Captain America #372-378
Issue(s): Captain America #372, Captain America #373, Captain America #374, Captain America #375, Captain America #376, Captain America #377, Captain America #378 (Captain America story only)
The issue begins with Captain America noticing Boomslang staking out Diamondback's apartment.
We don't find out what Boomslang wanted. And Cap actually isn't even sure that he should be chasing the guy, since he says there are currently no warrants out for him. But he does chase him, at least to try to find out what he was doing. But Boomslang tuns a corner and winds up getting shot up in an alley by a gang (reminiscent of Avengers Spotlight #30 (which hasn't happened yet)).
You gotta give that gang some credit for diversity. I love the white guy in the dress shirt and tie saying "That be the king of the costumes, man".
Cap manages to subdue the gang, but one of the gang members shoots two others during the fight. One dies, and one is in critical condition, as is Boomslang.
Cap then goes to the Avengers subbasement headquarters and finds out that Fabian Stankowicz is having paranoid delusions brought on by drug use.
Fabian's paranoia is so pronounced i thought this was going to be a mental illness story instead of a drug story, but it's confirmed that he's been taking a new drug called Ice.
Cap forces Fabian into a treatment program. And as they're leaving, Fabian asks Cap about the super-serum. Cap doesn't have a good answer.
Of course, the analogue for the super-serum would really be anabolic steroids (Cap wonders if it was a "forerunner" to those). Fabian's Ice is crystal meth.
Cap admonishes himself for never looking into the drug problem before and then decides to do something about it.
I get that it's the driver of this story, but i kind of wish that Cap actually thought to himself something like, "People like Spider-Man and Daredevil, and even that maniac the Punisher, have tried for years to do something about drugs but it doesn't seem like they've ever been able to make any headway. I wonder what I can do that would be different?".
Actually, Cap does capitalize on the Punisher's notoriety.
Cap's info leads him to a warehouse full of Ice, and one of the gangsters triggers an explosion. Cap survives, but winds up inhaling a lot of Ice. Also, in the short time that Cap was MIA, Peggy Carter reviewed a list of Avengers and called in the Black Widow. And also Diamondback.
Diamondback is there when Cap resurfaces, and we immediately see that Cap has been affected by the drugs.
Meanwhile, Bullseye is being held in a prison in upstate New York (not the Vault?). The ACLU has been petitioning to allow him normal prison amenities, all of which have been taken away since he can use them as a deadly weapon. And to prove how wrong those namby pamby civil liberties people are, Bullseye slams his head against the wall.
Some of Bullseye's bones have been reinforced with adamantium (although i guess really just his spine), and i wondered if he was using his skull as a battering ram. But he's actually just knocking one of his teeth loose.
He goes straight to the Kingpin, hoping to get his old job back.
Kingpin gives him a job of looking into the drugs that were at the warehouse explosion, because they weren't the Kingpin's.
Cap and Diamondback wind up going back to the warehouse to investigate at the same time as Bullseye. And Cap leaves Diamondback on his sky sled. It's at this point that the Black Widow shows up. The Black Widow is pretty brusque in asking where Captain America is, and Diamondback apparently only knows the Widow as a Soviet defector and a "rogue agent", so they fight.
They wind up both going in the river.
Meanwhile, Cap is at a disadvantage in the warehouse because Bullseye is hiding in the dark.
Cap gets stabbed by a shovel in the leg. And only his shield saves him from some throwing needles.
Better than the Death-Throws, huh? What a compliment!
Cap calls out Bullseye's name, but that just makes him pleased that Cap is aware of his rep. And then he withdraws when Diamondback returns from her scuffle with Black Widow (who is also gone for now). Cap is actually mad that the Black Widow was called in.
And is just generally acting paranoid and horrible.
Diamondback leaves and switches to her "undercover costume" so that she can keep tabs on him.
