Captain America #431-434
Issue(s): Captain America #431, Captain America #432, Captain America #433, Captain America #434
These issues are the greatest of all issues, because these are the issues where Baron Zemo marries his dad.
Captain America gets a check-up from Dr. Kincaid, who concludes that his condition is getting worse. Cap doesn't want to become an object of pity, so he's still not letting Kincaid bring in help, like Henry Pym.
Diamondback has another meeting with Bernie Rosenthal to discuss her legal situation. It turns out that there really isn't much of one. Snapdragon's body was cremated. If the crime was reported at all, it was in Boca Caliente ("AIM Island"). So the US has no jurisdiction and turning herself into AIM would be stupid for a number of reasons. So Bernie suggests that Diamondback get a therapist, not a lawyer.
Some time later (see Considerations), Cap has Fabian Stankowicz whip him up some armor to help with his fading powers. But(t) then, before he can test out the suit, Diamondback shows up to break up with him.
Her feelings were hurt after Cap was sad at the end of last issue, and she also doesn't like the cool kids at the Avengers Mansion giving her the cold shoulder after her criminal past. Cap convinces her to stick around at least long enough to respond to an alert from the Vision. The Vision had been tracking the missing children that led Americop to Damon Dran's house in the last issue. The Vision has determined that they are at a castle in Mexico owned by Baron Zemo.
You might think the fact that the Vision was tracking the missing kids, plus the fact that it's Baron Goddamn Zemo, would mean that all of the Avengers were along for this mission. But it's just Cap and Diamondback. They are confronted by a horde of artificial men, and allow themselves to get captured.
They're brought to Baron Zemo and his "wife", the "Baroness".
Now, who is the Baroness? Well, we haven't officially been told that at this point in the story, but if you take a peek at Spider-Man: Fear Itself you'll see that it's the original Baron Zemo - the current one's dad - resurrected in a cloned female body.
At lease we know that these are the kidnapped kids, not their offspring.
The interesting thing is that Baron Zemo seems earnestly into what he's doing. The kids are all said to be from broken homes, and say that they are happy where they are. And Zemo himself seems legitimately trying to turn over a new leaf.
He says that his "wife", Heike, has helped him get over his obsession with his father (that's one way of putting it!). It would have been nice if Gruenwald had specifically referenced the development that J.M DeMatteis did in Spectacular Spider-Man #194-196, which did have him deciding to stop following in his father's footsteps. But by attributing Zemo's changes to his new wife, it is actually disregarding that completely. Similarly, in the DeMatteis issues, Zemo burned his mask, a moment of symbolism. But this story will reveal that he still has (what must be) a copy. Still, things broadly fit with the Spectacular issues, if only serendipitiously.
Cap nonetheless isn't buying it, so he has to fight his way through Zemo's putty men, using gimmicks from the new armor, like smoke bombs and other gadgets.
Meanwhile, a nerdy college student named Cathy Webster is approached by a colleague of her professor. The colleague, a Dr. Deidre Wentworth, offers her a treatment that will increase her physical and mental proficiency. Cathy initially declines the treatment, but a series of events emphasizing her nerdy nerdness eventually has her returning to Wentworth. The program also turns out to include feminist indoctrination.
Cathy later shows up at a frat party (complete with togas!) calling herself Free Spirit.
She starts beating up all the frat dudes, but resists the worst of her programming.
When Free Spirit goes back to confront Dr. Wentworth, she finds that Wentworth has left for Mexico. To the Zemo castle, in fact. It's here that we get confirmation that this "Baroness" was the one in Fear Itself, but it's also here that we see that the Baroness is now claiming that she's not really Heinrich Zemo.
Baron Zemo tries to listen in on the conversation between the Baroness and Wentworth, but finds that the sound has been cut off. Immediately suspicious, the Baron goes to investigate.
