Captain America #350
Issue(s): Captain America #350
And somebody else has been reading Watchmen.
Steve Rogers, meanwhile, has a passing concern that mutants are getting scapegoated for Inferno, but doesn't feel that he's in a position to do anything about it currently (and as far as i know, forgets about it later).
I know he's not Captain America yet, but he has reinstated the Avengers and you'd think he could release a statement or something, at least.
Perhaps inspired by the Watchmen reference, we're in a kind of comic book parody mode here.
More seriously, the current Captain America, John Walker, is still laid up in a hospital due to his injuries in the previous arc. The head of the Commission on Superhuman Affairs, Douglas Rockwell, shows up to chew him up for failing where Steve Rogers succeeded. However, the Commission has not yet decided to kick him out of the role yet, and Rockwell leaves to go join a meeting on that subject. Battlestar sticks around to tell Walker that he's behind him regardless of the Commission's decision, but Walker kicks him out for bringing in Rogers to rescue him.
No decision is made at Rockewell's meeting, but later that night, Rogers observes Rockwell talking to our mysterious Captain America killer on the video screen, and then Rockwell is attacked through the phone and turned into a red skull.
The Captain recognizes this as the Red Skull's handiwork, but still isn't convinced that it's the real one, since as far as he knows he died. Rogers gets the phone line traced. Meanwhile, Walker has received a mysterious call at the hospital telling him where he can get the Captain America shield back (he lost it to Flag-Smasher and it's actually back with Rogers as of last issue). So soon both are converging on the Red Skull's current headquarters in Washington DC.
Walker gets there first, and finds himself facing the Aryan guy, who tells him that he's Steve Rogers. And he's got a group of troops to fight Walker, from all the various organizations that we've seen in this book since Walker became Cap (although Walker himself didn't face them all). "Steve Rogers" claims to have been behind all these groups.
Some notes on these guys: The "Sweat Shop" was the group of super-soldiers that came to clean up after the Power Broker in Captain America #329. Next, notice that "Rogers" says that it's "a" Scourge of the Underworld, implying (along with their representation here) that it's an organization, not just an individual or lone copycat of the original. The MCP actually have this guy tagged as the same one who appeared as an agent of the Red Skull in Captain America #347 and will appear in #394, which undermines the idea that "Rogers" is controlling an organization of them. Finally, there's the Resistant guy, which both the MCP and Wikipedia tag as Crucible, aka Burner of Mutant Force. However, he's identified here as "Rust", and even though he does seem to be shooting fire like Crucible...
...his powers do seem to cause things to rust.
The Marvel Appendix identifies him as Rust, not Crucible, and i'm following them on that one, especially since Walker seemingly kills everyone in this fight (but i am following the MCP on Scourge, if for no other reason than i don't need 19 different Scourge tags; for Rust, since this is his only appearance, i haven't included a tag).
While Walker was fighting those guys, Captain America was talking to "Steve Rogers", who is increasingly plausibly presenting himself as the real Red Skull, via a view screen.
The Skull reveals that Captain America was replaced by the Super-Patriot, something that Rogers didn't know yet. The Skull also claims responsibility for having that done. And additionally, his body is actually a clone of Steve Rogers'; for operating in the modern world, he thinks it's better to have "the face of a handsome Aryan". So no more Skull mask for him.
All this is to prime up Rogers for the fight with Walker that the Red Skull has arranged. Walker, of course, needs no priming.
Walker was recently injured, and was actually seen putting on his costume over his bandaged limbs before responding to the Red Skull's call, so this really isn't a fair fight. But for Cap it's the opportunity to redeem himself after losing to Walker last time. So i guess just don't tell him, ok you guys?
I think Kieron Dwyer is doing a nice job distinguishing Rogers from Walker. Walker is over the top, but it's appropriate for the way the character is being written.
Rogers manages to knock Walker out, and then the Red Skull shows up in person. Cap correctly says that he should just slug him and be done with it, but he does let the Skull monolog while he tries to figure out what the trick is.
Lucky for him, Walker wakes up and relaunches his attack, hitting the Skull just as he's about to blow his dust of death.
So much for his handsome Aryan face. For his part, the confused Walker wasn't even sure who he was hitting.
The Skull gets away, and both Rogers and Walker go back to face the Commission. Rockwell is dead, and Val Cooper tells Rogers that they want him back. But Rogers refuses.
However, Walker (who seems to have recovered a lot of his sanity) follows him out the door and tells him that he wants him to have the uniform and shield.
And so, Steve Rogers becomes Captain America once again.
This is a $1.75 super-sized issue, celebrating the meaningless but round number of 350, so there are a few special features, including a "Women In Captain America's Life" spread that includes Viper (something we should know, Cap?) and a "Six Captain Americas" spread that includes Roscoe, a powerless guy that very briefly wore the Cap costume during the Nomad period and was killed by the Red Skull. But the most important feature is a back-up story drawn by John Byrne, showing that the Red Skull's resurrection and cloned Steve Rogers body are thanks to Arnim Zola.
