Captain America #275-279
Issue(s): Captain America #275, Captain America #276, Captain America #277, Captain America #278, Captain America #279
...and the remnants of another strange creature that recently attacked Captain America, Cap gets involved in a plot involving the increase of Neo-Nazi activity.
Neo-Nazis painted a swastika on Bernie Rosenthal's temple. Cap (as Steve Rogers) suggest that it's just a random incident by dumb kids, but Holocaust survivor Anna Kappelbaum says that they should be locked up.
Steve actually continues to defend them (surely not the vandalism itself... i hope) on the grounds of freedom of expression. He also declines to go to a counter-rally.
Meanwhile, there are definitely real Neo-Nazis out there (it's not confirmed that they vandalized the temple, though).
Steve later hands in his latest commercial artwork assignment, but finds that his job was for an anti-Semite.
That gets him to go to the rally. He's introduced to the ex-husband that he didn't know Bernie had.
The Neo-Nazis crash the riot. The counter-ralliers outnumber them, and it's suggested that the Nazis are only getting publicity thanks to the counter-rally.
Someone from the counter-rally gets angry enough to throw a bottle, which Steve disapproves of.
The violence continues to escalate, so Steve sneaks away so that he can break up the rally as Captain America.
He breaks up the fight, and then lectures the counter-ralliers, saying that they risk becoming the thing they hate (at least he also has some words for the Nazis).
Neither side is convinced, and they both leap to attack him.
Even then, Cap won't raise a hand against them. He just steps aside and lets them fall.
"Two of a kind", he says, comparing a Jewish person to the guy who wants to exterminate him.
It's clear that DeMatteis' Captain America doesn't condone violence against Neo-Nazis. But DeMatteis goes so far with this depiction that (to me, anyway) it undermines the message. Cap is initially in denial about the danger of Neo-Nazi groups and (apparently) the existence of anti-Semitism at all until it hits him in the face in the most overt way possible at his workplace. And even then he finds a way to turn things into some "both sides do it" mush. Cap should have recognized that one side of this "debate" had a reason to be very angry and therefore might be blinded enough by that anger to become more violent than they ordinarily would. Whereas the other side is just scum. That seems like a reasonably safe, mainstream comic-approved message that still leaves Cap with a little moral backbone. I'm not saying Cap would think that civilians punching Nazis is ok, but from the version of him that i see here i'm not so sure i want to take his advice on any moral question. I mean if you can't take a stand against Nazis, forget it.
Maybe the fact that the head of the Jewish side is Bernie's ex is clouding his judgement.
The incident also causes Bernie to realize that Steve is Cap.
Meanwhile, a pair of mystery villains...
...activate the creature that SHIELD was researching and direct it to free Vermin.
The monster also takes a pair of men, Arnie Roth and his 'friend' Michael. Arnie and Michael appeared in recent issues of this series and Michael was recovering at SHIELD after recent injuries. Arnie is Steve Roger's childhood friend, and Michael is very clearly Arnie's lover despite the fact that their relationship is never explicitly mentioned.
While Steve and Bernie are working out the new pair of revelations (Bernie's previous marriage and Cap's identity)...
...Nick Fury summons Cap to help SHIELD in the aftermath of the attack. Cap receives an invitation to the villain's lair, and Cap accepts. He's flown to a castle in Mexico by a strange creature...
..and then attacked by similar monsters.
The creatures are the work of Arnim Zola. Zola's mysterious partner is the son of the original Baron Zemo. He'd previously appeared once before as Phoenix, but now he's back and calling himself Baron Zemo and wearing a similar but sleeker version of his father's costume.
It's soon revealed that the creature posing as Arnim Zola is actually Zola's creation Primus. It's unclear why Primus would masquerade as Zola, but we'll learn later that Primus is struggling with identity issues and this may be a way for him to create a connection with his "father".
Arnie and Michael's minds have been tranferred into more genetically altered creatures, and Cap is forced to fight them alongside Vermin, who Zemo and Primus have decided to eliminate.
Cap subdues 'Arnie' but Vermin kills Michael, and Michael's body seemingly dies as well. Arnie briefly blames Cap for Michael's death, but gets over it reasonably quickly, and Cap is able to rally the other genetic mutates to work with him.