Poor guy. And i don't care what she claims; i'm reading all of these scenes with her as the original Baron Zemo, manipulating his son who he probably thinks is a big disappointment. And taking advantage of his female form, since Superia will only perform her enhancing treatment on women. It's not really explained how the Baron and Baroness met; i find it hard to believe that Zemo would be ok with an imposter claiming to be a part of the Zemo clan - let alone his dad! - and then somehow wind up marrying her. But a father could know how to play on his son's psychoses to do that.
Meanwhile, Free Spirit shows up and joins forces with Diamondback (who got separated from Cap when he chauvinistically pushed her to "safety").
They come across Wentworth, who Diamondback recognizes as Superia.
They attack, but Superia and Baroness Zemo fall through a trap door (triggered by the Baron). So they split up and Free Spirit runs into Cap.
I'm curious if the Man-Killer line is a deliberate reference to the 1970s character. That's certainly consistent with Superia's brand of feminism.
Baron Zemo again gets manipulated by his dad/wife, and frees her.
Diamondback enters the dungeon after they leave. Superia tries to manipulate Diamondback into freeing her, first by bringing up the death of Snapdragon and then by saying she can cure Cap's super-serum problem. The latter works.
Meanwhile, Cap fights Baron Zemo, and some goop causes Zemo to have to pull off his mask in front of the kids.
Zemo subsequently nearly falls into yet another vat of adhesives, but Cap catches him. But then the Baroness (misguidedly?) shoots Cap, causing him to drop the Baron.
She then dives in after him.
Meanwhile, Free Spirit confronts Superia, but Diamondback knocks Spirit out from behind. She offers to work for Superia, replacing Snapdragon, who was under contract with Superia when Diamondback killed her. She says that Superia has six months to cure Cap.
And that is the "conclusion" to the third "trilogy" within the Fighting Chance storyline. So if you were bored by all of this you might have stopped at this logical jumping off point, thinking that this portion of the story was over. Which would give you the impression that the Zemos were dead. But it all actually continues directly in issue #434, and it turns out the Zemos are fine.
Cap then convinces the very dubious children that he'll find good homes for them (not sure how that'll work out since they were kidnapped and probably legally have to be returned to whoever their guardians were). And then he, erm, activates his armor's jet boosts when he sees the unconscious Free Spirit?
And you have to love that the Avengers are called in for the "mop up".
Don't worry about helping me fight the guy who successfully orchestrated the most devastating attack on the Avengers. But sure, come help with the clean up.
Cap finds out from the Black Widow that Diamondback is upset about what the other Avengers (but not the Widow, she assures him!) think about Diamondback.
Cap tries to calm himself and stays behind - with Free Spirit - when the other Avengers leave. Free Spirit asks Cap to train her. With his super-serum failing, Cap wonders if Free Spirit is his "legacy", and agrees.
Meanwhile, a new hero named Jack Flag stops a robbery by some members of the Serpent Society. With his boom box!
Those coil bombs are very similar to what Cap pulled out of his armor in one of the earlier scans. Also, i'd love it if breakdancing kids followed Jack and his boom box around, like Homer and his Rapmaster 2000.
It turns out Jack is a bit outnumbered.
He attempts a ruse...
..but they don't really buy it. In Jack's defense, i tried to think of a patriotic name for a snake and the best i could come up with was "Don't Tread On Me".
Here's Flag's origin. He's also being set up as a potential "legacy" for Cap (as if Cap doesn't have enough of those).
The Serpents do (pretend?) to give Jack a chance to prove himself. They tell him to rob a stolen painting from a home in Reno. What they don't tell him is that it's Mr. Hyde's house. And Cobra anonymously contacts Hyde to tell him that someone is coming to rob him.
Hyde has Jack on the ropes, but Jack suddenly gets a surge of strength and manages to clap Hyde's ears and escape. All Jack's wounds have healed, too. He attributes it to being exposed to chemicals in Hyde's lab. He surprises Cobra by showing up with the stolen painting.
