Captain America #302-304
Issue(s): Captain America #302, Captain America #303, Captain America #304
...and new villain Machete to do it for him.
Machete is potentially a partially sympathetic character, depending on your feelings about South American revolutionaries in the 1980s.
After a false start where Machete tries to take on Cap by himself, Batroc's underlings succeed.
We learn a few interesting things about Cap's shield in this issue. It turns out that the paint on Cap's shield can actually be scratched off, and we see Cap touching it up (and repairing the straps, which is less surprising).
Secondly, we learn the origin of Cap's shield. During World War II, Dr. Myron Maclain was tasked with creating a new super-strong metal to build tanks out of. He was working with some newly acquired vibranium, trying to bind it to a steel alloy. But the reaction that was successful happened while he was sleeping. He poured the compound into a form that was an "optimum testing shape"...
...which of course is shield-shaped...
...but he was never able to re-create the process. The closest he came was years later when he invented adamantium, but "even that is no match for whatever the shield is made of".
The origin of Cap's shield had been teased in the lettercols and sometimes even in the comics for years but this is the first time we've gotten an explanation in-story. However, an abbreviated version of this origin was given about a year earlier, in Marvel Handbook #15, the Book of Weapons.
Note that in the Handbook, Cap's shield is described as being a vibranium/adamantium alloy, although it also says it's vibranium combined with a steel alloy, which is what this story says. Adamantium was actually invented in Avengers #66, which would have been years after Cap's shield was created, so the origin depicted in this comic makes more sense than the Handbook. I think poor Kurt Busiek spent about a year of his life back in the usenet days trying to convince people that Cap's shield was not a vibranium/adamantium alloy, despite what the Handbook said.
Maclain has been kidnapped by Stane and is being forced to replicate the process that created the shield so that Stane can have a suit of armor built out of the stuff. Despite the fact that Maclain says that adamantium is inferior to Cap's shield, you'd think that Stane would have settled for an adamantium suit of armor rather than risk bringing down the wrath of Captain America on his head. But apparently not.
So Cap and Nomad hunt down Batroc and his new "brigade". But the villains have taken to bickering, and Batroc has also gotten himself a little tipsy.
Part of the problem here is "long-term villain" syndrome. Since Batroc has been defeated so many times, he seems to these young upstarts that he's not up to snuff. But just let them young whippersnappers spend a few decades as villains in a book where the good guy always wins, and they'll wind up seeming like losers too. Generally speaking, a writer should try to play up a villain's small victories and also imply that they have a lot of success normally, just not when facing off against Our Hero, but Carlin doesn't take that route, possibly because he wants to play up the coolness factor of his new Machete character. On the other hand, Batroc has always been a bit of a joke character so it's no big loss.
So when Cap shows up to fight, he finds that Machete and Zaran aren't even interested in fighting. They just sit on the sidelines and laugh while a drunk Batroc fails to hold his own against Cap.
I thought we might go down the route of Cap letting Batroc win out of sympathy for his respected foe, but Carlin didn't go that way, which was the right move. Batroc does spill the beans that he was hired by Stane.
You would think that kidnapping a government scientist, hiring super-villains, and stealing Cap's shield would be enough for SHIELD to head over to Stane Industries and make some arrests, but while Cap does get some covert help from Nick Fury's organization...
....this remains a Cap and Nomad operation, with no legal ramifications. While Nomad creates a distraction outside...
...Cap infiltrates Stane's facility and makes his way to the lab where Maclain is working. Maclain has stripped all the paint off of Cap's shield and also created a bunch of duplicates in an attempt to replicate the original, so Cap has to use a little trial-and-error while fighting one of Stane's goons, who is wearing a preliminary suit of armor based on what Maclain was able to come up with so far.
Pitting Cap up against a guy in a medieval suit of armor reminds me of his first Silver Age solo story in Tales of Suspense #59.
Cap is eventually able to find his shield and defeat the bad guy. They sneak off with the shield and the rescued Maclain.
It's not a particularly well written story, and the art can get a little wonky (check out the scans of Nick Fury), but it's got some interesting ideas.
Throughout this arc, Nomad's lack of experience (and, sometimes, competence) is a point of concern. He's feeling a bit sorry for himself and is coming close to deciding that he needs to go off on his own, for Cap's sake.
Infrequently seen neighbor Josh Cooper shows up during issue #303 to tell Cap about a new "community action group" that he's joining, but Steve's in the middle of looking for his shield and doesn't have time to talk to him.
At the beginning of this arc, Cap is shown storing his bike with a group of street toughs.
I thought one of these guys might be John Coulson, the guy who made him this bike, as seen in Captain America #259, but it doesn't seem to be the case.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showBatroc, Bernie Rosenthal, Captain America, Josh Cooper, Machete, Myron Maclain, Nick Fury, Nomad, Obadiah Stane, Zaran
The title to #304 refers to the 1983 Rolling Stones song.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 17, 2012 5:26 PM
years later, in the bloodstone hunt, mark gruenwald does a much better job with batroc and the brigade, making them extremely competent fighters capable of beating anybody aside from cap.
Posted by: kveto from prague | May 25, 2012 10:48 AM
Ah here it is! I had the last issue I think. One less childhood mystery. Pretty wrong about Sal Buscema being the artist though.
Posted by: David Banes | March 22, 2014 11:48 PM
I always felt that Myron Maclain falling asleep while making what would become Cap's shield was an oddly unused storyline point. It seems the perfect place to insert a Kang or someone.
Also, I agree about Stane's illegal activities should be enough to bring in SHIELD. However, since Obadiah Stane would soon fall in battle against Iron Man, I guess it doesn't matter in the long run.
Posted by: Bill | April 19, 2017 1:22 PM
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