Cap also gets into an argument with the Avengers' pilot (and sometime Man-Wolf), John Jameson, who suggests working with the DEA and that drugs are really a demand side problem. Cap is not happy with either thought, and leaves to work without the Avengers support staff.
Meanwhile, a gang shoots up some of the Kingpin's drug dealers.
And Bullseye is still investigating the source of the Ice.
"Two nights later", during which time Daredevil #283 takes place, Daredevil... well, for now, he just accidentally pulls down a flag.
But he'll appear more later.
In the meantime, Cap is acting more and more like, well, USAgent or something. He smashes the car of someone that was buying drugs.
Diamondback and Jameson wind up working together, but they get caught in the crossfire of another gang shooting. Diamondback takes the shots in the back, but luckily her new suit is made from kevlar. There's a lot of talk in the lettercols at this time about how Diamondback is a murderer and that Cap should do something about that. So there's an overt effort in this art to "redeem" Diamondback, and that starts with Jameson here.
Jameson is also falling in love with her.
Meanwhile, Captain America continues his fight against drugs, in the special way that only he can.
He's working his way up to the Kingpin.
But the Kingpin keeps his cool, and tells him that he's not behind Ice (and won't even admit that he's a criminal). Typhoid Mary finds that her mind influencing powers don't work on Cap.
Whether that's because he's Captain "Incorruptible" America or just because he's bock bock crazy at the moment, i'm not sure.
After leaving the Kingpin, Daredevil approaches Cap.
The conversation doesn't go well.
Cap beats up Daredevil and leaves him lying on the floor. And that's when Crossbones shows up.
Crossbones just happens to be passing through on his way to the Kingpin. He doesn't recognize Daredevil...
...and considers beating him up to get information from him, but contents himself to look under DD's mask.
And then he moves on to trying to assassinate the Kingpin.
Typhoid Mary gets surprisingly little play in this story. She got sent out of the room when Bullseye showed up, and Kingpin has been using him instead of her for this story. Her powers didn't work on Cap. And now she tries to throw a knife at Crossbones, but Daredevil arrives to block it. Then she exits with the Kingpin.
There's a weird idea that both Captain America and Crossbones have metabolisms that are so strong that DD can't read their moves and fight against them effectively. When it was just Cap i thought it might have been related to the Ice, but since it's Crossbones too, i guess not.
I'm not sure i get the idea. Daredevil has fought people with strong metabolisms (Hulk? Man-Bull? Or a next gen super-soldier like Nuke?) before and this never came up.
Daredevil doesn't really do that well against Crossbones either, but he flees when the cops start to show up. And then you can see Daredevil fading back into the Nocentiverse. But I feel I... I... I forget...
Crossbones has to report back to his boss, the Red Skull, that he's failed to assassinate the Kingpin. The Skull summons him back to his headquarters.
Meanwhile, Cap is losing it.
And Black Widow shows up again, burying the hatchet with Diamondback and joining up with her and Jameson.
They locate Cap while he's beating up some drug users.
And Cap can not be talked down.
Diamondback holds back against him, but the Black Widow takes him out with a Widow's sting.
With Cap knocked out, the action is at the Red Skull's headquarters. Bullseye is there to assassinate him.
Crossbones is only lightly admonished for failing to kill the Kingpin (he's penalized one percentage point of his profits from the Ice scheme). Then he's told to go and get some sleep. When he's out of the room, Bullseye enters, and doesn't miss his target.
So Crossbones returns to avenge his boss.
Bullseye is saved by his false tooth, using the same trick he used to get out of prison.
Bullseye then stabs Crossbones in the bicep with a sai and escapes.
However, it turns out that the "Red Skull" was really a robot.
Meanwhile, Dr. Keith Kincaid has Captain America on a sedative until Henry Pym can arrive and help with the blood in Cap's system. While they're waiting, Black Widow adds her contribution to the "no, seriously, Diamondback is redeemed" effort.