Unfortunately SHIELD then shows up and starts killing the mutates until Cap can stop them.
Zemo escapes in the confusion, but Vermin was waiting in his ship and attacks him.
Cap heads off to stop Primus, who earlier changed his form to look like Steve Rogers, and he headed to Bernie's apartment.
After a short fight...
...and Cap goes to Avengers mansion to get help tracking him. Iron Man gives him a doohickey.
While he's there, Nick Fury calls to confirm that Michael died.
Cap is still upset over SHIELD's massacre of the mutates.
Cap tracks down Primus in time to hear it strongly implied that Bernie slept with Primus while she thought he was Steve.
There's another fight and Primus has the upper hand...
...but Bernie gets through to Primus, convincing him that he was led astray by Baron Zemo. It turns out he may not really be such a bad guy, and he flies off to contemplate things.
Afterward, Steve attends Michael's funeral, and when he starts to get mopey and blame himself for everything, Arnie Roth correctly tells him to shut the hell up:
Can you hear yourself? Do you see what you're doing? This is my time. My grief -- but you're so wrapped up in self-pity, in a pattern you've been following for decades -- you won't even allow me to mourn!
Good stuff. Captain America's book definitely has descended into contemplative despair over the years; this really is a character growth moment for Cap, and one that sticks pretty well.
In a pair of interludes, people are getting brutally killed by crows.
Another set of interludes has a group calling itself the Coalition For An Upstanding America preparing to launch an ad campaign starring Captain America.
One of the guys working with the Coalition was a client of Steve Rogers, but Steve quit when the guy made an anti-Semitic remark in issue #275.
And in a series of back-up stories, Sam Wilson is running for a seat in the House of Representatives.
His past as "Snap" Wilson causes complications, and the emotional pressure causes him to start reverting to his "Snap" persona. Sam's old priest is able to talk him out of it, except it later turns out that the priest wasn't even in town...!
Brief cameo by Peter Parker in issue #275, covering a Sam Wilson press conference.
I'm not at all pleased about bringing up the Snap Wilson nonsense again. Sam as a Congressman would have been a great idea, and this plot is clearly designed to prevent that from happening. And having him develop mental problems is just a bad direction for the character.
The main storyline is really good though. The first issue of the arc is a little preachy, but it's Cap who's preachy, and he's supposed to be (and that quality is basically what allows Bernie to identify him). The rest of it has a bunch of neat twists, from the re-introduction of the new Baron Zemo, to the fact that Arnim Zola is really Primus, to the fact that Primus isn't really inherently evil. And at least pushing the boundaries a little with the Arnie Roth/Michael relationship. And a super-hero's girlfriend finally learning their boyfriend's secret ID! And Roth's comments to Steve at the end. Interesting stuff all around. And generally nice art from Mick Zeck. A letter in issue #280 points out that Zeck sometimes skips on the backgrounds, and my main complaint is the weird poses that Zeck often puts people in (see that first panel where Primus is leaving after his final fight with Cap for an example; that's a typical Zeck pose). But there's no denying that it's usually really nice looking, with easy to follow inter-panel storytelling as well.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Has to take place before Fantastic Four #249-250, because in that arc, Bernie refers to the 'recent revelation' that Steve Rogers is Captain America, and it's the first time they've had to talk about it. The MCP places this between Avengers #226-227.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (15): show
Arnold Roth is also the name of a prominent 1950s magazine cartoonist and comic strip artist.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | September 18, 2011 1:21 AM
Although the dialogue between Bernie and Primus is suggestive, at the end of 278 she just says how much she enjoyed staying up all night talking, and it sounds like nothing happened. Maybe a bit of deliberate ambiguity to keep the Comics Code at bay?
DeMatteis, when he's on -- as he is for much of his Cap run --is one of the best Marvel writers of his era, IMHO. Good adventure stories, but he also brings a more mature attitude to sex and violence than most superhero comics had seen (or, sadly, would ever see). And Zeck is class all the way. Writer and artist are both good with emotion, though DeMatteis is prone to going overboard. These are just some well-made superhero comics.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | December 16, 2012 2:29 AM
That is, dialogue in 279 is suggestive, whereas 278 emphasizes a long nighttime talk.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | December 16, 2012 2:31 AM
It just occurred to me, many years after first reading this issue. The first Baron Zemo blamed Cap for dumping Adhesive X all over him while he was wearing his mask. His son blames Cap for dumping *him* in a bunch of Adhesive X while he *wasn't* wearing his mask.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | April 24, 2016 3:00 PM
@Omar Karindu, that never occurred to me before, either.
