Captain America #380-382
Issue(s): Captain America #380, Captain America #381, Captain America #382 (Captain America story only)
Diamondback is still technically a member of the Society; she's just on leave. Cobra - excuse me, King Cobra - tells her that the reason for the kidnapping is because she's been associating with Captain America. So she's going to be put on trial. Cobra himself is sympathetic to Diamondback, but he's afraid cutting her a break would lose him control of the Society after Sidewinder turned it over to him when he resigned.
Diamondback's lawyer is Black Mamba.
Notice that in the first scan above, MODOK is referred to as a "robot". There's been a lot of talk in the lettercols (and on this site) about the appropriateness of Captain America dating Diamondback, who is not just a criminal but one that participated in the murder of MODOK. Diamondback has never really expressed regret or anything for those crimes, the murder in particular (her face turn has explicitly been only because she's fallen in love with Cap). Starting in the Streets of Poison arc, we saw Gruenwald trying to redeem the character by having John Jameson think about how heroic she is and how it makes up for her past crimes (ironically, also while falling in love with her, like Gruenwald just can't get away from associating her redemption with the fact that she's attractive). Now it seems like the most egregious of her crimes is being downgraded by declaring that MODOK wasn't really human.
This whole Trial of Diamondback feels like it might have originally spun out of the idea of putting her on trial for her crimes, and i kind of expected testimony stating that she wasn't really involved in the Society's worst offenses. That doesn't actually happen, but there's still symbolism in her being put on trial.
The main question in the trial is whether or not Diamondback gave up any information about the Serpent Society to Captain America.
But i am sure that to a lot of the Serpents, it's really just about whether or not she should be associating with Cap at all. In the end, they vote 7-4 that she's guilty.
She's told that she can give up all the information that she has on Cap, or be executed. She refuses, saying that she won't give up information on him just as she didn't give information to him about them.
Diamondback's two closest friends, Asp and Black Mamba, decide that it's time to make a phone call.
And no, it's not to Cap.
Sidewinder teleports Diamondback to his apartment, but then immediately tells her that she's on her own. He starts packing up, knowing that the Society will be coming after him.
Meanwhile, Captain America is training the Avengers crew when Fabian Stankowicz shows up. He's back from rehab and doing ok.
I know that John Jameson is an astronaut and it makes sense for him to be fit (and Cap will later call John his "right hand man"). But i think it's sad that Michael O'Brien is doing so poorly in the training, worse than a lady who was active during World War II. O'Brien is supposed to be the head of Avengers security. I guess all that time in the Guardsman suit has made him soft.
But back to Fabian. Cap tells him that he's also drug free.
Kids, let's all stay drug free with Cap!
Captain America then goes back to the brownstone in Brooklyn where he used to live.
The occasion for the party is the return of Bernie Rosenthal.
The next day, Cap is having lunch with John Jameson, saying that he's not sure if Bernie is really still interested in him. John has to explain that the fact that she invited him back to her apartment for a nightcap means that she is. Cap is still being depicting as kind of naive about women, but there's also the fact that he thinks he's over Bernie at this point. He wonders why he didn't tell Bernie about Diamondback.
Diamondback contacts Peggy Carter, asking for Cap's help, and Peggy contacts Cap. Cap tells John Jameson to wolf down the rest of his lunch (because he used to be the Man-Wolf!) and then John drives Cap to meet Diamondback (and tells Cap to "say hi to her for me").
Diamondback tells Cap what's been going on, and Cap says that he's going to call the Avengers to make sure not a single Serpent gets away. Diamondback then says she wants Cap to look the other way for Black Mamba and Asp. When Cap balks at that, she runs off.
She winds up in a bar and the bartender gives her a card for Paladin.
You have to wonder what kind of mundane nonsense Paladin gets up to normally if bartenders are handing out his card.
So Diamondback gives Paladin a call. Paladin will help, but he's a real horndog, and gets her to promise to go on a date with him in return.
Cap, meanwhile, checks out Diamondback's apartment and finds that some of the Serpents are staking the place out.