Meanwhile, Captain America and Free Spirit have been practice-fighting for an entire day. Interspersed with that, we see Dr. Kincaid go against Cap's orders and bring Henry Pym in on the research into Cap's degrading super-serum. Pym says that if Cap engages in any more strenuous activity, there will be irreparable harm. At that point, Cap seizes up during the fighting and Free Spirit kicks him in the face. Cap says that she passed the "audition" but also lets her in on his secret.
Whenever i've seen Free Spirit before (like on covers), i've always assumed she was Vagabond in a (slightly) different costume. But then i also get Jack Flag mixed up with Chaykin's American Flagg. Free Spirit only has two appearances outside of Mark Gruenwald's Cap run (and those two only because they're in issues that crossover with a Cap storyline). But Jack Flag will continue on to have appearances with the Thunderbolts and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Daredevil #326-332 take place during issue #431, after the first ten pages (although the footnote just says "perhaps?" so if i really wanted to i could ignore it). The MCP use that same break - which takes place across a "few days" - for a number of other Cap appearances before Cap gets his armor. I'm going to try to place this after all of those appearances (at least some of them don't seem to have any context demanding that they go in that gap).
Captain America begins wearing armor in this arc; any appearances with him not wearing the armor should take place prior to this. Next issue will begin with Cap (seemingly) still in Mexico with Free Spirit, but he has to appear in Namor #56-57 at some point after he gets the armor, and his condition is only going to get worse. So i have him leaving Free Spirit to continue training on her own for a bit while he deals with the Namor situation, and then returning to get her at the start of Captain America #435.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAnaconda, Arnie Roth, Baron Zemo (Helmut), Baroness Zemo, Bernie Rosenthal, Black Widow, Captain America, Coachwhip, Cobra, Cottonmouth, Crystal, Diamondback, Fabian Stankowicz, Fer-De-Lance, Free Spirit, Henry Pym, Hercules, Jack Flag, Keith Kincaid, Moonhunter, Mr. Hyde, Peggy Carter, Puff Adder, Quicksilver, Rattler, Rock Python, Superia, Vision
The combination of the art, soooo many ideas all happening at once, heavy handed writing, the melodrama, and obscure characters makes me feel like I'm reading a parody of a Captain America comic when I look at this. The elements of this whole storyline feel like a Rick Veitch Bratpack story, but Gruenwald is playing everything straight which makes it so hard to digest. Baron Zemo marrying a clone of his father is brilliant! But the execution is just so bad.
It's interesting how many concepts Gruenwald re-uses over and over again. You're absolutely right everything feels like an echo of something else and it'll come up again with Zeitgeist/Everyman.
Is it every stated in canon that Americop and Punisher 2099 are related?
Posted by: Mark Black | March 16, 2018 4:35 PM
Watch this video of the '89 commercial for Easy Spirit pumps first if you're not old enough to remember it, or you won't get how funny the joke is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhhvnCl97mg -Really; click the link and come back to read the rest; it's worth the trouble...
Posted by: BU | March 16, 2018 5:13 PM
The odd part is that there are the motions of a good story here: Cap id dying, he starts recruiting potential legacies he might not have considered in the past, even the minor menaces and past victories are starting to get tough to defeat....but Gruenwald's own creative exhaustion ironically gets in the way of a story that could be about Captain America slowly running down.
It's really unfair to speculate in this way, but I almost get the feeling that Gruenwald was largely holding onto the book at this point out of fear of what would happen if someone else took it; he eventually hands things over to Mark Waid, whose writing sensibiities would likely have been amenable to Gru's own.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | March 16, 2018 6:12 PM
I have a guilty pleasure enjoyment for Jack Flag and Free Spirit, who in most other generations would seem like generic dufuses but who in this dark time of the 90s seemed like entertaining throwbacks.
I think Omar sums up this storyline well enough; there are some good ideas and scenarios, but the whole thing doesn't hold together. I do really like the scattershot final issue, in which Cap basically says goodbye to a host of people, allies and friends.