After a long recap of the Skull's history (see References), the Red Skull declines the use of his mask.
Of course by the time we're reading this, that's already moot.
I'm pretty confident that it was Gruenwald's plan all along to have the violent Walker fail as Captain America to illustrate the "it's the man, not the uniform" principle. I'm less confident that Gruenwald intended the Red Skull to be behind it from the beginning, and i think it weakens the story a bit. Much better to have the government really decide that they wanted Cap on a leash and have Cap refuse. And i think it's more than silly to have the Red Skull be behind virtually every threat that the Caps have faced off against for the past two years. It's one thing to have an arch-rival, but you don't want him to be behind everything!
Still, it's been a cool situation for the past two years. Sometimes going through this project i'm struck by how short a period of time some of the seemingly momentous events i remember reading during my childhood really were. Spider-Man wore the symbiote suit for only half a year, for example. And similarly, when i see the howls of outrage from some quarters today when Marvel announces some change, like Peter Parker "dying" and getting replaced with Doctor Octopus, or the later Captain America substitutions, i think people don't realize that due to decompressed storytelling methods, those stories are, in-universe, lasting as long as something like this. That said, i think the 20 or so issues that Steve Rogers gave up being Cap was the right length of time and with the right level of (de)compression. We've seen a variety of stories with Rogers (and Walker) in this scenario in these past two years, but it hasn't gone on for so long that we've forgotten that Rogers is the "real" Captain America, a point that there's never been much doubt about in this series, especially as Walker became more and more unhinged. I can't say that Mark Gruenwald's writing has always been the best, but the scenario itself has been great and it's definitely the highlight of Gruenwald's long run on the title for me.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Steve Rogers is reported to have been sighted in New York city "yesterday"; although that doesn't necessarily have to be during Avengers #299-300. Since Cap says things are "pretty much" back to normal in New York, this definitely takes place after Inferno proper and should probably take place after New Mutants #74 where there are still some residual effects going on. Captain America #351, which formalizes the transition back to Steve Rogers, occurs next for Cap. I'm treating the Arnim Zola back-up feature, which takes place "a few short years ago", as a flashback rather than break it up into a separate entry.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (13): show
Going by publication date, was this Byrne's first work back at Marvel since '86?
Posted by: Robert | September 8, 2014 6:39 PM
Not counting his New Universe stuff (Byrne was drawing Star Brand in 1987), i believe that's the case.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 8, 2014 6:45 PM
I like the idea that the Skull is enough of a mastermind to have all those iroms in the fire at once. And every time I read the issue, I always feel sorry for those poor schmucks at the beginning.
Posted by: Thanos6 | September 8, 2014 6:58 PM
I think what made the status quo change easier to swallow was that Steve Rogers was still a co-star in the book so we actually got to SEE how he dealt with the new situation, making it feel more like an organic story instead of some editorial mandate to boot him out of the book. Speaking of costarring...
I know that for a while the Cap books start featuring backup stories relating to Cap's supporting cast and villains. Is this the issue where that format starts?
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 8, 2014 8:22 PM
Not yet, but pretty soon. The Bloodstone Hunt begins with issue #357 and that has back-ups with USAgent. And then it goes into back-ups with Vagabond, Cobra, etc..
Posted by: fnord12 | September 8, 2014 8:46 PM
Byrne was Kieron Dwyer's stepfather at the time, which may be why he marks his MU return here. Or it's just a coincidence.
This story seemed anticlimactic at the time, and it still reads like a rather hasty conclusion to the saga. Rockwell screws up, the Skull kills him in a way that telegraphs he's back, and the two Caps fight. Was the Skull's scheme so fragile it could unravel so quickly--and dud he really think revealing his existence, after concealing it so long, served any purpose? It's not like he had a great reason to be confident Walker would kill Rogers or vice versa. It all seems utterly ad hoc.
Gru goes on to make the Skull an interesting villain, but his mission statement in this ish about American decadence doesn't develop into much, and all his schemes seem kinda pointless, if not as cartoony as in the old death-satellite days.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | September 8, 2014 9:38 PM
A lot of readers didn't like the idea that Cap regained his confidence by defeating Walker (a) five seconds after he got out of the hospital and (b) right after he exhausted himself fighting the Skull's goons. By Gruenwald's logic, Spit and Jet are two of Daredevil's greatest foes since they easily defeated a beat-up Daredevil in DD 260.
Posted by: Michael | September 8, 2014 9:38 PM
This storyline was certainly an improvement over the previous status quo of the Captain America call line, and had an interesting concept, but the execution was so flawed.