This is the second time we've seen Cap doing something like a dirty trick now that he's lost his super-soldier serum (the first time was pulling on Crossbones' mask during Streets of Poison). I don't have a problem with Cap fighting "dirty", but if he is supposed to have some sort of moral code i think it's hypocritical of him to throw it out the window the minute he's lost his super-powers.
Cap does well against Puff Adder and Anaconda.
But he also has to fight Rock Python, and i guess this is their first real fight. You have to love Captain America's version of witty banter.
Turns out that Rock Python's power involves a rock hard head, though, so slamming your foot into it isn't a good idea.
Rock Python drops Cap off the building.
Meanwhile, Diamondback and Paladin return to the Serpent base to try to rescue Black Mamba and Asp.
But Cobra is waiting for them.
Diamondback shakes one of her exploding earrings into Bushmaster's mouth. She meant to use the tear gas earring, but used acid instead.
Diamondback is trying to help him when Cobra shoots her with a poison dart. Paladin surrenders in return for a promise that Cobra will give her an antidote.
The group of Serpents that was fighting Captain America calls Cobra to confirm that they'll get paid to fight Cap, and Cobra tells them no and says to return to headquarters since he's got Diamondback. It turns out Cap survived the fall thanks to his shield, and was actually playing possum. He even had John Jameson monitor and trace the communication between the Serpents and Cobra (with a device designed by Fabian Stankowicz), so they are now able to locate the Serpent base, which is in the South Bronx.
Captain America has put the Avengers on "alert". I had a hard time accepting that Cap doesn't just bring the Avengers with him. I mean, it's an entire team of super-powered villains. But i wonder if it is so that he can look the other way for Asp and Black Mamba.
Cap does do well against the Serpents by himself.
Bushmaster is looking pretty good for a guy that ate a pint of acid.
But Cap is able to disable him and the other Serpents he encounters, and then faces off against the Cobra.
Cap is able to get Cobra to run away by telling him that Thor and the Avengers are "right outside", which is only true in an Obi-Wan Kenobi sense.
Cobra finds out that Cap is (not quite) lying (it's some real hairsplitting between "right outside" and "immediate perimeter"), and returns with more Serpents.
On the subject of Avengers, Cap says that the Serpent Society are not "the Avengers of the underworld".
Pretty soon Diamondback is given an antidote and the Serpents (except Diamondback's friends) are being taken away by Guardsmen.
Diamondback still has promised a date to Paladin, and she doesn't mind trying to make Cap jealous about it.
Earlier Bernie got some advice from Mike Farrel consistent with the interpretation that Steve Rogers is naive about women. Mike is also nervous about Bernie finding a note about a "dog pound" appointment.
The arc ends with Bernie showing up to ask Steve out to brunch.
If Mark Gruenwald wanted to bow out on a high note (and spare us stories like Cap-Wolf), this would have been the place to do it. The Serpent Society was a long running concern for Captain America, and their capture here is like a chapter closing. The back-ups in these issues (covered in a separate entry) are a recap of USAgent's story arc. Gruenwald also wrote a story in Avengers #325 showing most of the Red Skull's core henchmen getting captured. So everything feels kind of wrapped up at this point. Sure the Red Skull is still around, but that just leaves possibilities for future writers, as does the open-ended situation of Cap's love life. This is a fun story, and it would have made a nice end to the run.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): show
Gruenwald seems to have forgotten about the Mansion Siege arc- it was Black Mamba that drugged Hercules and set him up for his beating by the Masters of Evil. Cap should DEFINITELY have a grudge against Mamba for that. (Unless he doesn't realize that the "Tanya Sealy" that drugged Hercules is Black Mamba.) In any case, I could not stand the way Gruenwald wrote Cap. Mamba killed a ZOO GUARD in Iron Man 160 but Gruenwald is writing Cap as a "fuddy duddy" for insisting that his girlfriend's best friend go to jail FOR MURDER. Equal justice under the law is an American ideal- a security guard's murderer shouldn't go free whether their best friend knows someone famous or they're some poor black guy from the hood. I realize that America doesn't always live up to its ideal but Cap is supposed to represent the ideal.