Issue #278 was the first Captain America comic book I ever read when I was a kid. It definitely played a significant part in me becoming a fan of the character...
Posted by: Ben Herman | April 24, 2016 9:19 PM
good issues. They do a good job of making Sammy appropriately scuzzy, he part of the problem rather than the solution. And Bernie realizing Steve is cap just shows she not dumb, I mean half the folks who meet Steve should guess that.
Issue 278 was one of my first cap issues. It was weird to see a hero get trounced like that, Primus was really brutal. then the villain crying and leaving. good stuff.
Posted by: kveto | January 1, 2017 6:22 PM
Issue 275 has been discussed a lot recently in the wake of the Nazi punching incident and Nick Spencer insisting Cap would never condone such behavior.
Posted by: Michael | January 23, 2017 7:57 PM
Thanks, Michael. I've added some additional scans and commentary. Based on DeMatteis' writing here, Spencer is right.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 24, 2017 8:04 AM
Keeping in mind that Cap *is* a fictional character, I think that most writers would have him believe that freedom of speech in the United States is vitally important, and however much he despised what a neo-Nazi or alt-Right or other fascist bigot was saying, he would defend their right to say it... as long as they were expressing themselves in a peaceful manner. However, Cap would probably also believe that if a neo-Nazi threw the first punch, then you would have every right to defend yourself and fight back.
I don't have these issues in front of me at the moment, but as I recall in the opening pages of #276 Bernie's ex-husband reluctantly admits that he was wrong to provoke a fight with the neo-Nazis, and he goes off with the police without arguing. The leader of the neo-Nazis, however, is pissed off that Cap has made him look bad, and tries to shoot him, which earns him a beating.
I still don't agree with DeMatteis' "two of a kind" line, but at least he does later show that Bernie's ex-husband is more reasonable than the neo-Nazis.
Posted by: Ben Herman | January 24, 2017 5:24 PM
The Jewish Protection Organization was probably supposed to be a parody of the Jewish Defense League. By 1982, the JDL was responsible for stuff like a smoke bomb attack that killed an innocent woman. The problem is that Bernie's ex never Jumps Off the Slippery Slope like the real life JDL did. It would be like a writer creating a Muslim organization called ASIS and expecting the reader to see them as clearly evil because of the name, when all they do is get into fist fights with white supremacists.
Posted by: Michael | January 24, 2017 7:55 PM
Good commentary from Fnord on issue 275. It's true that this issue does back up Spencer's interpretation, but obviously DeMatteis' interpretation of Cap is not the only interpretation (most obviously, I'm sure Simon & Kirby would have seen it differently).
I could vaguely understand Cap's position here if he had turned out to be right about dumb kids just pretending to be Nazis for shock (as some UK punks had a few years prior), but when they're actually in full Nazi regalia and denying the holocaust as they are here, you'd think Cap would have had a more averse reaction to it himself.
DeMatteis later wanted Cap to renounce violence entirely but wasn't allowed to continue that storyline. (He also wrote a Star Wars comic about someone rejecting violence against the Empire, though his script was then tampered with to remove his championing of pacifism.) So J.M.'s pacifism is strong enough for him to have written stories advising pacifism against both neo-Nazis and space Nazis.
As both a soldier and a superhero, I think Cap sees violence as the last resort, but 70 years after the fact, most of his most famous enemies are still Nazis. It seems silly to find probably one of the only issues where Cap doesn't punch someone, and use it as an argument. Seems an exception to me, not a rule.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | January 27, 2017 5:04 PM
Much love to this run, but Cap works much better as a weary soldier than as a pacifistic idealist IMO.
Posted by: MindlessOne | April 22, 2017 8:36 PM
So Zemo was "prepared" for that fall into the vat with that specially-insulated suit? Well, okay I am willing to overlook the fact that he took off his mask to brag to Cap about who he was (it's the stereotypical Bond villain giving in to their vanity thing)...
