutthroat leads Jack O’Lantern and Blackwing to break Mother Night out of jail, but she walks out, having made bail.  They return to the Red Skull’s base, where she has to confess to the Skull that Cap now knows that he is alive.  The Skull is very abusive.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 1991 lists this comic as having a press run average of 271 000, with newsstand returns averaging 93 000.
  • Between issue 398 and 399, six chapters of Operation: Galactic Storm have gone by, which I have not reread for this column, so I have little idea as to what’s going on.  When the book opens, a team of Avengers (Cap, Iron Man, Sersi, Hercules, Crystal, Black Knight, and Hawkeye-as-Goliath) have surrendered to Shatterax, and been taken to Hala.  Ronan the Accuser takes custody just as Sersi makes the team look like Accusers, and they escape.  Iron Man gets all petulant, and decides to go off on his own to look for the central government; this whole event is about getting the Kree to move their warp-hole out of our solar system.  Clint goes with him.  Some guy named Ultimus (who looks like he was designed by Jim Starlin) meets with Shatterax and Korath the Pursuer at the behest of Supremor, who is the Supreme Intelligence in a wrestler’s body.  The Avengers are wandering the poorer section of Hala looking for the central government (because where else would it be) when they see signs that they are wanted by the authorities.  Sersi flies the team up to a floating billboard with their faces on it, after Iron Man calls for a rendezvous.  They are attacked by Korath, and Cap fights him in mid-air, before somehow falling back to the vessel he originally fell from.
  • Crossbones has Diamondback tied up in the subway still.  He leaves for food, some punks come and look like they are going to rape her, and then Crossbones returns and kills them.
  • Issue 400 is the fifteenth chapter of Operation: Galactic Storm, and I’m a little lost.  We see Cap buried in rubble in an explosion somewhere on Hala.  The rest of the Avengers squad from last issue is in a quinjet, flying away from Hala.  We learn that Iron Man decided to leave Cap behind, knocking out Clint in the process.  They are pursuing the Nega-Bomb.  Cap wakes up in a big empty chamber, and is immediately attacked by King Cobra.  Soon he finds all his biggest foes – Batroc, Flag-Smasher, Viper, Crossbones, and the Red Skull, are present.  They fight, and he is almost done for, when Batroc allows him to free himself, and he defeats everyone else.  It is made clear that he is the prisoner of the Supreme Intelligence, who is messing with him, and who drops him.
  • In the Arctic, we discover the D-Man is still alive, and has been living with some Inuit (and not bathing).  He follows a jet away from his new friends, and ends up at the ULTIMATUM base where he was believed to be killed.  He is captured by Flag-Smasher, who delivers an ultimatum (see what I did there?) to Captain America.  Peggy conveys the message to the Avengers team that has been assembled to protect the Earth while the others are in space.  USAgent insists on going to rescue D-Man alone, but Wasp makes him take Falcon along.  When the Agent arrives, Flag-Smasher orders him killed for not being Cap.  Falcon sneaks into the base.  While the Agent fights the troops, and then Flag-Smasher, Falcon finds D-Man, who is not talking.  Flag-Smasher ends up in the ocean, and Falcon rescues USAgent before he falls in.
  • The last backup in this issue stars Diamondback.  Still a prisoner of Crossbones, Rachel has the opportunity to bash in his head with a cinder block while he sleeps nearby her.  She remembers her childhood, and we learn that Rachel had three brothers.  One, a Vietnam vet, was in a wheelchair, while the other two were members of Brock Rumlow (Crossbones)’s gang, the Savage Crims.  Rachel wanted to join, but was rebuked.  Later, she broke into Rumlow’s pad, and he abuses her (suggesting that she was brutally raped by him, and perhaps others, at age 15).  Her brothers are upset.  Brock throws a knife at the vet (he dies that same day).  Another brother disappears because of his guilt, and the third ends up shot in a hold-up.  Rumlow, sometimes called Bing for reasons that are never established, also disappears.  In the subway station, Rachel decides she can’t kill him, because Cap won’t love her if she does.
  • Number 400 also reprints Avengers #4, but I can’t handle Stan Lee dialogue right now, so I skipped it.
