Captain America #319
Issue(s): Captain America #319
Things became more formalized with the Jun 86 Marvel issues, which had advertisements letting us know this was going to be resolved in Captain America.
Only one man could stop him, but at least one other group was going to try. Because by killing Death-Adder, Scourge had attracted the attention of the Serpent Society. And i think it's really cool that they went after Scourge; it shows one of the benefits that Sidewinder advertised when he was pitching the group: mess with one of us, mess with all of us.
It actually would have been pretty interesting to see if they had managed to catch up with Scourge. But it is cool seeing them on the beat.
We also see Sidewinder without his mask for the first time, and oh my god he's Mark Gruenwald!
Captain America gets involved when he catches
Blacklash tells Cap that it's only a matter of time before Scourge kills him like he killed his buddy the Melter, and he just wants to ensure that his mom has some security before that happens. Cap wasn't even aware that the Melter was killed but he makes the connection with the attempt on the Constrictor's life "a few months back".
Cap runs into Diamondback from the Serpent Society while both are checking the mental hospital where Foolkiller is being held, since he's a logical potential candidate for the Scourge.
Diamondback, who's had an attraction to Captain America since their first meeting, convinces him to try to join forces in the hunt for the Scourge. When Cap says he doesn't work with enemies, she makes the argument that she wasn't directly involved in the killings of MODOK or Porcupine. "You're not going to judge me guilty by association, are you?"
Well, yes. She is literally guilty by association. In the case of MODOK, she is an accessory to murder. With Porcupine, she was chasing him with the intention of beating him up and bringing him back to people that likely would have killed him, and chasing him caused him to fall and die. I'm no lawyer, but that seems to be manslaughter if not second degree murder.
Now, Cap isn't shown to be buying these arguments - he agrees to go with her only because she may have information about Scourge and because he may learn something about the Serpent Society - but i believe Gruenwald expects us to take her argument seriously in preparation for her reform (which, by her own thoughts, will only be because Cap is "a gorgeous hunk! I'd do anything for a heavy date with him... even go straight!".
We do learn that she had an "unhappy childhood", but that's because she and her brother used to rob stores "for kicks", and her brother was eventually shot by a cop. "That's when my childhood turned unhappy. I never had much use for the law after that." She subsequently received the first of her trick diamonds from Paste Pot Pete in return for sexual favors.
In addition to her diamond throwing, Diamondback also has the ability to grotesquely contort her body so that both of her breasts are visible in every panel.
She tries to force Cap to have sex with her by threatening to crash the Serpent Saucer...
...but that fails because Captain America is a "cold fish" and he calls her bluff.
With that, Cap decides "we'd better call it quits". Again, even accepting that Cap agreed to work with her to get info on Scourge and the Serpent Society, it seems wrong that he's willing to just walk away from her here instead of trying to arrest her. She is a criminal and a lead to the greater Society. I suppose it's possible that his code of honor means that his truce with her meant that he wasn't going to try to arrest her, but i have a hard time accepting that.
In any event, when they land, Diamondback is shot by someone that turns out to not be Scourge; he's just a farmer who thought martians were landing on his property. So Cap has to take Diamondback to a hospital and that cuts short his hunt for Scourge this issue.
There is actually a third group trying to deal with Scourge, though, and that is the Scourge's likely victims themselves.
Firebrand has gathered a bunch of them in the Bar With No Name that we saw last issue...
...to try to convince them to band together to do something about Scourge.
Of course, it turns out that gathering a bunch of villains in one place wasn't the best idea.
There's something dumbly awesome and even maybe iconic about that final panel. The Muscle Beach shirt, the machine gun tucked into the beltloop in the front of his pants, the unlikely shadow over the face. It's definitely effective in amping up the threat of the Scourge, but it also makes me grin.
Ok, on the entry for last issue i promised my opinions on the Bar With No Name and Firebrand. With Firebrand, everyone beat me to it, but yeah, the idea that the radical Firebrand, who probably never even thought of himself as a super-villain, is now acting as a broker for criminals, just doesn't fit.
