Captain America #371
Issue(s): Captain America #371
The issue starts with Cap telling Diamondback that he's not interested in a crime-fighting partner because "they never seem to work out", and then running through a series of objections as Diamondback tries to convince him to go out on the town.
It's comical to see Cap counting on his fingers all of the "leisure time" activities he engages in. But c'mon! Cap isn't dumb. He's always had basic interpersonal skills, and he should understand what Diamondback is interested in. He's also more worldly than this. Gruenwald is writing him like a stiff fuddy-duddy from the 1940s, which would make sense only if he had just been de-thawed. But that ignores his Easy Rider period during Stan Lee's run. And Roger Stern and John Byrne and then (even more so) J.M. DeMatteis went through a lot of these same beats when Steve was dating Bernie; DeMatteis depicted Steve as being old fashioned but not completely hopeless like this.
Anyway, Diamondback gets Cap to agree to the date.
To deal with her hair "problem", Rachel (Diamondback) reaches out to her friend Tanya (Black Mamba), who brings her to a hairdresser. But the fact that Rachel won't tell Tanya who she's going out with intrigues Tanya.
Cap, meanwhile, apparently can't dress himself, so he gets Jarvis to take him shopping.
Cap has agreed to leave his shield behind. And - one thing that i definitely like - he remains unconcerned about keeping a secret identity, so he shows up without a mask and gives his real name.
Rachel is completely made-over.
We also see that Black Mamba has recruited some other female Serpent Society members to keep tabs on Rachel during her date.
Cap continues to be awkward.
It's funny, though.
Now, the running joke of the issue is that there are a series of low level villains doing stuff that would have interrupted Steve and Rachel's date if it wasn't for the fact that Rachel's friends are taking care of them. The first menace is Gamecock.
Ladies - and really everyone - let me assure you that you should indeed always say no to Gamecock.
Asp takes him out.
The place that Cap intended to take Rachel (a place that Bernie used to like) to has been shut down, but they go somewhere else. Cap declines a drink because his father had a drinking problem (please don't make me go back and sort through Cap's memory implant origins to figure out if that's new information or not).
The next silly villain is Trump...
...who Black Mamba apparently dated once (and he left her with the check). Mamba lures Trump out of the club with her temptation powers. Rachel recognizes the darkforce tendrils that she generates but doesn't see Tanya and thinks she might be mistaken.
The next two villains are Jackhammer and Poundcakes, who are having a domestic dispute.
Poor Jackhammer. From the head of Hydra's Engineering department to this!
Anaconda pulls them away before they cause any serious property damage (which is what was concerning Cap).
With all crises successfully diverted, Steve walks Rachel home and gives her a goodnight kiss.
Now i know i've been kind of hard on Cap, and he did act like a doofus throughout this issue. But at the end, Gruenwald gives us a (non-explicit) explanation for it. We see Steve nearly make the 3am call to the ex.
And that's funny in its own right. But i think that's key. Steve has been harboring guilt and other bad feelings about dating after the death of Sharon and his break-up with Bernie. So he's sort of reverted into a protective shell of old fashioned-ness as a defense mechanism. That's actually pretty insightful.
The other element to all of this is that Diamondback is literally a career criminal - a hired assassin! - and in her earliest interactions with Cap it was clear she was only considering reforming because she thought that he was hot. She actually tried to force him to have sex with her in one of their earliest encounters. What we're seeing more recently, especially with this issue, is a transition to her just being a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. The main story in this issue ends with Steve thinking to himself that spending more time with Rachel would be fun, but only if he can get her to "give up whatever illegitimate activities she may have once engaged in". I imagine that if Cap found out that Crossbones was a really fun guy to play Nintendo with, he wouldn't be like, "Look, whoever you killed in the past, that's cool, just as long as you don't do it any more.".
The Bagley/Hudson back-up feature continues along on those lines, beginning directly after Rachel gets home from her date and finds Tanya waiting in her apartment. One point made is that Rachel is not the sort of woman that has sex on her first date.
And then Rachel says that she wants to go straight, explicitly because her boyfriend wouldn't approve of her behavior (i.e., not because it's wrong to murder people for money!).
Tanya says that the Serpent Society does get jobs that don't require lawbreaking. She's got a bodyguard job lined up, and offers to cut Rachel in. Tanya is not happy when Rachel declines and, as much as i don't approve of being a criminal mercenary, she makes a good point when she says that Rachel is giving up her own identity to meet the approval of a man.
