Captain America #305-306
Issue(s): Captain America #305, Captain America #306
...my first thought wouldn't be "I guess i'd better head to England." I'd probably freak out a little and then calm myself down by saying, ok, let's see if that happens again. Or, if i were actually Captain America, i might decide to swing by Dr. Strange's place and see if he had any thoughts. But no, Cap just hops on a plane. And when he gets there, he jumps up on top of a building and thinks to himself, "If I don't see anything unusual from here, I'll just turn around and go home." Sure, what's a 14 hour flight in both directions?
Luckily, he does see something; namely, Captain Britain bearing down on him.
After a punishing fight...
...Captain America is defeated and thrown in a dungeon with Brian Braddock. "Captain Britain" turns out to actually be Modred the Mystic, and he's stolen Brian's costume.
In Modred's nearly incomprehensible first appearance, Modred was shown to have some problems with Merlin, and now that Modred has recovered from his encounter with Ch'thon, he's following up on that old grudge via Merlin's connection with Captain Britain. It's the sort of plot that requires an advanced degree in Marvelology, but you can basically read it as "crazy guy stole Captain Britain's costume" and it works just about as well. Captain Britain somehow managed to make his costume manifest itself to Captain America as a way of asking for help.
While Modred lays waste to London..
...the two Captains stage an escape (despite the awkward line "I'm not a good follower, Yank... so I'll be right by your side!", Captain Britain is definitely a second stringer in this book)...
...and then Captain Britain gets Modred to give him his costume back simply by asking him.
Britain does attempt to summon Merlin for Modred, but Merlin doesn't respond (at first i thought that was because he was dead at the time; see the Considerations sections for more on that), so the Captains have to fight Modred. When they finally defeat him, Merlin does show up...
...and he takes Modred away for "re-education" over Cap's objections.
Meanwhile, Nomad fights the dude from Prodigy.
Nothing in these issues tries to promote Captain Britain's books in any way (i guess they weren't even available in America), and it's a weird place for a Modred the Mystic clean-up story. The forced way that Cap is brought to Britain is more contrived than your average issue of Marvel Team-Up. But if you can ignore all of that, and the fact that London should be a smouldering ruin after the events here, it's a harmless story.
After this arc, Mark Gruenwald and Mike Carlin switch roles on this book, with Carlin becoming editor and Gruenwald the writer. Meanwhile, Carlin will continue to write the Thing with Gruenwald as editor. I kind of think of an editor as a boss, and it's weird to be someone's boss on one project and have them be your boss on another at the same time, especially when there's a creative/subjective element ("Oh, you think i didn't address that character's motives well enough, huh? Made me stay up all night doing re-writes? Well, guess what i think about your stupid plot!"). The lettercol for issue #306 is filled mostly with, not a goodbye from Carlin, but an essay from Gruenwald on where he intends to go with the series.
I'm not sure i agree with Gruenwald's take on Cap:
I believe Cap, the self-made man, is one of the few basic archetypal heroes in all comics! Here is a man who has not had greatness bestowed upon him by accident of birth - he worked for it and continues to work for it to this day! Here is a man who does not battle evil out of guilt, neurosis, hatred, sense of obligation, or sense of destiny - he battles evil for sheer love of freedom and justice!