Anything's possible, and Gary Gilbert's politics may have changed over time or perhaps, as the Aug 87 Book of the Dead Handbook states, he "decide[ed] to use the methods of 'the system' against itself", but it's a heck of a leap, and at an absolute minimum there should have been some sort of acknowledgement of that fact in this issue or the preceding one. The character we see here is entirely different than any previous appearance, and it raises the question of why he was chosen for this role instead of, say, Mirage.
This gets to my ambivalence about the Bar With No Name as well. In theory, i have no problem with it. "A place where villains hang out" is inherently a cool concept. But it requires some thought especially around its clientele and what they are going there for. If Constrictor and Electro want to get a drink together, they can take off their masks and go to any bar they want. If they are looking for work, well, their reps are such that you'd think people would be contacting them and they shouldn't have to go sit in a bar and hope some local crime boss has a slot open for a bank robbing gig. The danger with the Bar is that it can genericize villains, turning them all into hired thugs. Most Marvel villains actually have unique motivations. Even quickly going through the list of villains that appear here, we have Firebrand, as discussed above, the Ringer (who was also an anti-capitalist), Cheetah (a Mexican anti-imperialist), and Turner D. Century (wants all the young people to get off his lawn). Uri Geller's arch-nemesis Mindwave and the Hijacker are both too bizarre to be included here, and it's odd for the non-US based Cheetah, Cyclone, or Kraken (who was last seen working at his own bar in Britain) to even be in a bar near Lake Eerie. You can explain away all of these objections, but by doing so you have to explain away what makes the characters unique.
Now granted this is the group that Firebrand has gathered to deal with the Scourge menace; it's not necessarily representative of the Bar's customer base. But it's all we have to go on, and that's part of the problem. The Bar was introduced right as the Scourge plotline was ramping up last issue, and of course it ends in a big massacre that highlights the problem with a group of villains getting together (it's Scourge this time but it could easily be the police or SHIELD or a super-hero next time. Any one villain who is under surveillance could unwittingly get a large group in trouble.). And in the meantime there wasn't any development of the concept. If Gruenwald had introduced the bar 12 issues ago and shown it operating under normal circumstances, and maybe convinced other writers to use it the way they incorporated the Scourge storyline, maybe it would have been clearer who went to the Bar(s), whether it was mainly for socializing or to get work, etc..
Again, seeing villains hang out is cool. Everyone wants to see Boomerang bragging to his friends until Bullseye walks in and calls him a wimp and they get into a fight or maybe a game of darts, or just see how the D-list villains gets selected for jobs. But you don't want to turn the bar into a Mos Eisley cantina situation as parodied in the likes of The Tick where you've got monsters and aliens and top tier villains all sharing a drink with the Ani-Men, and you don't want to reduce every villain to being a hired gun. So the concept has to be developed properly. Looked at more cynically, this was just a way to get a bunch of villains in one place to up the body count as the climax of the Scourge storyline.
This issue overall is a mixed bag for me. Despite my complaints about Firebrand (my issues with the Bar aren't "complaints" per se), the Scourge storyline is being developed nicely. And i like the use of the Serpent Society. But the depiction of Diamondback is just awful. Just completely over the top in terms of her sexuality and her crush on Cap. Maybe there's nothing wrong with the basic idea Gruenwald is trying to push, but a lot more subtlety would have been appreciated.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Last issue's death of the Blue Streak is said to have occurred "a few weeks back". See my Consideration comments for Amazing Spider-Man #278; there's a slip-up regarding the death of the Wraith but i am placing this issue prior to that one, which means that the Scourge's massacre here was not his final killing before his confrontation with Cap next issue.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (14): show
great review. I've never read this iss so I was surprised Diamondback was such a big part. It really colours her character much more cheaply than her later appearances. Its hard to believe Cap ever got involved with her. She's so different from later appearances. (To be fair, she does genuniely fall in love with Cap during the bloodstone hunk, although her initial attraction was physical). And I'm not sure if Gru had her reform in mind this early. He often states later that reader demand was the main motivation behind her appearing regularly. If you read those later issues (post 350) it's easy to see how the readership fell for her.
