Captain America #310 — October 1985

Hello gentle readers! Ready for another walk through the (Gruen)wald?

This issue ushers in the post-Nomad era, establishing the kinds of storytelling rhythms that will characterize Gruenwald’s Captain America  for years to come.

We begin with an Avengers combat-training workout, with old pro Cap teaching a swordless Black Knight and the dilettantish space-Eternal Starfox a thing or two about unarmed combat. This scene (which takes up four pages of the book) might seem like mere filler, but Gruenwald is in no hurry to rush his storylines (which, from here on out, will almost always spill over from issue to issue) and the friendly skirmish does create an opportunity for this rather startling exchange:

So Starfox (aka Eros) uses his pleasure power on Cap and it just gets him more in the mood for good-natured brawling? This little moment epitomizes Gruenwald’s uniquely Janus-faced contribution to the superhero landscape of the mid-1980s. On the surface, Cap’s meaning (when he says that he doesn’t fight “out of rage or hatred”) is crystal clear–and throughout the soon-to-emerge “Dark Age” of Wolverine/Punisher/Lobo/etc. Gruenwald (along with other favourites of mine like Grant Morrison–without question THE finest non-drawing creator in comics–and Roger Stern) will do his best to present a triumphantly humane alternative to the best-selling badassery that dominated the late 1980s and early 1990s (not only in Cap, but also in Quasar and DP7).  But it doesn’t end there. The whole thesis of this blog is that there’s always something slightly subversive about Gruenwald’s classicism. This is most evident in things like Squadron Supreme and the Johnny Walker storyline (still a couple of years away at this point), but it was present in the inaugural Nomad/Madcap/Cap issues (which allow it to be blithely understood that there is no logical counterargument against nihilism), and it’s here too, in a very playful way…

To wit: isn’t Gruenwald basically saying that Cap gets off on fighting? Of course he is–it’s all right there in Eros’ remark that fighting isn’t HIS favourite form of exercise. There doesn’t have to be anything nasty about this. I think of Gru-Cap’s sexuality as kind of on a par with Moore & Gibbons’ Dan and Laurie, celebrating their bodies’ victory over that tenement fire in Watchmen #7 (which is another reason why, incidentally, Bernie Rosenthal–much as I like her–just isn’t going to fit into the writer’s long-term plans… at least not as a love interest).

But enough about love interests–he said slyly–let’s get on with issue #310’s main plot development:

Writer: Mark Gruenwald

Pencils: Paul Neary

Inks: Dennis Janke

Colors: Ken Feduniewicz

Letters: Diana Albers

Editor: Mike Carlin

Yes, for most of the next hundred issues or so, the eponymously uniting reptiles are basically going to share this book with its title character. Some of them more than others, of course. And they’ll have even more company within a couple of years. You might argue (especially if you’re Jason Powell) that this isn’t SO very different from some of the stuff that Chris Claremont did with the Hellfire Club in X-Men, but I’d have to disagree. Yes, both the Serpent Society and the Hellfire Club will play important ongoing supporting roles in their respective titles, but the HC are never seriously presented as audience surrogates for the reader–whereas I think it’s pretty clear, right off the bat, that the Serpents are more to be empathized with than despised. Despite their oft-impressive power sets and lack of respect for the law, these aren’t arch-villains, or classic superhero antagonists–these are just scared, put-upon, regular folks, banding together to stave off economic oblivion and other associated hazards of their profession in Reagan America.

Gruenwald makes it 100% explicit:

You might call it a stretch, but to me, by placing this kind of rhetoric in the fanged mouth of a “supervillain”, Gruenwald is offering a biting critique of the quasi-criminalization of unionization that began with Reagan’s crackdown upon the Air Traffic Controllers and has been proceeding apace (in both the U.S. and Canada) ever since. The point is driven home by bringing a dissenting voice into the inaugural meeting of the new organization–Constrictor’s:

Constrictor, in this story, is almost a textbook Popular Front “class traitor”. He has no use for class solidarity. He’s always gotten by fine–and he’s not about to let himself be dragged down by a bunch of “losers and never-weres”. Nevertheless, after he leaves the meeting in a huff–he quickly realizes that this new “guild” might be capable of wresting valuable contracts away from him. So he decides to go informer–and devotes himself, for the remainder of the issue, to the singularly distasteful project of having the Avengers clean up his problem for him. By this device, Gruenwald predisposes us to see events through the eyes of Anaconda, Cobra and the Rattler–despite the fact that they are about to run headlong into the book’s resident superhero (tipped off by Constrictor’s anonymous phone call to Avengers HQ). Throughout its years as part of Gruenwald’s Captain America mix, the Serpent Society–especially a certain purple-haired member–will become the book’s secret reservoir of humanity (and a good thing too, given that, as mentioned in earlier entries, Gruenwald’s Steve Rogers cannot–for structural/symbolic reasons–have much of a personality of his own).

After that, we get the expected fight between Cap and Anaconda (while her comrades make good their escape, with a valuable scientific item from the vaults of the Brand Corporation–Marvel’s ubiquitous biotech bete noire of 1980s), her inevitable defeat (although it’s touch and go for a while there) and her even more expected (because it’s in the Serpent Society’s workers’ rights charter) off-panel rescue by ace teleporter and local shop steward Sidewinder. Then she caps off the issue by dispensing this rousing bit of intra-serpent (criminal) “class  justice”:

Serpent solidarity!

Ah, but before I go–all kinds of other stuff happened in this 22-page story! For one thing, Steve (you’ll recall he quit his last job as part of a principled stance against rampant American consumerism) decides, on a whim, that he’d like to apply his artistic talents to the creation of superhero comics:

I think the above panel speaks volumes about our hero. The proliferating thought-bubbles (organized entirely around matters of pure principle) threaten to completely obscure Bernie Rosenthal’s poignant going-out-of-business crisis. As a romantic partner in a modern relationship, Cap has some serious drawbacks. As this blog progresses, I’ll be trying to build a case for Gruenwald’s Cap (and even more for Gruenwald’s Captain America–the narrative, I mean) as an extremely canny political thinker–and not merely the naive “optimist” that many people (from across the political spectrum—but generally from the Right) would like the character to be. However, on the personal side of the equation, Steve is as hopeless a fount of “mind over matter” platitudes as you’re ever likely to find:

Anyway, it turns out that Marvel actually is interested in taking a look at Steve’s sketches, a fact that promises to add a little basic metatextual spice to future issues:

But I don’t think it’s gonna do much for Steve and Bernie’s relationship, do you?

Thanks for reading folks!




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Captain America #309 — September 1985

And we’re back!

All defrosted and ready to forge on as if there wasn’t an icy chunk of months missing from that archive menu! All I can say is that, as always, life intervened! But these comics are just as important to me as ever, and, after considering a plan to keep on Capping in podcast form, I’ve decided that only print can do justice to these babies. There’s something about Mark Gruenwald’s  writing that brings out the literary theorist in me… which isn’t necessarily a good thing, of course… but, for better or for worse, when I sit down to read  the man’s work, I stay seated, and my fingers reach for the keyboard, rather than the mic! So here we are again–just in time to run parallel with a Captain America film that won’t have any of the thoughtful qualities that Gruenwald’s iteration of the character displayed in such abundance… All the more reason to take a closer look at it, wouldn’t you say?

Well, I hope you agree, ’cause here comes

(See? How do you discuss that title in a podcast?)

Writer: Mark Gruenwald

Pencils: Paul Neary

Inks: Dennis Janke

Colors: Ken Feduniewicz

Letters: Diana Albers

Editor: Mike Carlin

Let’s pick up where we left off (before The Beyonder bumbled into the storyline, by company decree)

Gruenwald, always the most architectural of comics constructionists, had us all primed for a three-way standoff between the conveniently-named figures featured in this issue’s title. And now that we no longer have that idiotic crossover to bear, he delivers an extraordinary ego triptych which effortlessly sets the stage for an entirely new (and yet, to me anyway, almost inevitable) take on the legendary Star Spangled Avenger.

