Captain America #357-364
Issue(s): Captain America #357 (Bloodstone Hunt story only), Captain America #358, Captain America #359, Captain America #360, Captain America #361, Captain America #362, Captain America #363, Captain America #364
Marc Siry / Michael Rockwitz - Assistant Editor
This entry comprises the story in my Bloodstone Hunt trade paperback, although i've subsequently had to pick up the single issues due to the fact that the trade left out all the backup stories. So why am i mentioning the trade? It's because the trade includes more issues than actually had the Bloodstone Hunt banner. The Bloodstone Hunt was the story that ran during Captain America's bi-weekly summer period, from issues #357 to #362. However, the story more or less continues directly in issues #363-364 although it's not part of the Hunt anymore and the MCP does squeeze a couple of minor Cap appearances during issue #363.
The Bloodstone Hunt is a fun adventure/quest story in the style of an Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone (pun'd in one of the story titles for this arc) movie. But it has an advantage over those movies in that it has the Marvel universe to play with, so the characters can explore some of its nooks and crannies. It has Captain America and Diamondback competing with a team of super-villains to collect the five pieces of the shattered Bloodstone gem once worn by Ulysseus Bloodstone (i think it's five, but the back of my trade says six).
We begin with Batroc, Zaran, and Machete raiding the Museum of Natural History in New York.
What they've stolen is the skeleton of Ulysses Bloodstone, and they've stolen it for Baron Zemo, who you will notice is wearing a neck brace.
To round out our party, we are introduced to Tristam Micawber, psychic detective.
Micawber uses his abilities to give us a recap of Ulysses Bloodstone's history, which is appreciated since i don't have all his appearances.
There's no gem in the coffin since as you can see, the Bloodstone was removed from him and used to create a monster that shattered into a million pieces. So Zemo wants Batroc and his companions to seek out the fragments.
While they're discussing terms, Zaran notices someone observing them, and it turns out to be Diamondback.
...and after Baron Zemo removes the section of Ulysses' ribcage for Micawber to use as a divining rod, Diamondback is put in the box and it's tossed into a deep pit. This is over the objections of Machete, who implies that he'd rather rape her first (otherwise how would we know how pretty she is, since this coming arc is going to set her up as a love interest for Cap?).
The next issue opens with Captain America responding to an emergency signal from Diamondback and descending underground via a different entrance. He sees some Moloid remains...
...and then fights his way through a series of deathtraps...
...until eventually coming across an awesomely intriguing scene.
These dead characters, including the dolphin and also the villain Centurius from Jim Steranko's SHIELD run, are all part of The Conspiracy, from Ulysses Bloodstone' run in Rampaging Hulk magazine. It's especially intriguing to me since i've never read the actual issues (the originals are rare and only the main Hulk stories have been reprinted), so that gives it archeological appeal both in-story and in the "oh man, i need to hunt down those issues" sense.
Captain America doesn't have time for that kind of thing, though. By the way, if you're wondering how Diamondback was able to contact him, it's via the communicator that Diamondback gave him in Captain America #344.
I took that to be a short range communicator, and one that any of the Serpent Society might have responded to if they were in range. But Diamondback does seem to be expecting him specifically. In any event, she's lucky Cap hung on to it.
I'm a little annoyed that the first thing she worries about, after being locked in a dark box with a skeleton for what felt like days, is that she might smell bad. But we'll be seeing a lot of that sort of thing throughout this arc.
When Cap hears how Diamondback wound up in the box, and that his old enemies are up to something, he rushes her back to Avengers Island so they can do some research, and he doesn't have time to say hello to the Avengers' new pilot, John Jameson, son of the Daily Bugle publisher, and formerly the Man-Wolf.
While he's doing research (it looks like inker Dan Bulanadi thought Bloodstone's long hair meant he was a women and gave him some lipstick, or else we're getting an advanced preview of Ulysses daughter Elsa), Fabian Stankowicz whips up a Skullometer out of the skull of Ulysses that Cap brought with him. With that, Cap will be able to locate the other pieces of the Bloodstone.
Diamondback convinces Cap to take her along with him.
