Captain America #345-347
Issue(s): Captain America #345 Captain America #346, Captain America #347
The old Captain, meanwhile, is in DC. The Falcon has decided it's time for him to go back to Harlem, so he's on his own in the search for Nomad and D-Man, who he doesn't yet know are being held by the Commission.
And the new Captain America's parents are taken hostage by the Watchdogs, acting on the fact that Right-Winger and Left-Winger exposed his secret ID as John Walker. We're reminded that John's older brother died in Vietnam, as we first learned in Captain America #333.
Walker is not authorized to leave his current mission to rescue his parents, but he does so anyway. Battlestar stays behind.
The Watchdogs contact him and force him to allow himself to be lynched or else his parents will be killed. Walker agrees and, as was the case with Battlestar earlier, his super-strong neck muscles prevent him from getting killed.
He fights the Watchdogs but during the battle his parents are killed.
This results in him going ultra-violent...
It's pretty cruel to kill off John Walker's never-seen-before parents! This also truncates the chance for Walker to redeem himself as Captain America and live up to the legacy as we run up to the original's return for issue #350 (Walker will continue as a character after that, ofc). The closest we got was the implication that John is driven to live up to the image of his dead brother, and this scene from a little earlier where he acknowledges the responsibility of being Cap.
Meanwhile, Vagabond has convinced Sidewinder to free Cap's sidekicks. I love her "oh" when Nomad tells her that she's "got some apologizing to do".
And D-Man opts to not get rescued, since he thinks staying and facing justice is what Cap would do. Weirdly, Vagabond stays too even though she was never arrested for anything.
Cap is contacted by a drunk and surly Nomad, who informs him that D-Man and Vagabond are held by the Commission.
So Cap goes to turn himself in.
Rockwell is more worried about the PR problems from Walker's violent killing of the Watchdogs than the actual deaths of the Watchdogs or Walker's parents, or Walker's emotional state. And his Commission continues to interrogate D-Man even after Steve Rogers has turned himself in. And we learn that he's not reporting to the President or as far as we can tell anyone else in the US government. He's reporting to a mysterious guy with a long cigarette holder that in the Marvel universe we know definitely means bad guy and probably means Baron von Strucker or the Red Skull.
Rockwell's master tells him to keep Captain America in action despite his problems, and he also tells him to let the Taskmaster escape from the Commission since "without him, good labor is hard to come by".
Meanwhile, the mutant Resistants attack a Guardsmen convoy...
..and rescue Mentallo.
Man that Guardsman above sure carries a grudge, huh? Right as he's being repeatedly needled with quills he's worried about who supplied the armor. "Who made this flimsy armor? Some crappy LMD replica of Obadiah Stane?" He's right to blame Stark for destroying all their legally purchased suits of their original armor, though.
Since Walker-Cap is not in a right state of mind, Freedom Force are sent along with Battlestar to go after the Resistance. Adrian Sammish, another member of the Commission, keeps almost calling Battlestar "Bucky".
Notice that from Valerie Cooper it seems like the the government has already arrested multiple mutants for not registering. I assume Mentallo was captured after the Avengers "rescued" him in Avengers #287, though.
The goal is to lure the Resistants out by putting "Quicksilver" on trial.
Since the trial is just for show, it gets pretty funny.
Due to the orders of his master, Rockwell meanwhile lets Captain America go in as back-up for Freedom Force and Battlestar. Walker doesn't care either way and just does what he's told.
We check in on the Resistants and find that they are camped out in the old base once used by Mesmero and the Demi-Men.
There are some interesting connections to be made here (see the comments on the Demi-Men appearance at Uncanny X-Men #52 from Walter, Nathan, and Jay). I know per Michael's comment on Captain America #342-455 that it's going to be said that Viper had no connection with the Resistants, but i'd still like to add to that FanFix in progress on the X-Men entry an explanation for how Slither (another former Brotherhood/Mutant Force character) somehow wound up with her.
The Resistants convince Mentallo to take on the new name "Think-Tank" (at least they are out of their "Peeper, Burner, Lifter" phase or i guess Mentallo would be "Thinker" and the "Don't call him 'Mad'" Thinker wouldn't like that)...