  • In the aftermath of Operation: Galactic Storm, Cap has asked the assembled Avengers to vote on whether or not he should step down as leader.  The others assure him they want him to stay leader, but they also want to go home after spending three weeks in space.  He announces that he will be running a seminar on ‘superhuman ethics’ that night.  Quasar leaves the team to patrol the cosmos.  Peggy is happy to see Steve, but he is upset to learn that Diamondback is missing, as is John Jameson.  We see that Crossbones is taking the slowly-starving Rachel out of New York City.  Cap (or, really, I think Mark Gruenwald) muses on the point of being an ethical hero in the era of Punisher, Cable, and Wolverine (also known as the pre-Image 90s).  Only Black Widow, Hawkeye (out of the Goliath outfit) and Scarlet Witch have arrived for his seminar; Cap mopes off.  Hawkeye convinces him to go out for drinks with him.  Crossbones makes Rachel call in to the Avengers to say she’s taking a ski vacation.  Peggy is suspicious, and Black Widow decides to investigate.  Steve and Clint go to a ‘lowlife bar’ which is weirdly filled with familiar figures like Emma Peel, Groucho Marx, and Dick Tracy.  They talk for a bit, and then Tony Stark shows up, and he and Steve hash out some of their issues, going right back to the Armor Wars.  Black Widow arrives at the phone Rachel used, but of course she’s gone.  Crossbones takes her to the bunker where Magneto had imprisoned the Red Skull, and tells her they are staying in it together (I don’t know why).  Tony and Steve agree to be friends.  When they return to headquarters, they find USAgent and Falcon have returned with the practically comatose D-Man.  Cap is happy, and is even nice to the Agent.  This feels like a last issue, but it isn’t.
  • With the big events all over with, it’s time for the Man and Wolf storyline, which leads to the birth of CapWolf, and what is either a high point or the low water mark of Gruenwald’s run, depending on how you look at things.  Some guy is running through some woods, and gets attacked by a werewolf creature.  Later, Wolverine sniffs his dead body.  Cap is upset that D-Man still hasn’t spoken, and tells Black Widow that he’s going to take a leave from the Avengers to go looking for John Jameson and Diamondback.  Weirdly, it’s his friend John he looks for first, not his supposed girlfriend.  He researches the gem that turned Jameson into Man-Wolf, and goes to chat with Curt Conner’s colleague, where he learns that the remains of that gem are missing.  We see the new character Moonhunter trying to train some werewolves.  Cap’s visit to J. Jonah Jameson turns up no leads, so he goes to Boston to consult Dr. Druid.  They look into reported werewolf sightings, and get attacked by a female werewolf, which is subdued by Moonhunter.
  • We learn that Crossbones has been keeping Diamondback in the bunker for weeks now, and has been making her train to fight.  Crossbones decides to call Mother Night, since the Red Skull has never tried to get him back.  We learn that Mother Night is being abused by the Skull, but she feels she deserves it; Cutthroat kisses her.
  • Moonhunter knocks out the werewolf, and ties her to his skycycle, while Cap pursues him.  He smashes Cap’s skycycle, shoots him and drops him.  Moonhunter flies to nearby Starkesboro, where we see Wolverine lurking.  We learn that the town is full of werewolves who attend some sort of church service.  D-Man gets examined by Dr. Kincaid, and it looks like he is suffering from brain damage.  Cap returns to Dr. Druid, who has recovered from his injuries, and they start following the werewolf’s ‘psychic aura’.  We learn that Dr. Nightshade is in Starkesboro, working for a mysterious robed figure.  The werewolf we saw before is Ferocia, and this strange robed guy has restored the Moongem.  Wolverine is attacked by a ton of werewolves, but it is Moonhunter that takes him down.  Cap and Druid arrive in town, and are surrounded by more than two dozen werewolves.
  • In a flashback, we see Diamondback’s training at Taskmaster’s school.  She is surprised to see that Rumlow is one of the instructors there.  She wakes up in the present, as Crossbones brings her food.
  • Dr. Druid makes himself and Cap invisible to the werewolves.  We learn that the person in charge of whatever’s going on in Starkesboro is named Dredmund, but we still don’t see his face.  Dr. Nightshade explains to him that she can’t turn Wolverine into a werewolf because of his mutant healing factor, so Dredmund mesmerizes him instead.  Cap and Druid are almost discovered by Moonhunter, but are able to stay hidden.  Bernie visits Avengers Headquarters, and joins Jarvis and D-Man on a walk in Central Park.  Dr. Nightshade gets Wolverine to attack Cap as he and Druid try to search the town’s mayor’s office.  Druid disappears, and Cap is left to fight Wolverine.  Logan finally gets him down, and Moonhunter knocks him out.  When he comes to, Nightshade says she’s going to transform him (and not into a woman this time).