This is all nice, but having Diamondback think to herself, "Gee, maybe i shouldn't have associated with murderers and gone on missions with murderers that were trying to murder people" would have shown that she actually deserved redemption. So far all we've gotten from her is "I shouldn't be bad because then Captain America won't like me" stuff.
Cap starts to hallucinate while we're waiting for Hank. And with them we get the actual response to the "Is the super-serum like steroids?" question.
Gruenwald is really answering a slightly different version of the question, though. This is really "Is Steve Rogers only Captain America because of drugs?". And Gruenwald has already given us this answer when he introduced John Walker as Cap's replacement, and showed us that the costume and powers don't make the man. The question that Fabian Stankowicz raised earlier in this arc is a more practical one, really in relation to steroids. I mean, i've got ideals too, but no matter how many push-ups i do i'm not going to be able to go punch out evil doers. 90 pound weakling Steve Rogers became Captain America thanks to the super-soldier serum (and vita-rays). I guess the answer really should be that Steve was given magical steroids with no side effects, so yes, he took "drugs" to get his powers, but kids, you shouldn't take steroids because they'll shrink your testicles and give you rage issues. That's really simple enough, even though many fans (including me) have made fun of the similarity between Cap's serum and steroids. The distinction could have been made by comparing Cap's serum to the treatment that was provided to D-Man and others by Power Broker; that treatment is actually being featured in the back-ups at this time.
Anyway, Henry Pym's solution to Cap's current drug problem (the Ice) is a blood transfusion. The problem is that this is also going to take all the super-serum out of Cap's body. And then Cap decides he needs to go out and prove to himself that he can still be Captain America without the serum.
It's a bit of a cheat, considering that Steve doesn't revert to the 90 pound weakling after the blood transfusion (Gruenwald already did a story along those lines when Sersi turned him back into a teenager in Captain America #355-357). So this is like taking steroids until you get to 250 pounds of lean muscle, and then stopping. I don't know exactly how that would work or how long you'd retain your muscles (kids, you shouldn't take steroids because they'll shrink your testicles and give you rage issues) but at least for a little while it's not fair to say that you're doing things natural all of the sudden. But Captain America is specifically described as "de-powered".
While all this is going on, the Kingpin and the Red Skull arrange a meeting .
During Acts of Vengeance i wondered if the Red Skull even knew if he had fought against the Kingpin a while back during the fake Hydra affair; it wasn't mentioned until now.
The Red Skull says that he doesn't really want to be in competition against the Kingpin as rival drug lords (the fact that the Kingpin is already dealing with other challengers, i.e. the Chameleon and Hammerhead, is mentioned). The Skull just wants to corrupt America with his drugs. So this meeting is to negotiate a deal where the Skull unloads his drugs onto the Kingpin.
They have a debate.
The Kingpin sees himself as someone that is making America stronger by weeding out those weak enough to fall into drugs. But he's not willing to help the Nazi Red Skull (the Kingpin calls the Skull's turn to capitalism a "veneer") corrupt America. It's a good discussion. But then things get dumb when the Red Skull offers to settle things in hand to hand combat, and the Kingpin agrees.
I mean, i guess i can see that the Red Skull enjoys using his Steve Rogers clone body. And we always see the Kingpin training. So i can accept that both guys like to fight. It's just a little bit of a letdown for these two arch-villains to resort to personal violence. Of course it does mean that we get the oddity of the two villains stripped down to their undies.
Well, i guess it's not that odd for the Kingpin, anyway.
The Red Skull has a device hidden on his foot that puts a forcefield around the fight.
The fight continues.
I feel like the blubber comment is a little too much. Like, I am a Nazi Nazi and i do Nazi stuff! I don't think that would be something on his mind in the middle of a fight some 45 years after the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, Captain America shows up and is confronted by Crossbones.
It's their first real fight.
And since Cap is "de-powered" he has to resort to trickery that i think he wouldn't normally use. But he wins.
And the Kingpin also wins.
