Captain America #293-301
Issue(s): Captain America #293, Captain America #294, Captain America #295, Captain America #296, Captain America #297, Captain America #298, Captain America #299, Captain America #300, Captain America #301
Mike Carlin takes over with issue #301.
I read issues #299-300 in "real time" when i was kid, and i've subsequently picked up the remainder of this arc. I thought it was good when it first came out. It was my introduction to the Red Skull. But having now read the entire arc, i'm a little down on it.
Regardless, it's a significant arc for several reasons. It give the origin of Mother Superior (later Mother Night, later Sin). It delves into the Red Skull's backstory as well. And it represents the death of the Red Skull, who will stay dead for at least 30 issues. Not as significant as killing Captain America and replacing him with the Black Crow, but still.
And it certainly has an epic scale, with tons of characters. So even though i have problems with the dialogue, the characterization, and the art, it's still worth a look.
We start with the Red Skull's daughter, Mother Superior, training Baron Zemo. (This is a really weird opening shot.)
Training him to... be more evil, i guess.
This arc is really a low point for Baron Zemo, and it is definitely a factor in my low opinion of these issues. Never before or since has Zemo been so craven, so... unlike a Zemo!
He's so subservient, and the fact that he's taking lessons from someone that we'll soon learn is a supernaturally aged 13 year old girl (and he calls her "Mother!") is just weird to me.
Plus, Zemo has an odd change of heart towards the end of this series that doesn't fit the character very well and is pretty much ignored after this arc is over.
Meanwhile, Captain America shows up at the house of the one-armed pacifist Dave Cox.
Dave was in love with Sharon Carter, as Cap was, and now that Bernie has proposed marriage to Cap, he is looking to Dave for advice. Dave has since married and has a son, and he recommends that Cap move on as well.
Unfortunately, being a civilian friend of Captain America's is a dangerous proposition in this book, as we'll see several times in this arc, so after Cap leaves he is kidnapped by Mother Superior and Zemo.
Later, Nomad and Cap break up an armed robbery, and when Nomad uses too much force, Cap really lays into him. Nomad is having trouble adjusting to modern times. In his day, as we've seen in the later Golden Age books (Human Torch stories, too), super-heroes pretty much summarily executed any criminals they ran into. So this whole "don't punch them too hard" thing clearly isn't sinking in. He's also not sure what to make of what Cap has told him of Dave Cox. How could a commie-pinko pacifist like that be considered a hero?
Cap is also off his game, snapping at Nomad too much and not operating at peak level. He attributes it to being rattled by Bernie's marriage proposal, but we'll see that it's more than that.
After Cap and Nomad's argument, a brainwashed Dave Cox shows up, calling himself the Slayer and wearing the costume and cloak of the original Devil-Slayer.
We'll learn that the Devil-Slayer cloak was stolen from Project Pegasus, modified, and given to Dave. I generally like bringing back old characters and concepts, but using a Devil-Slayer cloak here is completely gratuitous. There's no connection to Cap, Dave, the Red Skull or anyone. It's completely random, based on the fact that DeMatteis wrote the character in the Defenders.
The idea of forcing a pacifist to become a violent super-villain, on the other hand... i don't like it, but that's because i'm sympathetic to Dave and i'm not supposed to like it. It seems extra cruel, as does the treatment Arnie Roth will get later. But, again, that is the point.
I will say this. The original Devil-Slayer would just unceremoniously pull weapons out of his cape. I like the way Paul Neary depicts this Slayer popping into another dimension to pick up a weapon.
Captain America gets knocked down for a bit then trapped in a mystic bubble. Meanwhile Nomad continues to fight Slayer. He tries talking to him for a bit, trying to appeal to the underlying pacifist nature of Dave Cox, but when Cox falters, Nomad decks him, resulting in a sweet "Noooooooooooo!" from Cap.
Despite that, in the end Dave Cox is able to resist his brainwashing, but the mental struggle puts him in a coma. Obviously his wife is distraught, but i think Neary over does it (and we'll be checking in on Julie Cox just about every issue to watch her cry for a few panels).
It's something i really don't like about Neary's style. Often it's a straight Marvel house style, but it occasionally devolves into a garish exaggerated style that reminds me of Frank Robbins. Here's Bernie, startled when Steve Rogers snuck up behind her while she was washing dishes.
Back at the Red Skull's house, we Mother Superior introduces Baron Zemo to her super-powered henchmen, the Sisters of Sin.
Sister Dream consistently looks like she is a cartoon figure, which i know is intentional but it just looks odd to me.