  • Rachel has ‘graduated’ Crossbones’s training.  He gives her a costume, and takes her to Avengers Headquarters, where he wants her to steal a container full of Cap’s blood from a refrigerator.  Michael O’Brien notices that she’s up to something.
  • Dr. Nightshade injects Cap with her formula, and he immediately turns into a werewolf – Capwolf!  He runs away, and Dredmund transforms some of the townspeople into werewolves and orders them to catch him.  Jarvis leaves Bernie with D-Man in Central Park.  A mugger grabs Bernie’s purse, and she yells at the motionless Dennis before giving chase.  Dr. Druid examines Dredmund’s study, and the moongem, when Dredmund finds him, and they stare at each other.  A very confused Capwolf is chased into the woods, and his attempts to communicate with the werewolves fails.  Wolverine attacks, but Capwolf escapes them all.  Druid and Dredmund keep staring at each other.  Bernie has lost Dennis.  Moonhunter snares Capwolf, who then drags him around.  Dredmund gets through Druid’s defenses.  Capwolf returns to town, and Nightshade shows some control over him.
  • Diamondback is caught stealing Cap’s blood plasma from a fridge conveniently labelled “Captain America.”  She tells him that she needs it to capture Crossbones, and he lets her go.  Crossbones then drives her across the country and makes her climb a mountain for a long time.  Cutthroat, Jack O’Lantern, and Blackwing show up and threaten them.
  • Dr. Nightshade sticks Capwolf into a holding pen with other “difficult” werewolves.  He fights a white wolf (which is probably John Jameson).  Dredmund ties up Dr. Druid, preparing him for a sacrifice or something.  Capwolf discovers that Wolfsbane of X-Factor is in the holding pen.  She teaches him how to talk in his wolf form.  She responded to some kind of call that brought her to Starkesboro.  Shatterstar goes to see Cable to tell him that Feral (who I’ve never thought of as being wolfen; feline seemed like a better guess) has gone missing.  Capwolf organizes the other werewolves to bust out of their cell.  Bernie still can’t find D-Man.  We learn that Dr. Nightshade is trying to work her own agenda, and wants to get Moonhunter to help her.  Capwolf and the others get out, but leave Wolverine in a different cell because Rahne says he smells enchanted.  The wolves attack and subdue Nightshade and Moonhunter.  We learn that Nightshade has been getting her serum from Jack Russell’s blood.  Cap has the wolves restrain Nightshade while he goes to free Druid.  He has to fight his way through a ton of werewolves, and Dredmund slices Druid’s throat, having him bleed on the Moongem, which causes Dredmund to transform into something.
  • Cutthroat, Jack O’Lantern, and Blackwing try to send Crossbones and Diamondback to their death down the side of the mountain, but they fight back.  Diamondback gets on Jack’s flying platform and threatens to kill him unless they take them to the Skull’s base.  They do this, and Cutthroat realizes that Diamondback is his sister.
  • As Capwolf fights a bunch of werewolves, Dredmund gets powered up by the Moongem, and turns into Starwolf, which basically looks like Eternity, were Eternity a werewolf.  He talks a lot and floats; it’s not clear if he has other powers.  Capwolf tries to fight him, and it seems he’s really strong, but would prefer it if the other wolves fought him.  Things look bad, but then Werewolf by Night shows up with the other wolves from the cell, and gives Capwolf his shield.  Everyone fights.  Feral shows up outside Starkesboro, but is tranquilized by Cable, who doesn’t even try to talk to her first.  He enters the town, and gets involved in the fighting in werewolf church.  Capwolf attacks him because he is shooting good and bad werewolves, and when they start to fight, Starwolf uses his cosmic powers to wrap them up in the carpet.  Seriously.  We see that the white werewolf who is probably Jameson carries Druid’s body into the medical centre.  He injects Dr. Nightshade with the werewolf formula, and then using a sign, tells her to find the antidote.  Capwolf rants.  Moonhunter climbs out of the cell he was left in, frees Wolverine, and then shows up in the medical centre.  Dr. Druid, who isn’t dead, frees Moonhunter and Wolverine from Dredmund’s mind control.  Capwolf and Cable are now buried under rubble and Starwolf is still talking.  Wolverine comes in and frees them.  Cable and Wolverine give Capwolf a fastball special so he can rip the Moongem off of Starwolf’s chest.  Cable crushes the gem, and Dredmund turns back to normal.  We learn that Cable has disappeared, and Wolverine goes looking for him, mostly so these two shoehorned characters don’t need to be in the comic anymore.
