Captain America #352-353
Issue(s): Captain America #352, Captain America #353
Before we get to any Soviets, we first get to see Captain America looking over a group of potential Avengers recruits. Now that we're a few issues past the period of over a year where Steve Rogers had given up being Captain America, it's time to get a sense for the new direction for the series. And if i were the writer of the Avengers title, i'd be nervous. Last issue we saw Cap recruiting Peggy Carter to be the Avengers communications director, and this issue has Cap looking at recruits while a lot of time is devoted to the new layout of Avengers Island and how security chief Michael O'Brien operates. For intertwining continuity purposes i'm happy to see it all here, but you'd think it would be something the writer of Avengers might like to establish in his own book. And more to the point, Gruenwald isn't (yet, anyway) establishing any kind of supporting cast or new status quo for Cap. He's just hanging out on Avengers Island, and he just happens to be the one that is home when the events of these issues occur.
And this is all by design. The reason Roger Stern got fired from the Avengers was because he didn't go along with the storyline that returned Cap to a leadership role in the Avengers. I don't think Stern had a problem with Captain America being the leader, exactly, just the way Gruenwald wanted it to occur and how it affected Captain Marvel. But the idea was that the Avengers book sold much better than Captain America, so Gruenwald wanted the Cap book to be more tightly integrated with Avengers, making it seem essential to Avengers readers. It took a while for this to come to fruition since Gruenwald was also doing the John Walker storyline, but this is where we've wound up.
Anyway, the candidates:
That is Speedball (he's not called the Masked Marvel here), the Blue Shield (a very minor Dazzler character), Gladiatrix (one of the new Grapplers introduced in the Thing), and Mechanaut (actually Fabian Stankowicz, a character who has only acted as a joke villain so far). It's an odd bunch for Cap to consider.
Gladiatrix makes the most sense since she doesn't have any kind of established motivation so far, and if D-Man can be offered membership, why not her?
Blue Shield, for all his obscurity, isn't exactly a newbie, and he's also got a very specific motivation about fighting the Mafia, so what's his reason for wanting to join the Avengers now? It's not said.
As for Speedball, in his own series he hasn't shown much inclination to be a "real" super-hero yet. In fact, besides beating on the masked criminal of the month, his main focus has been trying to catch Niels the cat so they could test it for any long term problems that the "speedball effect" might have on living beings. So if he really had the ability to get to a group with the resources of the Avengers, you'd think he'd ask them to test him, not ask to join them. And i'm not sure where Springdale is supposed to be, but i'll bet it's a hike from there to Avengers Island. Robbie has parents and school to consider. On the other hand, i guess what kid wouldn't immediately try to join the Avengers once s/he got super-powers? And i suppose the speedball effect prevents Cap from recognizing that Speedball is a kid? But that raises the question of how Cap decided to allow these people to try out without looking into their backgrounds first. Ah, i'm thinking about it too hard.
Finally, we already know from the employee sheet in Avengers #300 that Fabian Stankowicz will actually have the most success out of this bunch, although he'll be hired as the Avengers' mechanic, not a team member. I'm assuming Cap figures it's better to keep him around in a controlled capacity rather than let him go on another rampage across late night television. More on him in #354.
For now, though, Cap's initial idea for a try out session isn't working out.
And before he can think of something else, he's called in by O'Brien to investigate a radar blip.
While Cap is looking at that, the original Soviet Super-Soldiers show up, and the new candidates think it's a good idea to attack.
Cap eventually gets back and stops the fight.
He sends the candidates home, telling them that they have raw talent but need to work on their fighting styles.
Again, i'd think that Blue Shield might take umbrage to that. And you'd think Cap would really tell them that being an Avenger means knowing how to assess a threat or not shooting first and asking questions later, or something like that.
Anyway, the Soviet Super-Soldiers are here asking for asylum. They want to defect. Captain America allows them to lodge at Avengers Mansion (which, we're told, is now free of any important equipment; it's all been moved to other buildings on the island), and he reaches out to Raymond Sikorski to handle the defection request. However, Cap is lured away from the island by an unidentified individual shooting energy balls (reported by Peggy Carter). While he's away, we see the Soviets watching television. In Captain America #342-344, i wondered if Gruenwald had thoughts on Ronald Reagan's politics. Here we see that he does in at least one case, the anti-Soviet rhetoric that Reagan was using in a time of Glasnost. It nearly causes the Super-Soldiers to give up on their plan to come to the US.
A quick Google text search does not confirm that Reagan actually gave a speech like that (and here's his official Farewell Address). But Reagan did famously call the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire" and i think the general sentiment is accurate; it's also interesting to see a speech directed internally at the American people observed by Soviets regardless of the politics involved.