Tanya's conversation upsets Rachel, but the next day we see Rachel calling Tanya. Not to take the bodyguard assignment after all, but to ask if Sidewinder's sister can get her a job as a sales clerk.
The real question we have to ask ourselves is how much revisionism do we want to allow Gruenwald regarding Diamondback's early appearances. If we want to pretend that Diamondback has really just been a petty criminal all along, then what's going on here is no different than, say, Rocket Racer's reformation. Even Sandman got to reform without serving time. So maybe it's not that big a deal.
In any event, if you push aside any bigger moral issues and assume that Cap's boyscout attitude is actually a defense mechanism, this is a very fun downtime issue with Ron Lim handling the romantic elements as nicely as he usually does with the action. And it's nice to see Gruenwald taking the time to develop the Steve/Rachel relationship head on.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This begins soon after Captain America #370, with Cap and Diamondback returning from the Red Skull's house and Cap apparently saying to Diamondback, "Well, see you around" just before the issue starts.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAnaconda, Asp, Black Mamba, Captain America, Diamondback, Fabian Stankowicz, Gamecock, Guardsman II (Michael O'Brien), Jackhammer, Jarvis, Man-Wolf (John Jameson), Peggy Carter, Poundcakes, Trump
Wonderful issue. This is my all-time favorite issue of Captain America.
Posted by: Steven | April 24, 2015 11:47 AM
Steve's stoicalness has worked as a defense mechanism in the face of Sersi's many attempts to get her some Cap steak, but he is simply suppressing his urges, as we'll see very shortly.
Bulanadi really meshes well with Lim.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | April 24, 2015 12:11 PM
this is the way to do a humourous issue. I had no idea how many supervillains one encounters on an average evening in NY. I only had to fight the Hypno-hustler on my last night out.
I prefer Rachael with magenta hair as if really clashes with clean-cut steve.
I really enjoyed the realistic friend dynamic between Diamondback, Black Mamba and Asp. They feel like real friends who discuss real problems and support each other.
Posted by: kveto | April 24, 2015 5:15 PM
I always figured that Cap was willing to let Rachel slide is because she's never actually killed anyone. Now, granted, you could charge her with felony murder based on her participation in the MODOK hit, but that's a pretty controversial legal theory to begin with.
Also, I'm from SC, and our state college's mascot is the Gamecock, so don't always say no to it. ;)
Posted by: Thanos6 | April 24, 2015 5:20 PM
Thanos6, you seem to be confusing felony murder with conspiracy murder. Felony murder means that if two people commit a crime together and someone gets killed accidentally or one person commits a murder against the other's wishes, then they both are guilty of murder. Conspiracy to commit murder means that if two people agree to commit a murder together, both people are guilty. Porcupine's death during the attack on Cap was example of felony murder. MODOK's murder was an example of conspiracy to commit murder- Diamondback prevented MODOK from recharging his powers, so she was just as guilty as the rest of the Serpents. Felony murder is controversial but conspiracy to commit murder isn't. Of course the whole point regarding MODOK becomes moot since he's eventually brought back.
Posted by: Michael | April 24, 2015 7:51 PM
I think that part of the reason why Rachel dating Cap is uncomfortable is because she tried to force him to have sex with her. If Whirlwind reformed and the Wasp started dating him, everyone would be up in arms. (Similarly, Emma Frost's reformation is uncomfortable since what she did to Jimmy and Angelica was a form of child abuse and she gets to continue teaching students.)
Posted by: Michael | April 24, 2015 8:08 PM
You actually have the panel where AFAIK the bit about Steve's father being an alcoholic is revealed in the site already. 1983's Iron Man #172.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | April 24, 2015 8:56 PM
You know, this review coming today of all days, when people are doing their best to interpret past stories of Iceman in order to perceive him as a closet gay or gay in denial, is a bit ironic.
Cap looks a lot more like he is hiding something even from himself here than Bobby ever did. Particularly seeing how his break-up with Bernie was so gradual (going back all the way to 1986's #314 at least), basically a result of his never having time for her until she started to realize that she did not want to have time for him either. They never openly broke up IMO, although she was willing to last time we saw her.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | April 24, 2015 9:23 PM
Thanks for pointing out the scene with the reference to Cap's father, Luis. And i also really like what Ataru said about it here. I appreciate you guys delving into it since i said i didn't want to. ;-)
Posted by: fnord12 | April 25, 2015 1:25 AM
I really like this issue. At the end of the day this was just standard "romcom" shenanigans done up in superhero dress. And while I understand that you can only put up so many scans but it's too bad the very first page wasn't posted (with an indignant Diamondback asking, "What do you mean, 'Well, see you around?!'" Hee!