The diamondback murder cases will be discussed (ad nauseum) in letter columns when she and Cap get together. I think its clear that Gru regrets her actions and behaviour here because it creates headaches for him later. With her attitude here, she feels more like a "catwoman" type, in love with the hero but will always be a baddie.
I remember a marks remarks column where he discussed Firebrand. He felt a 70's radical was out of place in the 80s, so he "modernized" him. As you say, a villain with less backstory would have worked better.
As for scourge, I'll hold off till next iss. looking forward as always.
Posted by: kveto from prague | December 4, 2013 2:40 PM
The prior Scourge appearances in this year reminded me of the pre-appearances of the "Monitor" over at DC in 1984-1985. Both of them had their true faces hidden at the time.
Posted by: CLYDE | December 4, 2013 2:44 PM
So Diamondback's super-power is...to turn into a modern comic book female with weird contortioning body proportions? Funny, didn't expect 90s comic "stylings" already at this point.
And somehow imagining a bar similar to the Tatooine bar for supervillains just sounds neat...too bad it was a bunch of C-D listers no one wanted to use anymore that happened to be part of Muscle Be...er, Scourge's rampage.
Posted by: Ataru320 | December 4, 2013 3:18 PM
IMO, the reason "in-universe" that the C-D listers were the only ones there was because people like Magneto, Dr. Doom, etc. don't need to fear getting killed by a gun-toting maniac. They deal with a higher grade of enemies.
Posted by: CLYDE | December 4, 2013 3:26 PM
It wasn't unknown for 1960s/70s strong left-wing types to do a 180 on their politics in some ways. At least one of the Chicago 7 became a businessman, and Ken Weaver of the Fugs became a longtime government employee.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 4, 2013 4:06 PM
The Bar with No Name does reappear in Captain America 394-395, which were written by Gruenwald.
Posted by: Michael | December 4, 2013 8:00 PM
I thought the Bar with No Name was a great idea.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | December 4, 2013 9:57 PM
I'm as upset about Turner D. Century as Firebrand, and for the same reason. TDC is basically a right-wing terrorist on a decency crusade. He should actually sympathize with Scourge. And the motives of the guy who's behind the Scourge program aren't a million miles from TDC's or his sponsor Morgan Hardy's.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | December 4, 2013 11:09 PM
Except that Turner D. has killed minorities and tried to kill everyone under the age of 65 in New York City. HE might not see himself as a villain but he probably realizes that Scourge might.
Posted by: Michael | December 4, 2013 11:30 PM
Yeah, the IDEA that leftist Gilbert is now capitalist superagent isn't inherently bothersome, but I think you have to at least acknowledge it, instead of just expecting readers to know every Marvel character and their motivations. I realize a line like "My anarchist days are over, now I'm much more secure," sounds cheesy, but something like that would be nice.
The Book of the Dead handbook did some admirable attempts at explaining why all of those characters would end up in the American Midwest, yet it does seem hamfisted and the characters end up like dudes randomly selected for this purpose. People have remarked how Turner seems out of place, but didn't Rapier only become a "character" in order to get revenge on Silvermane?
Posted by: Michael Cheyne | December 5, 2013 10:08 AM
I think a lot of the characters this issue were just there to "make up the numbers" so the body count would be high. Without much thought as to whether they "should" be there logically. Kinda the problem with using Scourge as "housecleaning" when some of these characters didn't really need to be cleaned. No reason for the Vamp to be there either. She was a vegetable who had lost her "power belt."
Gru later admitted that the bar masacre was too excessive.
Posted by: kveto from prague | December 5, 2013 3:58 PM
I love Diamondback. She is very evil here, but she becomes nicer later.