...but the real problem with that is that the Phoenix mask didn't cover Zemo's entire face. So even if he'd been wearing it, his lower face still would have been exposed to the chemicals.
Posted by: Dan H. | April 23, 2017 11:02 AM
Bringing back back Zemo's son and taking his father's title is probably the biggest legacy Dematteis left Cap. He would become a great villain in the hands of other writers. And these issues are some of Dematteis' best on Cap. It helps that Zeck's artwork is excellent.
Posted by: Chris | June 30, 2017 8:52 PM
A pink mask, puffy purple sleeves, and white leopard fur shoulder pads... it shouldn't work, but somehow Zemo makes it...
Posted by: Andrew | July 13, 2017 10:09 PM
Don't forget the killer tiara/gold headphones combo - its what makes the look!
Posted by: Hugh Sheridan | July 14, 2017 7:25 AM
I'm getting some mixed messages from issue #275....
1.)Where does Steve Rogers draw the line? At breaking the law, OK, I get that. However, what does he think happened in Nazi Germany? That the Nazis and the concentration camps just magically appeared?
Posted by: Chris V | September 24, 2017 8:06 PM
2.)Is Steve Rogers really condoning defacing property? As the review points out, he hopes that isn't the message. Yet, his response seems quite lackadaisical. It seems like he might be a bit more upset even if it just some "punk kids playing around".
Posted by: Chris V | September 24, 2017 8:08 PM
3.)Roger's response to his boss saying something racist seems pretty extreme, considering Rogers later downplaying of neo-Nazism.
Posted by: Chris V | September 24, 2017 8:12 PM
4.)Even with the right opinion of freedom of speech and non-violence, Captain America would surely be in favour of organizing and joining a protect against Nazism. The story makes it sound like Rogers can't even really be bothered. It seems like he might want to take some proactive measures to try to make sure that something like happened in World War II never happens again.
Posted by: Chris V | September 24, 2017 8:16 PM
Adding to my comments from January...
I have a lot of respect for J.M. DeMatteis. He is very passionate & sincere about his beliefs in non-violent protest and resistance. Having said that, I will acknowledge that in 2017, some of the material in #275, including the scene with the Neo-Nazis and Jewish Protection Organization feels somewhat naïve. Not to get too political, but at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville WV last month, literally hundreds of racists, Klansmen and neo-Nazis gathered, many of them were armed & belligerent, some of them attacked peaceful counter-protestors, and apparently the police did little to stop this. Under these circumstances, I would argue that counter-protestors are very much justified in also using force, in fighting back in self-defense.
Posted by: Ben Herman | September 25, 2017 12:43 PM
Just once I'd like to see Primus shapeshift into a tuxedo-clad pig-man playing an upright bass, fronting an alt/funk/prog/metal trio, and singing "Mr. Krinkle".
Posted by: Brian Coffey | October 15, 2017 10:50 AM
There are a few of retcons regarding Primus in #276.
In his first appearance (#209-210) he was not a shapeshifter, although Doughboy was. Sure, they merged, but the implication was that Primus was dead or dormant inside Doughboy, not the other way around. Easy enough to explain, I suppose - Primus simply attained dominance in the meantime.
A subtle retcon is that Primus talks as if Cap had witnessed the merging, which he did not. By rights he only learned of it in #276.
There is also the extent of their shapeshifting powers. Kirby's Doughboy did not show any ability to mimic an actual human being. Here he might as well be Mystique. His later appearances in New Warriors do not show such an ability, either; while he shapeshifts like crazy there, his coloration is consistently yellow.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 30, 2017 11:34 PM
@Luis Dantas, actually Primus does completely mimic human appearance in New Warriors. He doesn't do it often, but he does it on at least one occasion, in issue #3.
Posted by: Dermie | October 30, 2017 11:44 PM
And in Captain America 393-395, Zola has 3 shapeshifting androids called Secondus, Tertius and Quatrus that can duplicate people down to their fingerprints.
Posted by: Michael | October 31, 2017 12:14 AM
Shouldn't Bernie's ex-husband get a character tag? He reappears in issues 284 and 427.
Posted by: Michael | November 4, 2017 6:18 PM
Added Sammy Bernstein. Thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 5, 2017 12:42 PM
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