I also really enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship between Diamondback, Black Mamba and Asp. At this time there wasn't too much "female bonding" in superhero books, so some readers were delighted at seeing it here, even among villians (and actually you don't see too much bonding there either, outside The Rogues in Flash.) It also helps reiterate the Serpent Society as a trade union with all the friendships, flirtation s and "office politics" you'd get from a typical "nine to five" but just with more crimes (or, if you work for the government, less. Thank you folks, I'll be here all night.)
To be fair, Michael, this is kinda a problem that's inherent in the Dating Catwoman trope in general. Similar question arise if one were to examine say the Batman/Catwoman dynamic or the love affair of Black Cat/Spider-man for instance. Indeed I suspect this is part of why Cap's "Golly-gee-whiz" naivete has been exaggerated by Gruewald: so he can mine the romantic intrigue contracting a rather straight-arrow "old-fashioned" fellow and a "bad girl" from the wrong side of the tracks (again typical "romcom" scenarios)
Posted by: Jon Dubya | April 25, 2015 2:56 PM
Jon, I think part of the problem is that Selina and Felicia were clearly intended to be sympathetic in their early appearances- they don't kill people, they only steal from the wealthy and not people that can't afford it, etc. In contrast, Emma Frost was introduced killing three people to make a point and Rachel first accepted a murder-for-hire agreement, then tried to force a man to have sex with her. So a large part of the problem is that Emma and Rachel were supposed to be completely evil to start with, and the writers later had to backtrack.
Posted by: Michael | April 26, 2015 10:08 AM
"So a large part of the problem is that Emma and Rachel were supposed to be completely evil to start with, and the writers later had to backtrack."
More like "and the writers later wanted to backtrack because we can't have hot chicks be completely irredeemably evil, now can we? No, they have to date the clean-cut red-blooded American hero because it's his God-given right to bag the hot chick!"
Each individual case may make sense on its own, and I'm sure Diamondback's development makes sense when you just look at her own appearances, but how many female characters in superhero comics have started out evil and STAYED that way without being completely ugly? It's as though writers can't bear to write a female character that's completely irredeemably evil and doesn't reform into at least an anti-hero.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | April 26, 2015 11:53 AM
There's Selene, who's been consistently evil since she was introduced. Madelyne Pryor is the reverse case- a female character that was heroic in the beginning but had to get turned irredeemably evil because the hero no longer wanted to sleep with her.
Posted by: Michael | April 26, 2015 12:47 PM
"Rachel first accepted a murder-for-hire agreement, then tried to force a man to have sex with her. So a large part of the problem is that Emma and Rachel were supposed to be completely evil to start with, and the writers later had to backtrack."
Although Rachel WAS involved in those things, I don't think she was ever portrayed as quite that dark and "evil" at the time. I don't think it was an accident that Diamondback was not directly involved in the murder of MODOK, but instead was limited to delaying Cap. Sure, she is still technically an accessory to murder--but she didn't actually kill him herself. Plus MODOK being at least partly an artificial lifeform also takes a bit of an edge off the assassination since one could argue that at that point MODOK was more machine than man.
As for the sex thing, yes, Rachel tried to coerce him into having sex, but I really would not compare that to Whirlwind's attempted rapes of the Wasp. Rachel's actions, while definitely inappropriate, seemed more like some sort of bizarre flirtation game. When he called her bluff, she gave in and put the key back, and basically said he was just no fun. To her, it was a game and a way to try and be playful and sexy...it just didn't work. It wasn't anything dark and "evil"--it was just inappropriate and misguided.
" but how many female characters in superhero comics have started out evil and STAYED that way without being completely ugly? It's as though writers can't bear to write a female character that's completely irredeemably evil and doesn't reform into at least an anti-hero."
Depends on how you're defining "evil" and how you're defining "ugly", I guess.
Posted by: Dermie | April 26, 2015 2:37 PM
Lim drew Diamondback as cute as a button. Rachel was my big comic book crush as a kid.
Posted by: Bob | May 6, 2015 9:43 PM
The entire Serpent Society was trying to kill MODOK. Cottonmouth and Death Adder were absolutely more brutal in their methods, and the Society's members have a spectrum of how hard core criminal they are. But all of them signed up for the hit on MODOK. We have no reason to believe any of them objected to it. If Sidewinder sent them on this mission, we have every reason to believe they were fine with killing MODOK and was going to do it. That Cottonmouth and Death Adder were the ones who actually did it at the end was just the luck of the draw.
