Captain America #445-448
Issue(s): Captain America #445, Captain America #446, Captain America #447, Captain America #448
...while at the same time showing him waking up (to avoid the mystery, Cap's shield doesn't really not have a new heft; he's just not up to full strength yet).
Cap wakes up in a mysterious new location. And he learns that one of his benefactors is the long thought dead Sharon Carter.
Sharon is not happy. Best case scenario, Cap saw her death "on video tape. How romantic. How poignant", and didn't question things further. But she really believes that Cap knew that she was alive and didn't go looking for her on SHIELD's orders.
In terms of how he was cured, the process involved a full blood and marrow flush and transfusion. Which possibly means that the super-soldier serum is out of his body. And a test fight with some soldiers shows that Cap is pretty weak.
Sharon then quickly rushes him into a real battle. (As an aside, the goons that they fight have weaponry developed by Stark Enterprises, which seems to suggest that Stark is back in the weapons business?) After the initial skirmish, they meet Sharon's partner: the Red Skull.
They are up against the Kubekult, fanatics who are aware that Adolf Hitler was trapped inside the Red Skull's Cosmic Cube and want to use it to remake the world in Hitler's image. There is a lot of talk from Sharon and, especially, the Red Skull about how this is the job that Captain America was born to do. Waid's idea here seems to be that Captain America was created to defeat Hitler (he punched him out on the cover of his origin story, after all) but he never actually got an opportunity to do that in the comics. (Not mentioned here, but by one telling it was actually the Golden Age Human Torch who got to kill Hitler.) So the idea here is that Cap will get his chance to defeat Hitler after all.
Note also that the process that cured Cap was developed for and first used on the Red Skull, since his body is a clone of Cap's.
The unlikely alliance of Cap, Sharon, and the Skull fails in each first strike on the Kubekult, because the Skull seemingly tries to grab the Cube for himself and Cap has to turn his attention to stopping the Skull, allowing the cult to get away with the Cube. Cap does see his strength start to return during the fight, though.
The follow the cult to an energy facility where the cult is going to try to "spark" the Cube to full activation. Cap decides to not call in the Avengers to help with the situation, knowing that they'd be distrustful of him while he's working with the Red Skull. As it is, Cap has to fight his way through US troops, including a General Ulysses Chapman, in order to get to the facility.
There's occasionally a faded/wash effect applied to the art.
I think it's more a general (computer generated?) technique that has become available around this time, rather than something specific to Ron Garney. But i'm not sure about that; it looks cool either way.
The alliance between Cap and the Skull goes about as well as you'd expect. At one point Cap saves the Skull's life, and Cap says that it makes them even for the Red Skull using his technique to fix Cap's super-serum problem.
The cult uses the Cube to write reality to their liking (at least to the extent of taking control of the local soldiers, possibly more). Sharon gets a hold of the Cube and considers using it to rewrite history to her liking. Cap tries to convince her not to do that, and she offers to give him the Cube, saying he's more suited to restoring a proper reality. He balks at first, but accepts. But the Skrull interferes again. And Cap is sucked into the Cube, into a reality-trap.
In the Cube, Cap lives through an idealized version of his history. He saves Dr. Erskine, and continues to fight World War II alongside Bucky after saving him from Baron Zemo.
Eventually even Bucky realizes that they're not in the real world.
The idea is that the Red Skull wants Cap to defeat Hitler inside the Cube. Hitler's consciousness has prevented the Skull from using the Cube for himself. Cap realizes in time that he can't defeat Hitler since it will relinquish the Cube to the Skull. Instead he returns to the real world and stops the Skull. The fight gets pretty violent.
The Cube explodes, seemingly reducing the Red Skull to a Hiroshima-style shadow.
Sharon is ready to leave at that point, but Cap convinces her to come with him to find out from SHIELD why she was kept secret from him.
Whatever the positives of the Mark Gruenwald Cap run, it had gone on for too long. The Waid/Garney run is a rare case of a series actually improving at this time. (And so of course, it is already doomed to be cancelled by the upcoming Heroes Reborn stunt, but that's not until late 1996.) These issues actually do something that Gruenwald is known for, which is using older elements of continuity to build a story. I love the use of the Hitler Cube, something that i've been intrigued by since i saw Cap walk past it without noticing it in Captain America #299. And i never love the return of dead characters, but Sharon Carter's off-panel death was done so anticlimactically that i appreciate how it is being addressed here. It also helps that there's a direct hand-off from Gruenwald's run in terms of the cure. But in general the use of continuity feels more sophisticated here, more like the way Roger Stern or John Byrne would use continuity rather than the "let's do a story with every snake/wolf/female character" approach that was often Gruenwald's approach.
According to the lettercol in issue #447, it seems that a crossover was planned between Captain America #450, Hulk #440, and Avenges #397 (and possibly more, it's said that it will "continue through the franchise"). The plot was to involve "the pursuit of the Hulk". It seems that the Hulk's Ghosts of the Past storyline was originally going to be a crossover. Avenges #397 does deal with the aftermath of Ghosts of the Past, but Captain America #450 begins the Man Without A Country storyline, so it seems like Cap's participation in the "crossover", at least, was scrapped on pretty short notice.
Issue #447 also contains the Statement of Ownership information, and sales are halved from the previous years. The "closest to filing date" number isn't showing improvement from the creative team change, either. Which is probably why it was too late to stop Cap from getting Reborn'd despite the critical acclaim of the Waid/Garney run.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 82,258. Single issue closest to filing date = 75,897.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: It's been "one month" since the Avengers announced that Cap was missing and presumed dead last issue. Issue #450 takes place "eight days" after issue #447 of this arc, which means that this needs to be pushed forward in publication time a bit (since next issue, #449 is a First Sign crossover with other titles with their own dependencies).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showBlack Widow, Captain America, Cosmic Cube II, Cyclops, Hate Monger (Hitler), Quicksilver, Red Skull, Rick Jones, Sharon Carter, Thing, Ulysses Chapman
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