Captain America #342-344
Issue(s): Captain America #342, Captain America #343, Captain America #344
Before we get to the Serpent civil war, though, we have somewhat lower stakes strife within Cap's team. The non-powered Vagabond has been showing interest in D-Man, and he's been showing her some wrestling moves. But she's nominally Nomad's girlfriend and Nomad didn't like D-Man even before Vagabond showed any interest in him. So they get into a fight...
...that is only ended thanks to the arrival of a Wakandan ship delivering a new shield, made of vibranium, to the Captain.
Falcon then arrives with information that Diamondback of the Serpent Society has put in a request for help from Cap with Viper's takeover. The Wakandans give Cap and his team a ride to the location in upstate New York provided by Diamondback. They meet up with Diamondback, who has escaped with an injured Sidewinder...
...at a nearby gas station. The recriminations start when it turns out that Diamondback has tied up the station attendant, and then the thought bubbles of everyone checking everyone out begin too.
Vagabond is left behind to get Sidewinder to a hospital, and the rest go invade the Serpent base. Inside, Viper is torturing the Serpents that are still loyal to Sidewinder.
We see that the psychotic Viper has literally no love in her heart, giving Black Mamba nothing to work with. Not even the guy lovingly wrapped around her leg? That's Slither, actually not (i guess until now) a member of the Serpent Society and formerly a member of the weirdest incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and then Mutant Force. More on him later.
The Black Racer has been sent to search nearby hospitals for Sidewinder, and a number of other Serpents are sent away with canisters of venom. So it's not the full society that Captain America and his commandos have to contend with.
Cap is still getting used to his new shield.
Notice that Viper recognizes the Captain right away, despite his new colors (compare to Sidewinder in Captain America #338).
She'll later think to herself that Captain America is "in disguise" although it's not said why she thinks he'd have to do that (and it's not much of a disguise!). Viper manages to get away.
Despite his animosity, Nomad still helps D-Man against Slither.
Meanwhile, the wrestling moves D-Man taught Vagabond prove useful.
Issue #342 doesn't contain the John Walker Captain America or Battlestar at all, but #343 opens with them apprehending a mutant that has failed to register for the Mutant Registration Act.
The suspect (later named Quill) claims that he isn't even a mutant...
...which raises the obvious question of why mutants specifically are being targeted over super-powered people generally, and beyond that, the parallel with government oppression of minorities is made explicit by Battlestar (Walker seems oblivious to any problems with the law).
While transporting their captive home, Captain America and Battlestar are attacked by a group called the Resistants.
The Resistants manage to defeat Captain America and Battlestar pretty handily and escape with the unregistered "mutant".
I can't say the situation with Quill and the Resistants is handled with grace, but at least the Mutant Registration Act is getting some attention here; definitely more so than the lip-service in the X-books so far. It's a natural place for it, too, since with this Captain America working directly for the government it makes sense for him to be enforcing the Act in addition to Freedom Force (who have been regulars in this book as well). What's a little weird though is the fact that in X-Factor #33, which has an October cover date, it'll be said that the deadline for complying with the Mutant Registration Act is a week away. So unless the books were that out of sync, Captain America and Battlestar's enforcement of the act seems premature (and i got the impression from Freedom Force during Fall of the Mutants that the Act went into effect right away). We'll be seeing more of the Resistants in future issues, but there's an connection that's worth pointing out now: these guys are actually the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants/Mutant Force guys; the same group that Slither is a part of. Their activity at this time suggests a connection with Viper, but per Michael's comment that isn't the case. Nonetheless i'm sure it's not a coincidence that Gruenwald decided to use Slither at the same time he was using the other Mutant Force characters.
Going back to the Serpent Society plot, the Captain is hot in pursuit of Viper, while Diamondback continues to have "what a man" thoughts about him.
The Serpent members that switched loyalties start to have buyer's remorse as Viper abandons them all to save her own skin.