Posted by: Michael Cheyne | March 16, 2018 6:53 PM
I only knew of Jack Flagg and Free Spirit from an issue of the Taking AIM crossover that was published in the Dutch translation of Avengers (Captain America wasn't being translated at the time, but the issues of the crossover were). From that I thought they looked pretty cool. Knowing their backstory (and the bit with the boom box) makes them a bit less cool...
Posted by: Berend | March 16, 2018 6:54 PM
The Black Knight appears briefly in Daredevil 327, so I'm not sure if you want to push Cap 428-430 before Avengers 375. Quicksilver seems to have much more difficulty using his power in Avengers 372-375 than in Captain America 427 but then again it's possible that the reason Pietro was in such bad shape in Avengers 372-375 was because he pushed himself too hard in Captain America 427. (The footnote DID say "perhaps".)
Posted by: Michael | March 16, 2018 7:57 PM
Fnord, Free Spirit actually made a brief comeback in recent years as well in Nick Spencer's CAP run. I know its outside the scope of your project but I just thought I'd mention it since you make a specific reference to her only appearance outside of Gruenwald's run being in that crossover with AVENGERS.
Posted by: Dermie | March 17, 2018 12:55 AM
I generally like Gruenwald's writing, but these issues were just tiresome. The characterization was on autopilot all the time, the plot is bureaucratic, and there is an odd, irritating insistence on presenting new female characters who feel a pressing need to show us her backsides while wearing skintight costumes. I can't help but assume that Gru was weary.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | March 17, 2018 5:26 AM
Caps pouchy new costume is probably partly intended as a satire on Liefeldian art. And of course, Liefeld does take over cap in two years’ time. I wonder if negotiations were already underway and known to Gruenwald.
I too kind of like Free Spirit and Jack Flag. Gru seems to have lost his handle on Diamondback after the Bloodstone Hunt, but these new characters bring a little of what she originally brought to Gru’s Cap run in its heyday.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | March 17, 2018 12:30 PM
Though the other angle to Cap’s punches is that they serve as Batman’s utility belt, and Gru had always wanted to write Batman.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | March 17, 2018 12:35 PM
If we read Heike Zemo as Heinrich in a female form, there's some extra subtext to Heike's complaint that Helmut has the "nesting instinct" and does not have her drive to conquer, since it puts Helmut in a stereotypically "feminine" role, especially the stated contempt for his preoccupation with "household chores" and "child-rearing."
So not only is Superia helping someone who may still identify (internally) as male, her entire approach is essentially the same as toxic masculinity dressed up as feminism. This is further underlined by Cathy/Free Spirit's line that "anything that discriminates against a group of people is bad," since both Superia and the sexist men she opposes are engaged in the same activity.
That sort of "horseshoe theory" approach fits with Gruenwald's generally "centrist/Golden Mean" approach to politics in this book. And it's also his way of positioning Cathy Webster as a better heir to Cap, since she shares Cap's similar (Gruenwald-era) opposition to extremism of any sort.
Also, since she was apparently disfigured by broken glass in Fear Itself, is Heike also supposed to be wearing a mask of an unblemished face in this story?
Posted by: Omar Karindu | March 17, 2018 2:05 PM
"Dad/wife," now there are two words you never want to see compounded.
In a weird way, the Baroness really being Heinrich would make Heinrich a little more interesting. The Silver Age Zemo is notable less for his appearances than what he left behind (Helmut, Wonder Man, the ionic power process), died less than a year after his introduction, and as an unpowered former third reich Captain America enemy, was left in the dust by the Red Skull.
Posted by: Mortificator | March 17, 2018 6:11 PM
"so he's still not letting Kincaid bring in help, like Henry Pym."
Well if Pym was Kincaid's only suggestion, could you blame Cap for not wanting THAT help?
Posted by: Erik Robbins | March 18, 2018 3:39 AM
Fnord, I think the coil bombs are supposed to be Rock Python's usual gimmicks, not Jack Flag's.