Posted by: Michael | June 28, 2015 4:52 PM
Michael, is there any reason to think Cap (or ANY of the Avengers) know Black Mamba was involved with the Masters of Evil? She stayed in the limo when she dropped him off at the Mansion, so the only Avenger who saw her was Herc--who obviously didn't know she was Black Mamba. And between the alcohol, the drugs, and the brain damage when he was beaten into a coma, it is extremely unlikely that by the time Hercules eventually returned to the Avengers he recalled the woman he was with before the incident and figured out that she was an enemy agent rather than just one of his usual bar conquests who he got drunk with.
Posted by: Dermie | June 28, 2015 5:31 PM
Couldn't agree more on this being the point Gruenwald should have bowed out on the book.
As a huge fan of the first half of his run, it shocked me how quickly things went off the rails after this.
The cracks start in this storyline - Bringing in Paladin to grit up the book's cast was the first big mistake, in addition to pointlessly brining back Bernie after all the build-up with Steve and Rachel.
As I said in the last entry, the 50th anniversary issue following is really the demarcation point on the quality. Everything that follows is either an unnecessary rehash (Watchdogs) or just embarrassing (Superia).
Losing Lim on art in three issues to a secession of mediocre pencils and/or Liefeld imitators certainly doesn't help, either.
I wonder just how quickly sales tanked. In a few short years it went from being hot enough to go biweekly (twice) to being on the verge of cancellation and getting Liefeld-ized.
Posted by: Bob | June 28, 2015 5:46 PM
Gruenwald's work -- both as an editor and as a writer -- seems to be driven by wanting to produce certain outcomes (Cap is a untarnished "Boy Scout," Diamondback is redeemable) that he is willing to overlook implications of previous stories (Nazis dying off-panel in Tales of Suspense #59 due to Cap's actions or Diamondback's legal and moral culpability in MODOK's death in Captain America #313) as long as the text of the prior stories does not literally address those issues. When continuity is up to interpretation, Gruenwald seems to like to fill it in and limit the possiblity of interpretation.
After Shooter leaves Marvel, Gruenwald seems to be more driven along these lines, insisting on his goals for Captain America and Quasar be implemented not just in the two books he writes, but also in Avengers by demanding that Captain Marvel be depicted as an incapable leader and that Quasar join the Avengers, even though those two characters's prior continuity would imply that neither depiction is a logical outcome of their adventures.
Gruenwald seems to work best when he is paired with talented co-creators who have their own sensibilities that can counterbalance his own tendencies. I think given how the sales increased and the stories were better received when Dywer and Lim were drawing Captain America, some of their storytelling sensibilities probably countered Gruewald's weaknesses.
Posted by: Aaron Malchow | June 28, 2015 6:46 PM
Yeah, no way Cap would've known about Black Mamba's involvement in the Under Siege storyline. Like Dermie said, only Hercules ever saw her and I'm sure she wasn't forthcoming about all that with Cap here. Heck, odds are Diamondback didn't know about it either!
I've always suspected the nosedive in quality on Captain America after this point was due to events going on both at Marvel (the buy out then bankruptcy) and in the industry in general (the formation of Image, the rise of Valiant, etc.). I've always heard that Gruenwald in particular didn't handle the stress of everything very well and that was seen as the reason for his heart attack and death. I think the stress of things distracted him and he essentially took his eye off the ball on Cap and was running it on autopilot.
I'd have to agree with everyone else, I think this would have been a perfect point for him to gracefully exit the title. I think his run would be looked upon more favorably in general if that were the case.
Posted by: Bill | June 28, 2015 7:11 PM
I'll just throw in my agreement that this is the last good Cap story. There was a real creepy mockery of justice in the serpent trail. Pretty rotten of Anaconda to turn on Rachel. Asp and Mamba and Bushmaster voting not guilty was no surprise (she saved his life a bunch of times) and I guess Rock Python just had a sense of justice. And Sidewinder's rescue was unexpected and cool.
I liked Paladin's flirty banter with Rachel. They would be a more realistic couple than her and Cap.