The Captain manages to grab onto the landing gear of the Serpent Saucer that Viper flees in. Diamondback and Cap's sidekicks follow in a second Saucer, giving Nomad a chance to think about how Diamondback "reeks of availability" while wondering if she's "safe".
Diamondback launches missiles at Viper's craft, not realizing that Cap is hanging on. Cap is forced to put his new shield to the test.
Viper survives the fall too, and they conclude their fight.
His "synthetic chainmail" protects him from her new bite power.
The Captain removes Viper's teleportation ring (which was said to only have one use left in it anyway; not sure if it can be recharged).
Defeating Viper isn't the end of it, though, thanks to those canisters of venom that the other Serpents were sent out with. We see Copperhead, Boomslang, and Cobra with one set of canisters, and Cobra chaffing to be bossed around by Viper and the new Serpents. I like the consistent characterization of the Cobra, who worked for the Viper before and is afraid of her because she is a psychotic killer, but just like last time he sees no profit in her venture.
Falcon has already been dispatched to put a call in to the Avengers regarding the venom plot, but how come he only has an A-2 priority? When the Falcon calls the Avengers, you have to know it's not for a frivolous reason, so shouldn't he be A-1? The guy was an Avenger, a SHIELD agent, and Cap's partner. It's the flu incident again, isn't it?
The Falcon's warning comes too late, and Ronald Reagan wakes up in the middle of the night feeling snakey.
And it's not just Reagan. As the Serpent guys find out, it's all of Washington.
When Cobra wonders what the point of it is, he's told that Viper doesn't need a reason, because she's a Nihilist. Must be exhausting.
The Serpents make it back to their saucer and find the Captain and Diamondback waiting for them. Diamondback goes easy on Cobra, helping him escape.
He slips out and gets to the other saucer, the one that Cap and company came in. And he finds Nomad and D-Man holding Viper prisoner. He actually tries to kill Viper while pretending to try to free her, but Nomad doesn't know that and blocks the shot (considering Nomad's current attitude, i don't know if he would have blocked the shot if he know Cobra was aiming to kill). Then Nomad and D-Man bungle the attempt to capture Cobra, reflecting the fact that they are at loggerheads, so to speak.
Viper manages to escape too, knocking out D-Man with her poison fangs. Nomad pursues her. When the Captain and Diamondback make it to the second saucer, Cap leaves Diamondback to take care of D-Man, something she's not too happy about. I love the soap opera-esque "Oh Cap... is my criminal past always going to stand between us?" as if this wasn't the first time they were sincerely working together.
Meanwhile, Raymond Sikorski goes to Douglas Rockwell, head of the Commission on Superhuman Activities, with the warning from the Avengers about the venom that Falcon reported. Rockwell says that he doesn't want the Avengers involved, and instead calls in Captain America and Battlestar. They're upset to be taken off the Resistants case. But they're still at the location where the Resistants downed their chopper (and killed the pilot) and Viper's already in Washington.
There's my Viper. A revolutionary maniac. I'm honestly not sure how to reconcile this character with the Claremont version except i guess as a bipolar disorder or something.
Viper raves about turning the White House into the Red House (as in, with blood) and gloats about seeing Nancy Reagan slithering around on the floor
She then locates Ronald Reagan...
...and forces him to take an additional component that completes his transformation.
One thing weird about this issue is that there's a riot of snake people in the streets of Washington and no one seems to notice. Nomad runs past them and wonders if there's LSD in the water. Fairly certain LSD doesn't turn people into snakes. We'll learn that the venom formula is actually a mutagen that Viper derived from Slither.
Nomad soon gets pulled down and beaten by the serpent people. Cobra watches from an alley but decides not to get involved, still terrified to cross the Viper.
Later, the Captain runs through the same streets and similarly doesn't seem to notice the snakey nature of the rioters until they're right on top of him.
I guess it's dark on the streets of DC.
Cap eventually makes it to the White House to confront Snake Reagan.
Obviously some kind of symbolism going on when Reagan grabs the flag and starts beating the Captain with it.