Ignoring that this self-made man had a little help from a major government initiative and super-steroids, i think this set-up glosses over some basic elements about Cap: the "man out of time" bit, the guilt over Bucky's death, the artist who took on a a soldier's role out of a sense of duty... I'm not saying Gruenwald is wrong (although every good Marvel character has some neurosis, and Stan Lee's Cap was no exception), just that it's ignoring some of Cap's complexity. I know Gruenwald was really a classic DC fan at heart, and this feels to me like a declaration that he's going to force Cap into that mold. I will admit that of all Marvel's characters, Captain America is probably the best one to do that with, but i'd rather it wasn't done at all. Anyway, that's a topic to revist for future entries. It's clear that Carlin was basically treading water on this series after DeMatteis left, so Gruenwald will at least be a new direction.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: Any thoughts of writing off Captain Britain's appearance in his old costume in ROM #65 as an art error are stopped dead in their tracks when the fact that Brian has a new costume is a plot point in this issue, and Cap isn't even sure who he's dealing with since Britain was still wearing his old costume when they fought together in ROM. So yeah, Captain Britain's stories starting from 1982 (and earlier; see Michael's comment below) take place between ROM #65 and this issue, both published in 1985. But Merlin appears in this arc, and Merlin dies in Daredevils #10, so this Captain Britain appearance actually takes place in the middle of that arc (The MCP places both this appearance and ROM #65 between Daredevils #4-5, but that means Brian would have switched back to his old costume just for the ROM appearance, and since his powers are explicitly tied to his costume at this point, that doesn't make sense). It's also possible that Merlin was only faking his death in Daredevils #10, or that it isn't really Merlin who appears here. Captain Britain (and the Black Knight) attended Merlin's funeral in Mighty World of Marvel #13. In addition to all that, a number of Captain America appearances need to be fit in before Avengers #256 due to some Secret Wars II tie-ins.
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: N/A
Inbound References (2): show
Arnie Roth, Bernie Rosenthal, Captain America, Captain Britain, Merlin, Modred the Mystic, Nomad
Believe it or not, it's even more complicated then you think.
Gruenwald did indeed send Cap down a road similar to Superman under Mort Weisinger, though it took some years for the same type of "Superman, Indian Chief!"-type silliness to show up regularly.
This was my first Cap issue, and in many ways Gruenwald's lengthy run is "my" Cap run. But I have mixed feelings about it. When he was good, Gruenwald's issues were very good and added some nice villains to Cap's rogues gallery, but there's also a lot of subpar stuff. His worst bit is that he more or less ignores "Steve Rogers" and abandons all his supporting cast, and he becomes a full time superhero. I much prefers Stern's take.
At about this time, it was revealed that this title was on the cancellation chopping block along with Power Man & Iron Fist, Dazzler, Micronauts, Rom, etc. The reasons why it got spared weren't explained too well.
Mark, the reason why Gruenwald replaced Steve with John Walker was because Shooter was thinking of cancelling the book. Is it possible that this was same incident?
Never heard before that Cap was close to being cancelled. The primary reason why it wasn't would probably be that unlike those other titles, Captain America is considered an A-List marquee character. It had also been very popular before in the past so there was probably hope the magic could be rekindled.
I wonder at what point sales started to decline.
The statement of ownership in #305 says the most recent issue had sold 134,600 copies, with an average of 148,659 copies sold in the preceding year. Iron Man was selling in the 160,000 range at this time. Byrne's FF was doing 237,000 / 268,000. Couldn't find the X-Men figures. Avengers was 222,000 / 241,000. It's possible Cap was in sales trouble judged by these standards.
Yes, that is getting into Marvel's danger zone for the mid-1980s. Jim Shooter commented re: DAZZLER, "[S]ales drifted down to near 100,000 copies an issue [from 428,000 for the first issue], cancellation numbers for Marvel at the time."
According to a contemporary Comics Journal, X-Men was selling nearly 337,000. The Thing was also announced for the cancellation list, which looked very strange as that title was consistently in the top 30-40 selling books in the direct market(there were no circulation statements in the book's first 24 issues, though).
Concerning placement, could these issues take place during the Jasper's Warp saga, perhaps after the issue that ends with Vixen calling Arcade? (I suggest that only because it seems like an issue that doesn't continue seamlessly into the next chapter--I don't have my X-Men archive issues in front of me, alas.)
It'd really be nice to solve CB's Rom 65 costume problem. I was going to suggest the new suit needed mystical dry-cleaning after Mordred's abuse of it in these issues, but Rom 65 has to be earlier.
Walter, any chance you could link/direct us to the statements of ownership for any or all Marvel years? Definitely something I (and I'm sure others) would be interested in.
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