Posted by: Steven Printz | January 5, 2014 7:28 PM
I would point out that super hero bar/clubs do crop up occasionally in modern comic books (I think the recent Gambit series showed a few of them.) Plus since many modern writers love scenes of heroes or villains casually hanging out together shooting the breeze (looking your way, Bendis!) you can expect the bar backdrop to keep popping up.
"Gru later admitted that the bar masacre was too excessive."
Posted by: Jon Dubya | June 16, 2014 2:32 PM
I bought this issue in real-time and was disappointed at how few of the villains I knew. I knew Cyclone and Mirage from a Spider-Man book I had when I was little and that was just about it at the time.
It was interesting, though that Mirage, who is killed here and is the person Cap will disguise himself as next issue, is on the house ad.
Posted by: Erik Beck | June 18, 2015 11:40 AM
Ron Zimmerman would use the BWNN concept in his revamp of Alyosha Kraven in the books he wrote.
Dare I even mention Get Kraven on this site?
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | November 29, 2015 8:08 AM
Good thing none of these villains had any invulnerability to bullets, or Scourge would've been screwed.
Posted by: Matt | December 31, 2016 4:57 PM
I'm pretty sure Scourge did his homework on the people he intended to kill - he would know who was able to be killed with a gun.
Posted by: clyde | December 31, 2016 11:03 PM
@Clyde- I think Matt's point is that not all of the people Firebrand invited showed up-granted, it's possible that if someone bulletproof HAD showed up, he would have changed his plans.
Posted by: Michael | January 11, 2017 8:19 AM
If the "Overkill" title was a partial homage to a song, I would hope it was Motorhead's and not Men at Wprk's!
Posted by: Brian Coffey | September 10, 2017 7:38 PM
Correction: I would hope it was Motorhead's and not Men at Work's!
Posted by: Brian Coffey | September 10, 2017 7:39 PM
I continue to be fascinated with how well Grunewald is showcasing the Serpent Society; while he's never going to be as good as Roger Stern, it's somewhat similar to how Stern is showing how well the Masters of Evil initially compliment each other early on in the "Under Siege" storyline. The Society working diligently, and together, even if it's odd and interesting to see Cobra checking in with Adder's parents, works so well, it's a shame more villains aren't shown working together constructively.
Posted by: Wis | October 24, 2017 5:25 AM
Regarding Gilbert's turn to "business agent for villains," there are at least three other characters at the massacre who would arguably have worked better in the role -- the Hijacker, Steeplejack II, and the Grappler -- as all of them had financial backgrounds, The Rapier might have worked well, too, what with his mobster background.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | May 10, 2018 6:45 AM
I wonder if Gilbert was meant to be a nod to people like Jerry Rubin who went from student radicalism to corporate yuppies in the 80s. I forget Gilbert's exact bio, but as someone who was the son of a corporate head, I assume he did have some business training or experience even if just observing his father as a child.
Posted by: Michael Cheyne | May 10, 2018 2:53 PM
There is one line in Firebrand's very first appearance in Iron Man v.1 #27 that could kinda-sorta-if-you-squint justify this turn: "The end justifies the means! I even use the system itself if it helps me...how else do you think I got the know-how to build this outfit? By attending the training programs your ever-lovin' boss Tony Stark offers at all his plants!"
But that's quite tenuous, and still it's very hard to see how this character is congruent with the Gary Gilbert of past stories.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | June 15, 2018 6:39 AM
I don't necessarily see the politics of it. That he formed a union? I fail to see how that is necessarily against any stance, their motivation doesn't have any political bent - they were a means to an end and/or his own safety - and if it's that he considers himself a villain alongside others then that isn't necessarily his choice of identification; it would however be how Scourge sees him.
Can anyone explain it to me?
Posted by: AF | June 16, 2018 7:09 AM
I'm not exactly sure but if there is some politics, I think him having a change of heart is interesting but obviously wasn't intentional. That he was either ultimately quite integrity-less or was what Michael said - a nod to real-life people who changed their stances like that.
Posted by: AF | June 16, 2018 7:12 AM
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