Captain America #394-397
Issue(s): Captain America #394 (back-up only), Captain America #395, Captain America #396, Captain America #397
Issue #395 opens with Cap training with Diamondback, even though she's giving up her career as a super-person to become Cap's secretary. Talk of Diamondback's butt apparently turns Captain America into a teenaged boy.
So, like, you want to go to the dance or whatever? Not that i really care.
The Red Skull is smoother with the ladies.
But that makes poor Mother Night sad.
And here's the intersection scene. We check in on Crossbones, who the Skull exiled. He briefly stops in a bar (with no name).
Well, that's the price of admission right there. 8-Ball playing pool with Oddball.
But the intersection point is the fight that breaks out.
Crossbones walks out without getting involved. We'll come back to that when we get to the BAD girls.
Mother Night, meanwhile, is supervising the auditions for Crossbones' replacement. The recruiting doesn't seem to be going that well, because the contest is a three way battle between a trio of absolute losers.
There is Deathstroke, from Spider-Woman #39), a character that probably shouldn't have been used again since he was probably just a one-time nod to the DC character. There's Mangler, a generic Power Broker goon with a few appearances where he never distinguished himself (Gruenwald admittedly distinguishes him here by showing that despite being a big goon, he's got a good vocabulary). And the guy who actually wins is Cutththroat, from Marvel Team-Up #89. As always, Gruenwald's desire to bring in discarded elements of the Marvel universe is admirable, and granted that two of the characters here are technically Claremont creations. But there's no getting around the fact that the three guys vying for the Red Skull's top henchman position are a bunch of two-bit nobodies.
Speaking of intersection points, we also have a scene that intersects with Thor #437 and Quasar #28. Cap has been doing administration work and checking up on the solo actions of other Avengers. And he calls in the new Thor to discuss the fact that he decided to let Absorbing Man and Titania go free.
Cap doesn't really examine Thor's decision, and instead moves on to the fight that Hercules arranged between Thor and Quasar.
The upshot is that Cap tells Thor he is being demoted to training status, and he arranges for them to work together later in the day. That turns out to not just be some time in the training room. Cap takes Thor to check out Skullhouse now that the Red Skull was seemingly killed again (not that Cap believes it). And the house turns out to be protected by Doughboy and Arnim Zola.
Zola has Dougboy try to drown Cap and Thor in a lake (love this second scan; so ridiculous!)...
...and in the meantime he shrinks Skullhouse to the size of a dollhouse and brings it to the Red Skull's new hideout in the Rocky Mountains.
Thor manages to break out of Doughboy, and Cap leaves Thor to fight Doughboy while he returns to the mansion to try to catch Zola.
Meanwhile, Mother Night has arranged for Cutthroat to get some training from Taskmaster, but Cutthroat is not exactly distinguishing himself. And Mother Night is full of drama.
If the idea is to make me hope that Red Skull has Mother Night killed off, it's working. But i don't think that's the idea.
Speaking of drama:
So maybe we'd better get back to the super-hero stuff. Cap finds that the Skull's mansion is gone, but the basement is still there. So he heads down to investigate and finds another long forgotten villain, Blackwing, along with a new Jack O'Lantern.
Blackwing's "father" isn't the Red Skull. It will turn out that his father owned the property before the Skull took it from him. Blackwing's father is Silvermane, although that's not mentioned in these issues.
I've noted in the past that Cap has felt restricted in trying to arrest the Red Skull since he wasn't officially known to have committed any crimes. But he has no problem trying to capture Jack O'Lantern for questioning because he's wearing the uniform of the previous "terrorist".
Jack's powers include hallucinogenic gasses, and he makes Cap think that he's shrinking. I originally wondered if that was related to Zola's shrinking of the Skullhouse, like maybe some Pym particles got left behind. But this is all in Cap's head.
Although if Pym particles caused you to see stuff like this, it would explain a lot about Henry Pym.
As for Blackwing and Jack O'Lantern, they are a couple of dudebros.
If you look in the art in all the above panels, Cap is just sitting there in a defensive crouch while he's having his psychedelic dreams. So when Black & Jack decide to take him out, you'd think they could just kind of walk around to the side of him before blasting. But instead they aim right for Cap's shield. Which, i mean maybe they're just kind of dumb, but it seems like Mark Gruenwald is trying to make up for it in the script by suggesting that Cap is fighting back, albeit in a more confused state than usual. I'm going with "dumb", though.