  • Crossbones shows the Skull his real face (and we learn that he’s got a lot of scars or something), and then he and the Skull talk about how he has stolen Cap’s blood, and wants his job back.  Jack O’Lantern throws Rachel into a padded cell, and this makes Cutthroat angry.  Cutthroat tells Mother Night that Rachel is his sister, and then goes to visit her, revealing himself and promising to help her.
  • Capwolf picks up the pieces of the Man and Wolf arc.  He watches as Dr. Nightshade turns the white werewolf into John Jameson, and is himself injected with the vaccine when the weird looking Infinity War Cap doppelganger appears out of nowhere and attacks him.  As they fight, Capwolf turns back into Cap, and manages to kill his doppelganger, only after learning that he’s not actually alive.  Nightshade is upset that Cap spilled the lycanthropy antidote while they were fighting, and bemoans not having the ingredients, yet three hours later, we see that the entire town has been cured anyway.  Nightshade is packed off to prison, the Mayor of the town insists that the murderous werewolves were all killed during the fighting (which I guess isn’t murder in and of itself?).  Werewolf by Night turns human, says his ride is here, and goes off on some guy’s motorcycle (there is a lot of random in this comic).  Wolfsbane heads back to Washington, and John Jameson quits his job as pilot, claiming he only took the job to become a hero again, and says nothing about trying to kiss Diamondback.  Moonhunter (who is now going by Zack, offers Cap and Dr. Druid a ride home on his battered skycycle.  In Central Park, D-Man stares at the water when his Infinity War doppelganger appears and dumps him in the lake.
  • Diamondback and Cutthroat catch up, and Cutthroat promises to kill Crossbones and get Rachel a job on the Skeleton Crew, while refusing to undo her cuffs.  Crossbones chats with Mother Night, and that makes Cutthroat jealous.  That night, he slips into Crossbones’s room to kill him, but instead has his throat cut by his enemy.
  • Falcon flies around, and sees someone he doesn’t know on an Avengers skycycle.  He gives chase, and learns that it’s Zack Moonhunter flying the thing; he’s been offered the pilot’s job by Cap.  Falcon heads into Avengers Headquarters, where Black Widow debriefs the reserve Avengers.  Cap says he’s going to head out to look for Diamondback, and Falcon offers to join him.
  • By burning some clothes in the Avengers’ kitchen, Dr. Druid is able to learn that Diamondback is being held by Crossbones in the Rockies.  Cap and Falcon, with Moonhunter as pilot, head off to find her.  In the Skull’s chalet, Diamondback worries about her brother and Crossbones.  The Red Skull holds a meeting, while Diamondback works to free herself.  We see D-Man being strangled underwater by his demonic Infinity War doppelganger, but waking up in an underground cavern.  Mother Night visits Machinesmith for advice, because she feels she owes something to Rachel because of her guilt over Cutthroat’s death.  She is late for the Skull’s meeting, where we learn that Crossbones is back in the Skeleton Crew, and that the Skull has a dark fate planned for Rachel.  Mother Night goes to get her, but instead Rachel knocks her out and steals her cape and cowl.  She then takes out Blackwing and steals his glider.  The others see her escaping and give chase, while Cap picks up her distress call.  Crossbones lures her aboard his helicopter and stabs her.  We see D-Man stumble around these underground caverns some more.  We learn that the Skull wants Cap’s blood injected into Diamondback, but Crossbones’s plans to lay a trap for Cap are cut short when Cap and Falcon arrive.
  • Cap attacks Crossbones while Falcon starts fighting with Jack O’Lantern.  The doctor experimenting on Diamondback calls for reinforcements in the form of Mother Night and Blackwing.  Still deep beneath Central Park, the silent D-Man comes across Zerotown, a shantytown filled with strange-looking people, apparently led by someone named Brother Wonder (who looks like Desaad to me).  Cap and Falcon keep fighting.  Moonhunter, in Cap’s plane, comes acrossed Mother Night’s helicopter, and is attacked by the Sleeper.  Blackwing enters Cap’s fight while Diamondback wakes up and frees herself from the doctor.  She is about to enter Cap’s fight too, but is stopped by Mother Night, who she takes out.  Crossbones is about to use Cap’s shield to cut off his head, when Diamondback garrotes him.  Moonhunter flies his plane close to the Skeleton Crew’s helicopter to cut off the Sleeper, causing the chopper to crash into the quonset hut where Diamondback was being experimented on.  A flaming piece of debris flies into Crossbones’s back, and Diamondback is going to let him burn, but Cap smothers the flames, while Falcon subdues Blackwing (having already taken out Jack O’Lantern).  Cap calls in Moonhunter, and they take the Skeleton Crew prisoner on the jet.  Cap and Rachel embrace.