I think i threw my trade across the room the first time i read that "Mmmmmh! Look at that tushie move" line. Diamondback also doesn't exactly distinguish herself at an action partner, getting in trouble with her parachute as they land in the Amazon in search of the second piece (the first piece was already acquired by Batroc's crew at the Conspiracy lair).
Captain America and Diamondback are taken prisoner by what turn out to be ancient Incans that are somehow still alive, and they are brought to a Wheel of Death where Batroc, Machete, and Zaran have already been imprisoned.
Cap and Diamondback are hit with blowdart poison and put on the wheel as well.
Just another note about my trade, if i may. Even after i got the original issues, i kept the trade, thinking i'd read it through for convenience without getting interrupted by the back-up stories. But the trade is unfortunately altered. First of all, all footnotes have been erased, even though the asterisks pointing to those footnotes often weren't. I don't understand the point of that. I spent a few minutes wondering if the communicator Diamondback gave Cap really was meant to be the one that we saw her give him previously; if the footnote hadn't been erased that would have been immediately clear, and useful information even if i never had and never intended to read the original issue. The trade also cuts panels, specifically the opening splashes. So while the end of issue #358 does have Cap and Diamondback getting hit with the blowdarts...
...it skips this opening splash of issue #359.
Now granted that's repeat information, but opening splash panels are generally an area where artists spend a little extra energy, and it's weird to cut out that art (i don't think this particular panel is all that great, but that's besides the point).
Cap gets the Inca poison out of his system basically by force of will.
Diamondback, meanwhile, thinks to herself, "Oh Cap... Will I never have the chance to mend my sordid past and prove my love to you?". Gruenwald's scripting is never what i'd call natural, but it decreases tenfold whenever he's writing Diamondback.
Cap escapes and fights off the Incas...
...but while he's busy doing that, the villains also manage to escape...
...and they get the Bloodstone fragment, which was in the chief Inca's stone mask.
Baron Zemo berates his clairvoyant dwarf Tristam Micawber for not knowing that Captain America was on the trail of the gems as well.
Meanwhile, we see someone else in shadow watching both groups depart the Amazon.
The next fragment of the gem is at the Bermuda Triangle. Cap goes after the third gem while Diamondback goes looking for Baron Zemo's yacht so that she can try to steal the first two gems. She enlists the help of a yachter intrigued by her scuba costume.
Meanwhile Cap and Batroc's crew fight each other...
Back to Diamondback, who has located Baron Zemo.
So far we have either seen her in need of rescuing or using her sexiness (and of course she gets no time to repair her costume this entire story), so it's nice to see her finally get into the action, even if it's by kicking the guy in a neck brace.
Back under the sea, Batroc can't help but help out Captain America.
He'll later tell his friends that it was only to create a diversion so that they could all escape. But we know it's because he's an honorable dude despite his villainy.
When the villains do get to the surface, they drive off Diamondback, but not before she's stolen the first two gem fragments.
We get our first real glimpse at the guy that has been trailing the two teams.
So that's the first full appearance of Crossbones, a pretty significant Captain America villain.
Our next stop is the pyramids of Egypt. So far it's been Inca temples and shark fights at the Bermuda triangle, classic action-adventure zones but not specific to the Marvel universe. The original Conspiracy cavern obviously was, though. And while the Egyptian pyramids are another classic area, this time we get a Marvel twist.
Before that, though, another comment on the trade paperback vs. the actual issues. I'm now wondering if the opening splash panels were designed knowing that they would be left out of the trade. Here's the end of issue #360, which is included in the trade:
And here's the opening to issue #361, which is not:
Obviously a new drawing, but almost identical in terms of the information being conveyed, and easy to drop for the trade.
Anyway, on to that Marvel-specific element. No pyramid exploration is complete without a mummy...
...but this isn't just any mummy. It's Marvel's own N'Kantu, the Living Mummy. Luckily Diamondback having learned a "few words" of modern Egyptian from her Serpent partner the Asp translates into her being able to carry on a complete conversation with the guy.