The Kingpin continues to maintain that he's no criminal.
And in the very end, Cap Just Says No to having the super-serum put back in him.
It's a fun story even though i have some quibbles about the intended messages. And Ron Lim's art is fantastic. He reminds me of Mike Zeck in the sense that you can see how he might be fast in the sense that the style is kind of loose. But there's still a good amount of detail and it's not sloppy at all. There are a lot of innovative shots and great action without resorting to overuse of splash panels. Lim did have a reputation for being fast. Art teams during the bi-weekly schedule tended to suffer, but Lim does all these issues and the quality does not degrade (the Crossbones/Bullseye fight towards the end is really great). It's true that the main stories in these issues were all shortened by five pages thanks to a Battlestar back-up, but Lim was also handling Silver Surfer at the same time.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: This entry covers the main Captain America story only. The Battlestar/USAgent story is covered in a separate entry. Daredevil #283 takes place during this story (in the middle of Captain America #374). And that's the story where Daredevil returns to New York City after wandering around upstate (and Hell) for a long period of time. So this story has to take place before Daredevil annual #6 (part of the Lifeform event). Note the locations of the various Avengers and reserves on Peggy Carter's computer screens. Probably the most significant are Thor and Hercules, both of which are listed as "off world", meaning that this probably takes place during or after the Black Galaxy saga. I'm less concerned about Quasar being off world since i assume that's often the case. Not sure if the Vision's visit to LA is meant to reference anything specific (Avengers Spotlight #30?) but it doesn't have to be. At least a week passes during the course of this story.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
As silly as this is, I've always liked the Kingpin/Skull fight--it's interesting that Kingpin is made out to be such a badass in a comic that isn't "his."
Also, I'll always love Crossbones' genial sadism. Like he doesn't really have plans or know about superheroes or stuff, he just beats people up.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | June 19, 2015 5:38 PM
A really fun biweekly event. Gru loved writing Skull and Crossbones and it shows. And he does a great Bullseye.
Sadly, this was the last cool story of Gruenwald's run. It was all downhill from here.
The Serpent Society issues immediately after are passable, followed by the hokey-as-hell and weirdly G-rated 50th anniversary issue, then some filler with Jack Frost and the Watchdogs.
After that, Lim leaves and it's Superia "I'm going to turn them into women" Strategy and the mother of all shark jumps, followed by 100 percent drek.
Posted by: Bob | June 19, 2015 6:16 PM
This storyline was suggested by a fan.
Posted by: Michael | June 19, 2015 6:34 PM
Okay, so can we No-Prize the metabolism thing as Matt's powers not working at 100% due to his being beaten up by Captain America? Or Captain America's drugs? Oh! Or whatever is giving Matt amnesia? At least one of those should work!
It might be interesting to examine the fact that Steve Rogers was really frail and sickly before taking the serum. Although I suppose Rogers might say that even if he was, there was still a way to serve. Maybe even go for the Bullet Points Iron Man approach. Gosh, he actually is going to do something like that in the 90's isn't he?
Posted by: Max_Spider | June 19, 2015 7:26 PM
There were lots of good things about this storyline, but it is hampered by Gruenwald's obsession that Cap would be a superhero even without the super-soldier serum. In one of his columns in Marvel Age, Gruenwald went on a rant that anyone could be Captain America if they tried hard enough (or something similar) in a variant of the American Dream that you can achieve whatever you want. It never made sense. Cap also required intense combat training and other support from the US government. But this became one of Gruenwald's obsessions.
A better angle would be that Dr Erskine first developed the super-soldier serum to be medicine - to create a world without disease, birth defects, and the ravages of old age. He just realized it could also be used to help the US win WWII, but because the secret died with him nobody else got to benefit. Yes, medicines can also be drugs, but the inability to distinguish between medicine, recreational drugs, and performance enhancing drugs weakens what would otherwise be a great story.