How the heck did Nomad beat up Rock Python way back when if he's hard as rock?
Posted by: kveto | June 28, 2015 8:34 PM
If I remember correctly, this was the last Gruenwald storyline I enjoyed. I continued with the title for a while, but quality kept descending until I finally quite the series entirely.
My only real complaint is that given their numbers and powers, I didn't think it was very believable how Cap defeated the entire society even with the help he had. A better writer (and perhaps artist?) would have made the battles seem more intense and menacing, and perhaps allowed Cap to assemble some more help.
Posted by: Chris | June 28, 2015 9:35 PM
I read in "Untold Story of Marvel" that Gruenwald took a new copy of Rob Liefeld's Cap #1 home with him the weekend he died. It's sad that he left this earth without seeing his favorite character escape that mess.
And I think he would have loved Busiek's Avengers.
Posted by: Bob | June 28, 2015 9:40 PM
Gru definitely died too young.
Posted by: Thanos6 | June 28, 2015 9:45 PM
BTW, here's a good video interview from 1988, on the eve of Cap 350, in which he discusses a lot of his run:
Posted by: Bob | June 28, 2015 9:59 PM
It's cute that Black Mamba earnestly performs attorney duties while still having live snakes wrapped around her.
Posted by: Mortificator | June 29, 2015 12:44 AM
Bill, I would have to agree that workplace stress would have to factor into affecting Gruenwald's work, although during 1989-1990s Marvel, I think that workplace excess was probably a factor as well. Tom DeFalco, Gruenwald, and Ralph Macchio seem to be working well together and also seem to be wielding a lot of creative power, whereas under Shooter creative power shifted between creators and editors, depending upon creator reputation and work politics.
DeFalco, Gruenwald, and Macchio clearly had a great deal of affection for and knowledge of the Marvel Universe and its characters, but that they seemed to have had more creative freedom than most people at Marvel had been granted since before Conway was Editor-In-Chief, with less incentive to filter out bad ideas or to change bad writing habits. I think with a little more mentoring as writers from more experienced editors -- like Archie Goodwin -- that they would have done more groundbreaking stuff beyond what they are already known for, but each of them moved away from writing when they first arrived at Marvel to develop themselves as competent editors. They came back as writers to fill needed slots on key books. And I say all of this with affection for Gruenwald's work on Cap from #338-385 and DeFalco's work on amazing Spider-Man and Thor. I think of their work on those books as marking the end of an era for Marvel Comics.
Posted by: Aaron Malchow | June 29, 2015 12:54 AM
It certainly helped that, from everything I've read, Gruenwald, Macchio, and DeFalco were all genuine friends
Posted by: Thanos6 | June 29, 2015 12:57 AM
I never made the connection reading this as a kid about the possible valedictory feel for Gruenwald's run, but I agree looking back at it. I do think the Society is way less impressive now than it was back in the day, but Cap's run at the end is perhaps more impressive when we consider:
-he got them by more or less surprise
Also, for all of his strengths, Cobra is a step down from Sidewinder as leader and frankly most of the Serpents' new recruits (especially the ones who were there) aren't that tough.
So yeah it's impressive but it doesn't FEEL impressive.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | June 29, 2015 10:19 AM
Paladin's card is a nod to the 1950s "Have Gun, Will Travel" TV Western which did have a lead character called Paladin.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 29, 2015 11:18 AM
...Starring Richard Boone, and a pretty rockin' show. Think The Equalizer as a western...
Posted by: BU | June 29, 2015 9:21 PM
Agree that the quality dipped quickly after Lim left. #375 was good but I dropped the title after about 380
Posted by: Grom | August 16, 2015 4:37 AM
I still wish the Serpent Society had caught on more outside Gru's stuff. There's so much to work with there, as bad guy groups go.
Posted by: BU | August 16, 2015 10:25 AM
So, it makes you wonder if it's been 3 years since Cap #317, of if in the sliding time-scale you graduate from law school quicker.
Posted by: Erik Beck | November 7, 2015 8:39 AM
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