However, the Red Skull is more impressed with them than i am. He's watching via a video monitor in his old basement. And he calls in Mother Night to tell her to recruit the two bros.
She's probably lucky that he cuts her off before she tells him about her own recruiting efforts, considering the quality of Cutthroat. But of course the focus is on the way he treats her, especially in front of Viper.
She brings Cutthroat with her.
Cap, meanwhile, decides to shut his eyes and run through a training sequence. I can't help think of this sequence from the Simpsons.
In different circumstances, i imagine Black & Jack would just step back and laugh their asses off at Cap flailing wildly around the room, but at the same time the Red Skull activates a forcefield around the basement so that his new potential recruits can't leave before Mother Night shows up. Blackwing knows another way out, so they leave Cap to practice his gymkata all by himself.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Viper didn't notice the BDSM line in the Red Skull's classified ad.
Cap eventually recovers and follows Black & Jack into the sewers. He's able to knock them out, but then it seems like they are killed by a Scourge. Cap chases the Scourge, who turns out to really be Mother Night. Cap hits her with Jack O'Lantern's LSD bomb, and of course her nightmare is Viper.
Cap captures Mother Night, but Black & Jack are gone when he returns for them. But Cap has gotten confirmation that the Red Skull is still alive, so he tells Thor (who finally returns) that he considers the night a victory.
The intersection points with the other solo Avengers' books are my favorite part of these issues, as well as a sequence prior to that showing Cap doing some basic administration, like going through the audio logs of other Avengers' reporting on their solo missions. Especially at a time when the main Avengers series feels like it's been a series of isolated stories with no subplots for a long time, it's nice to see this book picking up the slack of showing how the Avengers operate as a team. I also like the basic idea of Cap taking Thor along for training. But the actual plot that they get involved with turns out to not really be designed for Thor to learn anything from. It would have been nice if Cap had to make some judgement calls, since it was questions of judgement that got Thor in trouble in the first place. But the closest we come to that - and it's not at all emphasized - is how much force to use against Doughboy and whether or not to try to reassemble him, and it's actually Thor who seems to have the more humanitarian view on that. Which would have been fine if it was a way for Cap to draw a line when to be more humanitarian and when not to be, since Thor's "mistake" in the Absorbing Man/Titania story was also a case of him being too much of a softee. But again, it's really just incidental. Thor says that he's trying to reassemble the bits of Doughboy, and Cap says that may not be a great idea, and it's left at that.
Another idea would be to put Cap and Thor in a situation where Thor's raw power wasn't an advantage, and you might think that Doughboy would be a perfect choice for that. But, again, nothing is done with that idea, and it is Thor's power that saves him and Cap from getting drowned. So Thor's training session doesn't come with any specific lessons learned. I get that in real life things might work out exactly like this, but for narrative purposes this becomes more of a generic team-up than an opportunity for the new Thor's development.
Again in a general sense, i like that we're getting a focus on the Red Skull's side of things as well. He's basically become a cast member of the book instead of just an occasional villain, and i appreciate getting to see inside his operation. Or at least i thought i would appreciate it, until i see that it's a bunch of high school drama. Red Skull kicking out Crossbones is obviously a dumb move, and Mother Night's sobbing drama is embarrassingly pathetic, as are basically all of the villains (Blackwing and Jack O'Lantern included) that the Red Skull is recruiting. Red Skull and Viper getting into some S&M is something i never needed to see either. Even before the drama, i was not that big a fan of the idea of Skull and Mother Night having a relationship, even a purely sexual one. I see the Red Skull as someone too purely evil to be interested in that sort of thing, and he's also a restrained disciplined guy that i would have thought wouldn't have succumbed to physical urges even if, in his new Captain America body, he had them. But i could accept being wrong about the physical side of things. The idea that Mother Night would develop feelings for him, especially since he clearly was never reciprocating, is where i draw the line. It makes her seem really weak and stupid, someone that never belonged in the Skrull's organization to begin with.
Speaking of weak, simpering women, the main story in these issues ends with Crossbones (or should i say Bing?) having captured Diamondback.