This issue further develops the portrait of mid-Reaganian America begun in #307. As I noted in that long-ago entry, trickle-down economics isn’t exactly showering Jack Monroe or Bernie Rosenthal with financial opportunities (the best job he can find is a bag boy position at a grocery store, and her glass-blowing shop is going out of business, thanks to ruthless rent hikes). Steve Rogers, on the other hand, possesses exactly the kinds of skills that will get you places in late-industrial capitalist society–he’s a commercial artist, and a good one!

Unfortunately for Cap, he’s got way too much on his plate (and his mind) to take advantage of this. One of the most significant moves that Gruenwald made early on is to re-extract his protagonist from the social matrix that Stern, Byrne and DeMatteis had embedded him in (i.e. the relationship with Bernie Rosenthal, making him a young urban professional). I LIKED those stories–and, in general, I PREFER a superhero character who is torn between his commitments to pure morality and intersubjective experience… however, Captain America is the most important exception to this personal rule. Why? Because, as I’ve mentioned in a variety of places, Cap isn’t a person. He’s the living symbol of an idea–and not the chauvinistic idea of a political state either–he is the embodiment of what Ralph Waldo Emerson would call “the infinitude of the private man.” What does that mean? Well, if I could put it simpler terms, you know I would! As it is, I’ll need about 150 blog posts to get the idea across…

But one thing’s for sure–Cap shouldn’t work! That’s the biggest problem with Emerson’s vision of the ideal citizen–he (and Emerson is as weak on gender as you’d expect a 19th Century sage to be, despite his friendship with the extraordinary Margaret Fuller–author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century–which everyone should read… I’m just sayin’!) must be independently wealthy! So that’s something to keep in mind as we go along here… There’s a (financial) reason that Steve Rogers can engage in his half of this (American) dream conversation:

“Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind”

Gruenwald even lays some humour on us in the following panel, where Steve’s advertizing exec interlocutor exclaims: “Rogers! We’re talking about toothpaste here!”

The whole scene is ludicrous–and it’s not written in a way that’s going to appeal to the Alan Moore/Frank Miler comics-are-for-grownups crowd… or even the “I love you”/”And I you” comics-are-for-emo-misfits Claremont crowd–but it cuts directly to the core of the character’s psyche, in the tried and true expository cadences of Bronze Age superhero drama.

So!  Gruenwald surgically removes the Peter Parker elements that his predecessors had grafted onto the character. Which doesn’t mean that Cap is that rarest of things, the Marvel character without problems. No. Cap’s destiny is to agonize over the greatest problem of all–the place of the well-intentioned citizen in establishing, maintaining and defending against the inevitable excesses of the political structures which give meaning and purpose to liberal-democratic existence. It’s the same problem that Gruenwald would soon treat in Squadron Supreme. And the one-two punch of that “maxi-series” and the 100-plus issue run on Captain America (to say nothing of his Foucauldian contributions to the New Universe in DP 7, The Pitt, The Draft and The War) make him the most interesting political philosopher in superhero writer’s clothing of the 1980s.

But let’s get back to the other eponymous characters who help to triangulate Gruenwald’s Cap in issue #309.

Nomad is Jack Monroe–a bizarre by-product of Marvel’s retroactive attempt to make sense of the Captain America character’s publication history… Steve Englehart brought him into the mix as Bucky-consort to the aberrant commie smashing Cap that rampaged through a few Timely titles during the mid-1950s, while the true Silver Age iteration of the character was on ice. After suffering through more than his share of troubles during the 1970s comics–including retroactively going insane thanks to improper Super Soldier treatments, watching his old partner take on the identity of the KKK-ish “Grand Director” and then being shot by the same deranged individual–Monroe takes advantage of Cap’s lingering weakness for wayward brown-haired youths (discussed at length by Jon M. Wilson and Michael Kaiser in their early Mighty Shield podcasts)  and latches on as the true Cap’s partner.