In issue #295, Arnie Roth, already seemingly mentally unstable after the death of his boyfriend and his own torture at the hands of Baron Zemo in his previous appearance, is kidnapped and brainwashed by Zemo and Superior. Roth's treatment seems extra awful for one of Marvel's few (only, at this point?) openly gay characters. He's put in clothes and make-up that are humiliating, constantly referred to as things like "prancing fop", forced to say horrible things about himself, and driven insane.
Meanwhile, in issue #294, the Red Skull brutally beat his faithful manservant Horst with a cane, and while he seemed alive at the end of that scene, he's dead in issue #295. It will turn out that, like the Red Skull and Captain America, Horst has been aging rapidly. The gas that put the Skull and Horst in suspended animation after WWII has worn off, and they are now reflecting their natural ages. Cap, we'll get to.
The Skull doesn't like that Zemo implies that he was mourning, however.
The Red Skull wants to talk to Zemo privately. He's letting Mother Superior go about her schemes, but he lets Zemo think that he really considers him more of an heir than his daughter.
Meanwhile, Bernie has received a Red Skull statue, and Arnie Roth's kidnapping is discovered, so Cap and Nomad travel to an old church suspected to be a lair of the Skull's. They make their partnership official (and again, the art looks... off to me).
Cap asked the Avengers to keep an eye on Bernie, but they arrive a moment too late.
Cap and Nomad are able to fight off the Sisters of Sin, but Cap is tricked into beating up on Arnie Roth dressed in a Baron Zemo outfit (except he will also turn out to be a dummy robot; twist within unnecessary twist!). After making their way through the Red Skull's house, they eventually find the real Arnie Roth, who has been brainwashed and dressed up.
Meanwhile, Cap has been aging rapidly, and Nomad now remembers that he's the one who caused it. He was brainwashed a few issues ago and has been secretly feeding Cap a chemical that counters his super-serum.
From that picture it looks like Nomad is also aging, but that isn't the case.
The lady who brainwashed him, Scarlet, appears briefly in issue #296 while Cap and Nomad are going through the Skull's house of horrors, but nothing really comes of her appearance. According to the MCP, she's actually Sister Pleasure, and that makes sense, but it's not apparent here. It's worth pointing out that all of the Sisters of Sin are, like Mother Superior, age-accelerated teenagers, which makes Nomad's earlier seduction extra creepy.
Cap is eventually defeated by Mother Superior.
The Falcon is beaten by the Sisters of Sin and brought to the Skull House as well (and the art is looking more Frank Robbins-y than ever).
Issue #297 is largely a retelling of the death of Bucky story. Baron Zemo is wearing his father's costume (or maybe he just loosens his own face-mask and it becomes a hood like his father's).
And he, Superior, and the Red Skull put Captain America and Nomad in a machine that forces him to relive the scene where the original Zemo killed Bucky. Except if Bucky dies in the dream, Nomad dies in real life. Cap is able to rescue "Bucky", which the Red Skull says was his plan all along. Now that Cap has redeemed himself, they can have a final battle without Cap being full of guilt. Meanwhile, Zemo and Mother Superior start sniping at each other.
Again, this is not a good arc for Zemo.
We see evidence that Baron Zemo is in fact a racist, something that later stories have tried to downplay. Arnie Roth is a "Jewish pig". Falcon is a "black lackey".
Issue #298 gets into the origins of Mother Superior and the Red Skull.
The Red Skull's mother died in childbirth. His father blamed him for his mother's death. The Skull grew up on the streets. He briefly loved a Jewish girl but killed her when she didn't return his affections.
Eventually he became a bellhop and happened to be in the room while Hitler was chewing out his men. Hitler claimed he could make a better Nazi out of any random person than his generals were.
And he did.
As for Mother Superior, well it turns out that one day on the Island of Exiles, the Red Skull impregnated a "washer-woman" with the express goal of creating an heir. The woman died during childbirth. When the child was born a girl, he nearly killed her, but then changed his mind and raised her.
He also "genetically accelerated" her age. She's really in her early teens.
Now, the above information is kinda cool, and there was always going to be a lot of exposition in this type of story, but i kid you not, Captain America sits there the whole time throughout this issue while the Skull is yammering away, and says absolutely nothing. It's really bizarre.
Ok! With that out of the way, we can get to the final battle (and the two issues that i read first).
While Cap's friends stage a break-out (and there's Nomad looking like he's also affected by the aging serum again)...