  • Falcon and Diamondback work out together, and we learn from Cap that Rachel’s blood is healthy, even after she received the transfusion of his ice-laced blood.  Rachel wants to solve a problem on her own, but Cap convinces her to let him help.  They ask Nick Fury for information about Snapdragon, and discover that AIM is having a convention for costumed criminals on their island.  Brother Wonder gets the ‘night people’ to try to beat up D-Man.  Cap, Diamondback, and Falcon get disguised by Sersi (off-panel) to look like Crossbones, Mother Night, and Jack O’Lantern, respectfully, in order to infiltrate AIM’s party.  Cap acts with swagger, and explains away inconsistencies in his story.  Batroc apparently had a bet going with Crossbones that involves him fighting five villains, one at a time, to win five hundred thousand dollars.  Capbones has no choice but to go through with this plan.  First he fights Mad Dog, and while that happens, Mother Diamondback follows Iron Maiden away from the crowded event.  Rachel sees her friends Asp, Black Mamba, and Impala, but can’t contact them for fear of blowing her cover.  Next Capbones fights Ramrod.  Mother Diamondback gets caught by Snapdragon, who is with Superia, Blackbird, and the Iron Maiden.  Capbones takes out Ramrod, with difficulty, and is immediately expected to fight General Wo, a massive sumo wrestler.
  • Capbones fights General Wo, while Superia offers Mother Diamondback a job.  Capbones manages to take out Wo, and immediately begins fighting Razorfist.  Falcon O’Lantern sneaks off to look for Mother Diamondback.  On the docks, we discover that Shang-Chi has snuck into the book, looking to find out why some of his father’s old chemical weapons or something have been shipped there.  Capbones takes out Razorfist and immediately begins fighting Batroc, who reveals that he knows that Capbones is really Captain America.  He says if he doesn’t throw the match, he’ll reveal to the hundreds of villains watching who he really is.  Superia goes to meet with the head of AIM.  Capbones defeats Batroc, and Zaran outs him; everyone wants to fight.  Superia shoots Mr. Brannex, the leader of AIM, and this upsets MODAM.  Capbones gives up his disguise, and switches back to his regular look, as tons of villains attack him.  Falcon O’ Lantern does the same, the better to fly around.  He figures that most villains won’t recognize his new costume anyway.  Superia calls her associates for help, and Blackbird flies Iron Maiden up to Brannex’s office, leaving Snapdragon alone, so Mother Diamondback ditches the Mother Night look and confronts her.  Falcon sees Shang-Chi doing sneaky stuff and they begin to fight, while Cap has dozens of new sparring partners.
  • A whole pile of villains pile up on Captain America.  Some of them complain about not having their weapons, but others, such as Stilt-Man, clearly do.  Cap does well against such an onslaught.  Diamondback does very well fighting against Snapdragon, while MODAM fights Superia.  Falcon and Shang-Chi makes friends.  Superia is surprised to learn that Brannex is an adaptoid, and therefore not dead.  Falcon shows up in the arena just in time to see Cap sneaking away, and to give him a lift.  Falcon and Shang-Chi hold off the various villains so Cap can go looking for Diamondback, who is in the process of drowning Snapdragon in a fountain.  MODAM flies away with Superia, while a bunch of AIM guys start looking into all the disturbances on the island.  Cap takes one of their flying platforms, and chases MODAM thinking she is carrying Diamondback.  He and Superia get dropped over the water, while Diamondback appears to have killed Superia.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 1992 describes Cap as having average print runs of 320 000 against newsstand returns that average 97 000.
  • Having stopped this run here, I don’t know if Snapdragon is dead, what is going on with D-Man under Central Park, or if Zack Moonhunter is ever seen again.  I’m good with all of these being mysteries in my life though…