In #307, Gruenwald suggests that this isn’t necessarily the healthiest thing in the world for Jack (who begins seeing waking-nightmare half-Cap reflections of himself in store windows, and isn’t doing so well on the identity-formation front). In #309, we see Cap dealing with his side of this problematic codependency. As Steve himself will later sum up, the entire story drives toward our protagonist’s decision to stand by and do nothing, for a change:

Total eclipse of the Cap

The ever-perceptive Bernie Rosenthal, who will also soon be slipping out of Cap’s life, had previously paved the way for this scene by remarking upon Steve’s distressing need to control situations and his colleagues. This is the flip-side of Cap’s vaunted “natural leadership” qualities–which seem unambiguously good in the Avengers (at least since Cap and Hawkeye buried the hatchet after the initial turbulence of the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” days).

Here again, the thematic imperative is to separate Cap from everything that distracts him from the central problematic of his living symbol existence. No sidekicks! No girlfriend (which is sad, ’cause I like Bernie–but she brings far too much balance into Cap’s life… Gruenwald’s version of the character will lone wolf it, until he hooks up with Diamondback–a former-criminal/fellow-adventurer who confronts Cap with more political/existential questions, rather than distracting him from them)! No middle-class job!  Also–and this is REALLY important–no government work! (As Nick Fury spells out in this ominous panel–which looks ahead to the USA troubles that will bedevil Steve from issue #332 onward)

As the ultimate “blasted freelancer”, Gruenwald’s Cap is clearly on a collision course with Reaganite patriotism. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Cap and Nomad are on parallel reasoning paths throughout this issue. Jack Monroe stakes his entire future as an independent crimefighter on the quest to subdue Madcap. He succeeds by acting against all of the instincts which served him so badly in issue #307. Instead of charging fist first into confrontation, he elects to wheedle his way into Madcap’s confidence (if that’s the right word to use in reference to a person who has no confidence in anything). In a wonderfully strategic move, Jack takes advantage of the fact that even a prophet of absurdity can easily be won over by the pretense of conversion. The words “you’re right” are the most powerful tools in a canny fighter’s arsenal.

And what about the object of this quest?

We first meet Madcap (this issue) cavorting blithely through a pretty clear “gay bashing” scenario (Gruenwald’s horror of American redneckery is a constant, but it’s especially prominent here and in the sequences of Squadron Supreme which focus on the need to reclaim America from red statism, by superheroic force, if necessary):

But Madcap is just as much a product of the American heartland as pro-lifery, Tea Baggism and apple pie–he was raised as an evangelical Christian! But I’ll let him explain it:

He’s a pretty sophisticated philosopher–a Gruenwald trait–for a guy who traipses around in yellow, toting a “fun gun”.

But then again, this is the kind of incident that’ll make just about anyone into the Messenger of Meaninglessness–and Madcap plunges into that new role with all of the fervour that he had once channeled into his faith in Christ:

Again–and I pointed this out in the entry on #307–Nomad offers no counterargument to Madcap’s claims re: the absurdity of the universe. What possible response could there be? Cosmic meaninglessness is a given in a Gruenwald book. But then again, so is existentialist commitment. That’s what everyone prior to Gruenwald had gotten so wrong about Cap. He’s NOT a blind optimist. NOT a “patriot”. NOT in favour of “life, liberty and the American Way.” What he is, is a person who believes more fervently than anyone else in the individual’s duty to (in Charles Dickens’ immortal phrasing–from A Christmas Carol) “interfere for good in human matters, before [he or she] loses the power forever.” He’s the Ultimate New Dealer, minus the cynical political calculation of Rooseveltian Democrats.

Gruenwald’s epic tenure on the book will derive all of its extraordinary dynamism from the confrontation between this unique iteration of Cap and 1980s America–a most uncongenial place for a New Dealer to deal with. And as the concluding panels of #309 (which remove Nomad and Madcap) make clear, he’ll have to do it on his own, as he always should have been.

More soon!

Thanks for reading!



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Captain America #308 — August 1985

Title: “The Body in Question”

Script: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Paul Neary
Inks: Dennis Janke
Colors: Ken Feduniewicz
Letters: Diana Albers
Editor: Mike Carlin

The analysis continues!