Diamondback's contribution to this story has been to have Captain America get flustered about her sexy butt, to worry that she's been sending men the wrong signals, and to get kidnapped.
I guess if we're looking for stronger female characters, we do have the BAD girls. So let me jump back and cover the back-ups. We start with Black Mamba and the Asp showing up at Avengers Mansion to pick up the new costumes that Captain America promised them. That's when Diamondback tells them that she's quitting to become Cap's personal secretary.
Black Mamba then uses her powers to pull an image of Diamondback's fear from her head, and learns that it's Snapdragon (who nearly killed Diamondback during the Superia arc). Diamondback isn't happy about the violation, and she sends her friends away. Black Mamba and Asp decide that they need to hunt down Snapdragon to help Diamondback snap out of her current situation. So they go to the bar with no name to plan. But they are accosted by villains looking to get a bounty that Superia has put on them.
In the fight that breaks out, Impala takes the side of the two Serpents (she'll later say that it was just because the odds were unfair). And this is the scene that overlaps with the one from the main story.
Black Mamba and Asp invite Impala to join BAD Girls. She agrees without even negotiating to have the name changed to BAI Girls or BADI Girls. Their first step is to retrieve one of the Serpent Society's flying saucers, but the Avengers have set up alarms at the Serpents' old headquarters, and Peggy Carter sends Sersi to investigate.
Sersi (after turning the Girls into snakes and then back into people so that they can be naked, of course) confirms that the BAD Girls are more or less allies of Captain America, and she lets them take the ship.
The BAD Girls then decide to go to Europe to look for Snapdragon. Impala suggests going after Superia, who could probably tell them Snapdragon's location, but the two Serpents are afraid to confront her.
So the net result of these four back-ups is that Impala joins up with Black Mamba and Asp and they decide to look for Snapdragon.
I don't mind the back-up stories, exactly, but they are very light on content and there is no reason for them to not simply be subplots integrated into the main story. It would make the stories feel more related to the actual titular character. As it is i always have to fight the impulse to say, well this isn't even about Cap, so it's probably not important. Additionally, the art on these back-ups is atrocious, and it's not like the art on the main story is anything special. It's weird that this book and Thor get these back-up stories that give their artists a break, but the books with popular but notoriously late artists never got the same deal.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The scene with Captain America chewing out Thor, Quasar, and Hercules is also shown (with a different focus) in Quasar #28, and Thor #437 takes place during Quasar #28 as well. While Cap is reviewing audio logs from the other Avengers, he hears Rage mentioning that he's investigating a kid that was beaten up by cops, which seems to be setting things up for Avengers #341, and therefore this should take place prior to that. The MCP list Thunderball as appearing in the back-up in issue #395, during the fight in the Bar With No Name. I actually don't see him, and even if there is someone in the background that looks something like him, i'm going to assume it's not, since he was arrested in Damage Control #1 and next appears in prison in Amazing Spider-Man #353.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (7): show
Haha! The Skull going 50 Shades of Red is hilarious. I had the issue introducing Blackwing and the new Jack O'Lantern (who somehow made a more favorable impression on me than Macendale) but not that one.
Posted by: Mortificator | November 16, 2015 4:15 PM
I don't know if there's some underlying vibe that the Skull has fallen low on the villain totem pole after his string of defeats. Having to settle for Cutthroat, Blackwing, and Jack O'Lantern as your top goons is pretty embarrassing (although in the Skull's defense, maaaybe he confuses Jack for Jason Macendale...even though he's a big loser too).
Posted by: MikeCheyne | November 16, 2015 4:32 PM
Diamondback actually had some strength as a character initially. In the Bloodstone Hunt, and escape from Crossbones, she was quite resourceful. But Gru's attempts to soften her (all the way down to losing her signature magenta hair) and make her acceptable to Cap just turned her into a stereotypical comic book damsel.
Posted by: Bob | November 16, 2015 5:12 PM
So American men = flustered wankers
And they say crime doesn't pay.
Posted by: JC | November 16, 2015 5:50 PM
What is Oddball thinking? The last guy you wanna play billiards with is 8-ball. He might be useless as a villain but he's the last guy you want hustling you.
The Bad Girls stories feel like an excuse to draw the Mamba, Asp and Impala in the nude. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.