It turns out the Viper is still in the room, too. She's happy enough to just watch, though.
The Captain realizes that Reagan is sweating, and since reptiles don't sweat, he figures that if he can just keep Reagan exerting himself, it'll cause the toxin to work itself out of his system. And however specious that reasoning may seem, it is in fact the right thing to do. When what's left of the Secret Service shows up, Viper jumps out the window and Cap gives pursuit.
Viper is knocked out by Cobra, who hopes to bargain with Cap for the immunity of the rest of the Serpent Society. Cap says no dice, but he does let Cobra go.
While Steve Rogers is fighting Ronald Reagan, John Walker locates the Serpent Saucers, and he and Battlestar fight Diamondback and D-Man (Battlestar mistakes D-Man for Wolverine).
Both Diamondback and D-Man are defeated and imprisoned. Nomad's unconscious body has been found in an alley and he's imprisoned as well. The Commission also now has confirmation that Steve Rogers is operating under what Rockwell considers a violation of his agreement to stop being Captain America.
The toxin eventually wears off for everyone, and two days later Reagan gives a press conference stating that he was never in danger. But we see that he has residual fangs.
Back when Gruenwald first had Steve Rogers give up being Captain America in Captain America #332-333, i talked about how stories in an ongoing universe tend to repeat themselves, although of course with variations. It's interesting to see Steve Rogers seeing and fighting a president transformed into a snake creature while he's given up being Cap; it's like a warped echo of Englehart's Captain America #175 which had a president turning out to be the leader of the Secret Empire, which led to Cap giving up his identity at that time. It's unclear to me what, if anything, the parallels are, though, or if Gruenwald intended any specific commentary on Reagan. There's the "mommy" stuff, of course, and the fact that he ends the issue with fangs. And using the flag as a club could be seen as a metaphor for using patriotism as a weapon. But the "mommy" thing was standard late night fare and the fangs could just be meant as a kind of ominous end to a story purely intended as an action-adventure tale, similar to how a lot of B-movie horror films end with a The End? while showing the monster possibly still alive. So while Englehart definitely had political commentary in mind, i don't know if Gruenwald did.
In any event, this is actually a pretty solid set of issues. Viper's takeover of the Serpent Society - strictly for her own purposes, and something she immediately abandons when it goes south - creates a cool battleground background, and Gruenwald surprisingly devotes focus to the Cobra, to good effect. Gruenwald's scripting is still incredibly ham-handed, especially in demonstrating the attraction between Diamondback and the Captain, and Nomad and Diamondback, and generally Nomad is coming off very poorly in this arc. But it can be overlooked to a degree thanks to the fun action plot and Kieron Dwyer's solid if not spectacular art.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: This begins soon after the end of #341, with the civil war in the Serpent Society still in progress. Amazing Spider-Man #303 has David Letterman referencing Reagan's transformation (even though it seems from this story that the public didn't learn about it). Dr. Druid is the Avenger that picks up when Falcon calls the Avengers, but that doesn't mean that he's in charge yet. In the aftermath of the serpent attack, it's said that the government has called for Reed Richards and Henry Pym to investigate any after effects of the toxin, but i'm not listing them as characters appearing.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (17): show
As the dialogue in later issues makes clear, the Resistants had no connection with Viper.
Posted by: Michael | July 6, 2014 7:21 PM
Mark Gruenwald is clearly a Democrat.
Posted by: Steven Printz | July 6, 2014 11:06 PM
I wonder. He was so condescendent with USAgent that he made Cap look like an accomplice of fascism. To this day I don't understand what the point of John Walker was.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | July 6, 2014 11:25 PM
I liked these issues more for the intent than for the execution. Cobra's characterization was well done. Diamondback's was original, but very heavy-handed and sort of mishappen. Almost no one among the protagonists had any subtlety; the closest by far was Battlestar.
As for Steve, while he was in interesting situations, Mark Gruenwald went out of his way to avoid actually doing anything interesting with them. Steve seems to make a point of refusing to make any stand, any choice, any character growth.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | July 6, 2014 11:43 PM
The cross-reference via Letterman really tickled 12-year-old me.