Posted by: Chris | June 19, 2015 10:47 PM
All the fights in this story was excellent. I loved this story.
Posted by: Steven | June 20, 2015 1:28 AM
Very different in tone from the bloodstone hunt but still a lot of fun. As pointed out, Gruenwalds last really good storyline. Although the gangbanger dialouge really dates the story.
Lots of great fights. I remember being genuinely shocked at the brutal beating Cap gives DD. You're right, a drugged up cap is very much John Walker.
I was really surprised when Crossbones showed up. For some reason I hadn't suspected the Red Skull. I was glad DD lost to Crossbones. If Cross is Cap's equal he should win. Bullseyes escape was great as well as his fight with Crossbones. Probably the best fight in the series.
I did like the Kingpin/Skull debate but disliked the fight. Its the second time the Skull loses to one of his acts of vengeance peers. Magneto is understandable. But the Skull is an international mastermind and has no business losing to a local crimelord. It just makes the skull look weak.
I loved the the Black Widow was the one to bring cap in, with a brutal move. Yay, females!
Posted by: kveto | June 20, 2015 2:39 AM
Kveto, in Captain America 147, the Kingpin would probably have killed Cap if Redwing hadn't intervened, so I have no problem with him being able to defeat the Skull. Besides, as Crossbones points out, the Skull has only just recovered from nearly starving to death.
Posted by: Michael | June 20, 2015 8:55 AM
While Gruenwald did go slightly overboard at times with Cap-as-Boy-Scout, I liked how in many ways Cap was portrayed as a likeable doofus: "Oooh, this guy thinks I'm the Punisher! Cool!"
Posted by: MikeCheyne | June 20, 2015 8:57 AM
@Steven, just looking at my character listing for Black Widow it looks like you are right.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 20, 2015 11:07 AM
I suspect that the serum made Cap's brain perfect, too - he's pretty bright, and the always doing the right thing, always knowing what to say and do, is pretty much a superpower of his.
Tends to undermine Gru's point, though.
Posted by: BU | June 20, 2015 11:42 AM
Interesting to see the demand presented as the cause of the drug problem. I wish that happened more often.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | June 20, 2015 1:12 PM
Michael, I was more disparaging that the mastermind Skull would put himself in a position to lose to a local player like the kingpin. In their previous encounter, they didn't meet as equals (the skull tricking Fisk into charging a wall). I wasn't disparaging the Kingpins fighting. He's beaten up Spider-man before.
Posted by: kveto | June 20, 2015 2:29 PM
Good point, but that can be explained by the Skull's pride. (If the heroes ever encounter humble villains the universe is doomed.)
Posted by: Michael | June 20, 2015 2:34 PM
Gruenwald seems to be emphasizing and renewing Cap's connections to the wider Marvel Universe since the fake Cap storyline ended.
He let go of Nomad, Demolition Man and even the Falcon just to immediately reposition Cap (somewhat artificially and needlessly) as the lynchpin of the Avengers. The issues during and after Acts of Vengeance made him face X-Men villains. And now this story makes a point of putting him among Daredevil characters apparently just for comparison purposes... while touching on comparisons with the Punisher and perhaps USAgent for measure.
Soon enough he will become something of an authority figure for Quasar, so soon after being released from Nomad because it would make him appear too old. Perhaps Gruenwald felt that the quasi-military trappings of the Avengers would make a mentor relationship seem more palatable?
In any case, it feels a bit too forceful to me. The unresolved plots were piling up at this point - USAgent, Nomad, Bernie, D-Man - and the characterization suffered for it. Teasing almost-cross-overs with X-Men and Daredevil characters without going all the way through did not help.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | June 21, 2015 9:43 PM
I like Ron Lim but the thing that always kept me from loving his work was the way he drew faces. There's just something off about them.