...Cap pursues the Red Skull through his house. In one room, Cap fails to notice the fake Cosmic Cube where Adolf Hitler has been trapped since the last issue of Super-Villain Team-Up.
That blew my mind when i was a kid.
When he catches up with the Skull, it's revealed that in addition to the aging serum, Cap has also been poisoned and is dying. It's the Skull's wish that the two of them die together, locked in final battle.
Meanwhile, Mother Superior and Baron Zemo continue their fight over who the Red Skull loves more.
Actually, Zemo has a revelation:
But I see now there are greater evils in the world than Captain America! Evils that lash out blindly - with no motivation except to bring pain and suffering.
He tells Superior he's not interested in vying for the Red Skull's favor anymore, but she (seemingly) kills him anyway.
Of course, in Baron Zemo's future appearances, his hatred of Captain America hasn't diminished. I'm not sure if this was meant as an attempt to redeem him. Despite this change of heart, he's still a racist and a generally not nice guy. But in any event, the change won't stick.
Superior then vows to take the Red Skull's "crown of evil... from his bloody hands!". The Red Skull, watching this and the battle between Nomad, the Falcon, and the Sisters of Sin from a bunker with Captain America, responds by blowing up the entire house.
So far, Cap and the Red Skull have been circling each other like the end scene of Return of the Jedi (which came out a year or so before this story). The Skull plays the role of both the Emperor and Darth Vader, urging Cap to give in to his hatred and fight. Cap, like Luke Skywalker, doesn't want to fight but when he sees his friends murdered, he does.
But he won't kill him. The Skull dies on his own soon anyway. Cap carries him out, to discover that the Skull House wasn't really blown up. Then he passes out from the poison.
Meanwhile, the Black Crow has been having visions.
He turns into a crow and flies off, first apparently to heal Dave Cox and then to cure the poison from Captain America.
The Avengers are technically in this story, but they are kind of useless. Starfox and the Wasp show up too late to prevent Bernie from being kidnapped in issue #295. At the beginning of issue #296 they say that going forward, this Red Skull stuff is Avengers business. Then we don't see them again until issue #299, where they seem to finally resolve to go do something about it.
Then we don't see them again for the rest of this story until the aftermath issue in #301 (see below).
I don't know. There are qualities to this story that i like. Nomad's inability to adjust to the 1980s is interesting. It's a little overdone, but that's at least partially due to the "every issue is someone's first" idea so he ends up repeating himself a lot. I like the basic concept of a dying Red Skull setting up one final fight with his greatest foe.
But there's a lot here that just isn't done well. The dialogue is poor. Lots of exposition. Lots of exclamation points. Baron Zemo is handled extra poorly, and the amount of pain visited on civilian characters seems gratuitous. And the story drags on a bit as we go through various schemes by Mother Superior, Baron Zemo, and then the Red Skull.
Still, while I'm not a big fan of DeMatteis, this was one of the better stories i've read by him. This is the end of his run on Captain America. He quit due to editorial interference (see the link at the top of this entry).
Mike Carlin takes over with issue #301, which takes place in the direct aftermath of this arc. He'll only stay on the book until issue #307, when current editor Mark Gruenwald takes over for a very lengthy run.
Despite the fact that the Scarlet Witch says in issue #299 that she knows where to look for Cap, they say in #301 that they didn't know where to go until the Falcon escaped from Skrull House and his homing beacon started working again. They show up after everything is over, and discover that Captain America is now old.
Hercules and Starfox investigate Skull House, and find nothing, but they are able to retrieve Cap's shield and Nomad's costume.
The Avengers bring in Henry Pym to look into Cap's aging problem...
...and Pym devices a way to reverse the effects, with the help of equipment purloined from Skull-House.
The treatment requires Cap to be alone in a room, but Mother Superior, after cremating her father...
...teleports in with her Sisters of Sin.
Cap is able to hold them off alone long enough for the treatment to complete. But since the Sisters were also artificially aged by the Red Skrull, when the Avengers enter the treatment room, it turns out that they've all been de-aged as well.
Carlin does a good job wrapping this up. De-aging the Sisters was a nice touch. And his Hercules and Starfox serve as decent comic relief.