Posted by: Michael | March 18, 2018 11:40 AM
I'll admit to being torn as to whether this Baroness Zemo is actually Heinrich or not. On the one hand, I liked the whole concept of The Baroness from Spider-Man: Fear Itself being Heinrich Zemo's mind in a new female body so the retcon that she was just lying as part of a cover story really doesn't work for me. On the other hand, the idea that Heinrich-as-a-woman would actually marry and...whatever...with his own son is just too disturbing for me.
Personally, I prefer the idea that The Baroness and this Baroness Zemo are actually two different people, with The Baroness being Heinrich and Heike being someone who is just passing herself off as having been The Baroness and claiming that she had been lying then about being Heinrich. This allows me to accept Heinrich as The Baroness without the ickiness. However, the official line seems to be that Heike was The Baroness and that "the truth (about her claims of being Heinrich) is still in question."
It's nice to see how enthusiastic Fnord is about the "Baron Zemo marries his dad" storyline. A little ray of light amidst the grayness of the nineteen-nineties.
Posted by: Don Campbell | March 18, 2018 6:29 PM
I do think that Busiek just tossing her out in a throwaway line "she died in prison" was a disservice to what was a potentially fascinating story to play out and one that definitely should've been resolved.
But that's Busiek for you.
Posted by: AF | March 19, 2018 4:34 AM
Busiek said that he felt that Zemo had become "too wimpy and servile" in this story, which is why he wanted to get rid of Heike.
Posted by: Michael | March 19, 2018 7:33 AM
Or Busiek didn't like a comic/idea that was not from his own personal nostalgia period, so got rid of it as poorly as possible for the service of his own story.
Posted by: AF | March 19, 2018 9:11 AM
@Michael - regarding the coil bombs, i just said that "Those coil bombs are very similar" but i've clarified that they're Rock Python's (it's also clear from the scan). I've also updated my "train-fighting" remark, sorry to disappoint anyone. No Captain America/Thomas the Tank Engine crossover here. ;-)
Regarding the placement issue, it seems like i really will have to rely on that "perhaps". Placing any appearances of Quicksilver with the Avengers before Avengers #372-375 feels wrong since Cap welcomes him back to the team during that arc. And even if i did push Captain America #427-430 prior to Avengers #372-375, it would still mean that a number of other random Cap appearances (in Hulk, Justice, Marvel Double Feature) take place during the "few days" gap, after the Daredevil appearance (since DD would have to be before Avengers #372-375). So it seems like no matter what, the DD appearance can't have been the last thing that Cap did before meeting Arnie Roth, which means it just happened to (perhaps) be on his mind when he talks to Arnie Roth.
In any event it's all kind of a Schrodinger's cat problem unless/until i cover those Daredevil issues. Thanks for raising it, though.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 19, 2018 4:30 PM
Also, since no one else responded to Mark Black - as far as i know, there's been no official connection made between Americop and Punisher 2099. I only noticed because of Luis' comment on Captain America #422, and the Appendix just has a line wondering about a connection.
Personally, i'd like a team-up between Americop, Ameridroid, and Officer Zero.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 19, 2018 4:34 PM
AFter 10+ issues of "Will they or Wont they?" concerning Cap and Diamondback's relationship, Gru still seems to have no idea what he wants to do with her in the long run. And the Snapdragon melodrama never ends.
I absolutely love the first half of his run, but everything became so aimless, roughly around the time Lim left the book.
Posted by: Bob | March 20, 2018 1:20 AM
100+ issues, rather.
Posted by: Bob | March 20, 2018 1:21 AM
Hee. I love how "nerdy" Cathy still looks like a supermodel and that she gives the most nebulous, watered-down definition of "sexism" ever ("I hate anything that unfairly discriminates against a certain group of people....like when only one group has to twist their bodies to spine-bereaking proportions to make sure both tits AND ass are captured in the frame.")
Also if the Serpent Society is suppose to be in their "civilian" identities why is ("King") Cobra dressed up in his costume
Posted by: Jon Dubya | March 21, 2018 11:37 AM
Comments are now closed.
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