You could possibly read this as an allegory about Reagan's luster fading as his term came to a close. A lot of liberals backed him at the beginning, but were pretty disillusioned by this point.
Posted by: cullen | July 6, 2014 11:45 PM
Did I just read, "These Wankers sure don't know when to quit!"? Does Gruenwald know that's a naughty word in Blighty (Britain)? If he did - which I suspect he did - he got away with that one as it probably wasn't a well known word in the US back then.
Posted by: JSfan | July 7, 2014 10:11 AM
Can't wait for your review of Cap 345.
Posted by: JSfan | July 7, 2014 10:31 AM
Well, it was Gruenwald who later wrote the infamous "Captain America, I command you to--" WANK panel. We can only be grateful he didn't have any stints writing Captain Britain or Excalibur.
Posted by: James M | July 7, 2014 2:41 PM
Some great stories. I always saw the captain's speach to snake-reagan as very overt political commentary on Reagan's shortcomings during his reign. I though I remembered him giving a speech to snake reagan as they fight but i could be misremembering.
It's kinda sad to see how few snakes remanied loyal to sidewinder.
Guenwalk always had trouble understanding "wank" I think.
Posted by: kveto from prague | July 7, 2014 2:56 PM
And maybe A-2 priority is just for reservists? Don't know.
Posted by: kveto from prague | July 7, 2014 2:59 PM
Cap's speech to Reagan: "Sir, we have no reason to fight! Please -- listen to me! Innocent people are dying outside! I am not your enemy. I'm the original Captain America. Your commission stripped me of my shield and uniform when I wouldn't consent to letting them control my activities... but I'm still fighting the fight. I've always fought. For liberty... for justice... for the American Dream.... Don't let your altered state make you forget your commitment to this nation's ideals, sir! Even more so than me, you are a symbol of the American people! You were elected to your office by them, sir -- twice! Me? I was handed my symbolic role by the war department, and I've been just too darn stuborn to give it up! Am I making sense to you, sir? Am I reaching you, Mr. President?! Mr. President!"
(All ellipses in the original.)
During the last bit of this, Cap holds up a corner of the flag, and it's then that Snake Reagan grabs the flagpole and starts swinging it at Cap.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 7, 2014 3:05 PM
I saw "forgetting your commitment to the nation's ideals" and "symbolic roles" as calling out the actor as a pawn of big business but that just could be just reading more into it. Gru seemed always a bit more critical of Reagan than most writers of the time (in later cap issues). (And fnord, I'm not trying to prompt any political discussions, just commenting about how i interpreted it when i read it)
Posted by: kveto from prague | July 7, 2014 3:15 PM
No problem, kveto. I added the speech to see how you and others interpret it since i'm genuinely curious and undecided about Gruenwald's intentions.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 7, 2014 3:22 PM
Even in the '80s, "wanker" was a very mild UK insult, much as saying something "sucks" in the U.S. Isn't normally meant to have a sexual meaning. I assume Boomslang is Aussie, just because all boomerang-wielding characters have to be.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | July 7, 2014 8:24 PM
These issues just proved to me what an unlikeable character Nomad was. He gets upset because he thinks D-Man is coming on to his girl, then starts thinking about hooking up with Diamondback. I'm sure his "girlfriend" really appreciates his monogamy.
Posted by: clyde | July 7, 2014 8:45 PM
Reagan attacking cap with the flag could be a reference to the infamous 1976 picture of a white guy attacking a black guy with a flagpole during a busing riot.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 12, 2014 12:22 AM
Hey Mark, thanks for making that connection. You posting it led me to some research that taught me a lot more about that photo than I knew an hour ago:
I was mostly familiar with the photo because it was used as an album cover by the hardcore band Infest. Is it a coincidence that the Infest LP would also come out in 1988? Zeitgeist?