Hercules is spelled "Hurcules" once in issue #301. I only mention that because you almost never see a typo in a Marvel book.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Captain America appears here during a gap in his Avengers appearance that begins in Avengers #245 and ends in Avengers #251. In Avengers #250, the Vision says that Captain America is "still missing in action", so the sequence is probably that Cap reaches out to the Avengers in Captain America #295, which takes place before Avengers #250, and then Cap #296 or so to #300 take place concurrently with Avengers #250, and then the Avengers appear in Captain America #301 after Avengers #250. If we ever needed to break up this arc, there's actually a gap between the end of issue #294 and the beginning of #295, but since i haven't found such a need, i prefer to keep it all together.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (16): show
"Michael Ellis" may fulfill the same function as "John Harkness" for Steve Englehart--a fake name used when the author doesn't want his real name on things that he believes don't measure up to his usual standards. "Ellis" also showed up on some 1986 Justice League of America issues when DeMatteis took over the book after Gerry Conway got fired from it(and just before the JLA had some of its "Detroit" members killed and the book changed into the "Bwa-ha-ha" Justice League).
Posted by: Mark Drummond | October 9, 2011 7:39 PM
Zemo seemed respect the Red Skull although himself doesn't appreciate Zemo's bad work though he accepted him to his Nazi military danger. Zemo is more frustated through rassured by Mother Superior, but he seems for me more a "lackey" than a mastermind. Overall, Zemo doesn't show no longer this and take PLEASURE to kill other Americans, brainwash with his machines and receive America control. Beware, Zemo is a megalomaniac, don't forget it and he hated Captain America. Mother Superior, Red Skull and Baron Zemo are all evil. They want to control to nicklace and threaten who are democratic such Red Skull, the worst.
Posted by: YUIOP | January 26, 2013 2:29 PM
This story is fun there are a lot of terrible and murderous fight, a bit for humour then I think for Zemo or the hero Nomad when Zemo grapped himself of a bucket I think himself like a loon but he is always intelligent and nasty. Throug, Zemo speaks mother it's funny although it's Red Skull's daughter she is named like that and she will use the name Sin later like her diabolical Sister of Sin.
Mother Superior and Baron Zemo are true diabolical masterminds and they plotted to kill Nomad, influence the behaviour and take control of the Federal State along the Red Skull. Oh dear Baron, Red Skull says don't get my away, the work is hard but it's really patentive.
Posted by: Anonymous | January 26, 2013 2:33 PM
One of the best Cap arcs ever! Nuff said!
Posted by: Jack | July 1, 2013 11:57 PM
#300 was originally announced as double-sized.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 17, 2013 3:53 PM
DeMatteis showed up as "Wally Lombego" one time, in Marvel's Star Wars #46, when editorial changed his plot due to similar reasons.
Posted by: Chris Kafka | August 17, 2013 5:45 PM
Some of those panels from 298 look like something out of an old EC Comics story. Wonder if that was intentional on Neary's part?
Posted by: Robert | April 18, 2014 6:48 AM
DeMatteis later stated that #299-300 were "butchered" by higher-ups that he declined to name.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | April 26, 2014 9:09 PM
In the interview presented at the top of this page, DeMatteis explicitly implicates Jim Shooter as the man who completely changed his plans for this story.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | April 26, 2014 9:19 PM
You know, it wouldn't have been so bad for JM to have been able to do his original plan of making the Black Crow the new Captain America. I love me some Steve Rogers but always thought he deserved a happy retirement.
And the Crow would have made a VERY different replacement cap from all the ones we have had since.
Posted by: kveto | March 7, 2016 4:37 PM
DeMatteis planned to have him shot dead...
Posted by: AF | March 7, 2016 5:05 PM
Yeah, I guess things turned out better for him, oh wait...
Posted by: kveto | March 8, 2016 4:25 PM
It's interesting JM's plans- the assassination and the alternate Caps-become 21st century plotlines. ON his site Creation Point, he verifies the Michael Ellis site. His plans for Cap evolve into 2009's The Life and Times of Saviour 28 , which became, he says, his all-time favorite superhero story. I quite enjoyed it, myself: Saviour is both pastiche and unique commentary on the genre, particularly in reaction to the post 9/11 world.
Posted by: Cecil | October 17, 2016 8:35 PM
Egads. As a kid, my favourite comic was Captain America—but likely because I started collecting him during the Gruenwald writing era. I think if I had given him a try just before that (like during this arc) then I would not have continued. Pretty lame story and definitely sub-par art.
I also was never really into Red Skull stories, but not sure why—too much reliance on WWII background which I didn’t get into, I reckon. Always preferred my Cap villains to be “of their time” and not just rehashing the past. Kinda ironic given Cap’s timeline though, I do realize.
Posted by: Paul Peterson | March 31, 2018 2:20 PM
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