...and to support that, they literally put him in a tank.
Captain America is supposed to be back-up, but he attacks as soon as the Resistants show up...
...and they should be worried about the way he is grinning.
The addition of Mentallo doesn't help...
...and it becomes a slaughter again, like with the Watchdogs.
He's stopped from making it a complete massacre when Battlestar shows up in a Guardsman suit to stop him. But it turns out he completely wrecked the government's plan, which was to have the Resistants lead them back to their base (although the inclusion of Mentallo might have put a wrinkle in that plan anyway). Walker gave up going to his parents' funeral to do this.
The next issue has Walker-Cap harassing the family of Right- and Left-Winger, since they were the ones who exposed his identity and made it possible for the Watchdogs to kill his parents.
The Commission, meanwhile, debates what to do about him.
And Rogers-Cap wonders if Rockwell has something personal against him.
Walker eventually gets to confront Left- and Right-Winger.
He's pretty clearly unhinged, and he ties them up and leaves them to die.
I like Kieron Dwyer's use of facial expressions in that final sequence.
Also in this issue, the Communist Red Skull is rescued from his Algerian prison...
...only to be killed by (a) Scourge.
And that Scourge is working for our mysterious cigarette smoker.
Some pretty brutal stuff for John Walker, and i think designed to show that he ultimately didn't have what it takes to be Captain America. I've been looking a lot about whether the character really has been redeemed in any way after his early start as an opportunistic quasi-villain, and that hasn't really been the case. He's recognized the difficulty in being Cap but i haven't seen any regret for letting that lady get mugged in his first appearance or condoning his BUCkies' attack on the foreign exchange students. Battlestar has arguably changed more, but only in the sense that he now plays the standard role of black guys in comics to comment on minority rights (as we saw with the mutant Quill in the previous arc) and in this issue he's seen taking his final exam for high school equivalency, which is an improvement over his not being able to spell "foreign" in the exchange student issue but still kind of patronizing. Obviously we're not done with either character and there's more to come, but with Walker's repeated unhinged killings it's clear his time as Captain America is limited. The run up to #350 i think is some of Gruenwald's best Cap work, and i also want to acknowledge the solid work of Kieron Dwyer who is handling a huge cast of characters in these issues.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: With Freedom Force appearing here, i'd like this to take place after X-Factor #30-31, since they are "still" in Dallas after Fall of Mutants in those issues (they appear again in New York in X-Factor #33). That does cause quite a gap between the last Captain America arc and this one, since the last arc has to take place during Armor Wars (assuming all three stories in Captain America #341 are happening at the same time) while X-Factor #30-33 have to happen after their Evolutionary War annual. This arc definitely takes place after Armor Wars due to the reference to Iron Man #228 below. It is said at the beginning of this issue that "three days" have passed since the end of the last issue (there were also "two days" that passed at the end of issue #344 before Reagan gave his final fang-bearing speech, which may not be relevant; those could have been two of the same three days). But in the comic, the reason the three days is mentioned is that Captain America is thought to have been lingering in Washington DC for a longer period of time than expected, and if we exercise our chronologists' "temporal reference" privilege we can accept that large gap between issues. I feel pretty good about doing this since the MCP places the Marvel Comics Presents #2 appearance by Cap, which takes place in New York, between #344-345. Alternatively, you can imagine that the story from #342-344 went on for a long period of time and is happening concurrently with the events of the other comics in the gap. As for these three issues, they really could have each been in a separate entry, but during this period Walker is going crazy and Rogers in held by the Commission, so i've left it as a single entry as well. This arc also has to take place after Silver Surfer annual #1 thanks to that Marvel Comics Presents appearance.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (16): show
Killing Cap America's parents really hit me when I read it for the 1st time and he completely loses it in issue 347. Walker is obviously the complete opposite to the original Cap America and I feel we're heading into the 90s era of comics where every hero stops being heroes and become Wolverines and the Punishers.