Before the Soviets decide what to do, Captain America shows up and tells them they need to go to the training facility for a test that will prove that they are who they say they are. "Cap" is acting more stiff and formal than we've seen earlier in the issue.
Meanwhile, Battlestar is still part of our supporting cast, so there are also scenes of him wondering about the death of John Walker. He's told that the mysterious disappearance of Walker's body has a convenient explanation: Walker's sister claimed the body and had it cremated. We'll see later that Battlestar doesn't buy that, especially when he goes to the sister's house and finds it vacated; for now he just declines a job offer from Val Cooper.
However, the subplot is inserted in time for us to wonder if the "Captain America" talking to the Soviets is really Walker.
That turns out to not be the case, though. The Soviets are led to the training facility where they are made to fight "Cap along with "Iron Man", "Vision", and "Thor".
And the "Avengers" aren't holding back, or fighting fair.
And that's because they aren't the Avengers, they're the new Supreme Soviets.
From left to right, that is Sputnik (whose name will later get changed to Vostok), the current Crimson Dynamo, a new Red Guardian, Perun, and Fantasia (who didn't disguise herself as an Avenger and instead generated the illusions; she'll later change her name to Fantasma).
When Cap gets back he's ready to chew out Jarvis and O'Brien for letting the Super-Soldiers leave their quarters (like, what could they do to stop them?) but then he finds out about the massacre in the training room. The Super-Soldiers are taken to Dr. Kincaid, but they are already brain dead.
Captain America, meanwhile, flies to the Soviet Union to investigate possible motives behind the deaths of the Soldiers. His official reason for being there, though, which isn't a lie (it's Cap!), is to open up the possibility of making the Avengers' services available to the USSR, as he explains in apparently fluent Russian.
Later, he sees an amorphous blob of darkforce outside his hotel room and heads out to attack.
It eventually disappears.
The new Red Guardian later shows up to introduce himself...
...and they have a second encounter with the creature.
This time the creature absorbs Red Guardian into its body.
In the third manifestation of the creature, the rest of the Supremes attack...
...and they eventually put it together that the creature is a gestalt of the three Super-Soldiers that they attacked. They get absorbed too, but Cap convinces the Super-Soldiers not to steal their lifeforces.
Back in America, "Two days later", the original Soviet Super-Soldiers are awake; to them it was a shared dream, not a conscious decision to retaliate against their attackers. It's not said if there are any repercussions for the Supreme Soviets' actions or if it was done with the approval of the state. And regarding the gestalt, Captain America says that it would take Doctor Strange to understand what happened.
A lot of characters and ideas introduced here, but it doesn't seem that a lot of long term planning went into them. The Soviet Super-Soldiers' next appearance is in 1992's Soviet Super-Soldiers one-shot, for example, and there's no follow-up with the try-out Avengers here (even Stankowicz's appearance next issue seemingly ignores this one). The first part of this arc is basically establishing Cap as a secondary Avengers book (and presumably testing out the candidates as Avengers with the audience as well), and the second story is just an adventure story that doesn't quite reach a satisfying conclusion.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: Avengers Island is in New York harbor and Keith Kincaid is now working for the Avengers, placing this after Avengers #301-303. Speedball's appearance here is context free for the purposes of placement.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (5): showBattlestar, Blue Shield, Captain America, Crimson Dynamo V, Darkstar, Fabian Stankowicz, Fantasma, General Lewis Haywerth, Gladiatrix, Guardsman II (Michael O'Brien), Henry Peter Gyrich, Jarvis, Keith Kincaid, Peggy Carter, Perun, Raymond Sikorski, Red Guardian (Steel Guardian), Speedball, Ursa Major, Valerie Cooper, Vanguard, Vostok
That 1992 Super-Soldiers one-shot was originally meant to be published around the time of, or a little before, the "People's Protectorate" storyline in Avengers in 1990, which is why there's confusion about Airstrike/Crimson Dynamo's armor and the group's name. I think it was originally going to be a Marvel Comics Presents serial in '89 or '90.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | September 22, 2014 8:38 PM
The Soviet's name seems to be "Fantasia", not "Fantasma".
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 22, 2014 8:43 PM
Fantasia changes her name to Fantasma the same time Sputnik becomes Vostok. The names are so similar i didn't mention the name change but i've added that in now. Thanks Luis.