Speaking of which, flag-burning would soon become a big issue in public political conversation, subject of a Supreme Court case, etc. Gruenwald will address it in letters columns, but i'm not sure if it ever came up in-universe.
Posted by: Cullen | July 12, 2014 2:40 AM
Walter, yes, Wank is a mild insult but I doubt it would be allowed in most professional print much less a comic book under the comic code. If I had seen it at the time (I would have been pre-teen) I'd be shocked but amused at the same time.
Posted by: JSfan | July 12, 2014 4:57 AM
Flag-burning did eventually show up in an early 1990s Punisher issue.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 12, 2014 10:36 AM
I really like these issues. I think the quality of Gruenwald's run picks up and gets a lot better after about a year's worth of decline. I wonder if it had anything to do with Kieron Dwyer on pencils? Even with Milgrom's awful inks, he's much better than anyone, even Paul Neary IMO.
There are some very good moments in the Serpent Society plot, but I think Reagan is handled clumsily. Seems more like shock tactics than any commentary.
I also liked the Resistants A LOT. Vast improvement on the old Mutant Force. Better code names and very nice designs on the costume. Since they first appeared in a Cap Annual, also appropriate villains for the title character.
Posted by: Chris | July 14, 2014 11:22 PM
I like this story quite a bit, especially the aerial chase scene. However, it does suffer form a bit of Fridge Logic: if Viper already had Slither and the other half-dozen snake goons working for her, why does she even bother taking over the Serpent Society?
It seems like her plan would have gone off perfectly if she hadn't involved them, since a bunch of them turn on her and it's the takeover that tips off the Captain and his traveling superhero roadshow.
But then, I suppose that's the sort of thing that makes her a workable villain. For a nihilist who rages against capitalism, she sure is interested in having a monopoly on the whole "snaky supervillain" IP.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 26, 2015 6:48 PM
Lol nice little Big Lebowski reference right there!
Posted by: KombatGod | May 15, 2017 4:57 PM
Gru was a Libertarian. Pretty obvious here and from his Squadron Supreme work. The Reagan fangs thing is a symbol of how Reagan 'betrayed' conservatives by embracing 'big government.'
Posted by: OrangeDuke | December 25, 2017 6:23 PM
I'd be very surprised if Gru was a libertarian. I always got the impression he was a fairly middle-of-the-road Democrat who couldn't stand Reagan because of his Republican policies.
Posted by: Thanos6 | December 27, 2017 2:43 PM
Yeah I've never heard that claim before. Believe it or not, there was a time when it was an uncontroversial Democratic position to be against the police state.
Posted by: Cullen | December 27, 2017 4:43 PM
You guys should read his Squadron Supreme stuff, although it's pretty obvious from a lot of his stuff. You won't see too many Democrats from the modern era suggesting that government can't solve problems.
Posted by: OrangeDuke | December 27, 2017 6:52 PM
I HAVE read Squadron Supreme. Gru wasn't suggesting that government couldn't solve problems; he was suggesting that while "benevolent dictatorships" may seem appealing, their powers of good can also be used for evil, and that democracy's flaws are also its strengths.
Posted by: Thanos6 | December 27, 2017 7:57 PM
The Squadron Supreme mini-series owed a lot of its central premise to Doc Savage's "Crime College", Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange and real-life debates about whether you could ever use aversion therapy or brainwashing to "reform" criminals.
"Wank" (for those of you who don't know, it's a British/Australian slang-word for "masturbate") is a mild swearword but you certainly wouldn't hear it on family viewing television in the UK, so it does stick out for those of us on this side of the Atlantic.
You wonder there wasn't a panel with Viper looking down at Slither hanging onto her leg and saying "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Posted by: The Small Lebowski | December 27, 2017 9:20 PM
One would have to be pretty far to the Right to think Reagan "betrayed" Conservatism. In fact, I'm reminded no less of the comicbook villains who brought the 1950s Fascist Captain America out of deep freeze because they were convinced Richard Nixon, of all people, was a closet liberal!