So in the final analysis, I am much more impressed with these comics today than I was at the time they came out.  Rik Levins (and backup artist Larry Alexander) were really journeymen artists, giving the book a consistent look over a long stretch of time.  The thing is, they aren’t flashy at all, and look like they belong to an earlier era, even compared to Ron Lim, the artist they replaced.  Levins stayed with the book for a while after I dropped it, before being replaced by Dave Hoover, who I believe stayed with Gruenwald through the end of his run.

Gruenwald’s excellent structuring needs to be recognized.  He took a very long time with some of his storylines, from Diamondback’s attempt at going good, through her abduction and confinement by Crossbones, into her embracing her badass self and seeking revenge on Snapdragon (which, I imagine, is resolved in the issues I don’t own).  Likewise, his way of spending years setting up the Red Skull’s ultimate goals is interesting, although many of these plot elements, like the freeing of Viper, were likely long forgotten by the time they were resolved.

The biggest flaw of this run would be the annual six-part, biweekly story.  Some of them, like the Superia Strategem, worked well, but the Man and Wolf story really tanked this title for me.  The early 90s were the time of the Wolverine guest appearance, and I found it felt weird here.  As well, I hated the weak tie-in to the Infinity War, which I believe caused me to drop a few other Marvel titles around this time.

The way in which Zack Moonhunter spends five issues fighting Cap, and then is suddenly hired as his new pilot, just didn’t work for me.  Again, though, this might have been addressed later.

I did like the way that Gruenwald continued to use the Avengers support staff so prominently (by this time, I’d dropped Avengers, so I don’t know if these characters ever popped up there).  Bernie kind of fell by the wayside, but really, so did Steve Rogers as a character through this run.

It’s weirdly fitting that I dropped this title with #413, because it allowed a certain symmetry for this column.  I started this one by looking at #387, Levin’s first, which features Cap fighting MODAM on the cover, and #413 features the same thing.

From here, I basically ignored Cap for a while, and missed the end of Gruenwald’s legendary run.  It wasn’t until I heard so much good word of mouth about Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s work on the title that I would pick up any Cap comics again.  We’ll look at those next time.

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 (Gruenwald and mostly Dwyer)

#351-386 – Steve is back as Cap; Gruenwald, Dwyer, and Lim’s runs

It doesn’t look like many of the comics I’ve written about here have ever been collected, aside from the Capwolf saga, and the events that Cap’s title tied into.  If I’ve sparked an interest, you can check these trades out:

Avengers: Operation: Galactic Storm
Captain America: Man & Wolf
Infinity War


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