Posted by: fnord12 | September 22, 2014 8:51 PM
And this is the third of Marvel's Cold War stories in 1988 that didn't work because the Cold War was coming to an end. In fact, that's the reason for the lack of followup. Fabian Nicieza created the new Soviet Super Soldiers- that's why he's listed under "special thanks". This was planned as a prelude to a Marvel Comics Presents series with the Soviet Super Soldiers but then Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe and the Marvel Comics Presents series was shelved until 1992, when it appeared as the Soviet Super-Soldiers oneshot. That causes chronological complications but for now, note that Vanguard, Darkstar and Ursa Major are in a coma at the beginning of the oneshot following the events of this story, so any appearances, such as Ursa Major's appearance in Marvel Comics Presents 25, should NOT take place between this issue and the Soviet Super Soldiers oneshot.
Posted by: Michael | September 22, 2014 9:37 PM
Like a lot of Gruenwald's writing, there are some seeds of interest here and good writing, but a lot of mediocre stuff as well. I think you summed the points I'd make already.
One additional comment is that the new Soviet team is mostly made up of analogs to the Avengers. There is very little creativity or logic to some of this.
Red Guardian never had a shield before, so why now? The original had stun disks instead; it would have been better to continue with that.
While the Crimson Dynamo is an existing character and appropriate, the new character of Sputnik/Vostok and Perun don't make sense. In real life and in established Marvel canon, the Soviet Union was far behind the West in electronics and computers. Therefore, an android doesn't make sense. Perun is an actual pagan deity, and seems incongruous why he would serve an officially atheist government. Both are derivative and unoriginal characters. It would have been far better if more creative characters were used and proper motivations given.
Fantasia/Fantasma seems only to exist to conceal the identities of the others, and perhaps is a Scarlet Witch analogue.
At a certain point, derivatives of the Avengers and Justice League get very old. How many versions can there possibly be?
Ursa Majors attitude is very strange for a defector. Unless he is a Solzhenitzyn type enamored of Russia's "spiritual" past, his rants against capitalism seems misplaced. The freedom and wealth of the West was a prime factor in most defections.
The misunderstanding fight is also groan worthy. Excusable in the Silver Age, but more is expected now. There are numerous ways the SSS could have defected that would have reduced the chance of panic or fighting. It adds nothing to the story and simply pads the comic with fluff.
Posted by: Chris | September 22, 2014 9:49 PM
Defecting to the West is hardly a reason to suffer Reagan, nor is Perun any less likely to side with Soviet authorities than Thor is to side with the USA (as opposed to, say, Norway). And that is assuming that he is in some sense the pagan deity as opposed to a homage.
Non-Abrahamic Gods rarely have that hard a time with disbelievers.
Personally, I have more trouble with the idea that Steve would keep the blue costume after his recent troubles.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 22, 2014 10:05 PM
Chris, it's revealed later -- or maybe in passing in this story -- that Sputnik/Vostok is an alien android, discovered rather than invented by the Soviets. In any case, Marvel's Soviets have had super-science before: presumably if you can build a Crimson Dynamo, you can build androids. Or buy them from AIM.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | September 22, 2014 10:43 PM
Walter, yes the Soviets in the MU had super science just like the US and other countries had super science. However, the Soviet super science was usually subpar compared to the American.
Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man are actually a case in point. The armor of both was both bigger and heavier than Iron Man's (in the same way a vacuum tube radio was bigger and heavier than a transistor one), and usually much more limited. I always took it that they were technologically inferior to the American super science in the same way real Soviet aircraft and weapons in the Cold War were generally inferior. That isn't to say they were bad, but not as good technology or quality as the Western armaments.
Luise, I think if you are using the word "suffer", you might be using your own personal opinion about Reagan than the likely attitude defectors would have. In my experience, defectors or dissidents behind the Iron Curtain generally have a high opinion about Reagan. Not all defectors need to be, but Ursa Major's behavior I think presents a problem. Of course, one way of addressing it is that Ursa Major really didn't want to defect, but Vanguard and Darkstar did. Ursa Major might have felt trapped that he had no choice because without them he'd have problems in the USSR with no allies. That is probably the real explanation; but if so it would have been better for Gruenwald to build on that in the story.
You are certainly right that perhaps Perun is not an actual Marvel deity ala Thor, but then you have the problem of explaining why the Soviets would use the name for their own super team? Everything about the Communists were ideological - this is not contemporary Russia. If it is a god, I think it creates problems in a superhero universe concept. Thor has no problem joining the Avengers because he is the defender of Midgard and works with other heroes to protect people. if Perun is the same, why is he working for an OPPRESSIVE government? That's not heroic at all. So if he's actually villainous - and his actions here seem like that - then what does that say about Perun in the Marvel Universe as opposed to the god in myth? Ares could be a villain because the Greek myths were not favorable to him; but Perun was not depicted that way. His involvement here just seems incongruous to me.