He hands over his portion of the Bloodstone gem, which Cap promises to return along with the rest of the gem if it really does have the ability to turn the Mummy human again. The Mummy tells Cap that he'll spend the rest of his immortal life hunting Cap if he's lying, but Cap tells him he never lies.
Back on Cap's modified Quinjet, pilot John Jameson gets the sweats comparing the Bloodstone to the similar moonstone (no relation to Karla Sofen or her predecessor) that used to turn him into the Man-Wolf. Crossbones has meanwhile infiltrated the plane.
Batroc and company don't actually enter the pyramid during this leg of the adventure. They wait outside and ambush Cap and Diamondback when they come out.
Thanks to some fancy flying on Jameson's part, Captain America and Diamondback manage to escape, but they lose the gem that the Living Mummy gave them to the bad guys. And Cap gets shot in the leg by Zemo's ship.
The next portion of the trip is in Japan. Batroc's crew gets there first...
...and we see that Machete in particular is quite murderous.
Cap gets there after the fact, and tells them that he wants to negotiate with Baron Zemo.
So that's the final piece right? The Conspiracy, the Incas, the Bermuda Triangle, the Pyramids, and, er, a Japanese restaurant. I guess the back of my trade is wrong.
Captain America's negotiations don't go that well. Zemo's terms are pretty straightforward: Give him the gems or he'll blow up a block of Tokyo. But Cap's ace in the hole, Diamondback, is on Zemo's plane. She discovers that Zemo has been carting around a coffin with his dead father.
Cap decides he has to accede to Zemo's demands. But he returns to his own plane to discover that someone has stolen his two gem fragments. And then there's a big explosion and the corpse of Zemo the elder is floating in the sky.
Except he's not talking like Baron Zemo. He's referring to his old enemy Ulysses Bloodstone. He shouts Hellfire Helix, and that's not just just him shouting his special move, Street Fighter style.
That's actually the name of the consciousness of the Bloodstone Gem itself.
It turns out that this is Crossbones' fault. He brought the stone fragments together, and the restored stone's consciousness filled the corpse of Baron Zemo I.
The younger Zemo understandably goes a little nuts seeing his father's animated corpse floating around, and Captain America is occupied defending himself from the Helix and Zemo, so Crossbones is also the one who ends the crisis.
The younger Zemo takes another fall at the end of the story.
Meanwhile, Crossbones, trying to salvage something from a botched mission, disappears with Diamondback (captured yet again), without ever having been seen by Captain America.
Ok, that officially ends the Bloodstone Hunt. But as mentioned above, since it ends with Crossbones having captured Diamondback, we're going to keep going.
Unable to find Diamondback, Captain America returns to Avengers Island, although a thought bubble tells us that he first stopped to give the Living Mummy the bad news about the Bloodstone. "Days" later, Crossbones arrives in Madripoor with Diamondback, and takes her to a whorehouse and ties her to the bed. She nearly escapes, but he rattles her by calling her "Ratsel" after she had previously been thinking that she recognized his voice. We don't learn anything more about their prior history in this arc.
Crossbones contacts Captain America through the Avengers hotline and lures him to Madripoor. Wolverine is in town, but he's too much of a wussy, a weenie and a wimp to help out.
Diamondback does manage to redeem herself somewhat for this arc by managing to escape on her own.
But of course that makes Captain America's confrontation with Crossbones pointless.
Crossbones is a yee-hah kind of guy, for what it's worth.
Cap gets himself caught in a bear trap.
But Cap manages to subdue Crossbones and force him to lead him to where Diamondback is being kept.
Except Crossbones is actually leading him into a trap.
I love that "like blazes he didn't!". That foot stomp was no accident! He meant to do it!
Crossbones leads Captain America to a pressure plate that will detonate a bomb if he steps off it.
Where's Diamondback during all of this? Running from a Mister Phun, the bouncer from the whorehouse. If only Diamondback could summon her Serpent Society "cronies".
She leads him to a toy factory and drops him in a vat of boiling plastic. I guess he's kind of like her own personal Baron Zemo.
With the repeated emphasis of his name, i guess we're lucky he doesn't come back as a giant evil plastic toy man or something.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Crossbones is working for the Red Skull, and he didn't actually want a confrontation between Crossbones and Cap yet.