Posted by: Oliver | December 28, 2017 11:25 AM
Compared to the current incumbent, he is.
Posted by: The Small Lebowski | December 28, 2017 5:09 PM
Gruenwald's run on Captain America is interesting in that it touches on political subjects without directly articulating a political point of view most of the time. To the extent it takes a political position, it's broadly opposed to extremisms of various sorts, and comes across as a kind of "centrism by default" tone.
I'm hard-pressed to think of any ideology that wasn't exaggerated and used as a motive for villainy in his run, from the Watchdogs and GI Max to ULTIMATUM and . The best argument against the idea that Gru was a Libertarian is probably his consistent anti-drug stance, shown through characters like the Slug, Lowlife and the Power Broker (for PEDs).
Gruenwald is clearly a civil libertarian of some description, but his stories don't seem to provide the robustly pro-business or laissez-faire sentiment I'd associate (perhaps reductively) with capital-"l" Libertarianism. Additionally, gun users come off rather poorly in his stories, though it's hard to split that from his love of certain Silver Age superhero genre conventions.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | December 29, 2017 8:27 PM
Damn, that old archive of all the Mark's Remarks is dead now. Marvel Age #84 had a Mark's Remarks about flag-burning which extended to Gruenwald talking about the hazards of using Cap's voice to push politics or agendas. It should be essential reading for Captain America writers...
Posted by: AF | December 30, 2017 4:47 AM
Libertarians come in a number of different stripes. They tend to be fanatically pro business, but some are more serious about the civil liberty and pro-constitution stuff. And a lot of people, especially then, considered themselves libertarians without really knowing what it meant. In the nineties I used to ask self proclaimed libertarians if they had ever voted for Harry Browne who was their leader at the time, most had no idea what I was talking about.
Posted by: OrangeDuke | December 31, 2017 12:08 PM
That seems like an awfully broad definition of Libertarianism, one which doesn't have much coherence at the level of policy or culture. As AF notes, it's probably a stronger choice to view Gruenwald's stories as attempting to be apolitical, which makes his version of Cap, at least, kind of a default unmoored centrist who dislikes extremist ideologies in general.
Whether that reflects Gruenwald's own views is much harder to parse, specifically because he's on record as trying to keep his personal political views out of his characterization of Cap. There's really nothing in the Serpent Society plot, for example, that suggests why it ends with a dig at Reagan. And Squadron Supreme winds up focusing on the behavior modification technology and the idea that the Squadron can't be sure that the system they set up will continue to be used for benevolent ends.
Whether that means Gruenwald supports the goals but not the ends, or whether he's lumping them all in together isn't clear, and seems deliberately unclear. Gruenwald's comics don't carry the political stridency of Frank Miller or Mike Grell or even the critically-minded ambivalence of Alan Moore. They're definitely opposed to literal mind control, though, so I suppose Gru's got different politics than Chris Claremont :)
Posted by: Omar Karindu | December 31, 2017 1:07 PM
I'd always thought Gruenwald was likely a Democrat, and had never really considered him being anything else. A lot of John Walker's character, especially at the start, seems to be a parody of what a right-wing Captain America would be, from his Buckies starting off as idiots who harass immigrants to his Rambo-ish ultraviolence.
That said, there is a slightly more flattering portrayal of Reagan in #348, where he tells the corrupt Commission to release Steve Rogers from custody. Perhaps it was thought best to portray him better so no Conservative readers could complain that the comic was taking sides.
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | December 31, 2017 3:53 PM
Coincidentally I just found this Gruenwald interview from 1988, as he was about to write Cap 350, where he mentions that he was the 2nd longest running writer on Captain America. Who would have guessed how much longer his run would continue.
Starting at 5 minutes through, he compares John Walker to Rambo and also calls him the dark side of patriotism, which he follows with a criticism of people who only care about making money. I think some of his political views can be guessed from that portion of the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saD2pP-PvX0
Posted by: Jonathan, son of Kevin | December 31, 2017 4:25 PM
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