Regardless of the origins of Perun and Vostok, I still find them as derivative characters. It'd have been better to have them be more original characters in keeping with how the Soviets might have fielded a new team.
Posted by: Chris | September 22, 2014 11:45 PM
It is hard enough to believe Americans had stomach for Reagan. Let alone Soviets, even defectors. Running away from Communist repression is one thing; having sympathy for Reagan is quite decisively on the other extreme.
Major's attitude was one of the best pieces of characterization I saw in Gru's Cap. Granted, that is faint praise.
I'm not sure what the problem is with Perun either. He is a nationalistic symbol, simple as that. Soviets are nothing if not nationalistic. Even if he is a true God, give him a convincing story about the need to defeat the enemies of the country and send the traitors back for punishment and you are good to go.
Nationalism is like that, folks.
But sure, originality is not a virtue these characters show.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 23, 2014 12:09 AM
We've seen lots of evidence of the oppressive nature of the 616 US Government throughout the 70s and 80s, Chris, so the question "why would a heroic god work for an oppressive government?" indeed would apply to Thor (Hercules, etc.) as well.
Posted by: Cullen | September 23, 2014 12:29 AM
Speaking as a citizen of a former Warsaw pact country, I can very much state that our opinion of Reagan is extremely low.
I'm always surprised how often people in the West are very happy to tell us all about life behind the Iron Curtain. Would you like me to tell you what life is like in your neck of the woods? Arg, I don't wanna get more political than that.
Perun is a Slavic god, very often used in the old regime to build national pride. The same way that a Christian country might study pagan gods out of pride or interest.
And his full name is Perun-Thor. As early Slavic history is closely tied with Norse history, Thor and Perun no doubt descended from the same source. So its no wonder he's derivative.
Posted by: kveto from prague | September 23, 2014 3:44 PM
I forgot to comment on the story. I did see some parallels with Cap's recent government troubles. It was nice to see Guenwald trying to differentiate between the Super soldiers as representatives of the people and the Supreme Soviets as agents of the regime. A nice idea to try to show that characters could see the difference between a government and its people. They could even clearly believe in an economic system like socialism (Ursa Major at least clearly does), just not agree with the government that was trying to carry it out.
Posted by: kveto from prague | September 23, 2014 4:20 PM
Thor might work for the US government, but you'd never see him acting as an assassin like Perun was portrayed as.
Posted by: Michael | September 23, 2014 7:52 PM
Thor bashed his share of Evil Commies in his day:
Interestingly, the Ultimate Universe Thor *does* seem to consider himself above/in opposition to the US government, though someone more familiar can give more detail on that...
Posted by: cullen | September 23, 2014 11:27 PM
"But that raises the question of how Cap decided to allow these people to try out without looking into their backgrounds first."
Wouldn't the first trait of a good super-hero be the inability to find out his or her secret identity? If Captain America was able to deduce who they were, there wouldn't be much point in them being masked in the first place.
Posted by: clyde | July 9, 2015 12:54 PM
I rather liked the tryout idea. There wasn't anything like the New Warriors at this time and nothing like DC had with the Teen Titans or the Outsiders. I remember in DC Presents #17, when Superman met Firestorm he mentions that when he was Firestorm's age, he was part of a group (Legion of Super-Heroes) and he invites Firestorm to join the JLA partially to help train him. And it certainly worked to bring Captain Marvel in as a "in-training" member when she first got her powers.
I also liked bringing in Fabian as a mechanic. He's clearly a brilliant mechanic and it's better to make use of his ideas.
The new Supreme Soviets was interesting and before the fall of the Wall, it wasn't as obvious how quickly things would change, at least to people on this side of the curtain. The writers probably thought they had more time to make use of them.
Posted by: Erik Beck | August 26, 2015 12:40 PM
Darkstar and the Winter Guard (an enormously underrated gem) reveals that Fantasma is and always has been a Dire Wraith sleeper agent.
In Hulk #393 (which will be covered very soon), there is a scene where one of the Pantheon sees Fantasma's "real face" and it freaks them out.
Posted by: AF | February 12, 2016 7:25 PM
(I feel bad about posting that coz it is a major spoiler for that series, but it is something I feel needs to be considered when looking at her appearances)
Posted by: AF | February 12, 2016 7:32 PM
Thanks for pointing this out, AF. Since, as you say, she's always been a Dire Wraith, it sounds like i don't have to worry about splitting out the tags, but i think it's good to know a spoiler like this for exactly the reason you say.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 13, 2016 11:35 AM
Comments are now closed.
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