Cap takes a chance and triggers the pressure bomb, letting his shield take the impact. Crossbones thinks Cap has died, but in fact he's fine, and reunited with Diamondback.
Ok, i would have liked to have seen a better showing for Diamondback if she's going to be a real participant in this series and not just a love interest...
...and i think Gruenwald is skipping some redemption work for Diamondback, but this was still a really fun arc. Crossbones is set up nicely, having managed to trick Captain America and not actually get defeated; the idea that the Red Skull is keeping him in reserve raises his intrigue level significantly. And of course the Bloodstone Hunt is a great romp. Like the Assassin Nation Plot in Amazing Spider-Man, it's a mindless summer blockbuster kind of fun, but even with less pages per issues (because of the back-up features) it feels like there's more going on here, thanks in part to Kieron Dwyer's more traditional page layouts. If Mark Gruenwald were a more graceful scripter this would be a real classic, but even as it is it's a memorable storyline.
Now take a deep breath because we're going to go all the way back to the beginning and cover the USAgent and Vagabond back-ups.
The (or a) Scourge of the Underworld is shooting his way through the grounds of Curtiss Jackson, the Power Broker.
We'll observe that this Scourge doesn't have a problem killing civilians "in the employ of an evil man".
Jackson is currently being visited by Priscilla Lyons, aka Vagabond, Nomad's former and non-powered partner.
When Scourge makes his attack, Jackson makes a call, and the next thing we see is General Haywerth making a call to USAgent at the Avengers West compound.
Jackson and Vagabond flee from Scourge...
...and USAgent arrives and follows.
Not much going on in each of these installments, but at least it was bi-weekly.
Ok, USAgent actually fights Scourge in part 3.
Scourge may not mind killing evil housekeepers, but he has doubts about fighting "a" Captain America.
Having buried USagent, Scourge begins working on getting Jackson out of his saferoom.
I'm not so sure about this Scourge's Witchfinder General dress.
With Scourge nearly upon him, the Power Broker decides to become a Brokee.
But he needs a little more time, so he asks Priscilla to delay Scourge. Which she does by... taking her clothes off??!
It first seems like Jackson doesn't survive his own augmentation process.
Or even if he did, that he wasn't in any position to defend himself from Scourge.
USAgent has pulled himself out of the rubble at this point, so Scourge takes Vagabond as a hostage to try to negotiate an escape. But Vagabond isn't having it.
In the end it turns out that Jackson really is alive, although not exactly functional.
Scourge says that he attacked because Jackson turned his brother Jake into a misshapen monster. But that's all we get out of him before this Scourge is killed.
The preceding back-up stories were published in the official Bloodstone Hunt issues. The following two appear in the Crossbones issues, and continue Vagabond's story. That thing she's wearing is apparently her current costume.
I guess it's kind of like her previous costume except it's pink instead of red and white, and she's no longer wearing the blue tank top that went with it. And she's got ballerina slippers instead of the boots. It's not a good look.
The four goons accosting her are working for Dr. Karl Malus, who wants to know what happened to Curtiss Jackson.
Malus now wants Vagabond to get a copy of Jackson's fingerprints. In return, he says he'll give her a free augmentation. Or he'll kill her if she doesn't.
But she tells Malus to meet her alone to deliver the ball thingy with the prints, and when they meet she takes him out.
And she calls USAgent about it.
You know, guys? I'm not so sure i really needed to replace my trade with the individual issues just for these back-ups. But i guess completionism is what it's all about.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The first part of issue #357 has been placed in a separate entry for Captain America #355-357. This story takes place after Atlantis Attacks. The MCP has Captain America's behind the scenes appearance in Avengers Spotlight #26 and Damage Control #1 (vol. 2) during the "days" that pass during Captain America #363.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (14): show
I loved this summer event. It was my first real experience with Captain America. (I've since gotten all the issues from #250 on.) I especially was impressed with Crossbones. I had a feeling he would be a great recurring character.
Posted by: clyde | October 29, 2014 7:40 PM
The Conspiracy died in the cave where Bloodstone got his powers, not in their lair under Central Park.