Posted by: JSfan | July 14, 2014 12:11 PM
JSFAN, comparing John Walker to Wolverine & Punisher is an insult to Wolverine & Punisher. John Walker wasn't just a psycho, he was a selfish hypocrite. He had no problem engineering fights in the beginning to further his own image. Wolverine & Punisher never resorted to faking battles to help themselves. They may not have been followers of rules, but they always had a clear code of ethics they went by. I don't mean to sound angry, I just never liked the "new" Captain America. I wish they had picked the Falcon. He would have been a better representation of Captain America's ideals.
Posted by: clyde | July 14, 2014 1:07 PM
I think Gruenwald's intention was very much to put someone in the Cap role that didn't belong there to show how important it was for Steve Rogers to be Cap. So i don't think he was trying to glom on to the Punisher/Wolverine popularity and for this story i don't think he'd want to pick someone who could reasonably do well in the role, like Falcon. I think it had to be someone that didn't share Cap's ideals and discipline, so that we could see him fail. I think (and hope) we're supposed to be horrified by what Walker does when he cracks, not root him on like in a Punisher comic.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 14, 2014 1:23 PM
Walker-as-Cap can be seen as a "take-that" or metacommentary on the rise of the violent hero. It's the exact opposite of making Punisher a hero, it's showing why people like Frank Castle aren't heroes and people like Steve Rogers are.
The traumatized-by-the-consequences-of-Vietnam angle could be in reference to that. But it was also still a common cultural trope at the time, so I may be reading too much into it.
Posted by: Cullen | July 14, 2014 2:02 PM
Some really great issues. While I hated Walker, his arc really shows that only Steve Rogers can be cap.
Cullen you are exactly right. The whole John Walker arc is a reaction against the idea of the Punisher as a hero. I'm really surprised that it could be interpreted in any other way.
Of course they will later try to "redeem" Walker as the USagent. Something that fell flat for me.
Posted by: kveto from prague | July 14, 2014 2:33 PM
After reading all these comments, it seems like what DC did when they replaced Batman with Azrael. They took someone who was introduced recently and showed that the replacement couldn't do it as well without cracking under the pressure.
Posted by: clyde | July 14, 2014 2:36 PM
I classify heroes who will only kill under extreme circumstances, that's why they are heroes. Wolverine and The Punisher would kill without hesitation - I'm sure Storm has had to hold Wolverine back on a few ocassions. Walker is the opposite tothe original Captain America and I don't think the Original Cap would have killed Watchdog even if they had killed is parents (even if it would have tested his resolve to the limit.
I can certainly see comparisons with The Punisher in terms of seeking retribution. Perhaps I may have misinterpreted Mark G. It was just way he killed Watchdog made him out to be some sort of John McClane badass and I could see The Punisher finishing them off like that. Still, like Clyde was alluding to, The Punisher would certainly only go after lowlifes.
Posted by: JSfan | July 14, 2014 4:03 PM
Is this the first time Mentallo is referred to as a mutant, rather than just being considered whatever kind of quasi-superhuman the ESPers are?
Posted by: Walter Lawson | July 14, 2014 9:04 PM
This issue confused the issue of who the Scourges work for- the Scourge in this issue is working for the cigarette smoker but in the USAgent limited series the Scourge program is revealed to be the brainchild of another individual.
Posted by: Michael | July 14, 2014 9:12 PM
I believe that's correct, Walter. When you wondered about that in Abattoir entry, i know i looked through some of Mentallo's appearances at that point, especially Marvel Team-Up #118, to see if he was called a mutant, and i didn't find any. And since then, it wouldn't have come up in his recent Avengers appearance. So it's a good point; this must be where it's first established that he's a mutant.
Michael, it's a real angel of you to not spoil that.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 14, 2014 9:29 PM
FNORD, you little devil lol
Posted by: clyde | July 14, 2014 9:34 PM
"This is also where we learn that John's older brother died in Vietnam."- we learned that in issue 333.
Posted by: Michael | July 14, 2014 10:44 PM
This set of issues really builds well on the last batch. Great characterization.
I think Walker was on his way to redeeming himself, but didn't have the skills and character to survive the stress he's been under. Yes, ultimately the man is unworthy, but he is a much more conflicted character.