Characterization, for one, is functional at best, with hardly any subtlety and some unfortunate choices.
Of course, the worst ones are still to come, with the odd decisions to give John Walker the Captain costume (which I wish had been kept by Steve; it is far superior to the blues) and treat him as if he were an actual hero in WCA and beyond. That just made no sense whatsoever.
Other than that, we could have had so much development of Nomad, Falcon, Flash-Smasher, even Battlestar, but that was just not to be. Even the nominal protagonists have just the broadest strokes of clear personalities and motivations.
In the end, it is far better for concept than execution.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 9, 2014 11:43 AM
I remember asking months ago about the Skull and his face and this is where I feel they 'get it right' and make his face always a red skull.
Now I haven't read this myself but I do understand the disappointment in making the Red Skull the one behind all this. Having the government putting Cap on a leash is a very grounded idea for conflict.
Still I do agree with Thanos saying the Skull would having all these plans in motion at once.
It has been such a long time but doesn't it seem like the crappy 90s Captain America movie borrows quite a bit from this period? I mean borrowing and failing.
Posted by: david banes | September 9, 2014 12:53 PM
I remember being very disappointed with this reveal - it reduced all motivation to conspiracy. And between the various parties, they all had very interesting concepts that were believable (as far as that goes). I wasn't yet to the point in my political development where I was a straight-up ULTIMATUM booster, but the idea that they were part of the Skull's machinations really let me down, even then.
Posted by: Cullen | September 9, 2014 2:08 PM
Fnord, I just looked through my copy of X-Factor Annual 4. The back-up story takes place the day after Inferno. X-Factor is preparing for Maddie's funeral in X-Factor 40, and they tell two FBI agents the cover story about AIM. "Two days" after Inferno, the Bugle reports the cover story. So this takes place the day after Inferno and X-Factor 40 takes place slightly after.
Posted by: Michael | September 14, 2014 10:59 PM
Ok, thanks Michael. I think where this issue is placed now it is at a day after Inferno (pretty close to Excalibur #8), and i'll keep this in mind for placement of the X-Factor annual back-up and X-Factor #40.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 15, 2014 7:41 AM
Is this the issue where the Red Skull "switches" from Nazism to Nihilism? If not, it's made explicit somewhere else.
I think Gruenwald did it to update the Skull because WWII was so long ago that Nazism wasn't a credible threat. It just seemed too dated. However, being a nihilist actually didn't make the Skull any more contemporary. I think a simply more updated portrayal of the Skull's plans were all that were necessary.
Say what you will about National Socialism. At least it's an ethos.
Posted by: Chris | October 4, 2014 12:50 AM
As of All-New Captain America 3, Remender has undone the Snap Wilson retcon, and the Skull's recollections in this issue aren't addressed.
Posted by: Michael | January 15, 2015 7:44 PM
At about this time, Comics Interview #68 stated that Roy Thomas was plotting a Golden Age Captain America graphic novel for Marvel, but I don't know if it ever happened.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 27, 2015 11:16 AM
Maybe they meant the Medusa Effect Graphic Novel that came out in 1994.
Posted by: Michael | January 27, 2015 11:29 AM
Anyone catch the Red Skull teases in the smoke?
Posted by: Vin The Comic Guy | March 9, 2015 3:59 PM
I did when the comic came out in real time. Also caught the Simon and Kirby references in the cigarette smoke. I thought it was playful at the time. Looking back at it now, I think of it as an indication of the positive energy Dwyer brought to this book. His storytelling was quite thoughtful for a new artist, and he helped elevate Gruenwald's scripts.
Posted by: Aaron Malchow | June 28, 2015 3:11 AM
Was there anyone at the time who didn't think Steve would become Captain America again in issue #350? It seemed like the obvious conclusion for a long time. I think I may have even thought it as early as #332 when he gives up the costume.
I do love to have Byrne back at Marvel. That Red Skull mask in the final panel is friggin awesome.
Posted by: Erik Beck | August 22, 2015 10:15 AM
As the letters pages show, there was a very vocal contingent of Walker fans who wanted to keep the psycho on as Cap. Even though he was invented as a plot device to make Steve look good, there was a segment of the grimdark crowd who liked seeing a Cap beat people to death and founf the original Cap "boring.".
I imagine the original plan was to do away with Walker or write him out after 350, but his sizable fanbase led to us getting US Agent.
Posted by: Bob | August 22, 2015 8:11 PM
Douglas Rockwell's name may be a reference to George Lincoln Rockwell, notorious as the founder of the American Nazi Party (swapping in Stephen Douglas's name for Lincoln's).
Posted by: Omar Karindu | September 22, 2016 5:56 PM
Gruenwald is an excellent writer, damn. I just can't believe how thoroughly I've enjoyed the Squadron Supreme limited series and his Cap run.
Posted by: will | December 3, 2017 9:00 PM
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