Posted by: Michael | October 29, 2014 9:47 PM
I like Scourge being in black in this story. It makes him seem more menacing. It would definitely be easier for him to hide in the shadows rather than his all white zoot suit!
Posted by: Bill | October 29, 2014 11:12 PM
This is the highlight of the Gruenwald era for Cap, and I don't it is a coincidence that Kieron Dwyer has co-plotting credits here. I would have loved to see him more involved in the stories here.
Dwyer's art looks very good under Danny Bulandi's inks. The thinner line works much better than the heavier inks Milgrom used or Dwyer uses himself.
I was surprised about the reveal about the Skull, although in retrospect Skull & Crossbones is painfully obvious. Mea culpa. The addition of Crossbones gives the Skull a great henchmen who can fight Cap as a near equal and allow the Skull to serve more as a mastermind villain. Gruenwald does a good job building up a "Team Skull" from this point forward.
However, this unfortunately begins a prolonged subplot with Diamondback, and I never believed this romance angle worked.
Gruenwald would have one or two more years of fairly good quality work (but not at this level), but afterwards the rot set in and stayed.
Posted by: Chris | October 29, 2014 11:58 PM
I loved Crossbones; he had such an unpretentious sadist quality about him. The readers at the time if I recall were convinced he was some older character in disguise; I remember one letter in particular focusing on his "speech patterns" (which to be fair were fairly distinctive).
I agree that Gruenwald's scripting can seem weird. I felt he nailed Cap himself, as a calmly rational, kinda square dude, who would tend to talk and think in the way that Gruenwald wrote everybody...but this made everyone else seem stilted too.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | October 29, 2014 11:59 PM
I think you may be too harsh on the "look at that tushie move" line. After all, the super soldier serum has given Cap the 'perfect' male physique. If one is a fan of man butts, Cap's would undoubtedly be an impressive one.
Posted by: Dermie | October 30, 2014 1:22 AM
Mention must be made to the really odd thing about this arc: the...er...interesting corner box on the cover.
To be fair, Michael, that sort of thing has always been problematic with the "dating Catwoman" trope this relationship embodies. (Hell I think the trope is being used NOW in cotemparary issue of Captain America.) Despite that, I always enjoyed the Cap/Diamondback relationship, oddly enough. There's something rather intriguing about Diamondback's attempts to bring Cap out of his shell (also, in my minor defense, this was about the moment I started reading Captain America in real-time, so I missed some of Diamondback's more...questionable attributes the first time around.) Plus she does become a stronger character once she starts actually dating Cap as opose to merely pinning for him. I guess by then she feels she has less to "prove."
Posted by: Jon Dubya | October 30, 2014 2:01 AM
I guess it's particularly creepy that Emma and Rachel get free passes for their crimes though. In Emma's case, her treatment of Angelica and Jimmy constitutes abuse by any sane definition of the term and the X-Men let her teach young children. In Rachel's case, it's problematic because of the Rape is OK When It's Female on Male trope. Moreover, both Emma and Rachel are problematic because they raise the question of a double standard. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a fan claim that Hank shouldn't be dating Jan because he hit her but Emma should be teaching children or Rachel should be dating Steve. And if Rachel's crimes are forgivable, then why not USAgent's?
Posted by: Michael | October 30, 2014 7:50 AM
Michael - I have more of a problem with USAgent's attitude than Diamondback's. USAgent thought of himself as "heroic" even going so far as trying to take over for Captain America (even staging a fight to make himself look good). Diamondback never claimed she was a "good guy". She was just attracted to Captain America. They both did horrible things in their past. However, ignoring a mugging because it's "not important enough" is more deplorable than a member of a "Serpent Squad" being evil.
Posted by: clyde | October 30, 2014 9:24 AM
Pretty much my thoughts as well, Clyde. I would much rather trust, say, Pyro or Diamondback than this self-important fool USAgent.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | October 30, 2014 3:40 PM
I've added a scan of that corner box per Jon's comment.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 30, 2014 5:10 PM
The Bloodstone hunt. Probably the last issues I read in realtime that I acutually enjoyed. Kind of a last hurrah for the great comics of the 80s. it made me a regular reader of cap where i hadnt been before.