One thing that is important to note that throughout all of this, Walker is being set up to fail. There are a lot of bad decisions by the government here in preparing Walker for the role, and we learn it was not accidental. Someone wants to trash the reputation and prestige of Captain America. We don't know if Walker was really given the chance with the proper training, if he'd had done better.
Posted by: Chris | July 14, 2014 11:32 PM
Walker looks like quite unreedemable to me. It just turns out that he is useful to the schemes at hand, but that does not mean that he could become a virtuous man at some point.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | July 15, 2014 12:17 AM
Luis, did you think Lemar was redeemable? If you did, why was he redeemable and not Walker?
Posted by: Michael | July 15, 2014 7:36 AM
Michael, thanks for the reminder on Walker's brother. Updated the entry.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 15, 2014 7:43 AM
Clyde, word is that Sam Wilson will be the next Captain America in the current series. I'm still scratching my head as to how that idea never occurred to me. I guess it's because I'm such a huge Falcon fan! I only wish that Sam would wear the classic Cap suit from the Silver and Bronze Ages.
John Walker was so unlikable that you'd think he'd be long dead by now but the dude just keeps reinventing himself. I've never understood why writers keep using him but he has proved to be an enduring character. (Even after he regained his sanity and still acted as a jerk by bullying everyone around him.)
That said, it was sad to see his parents get killed and have him go nuts like that. You gotta feel bad for the guy. Once he began offing villains left and right, I knew there was no turning back and had him pegged for a goner by issue #350. (I was half right the month after that.) But those panels by Dwyer after Walker blows up the Wingers were indeed awesome.
Posted by: Clutch | July 15, 2014 11:43 AM
Michael, IMO, Lemar tried to make himself better both in his education & his attitude. When Walker was improving himself, it always seemed like it was out of a desire to show how he could be a better Captain America than the original. Even when he changed identities, he still had an "I'm better than everyone" attitude.
Posted by: clyde | July 15, 2014 1:00 PM
@Michael: yes, I do indeed find Lemar to be redeemable and redeemed, unlike John Walker.
Lemar is just more stable and less selfish. John Walker has never been both self-assured and virtuous at the same time, except perhaps in his Spectacular Spider-Man appearance... when he was out of character.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | July 15, 2014 4:06 PM
I suspect that wasn't a real Scourge, but a guy employed to pose as one, considering how the Skull uses "Scourge" in quotes.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 19, 2014 12:51 AM
I thought the this period was the peak of Gruenwald's run on the title. The adventures of The Captain (& his hand-picked commandoes) were a lot of fun.
And there was something I found appealing about following the arc of Walker, a real loathsome scumbag when we met him, trying to live up to the legend and be a better person. I was about the same age in the 80s and grew up around southern conservatives, and Gruenwald got a lot of the mindset of a redneck beginning to grow up right.
What wasn't satisfying was the abrupt and overly theatrical way it wrapped up. Absolutely no one was surprised that the new Cap didn't work out when the real Cap was still around, but by the time Walker lost it, I was actually rooting for the jerk to do better.
Posted by: BU | July 28, 2014 9:48 PM
Gruenwald is writing some really fun comics between this arc and the Viper serpent war issues. The scene where Walker madly talks to his dead parents sent chills down my spine in a way that movies with similar themes do. Well done. It seems like a lot of other readers don't seem to care for Walker as Cap. I found myself rooting for him. I think he was portrayed to give an honest effort and I liked the chemistry between him and Battlestar. I saw Battlestar as his equal more than Falcon was to the Steve Rogers Cap. Someone called it when they compared this storyline to Azrael (sp?) taking over as Batman. But there are only so many stories to tell before they repeat each other.
As mentioned in previous articles Gruenwald came up with great ideas but often failed in execution. I think he unintentionally did this to make his storylines simple. Sometimes a few more issues involving his themes would be required to build them up. I think this plot's pacing had just the right amount of time to be effective. It does make me wonder how the Falcon-as-Cap storyline will go. Will it be a rehash of this one? I am not current on comics so you guys might already know the answer.
Posted by: Ryan | December 19, 2014 11:56 PM
Douglas Rockwell's name might be a reference to George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 27, 2015 9:01 PM
I love all of the skulls in the cigarette smoke!
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | October 8, 2016 1:33 AM
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