There was always a kind of uncomfortable sexual context behind Guenwalds stories that didnt seem to fit in with his silver age mentality. The constant sexual abuse that Diamondback suffers from crossbones, the kinky Skull/Viper relationship (both of these characters seem like the'd be above "sex") Paladin's orgy with the Asp and Mamba, etc.
And yeah, sometimes Gru's love for obscure characters went too far, making the Skull look like he's scraping the bottom of the barrel. (To be fair, I hope many villains wouldn't want to work for a nazi. Particularly one who often gasses his minions, so that might shrink the potential pool of applicants)
Posted by: kveto | November 16, 2015 6:24 PM
I think Gruenwald wants HEROES to have Silver Age mentalities, but he doesn't apply to villains or anti-heroes.
Posted by: Thanos6 | November 16, 2015 6:42 PM
Black Mamba now having the ability to project people's fears seems to be an attempt to explain how she did stuff like disguise Cap as Superia during the Superia Strategem.
Posted by: Michael | November 16, 2015 8:14 PM
I stayed with Cap until the milestone issue #400, but without that I would have ended my run with these issues. They are just awful.
While it's good that Gruenwald is building up the Red Skull's organization, this is not working out well. It's just too clumsy and the romance triangle is just ridiculous.
One of the strengths of Gruenwald's earlier run is that he built up a good rogues gallery for Cap outside the Red Skull. The Skull is a great villain, but too often it seems he's Cap's only real antagonist and expanding his foes was a real necessity. Now with this, it's all gone up in smoke.
I have a hard time believing Gruenwald would have stayed on the title if he was not the Exec Editor.
I did like the pairing of Jack O'Lantern and Blackwing. The pumpkin and bat combo makes for a cool Halloween style team. Find a few more similar themed villains, and that's a good team for Spidey or Daredevil to fight.
Posted by: Chris | November 16, 2015 8:31 PM
These were the first Cap issues I ever read as a kid. They were collected in a Toys R Us comics pack back then.
A lot of the continuity stuff or off-characterization didn't bother me since I didn't know any of it to begin with. For instance, I had no clue Cutthroat was a nobody with only one appearance to his name. I figured he must have been somebody since he was trying out to be Red Skull's right hand man.
Looking back at these issues with that perspective makes me realize that stuff that seems off to me now about modern Marvel just doesn't matter to a new reader...and maybe it shouldn't. Since super-hero comic stories basically never end you have to have reader turnover at some point or the whole thing collapses. Glad I ditched modern super-hero comics when I realized they weren't for me anymore as I'd probably spend all my time angry at bad characterizations otherwise.
As for the story here, I liked it because it was my first Cap story and had cool super-hero action, which is all a 10 year old could ask for in a comic really. Crossbones is an excellent character and villain, basically Cap's Sabretooth. I also like the Blackwing and Jack duo. There aren't enough super-villain buddy duos out there, and I don't mean alliances of convenience like Luthor/Brainiac, but duos where you can believe the characters are actually friends.
Posted by: Red Comet | November 16, 2015 10:10 PM
Yeah, I like the bro characterization of Blackwing and Jack; there's just something dumbly appealing about two low tier villains who get the drop on Captain America and decide it might be fun to take him out, dude.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | November 17, 2015 1:12 AM
The dialogue between Sersi and Black Mamba is so strange that I wonder if it was meant to underscore how ill suited to crimefighting Sersi is. She does not seem to have a basic grasp of what the task would entail.
On the other hand, Peggy Carter has the chance to set her straight and lets it pass, while Cap himself seems to have quite forgotten that the BAD girls have commited crimes, so who knows.
Might have been interesting if Hercules were sent instead of Sersi, though. I don't think he would forgive or forget the woman who set him up for the beat up of his life (during Avengers Siege).
Posted by: Luis Dantas | November 17, 2015 3:08 AM
I see the Image boys aren't the only ones using brokeback poses. I don't know how Mother Night is maintaining her balance standing in Cutthroat's doorway like that.
Posted by: Erik Beck | February 8, 2016 12:23 PM
Diamondback wanting to be Cap's secretary.. Mother Night pining after Red Skull pathetically.. the z-list loser villains.. the Skull/ Viper S&M pain sex scenes.. this arc was spectacularly bad! I was entertained, though.
Posted by: RikFenix | April 27, 2016 11:55 PM
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