Diamondback is not the gangster's moll with a heart of gold. She is a criminal herself. Her portrayal in this period is simply not the same character. This is not like Catwoman who was generally portrayed as a very different kind of criminal (simply a thief who goes after the rich) than the others in Batman's rogue's gallery.
This doesn't mean Diamondback's "normal" contribution or common criminal activity before that was as an assassin or killer. With her name and costume (which I think is one of the best and most imaginative of the new characters introduced in the Serpent Society), I see her as someone more likely to rob jewelry stores in broad daylight - she wants to be noticed, and she likes shiny things. But I have no reason to think she objected to killing MODOK in any way.
Gruenwald is making a huge misstep here. He should have handled this a better way even if fan mail was positive to her interaction with Cap (I still like the character a lot). But absolutely Cap should have had a problem with Diamondback - I don't see her at his type at all even without the criminal background.
Posted by: Chris | May 6, 2015 10:04 PM
It probably didn't hurt that this is MODOK we're talking about here; not exactly an innocent civilian, or even a villain you can feel sorry for. Whatever sympathy MODOK's forced condition might engender in the reader is erased by how willingly he embraces evil after his transformation. The Porcupine affair is a better one to object to.
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 6, 2015 10:16 PM
Why was Diamondback responsible for Porcupine's death? He never believed she was trying to kill him when he was tripped over his spikes.
Anyway I really enjoyed this issue. It made a nice breather after the AoV. I like how Cap is such a positive role model that it makes Rachel re-evaluate her life. It is hard to break away from "friends" who are bad influences but she is trying.
Posted by: Grom | August 14, 2015 8:43 AM
Assuming Porcupine was telling the truth (and I can't think of a good reason why he'd lie), Diamondback may not have directly killed him, but if he was fatally wounded while battling her, it could be argued she's partly liable for his demise. If the quill that killed him became detached because of Diamondback's attack, she's not completely blameless.
But it doesn't help that it's still vague exactly what happened, and I'm more disappointed that Cap seems to let the issue go as opposed to how it makes Diamondback look.
Posted by: mikrolik | August 14, 2015 8:20 PM
So now Rachel will get a job in a shop? Who knew that Captain America was the Henry Higgins of late 20th Century America?
This issue reminds me a bit of a Batman issue from 1986 where he and Catwoman keep trying to get dinner but everywhere they go they run into someone committing a crime. It's also a little reminiscent of the Avengers Annual where the construction guys keep taking on villains so that the Avengers don't see them and destroy their work.
Posted by: Erik Beck | October 3, 2015 12:48 PM
I think it makes a certain amount of sense that Cap is not very comfortable around sexually assertive women like Diamondback. Steve Rogers spent the first two decades of his life as a sickly 98 pound weakling. Even though the Super Soldier Serum eventually gave him a peak human body, psychologically & emotionally Steve probably still sees himself as that skinny, socially awkward kid with who had very few friends and who spent most of his time alone working as an artist. So it has got to be at least a bit disconcerting for Cap when incredibly beautiful women like Diamondback or Sersi start throwing themselves at him.
Posted by: Ben Herman | August 27, 2016 5:47 PM
But some writers don't just limit Steve's awkwardness to women throwing themselves at HIM- in Avengers 372, Harras had Steve confused as to what was going on between Dane and Pietro- and Natasha had to explain to him that they were angry at each other over a girl (Crystal).
Posted by: Michael | August 27, 2016 5:54 PM
This is also where the "man out of time" aspect comes into play. Cap is a man of the 1940s. His stance on relationships should reflect that. This does not mean he is simply a prude or incredibly naive. He's lived through World War II and saw everything from the US homefront to Britain as a staging ground for millions of GIs, occupied Europe, and liberated Europe. He knows about horny GIs wanting to get laid before going into a battle they may not return from, war brides, "horizontal collaborators", and what happens when an enemy army marches through the land. He's also seen how women went from domestic wives to workers in the factories and as military auxiliaries. He's witnessed a lot of changes. His life experiences in the 5 years he was Cap during the war is more experience than most Americans will have in a eighty year lifespan. He has seen a lot. But he does come from a different age, one before the sexual revolution.
He's also had two serious relationships in the comics - Sharon Carter and Bernie Rosenthal.
When writers protray Cap as some kind of clueless naif, it doesn't make sense. He knows what is going on. He just has different values.
Posted by: Chris | August 27, 2016 10:44 PM
I see that Princess Python's role in MODOK's murder seems to have been overlooked, but that piece of business should be addressed in #313.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | June 24, 2017 2:03 PM
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