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to analyze this time around.

The reason?

My personal motto has always been “Make love, not Secret Wars“–and that goes at least double for Secret Wars II… Like all of these disastrously annoying company-wide crossovers (they were a huge part of the reason I quit buying superheroes in 1991… well… crossovers and my growing VHS-tape obsession) Secret Wars II disrupted every title in the Marvel line, for no defensible reason. At least Crisis on Infinite Earths had a high narratological concept going for it. This one manifestly did not. This one had god in a leisure suit–sometimes looking like David Hasselhoff…

Which is not to say that nothing of interest occurs in Captain America #308. For one thing, we do get our first real introduction to Gruenwald’s take on Cap (you’ll recall that he was pretty much absent from #307). Back in New York, Nomad, Madcap and Bernie Rosenthal are patiently awaiting the return of the prodigal protagonist, but the SW2 throws everyone a curve by forcing Steve Rogers to heed the call of the crossover to Los Angeles, California. After a conclave with Prof X (which takes place in the main series), Cap makes a beeline for West Coast Avengers HQ, hoping to score himself a quinjet-ride home. He makes his drowsy way through the compound’s defense system, surrounded by a miasma of thought balloons (wherein it is revealed that our harried hero has no idea what day it is–and… frankly…how could he?) Then we get some nice interaction with those charming newlyweds, Hawkeye + Mockingbird. Gruenwald does a good job with this stuff, and telegraphs his intention of keeping Cap’s old antagonist (from the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” days of Avengers, circa 1965) around as an occasional guest star. Gruenwald had, of course, written and drawn a Hawkeye mini-series in 1983. Along the way, they work in a little plug for the upcoming West Coast Avengers series (which I love, by the way–I consider it among Steve Englehart’s greatest achievements).

Next: Cap gets sidetracked again–this time by a Gruenwald orginal.

I love a good ellipsis/exclamation point combo!

This orange lummox wants in to Avengers HQ in the worst way, but he fails miserably in the attempt. Characteristically, Gruenwald’s Cap fights only to force his opponent to the discussion table:

(notice that Cap is being stalked by some kind of mystery outline)

And talk the Armadillo does:

This is the kind of earnest dialog that Gruenwald does best. It’s simplistic, no question about that. I wouldn’t want to write this kind of stuff–but perhaps what is more important is that I probably couldn’t write it. I’m a pretty jaded fellow–and I was annoyed by the Armadillo on sight–but those two quick panels somehow made me sympathetic to his plight (and it’s not the Paul Neary artwork that’s affecting me). The sympathy is well earned. This is a man who agreed to become a mad scientist’s guinea pig (and–now–errand boy, which is what puts him on a collision course with Cap) on the off-chance that said Doctor (“Malus,” by name) might be able to bring his wife out of a coma. Armadillo is an awfully lovable sap–and just the first in a long line of victims at the hands of Gruenwald’s despicably mercenary 80s-style Doc Frankenstein. Eventually, we get a three-way confrontation between Cap, Armadillo and Malus that ends in a calculatedly anti-climactic stalemate. The upshot is that Cap leaves for New York with one new friend, and one new enemy. (The Malus plot would feed into the larger Power Broker storyline that would dominate so much of this series, during the next few years).

And just before he makes his way back to the storyline that interests me most, we get this wacky stuff:

Followed by this even crazier splash:

This “perfect specimen” crap–necessitated by the imperatives of an inane x-over “event”–will eventually pay off big time in Captain America #350.

For now though, it’s just stupid.

The next issue, however, will be awesome.

bonne nuit!



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Captain America #307 — July 1985

Title: “Stop Making Sense”

Script: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Paul Neary
Inks: Dennis Janke
Colors: Ken Feduniewicz
Letters: Diana Albers

The Gruenwald era begins strangely!

remember me?

That’s the inside cover of this utterly commonplace-looking issue.

No baxter paper. No mando paper. No extra pages. No “no ads!” No “prestige” here.