Posted by: kveto from prague | October 30, 2014 5:23 PM
So were these Bloodstone fragments part of the crystaline thing that killed Ulysses or from the original gem? And in the latter case, how did they end up in pyramids and the like?
Posted by: Berend | October 30, 2014 7:18 PM
FNORD - how could the Bloodstone Hunt have happened since the earlier appearances of Bloodstone were considered metafiction?
"Although Rampaging Hulk / The Hulk! was intended to feature stand-alone stories, some characters (such as the extraterrestrial Bereet) crossed over into The Incredible Hulk title. Bereet appeared in issue #269 (March 1982) of the regular series to explain away the Rampaging series as fictions she created for the entertainment of her homeworld's residents. This rendered the Rampaging Hulk stories into metafiction."
Posted by: clyde | October 30, 2014 8:03 PM
@kveto- Rachel's earnestness IS fun but she's doesn't come across as very competent. It would be fine if she were a normal person trying to help Cap but she's a super-villain.
Posted by: Michael | October 30, 2014 8:09 PM
@clyde- only the MAIN stories in Rampaging Hulk were Bereet's work. The backup stories still "happened" in the MU- and the Bloodstone stories were backup stories.
Posted by: Michael | October 30, 2014 8:10 PM
For whatever it's worth, John Jameson's and Karla Sofen's moonstones are related. In Thunderbolts 45, the Supreme Intelligence said that they, the Bloodstone, and the Alpha Stone that created the Baselisk were all fragments of a larger stone that was a "geological survivor of the Big Bang", a remnant of the previous universe. And the Supreme Intelligence has always been super-reliable about stuff like that...
Posted by: Andrew | February 22, 2015 3:15 PM
I remember a letter commenting on Priscilla's hard-to-interpret face in that last panel. Thinking about it, her word balloons are very much at odds with both the expression and the gesture. Far as I know, she is never seen again after #364 except in USAgent's four-issue series.
Between the very small number of pages in each part, the rotating features and signs of last minute editing such as this last couple of panels, one gets the feeling that Gruenwald did not have any certainty on what to do with the characters on the aftermath of the impostor Cap storyline. The stories seem to be made in order to postpone decisions and clear statements about how the characters act, feel and find motivation as long as possible. They are very much filler hoping to become something else.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | February 22, 2015 7:42 PM
Dwyer's art with Bulandi on inks is amazing. Wish these two had continued the partnership a while longer.
Posted by: Bob | July 7, 2015 1:45 AM
"Days" later, Crossbones arrives in Madripoor with Diamondback, and takes her to a whorehouse and ties her to the bed."
Also, it almost seems like Vagabond had a better showing than Diamondback in regards to "kicking butt".
Posted by: clyde | July 19, 2015 9:11 PM
I don't know. The Indiana Jones adventure style is okay, but I think I probably made the right choice in dropping this book after #356, even if I didn't see the end of the Mother Night story (what a rip that seemed at the time - starting a long storyline in the second half of a book that finished up a previous storyline - it's one thing when you have a one panel first appearance of someone like Wolverine, Cable, Venom or Bishop - but to actually start a story in the second half of a book seemed too much of a ploy).
Posted by: Erik Beck | September 14, 2015 12:35 PM
Fnord, I own the original artwork for that page featuring Diamondback scoping out Cap's rear end...
I also have the artwork for the corner box image of Cap and Diamondback that was used on these issues...
So, yeah, "The Bloodstone Hunt" is a favorite of mine. Part of that is undoubtedly nostalgia. Nevertheless, it is certainly one of the high points among Mark Gruenwald's very long and very uneven run on Captain America.
Posted by: Ben Herman | December 5, 2015 12:42 AM
As a kid, I only owned the Bloodstone Hunt part that focused on the undersea diving hjinx, which I think is really good and cinematic in nature, When I finally got the ending, I remember being disappointed--the ending seems really rushed and incomprehensible at times.
Posted by: Michael Cheyne | April 19, 2017 6:21 PM
Comments have been disabled for the summer while i'm not around to moderate.
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