Posted by: Robert | June 23, 2015 12:31 PM
Does anyone else find it odd that Crossbones would make a joke about recognizing Daredevil from an issue of Playgirl? Aside from the fact that it is just a weird insult in the first place, it is also the type that could backfire on him since it implies that Crossbones reads Playgirl...which isn't generally the type of image a macho male villain (who is the right-hand man to a super-Nazi) wants to project.
Posted by: Dermie | June 28, 2015 11:41 PM
Issue #373 got some criticism in the fanzines for Having Diamondback thinking "Wuuugghh!" after being kicked by the Black Widow rather than just, well, SAYING it.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 13, 2015 11:24 AM
I love this arch. It was nice seeing a different style of the Daredevil/New York side at the time from that of Ann Nocenti's. Ron Lim is one of my favs. I enjoyed this more than Bloodstone Hunt. A for me.
Posted by: Grom | August 13, 2015 12:27 PM
I'm not a believer that the "wrong" side can win a fight, because given circumstances, fights can go either way. So let's just say I am ... unconvinced that the outcome of these two fights would have gone this way.
I am sure there are circumstances where Natasha wouldn't just wipe the floor with Diamondback, but fnord doesn't show us much of the fight and I am hard-pressed to buy into the "draw" here.
As for Kingpin - well, he's fat. I'm sorry, he's fat. He's also really strong - that's believable. But he shouldn't have that much agility or speed given his bulk. I can buy into him beating a deranged Matt Murdock senseless, but Gruenwald treats him here kind of like he's the Blob and that none of the Skulls punches or kicks do anything. I'm not really buying that.
I also dislike this portrayal of the Kingpin, the "I'm not a criminal." No one buys that anymore, not after Born Again. It's not like the early days when most of the public didn't know he was the kingpin of crime. For him to constantly assert that reminds me of Quasar ("Does Quasar think he's fooling anyone with those glasses?"). It's like they want to keep him in the Silver Age.
Posted by: Erik Beck | October 16, 2015 7:32 AM
Erik, everything Gruenwald did with the Kingpin can be justified by continuity. We can debate whether or not the Kingpin has "superhuman strength" but at this point the only people that have defeated him have been Spider-Man and Silvermane, both of whom possess super-strength. He would have killed Captain America in Cap 147 if Redwing hadn't intervened and in that issue Cap comments that the Kingpin is as quick as any foe he's faced. Spider-Man is also amazed at how quickly the Kingpin moves in Amazing Spider-Man 69. At the time of the Streets of Poison arc, the Kingpin was considered an unstoppable-by-anyone-without-superpowers badass- what you're thinking of is the watered down version of the Kingpin that we got after Chichester had Matt defeat him in DD 300.
Posted by: Michael | October 16, 2015 7:53 AM
This arc was released just as I was getting out of Cap as a teen, so I didn’t read all the issues back then. Recently picked them up to complete a collection, and boy am I glad I did. Super fun series to read! I’ll also admit to enjoying the Red Skull vs Kingpin match, as cheesy as it was.
I agree with a comment Robert made above about Ron Lim’s faces being “off”. It’s funny, that seems to be a common challenge among some of the better artists at the time (McFarlane being another prime example). I’m no great illustrator, but I can imagine that faces and expressions would be one of the tougher things to get bang-on all the time. However, Lim made up for it by drawing a stunning Diamondback, so I forgave him for the others. ;-)
Posted by: Paul Peterson | June 10, 2018 8:58 PM
Comments here brought up the Cap/Crossbones comparison by DD that I hadn't remembered it. I think DD's comparison must have been to tease the idea that Crossbones was not just a normal physical person like DD, but had some equivalent to the super solider serum. Either as one of the failed candidates like Nuke, or perhaps a new version created by private research (like Ted Sallis) or by a villain group like Hydra.
Was it ever explained how Crossbones was so good that he could be a contender to Cap? I don't remember anything, but I also avoided most Marvel comics for most of the nineties. So I don't know if Gruenwald or anyone else addressed it.
Posted by: Chris | June 10, 2018 9:45 PM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|