In fact, there’s almost no Captain America. He boards a plane bound for New York on page 2, has a brief chat with an old RAF guy (who reminds him that Britons remember Cap as an anti-Nazi “Invader” during the Big One, when they think of him at all), and then checks out of the story for good at the top of page 3.

I’d say that’s pretty odd.

Here we have a young writer taking on his dream assignment–after editing the title for a couple of years–and he kicks things off by stranding the star-spangled protagonist in an inane conversation with an old man for the duration of the issue?

An auteurist move if ever there was one.

Captain America #307 uses the arcs traversed by Jack Monroe/Nomad (Cap’s sidekick durign the J.M. DeMatteis years) and the newly-minted Madcap (basically, the Joker without malice–which makes a lot more sense to me than a Joker with malice) to trace the outline of its absent/eponymous hero.

In bringing these two characters together, Gruenwald reveals his intentions with striking economy.

Here’s how I see it:

We start with Nomad, sleeping on Cap’s couch. He is awakened by Bernie Rosenthal, who lets herself in, looking for the man of the house. She’s annoyed that her boyfriend hasn’t turned up and snaps at Jack like he’s Shaggy or Scooby Doo or somethin’ (“O–and Jack, if you ever hope to find a job, I wouldn’t stay up late every night and then sleep in ’til noon.”). Then she leaves to face her own financial demons in good ol’ Reagan America (her glass-blowing shop is about to be blown to kingdom come by a massive rent hike). Meanwhile, Nomad stalks to the fridge:

Jack slack

He resolves to get himself a job. ANY job. And man, that’s exactly what he gets… Bag boy at a local grocery store… The boss worries that Jack is overqualified for the position (one of his references is Nick Fury, commander–or whatever he is–of the nation’s most prestigious law enforcement organization… “I, uh, did some clerical work for them,” Jack explains), but Nomad scores the bag gig in the end.

And while our surrogate-protagonist is getting to know his colleagues, this stuff happens:

bock bock bock

The upshot?

Well, first this:

Then this:

Which doesn’t do a damn bit of good.

Along the way, we learn that the “fomentor of fun” is indestructible, insensible and at war with all epistemes. With “fungun” in hand, Madcap provokes a General Strike against the production of meaning–hence the title of this issue:

New Wave Cap

Things get very interesting when we take on the fun gun stung Nomad’s perspective:

Does Cap matter?

Obviously, he does. Jack Monroe’s little verbal shell game at the end of this sequence (“No, I’m Mad! No I’m Cap!”) will return with renewed emphasis in issue #309, but, for now, I think it’s significant that one obvious permutation is omitted–i.e. “No, Cap’s Mad!”

For Gruenwald, Cap and madness are mutually exclusive things. His Captain America is the embodiment, not of some asinine patriotism, but of the liberal-democratic ideology at its most hopeful. In one seemingly throw-away story, the author lays bare: 1) the meaninglessness at the heart of all things–the nothing that all philosophers and political founders must erect their systems upon… and readers will note that Madcap’s ideas are never challenged, except upon pragmatic grounds; 2) the absurdity of life under capitalism in 1980s America–i.e. both Jack and Bernie are shown to be at the mercy of economic forces that put the lie to the naive idea that character is financial destiny (also, Captain America has to fly home in his chain mail suit, because he apparently doesn’t have enough money to buy a ticket as Steve Rogers, and has to wangle a free trip with his Avengers card); 3) the necessity of stopping Madcap–despite his unassailable philosophical position (the spree isn’t all chicken noises… people are getting HURT on these pages)… and the certainty that Nomad is not the man for that particular job (nor, it seems, is he cut out to be a bag boy… he is unceremoniously fired for leaving his post during the shenanigans); 4) the implication that Captain America WILL be able to counter Madcappian illogic with a fighting rationale which forges the seemingly incompatible dreams of liberty AND justice (for all) into one very powerful ideological shield against mere anarchy… Capisce?

Next issue–another strange detour!

Bon weekend, les amis



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All Rise Please…

Hello, my name is Dave. I used to write a lot about superhero comics.

Back in those days, I was particularly interested in the role these strange tales have played in the dialogic construction of American identity (through the prism of the “notional pastime”–a corollary of the thesis that pop culture has taken the place of the Bible as the primary textual touchstone for belligerents on every side of today’s socio-political scrum… The idea being that thinking about contemporary arguments about Captain America as analogous to mid-19th century arguments about Grace and the Millennium could help us to understand  what the hell is going on here…)

I’ve been doing other things, of late… writing about Montreal, McDonaldland and Ronald Reagan, mostly… but then… totally without warning… came the perfect asstorm that is Warner Todd Huston (high on tea and the ink he sniffed out of Captain America #602).

Here’s a sample of this sad sack’s “perspective” on ol’ winghead:

Isn’t it wonderful that a decades old American comic book hero is now being used to turn readers against our very political system, being used to slander folks that are standing up for real American principles in real life — and one called “Captain America” at that?

The group in question?

Man I can’t wait for the Overstreet Guide entry that reads–“602: controversial tea bag panel.”

Did you get that these people (I use the term with some misgivings) are “real American heroes”? Like, they’re practically G.I. Joes man! Thank GOD someone has the balls to stand up to these socialists!!!! And then Duncecaptain America (or anyway, the creators of the icon’s mag) has the temerity to suggest these people wouldn’t recognize a socialist if they found one in their borscht. Rally round the flag boys!

Anyway, the whole sad affair has generated many intelligent responses… You’ll note that, in the last of these, Todd returned with an even more damning outburst, in which he asserts that he HAS TOO read Captain America before (although not very carefully, as this page will eventually show) AND makes sounds like John Wayne (“little lady”??????????????????????) when he’s talkin’ out his ass.

Sadly, the really important response is the one that Marvel came up with–and man does it ever suck.

So that’s it–I don’t care how long it takes, I’m finally going to write the Mark Gruenwald series I’ve promising to do for about 7 years… It might take a long while indeed, but by golly we’re gonna review Captain America #307 to 443 (1985 to 1995) if it kills us all!

We’ll start soon–but first, a short personal preamble about my relationship with the series.

I’m not going to make any great transcendent claims for these books. In the first place, I don’t believe in great transcendent claims; and, in the second place, I know that I encountered them at exactly the right age (I was 11 in 1985), and in exactly the right context (off the rack at the comics store/and with a pretty extensive knowledge of what the rest of those racks contained during the mid-to-late 1980s) for them to achieve maximum impact. I understand that Gruenwald’s work is hard to appreciate without an intimate knowledge of the Bronze Age superhero idiom (with all of its very particular tics with regard to dialog, plotting and icon development)–and that many who DO possess this knowledge still don’t think very highly of Captain America, Squadron Supreme, Quasar and D.P. 7. I’m not here to change your mind about that–or to wheedle you into reading these comics for the first time. I just want to tell you how I feel about them.

One thing I do want to stress, re: Gruenwald, is how much I appreciate his refusal to join the “Comics Aren’t Just For Kids” sweepstakes of the mid-1980s. We can all agree how dumb that was, can’t we? What I  love about these books (and about Squadron Supreme in particular) is the way they wade into the same contested super-political waters that Miller and Moore were then “braving,” without swaddling these ambitions in the cloak of the medium’s much-trumpeted “coming of age.” Basically, Gruenwald is saying that the genre was always concerned with these questions–damn the “prestige format,” full speed ahead!

Okay, enough of that. Let’s conclude for today with a very brief overview of Captain America‘s history, and of the title’s strong (if, admittedly, erratic) progressive credentials–i.e. of the chasm that separates the character as he has (usually) been written from the “Super Patriot” that Warner Todd Huston (and his audience) thinks he is or ought to be… Of course, these people don’t have to take my word for it. They can read Brett Schenker on the subject. Or they can just go directly to the 28-issue storyline (which kicks off with the introduction of…..the Super Patriot) that was going on during the very period that WTH claims to have been reading the title.

So… created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in late 1940, Cap was (and is) the preeminent symbol of “premature anti-fascism” (to use HUAC terminology) in the history of American literature. He is, quite simply, THE Popular Front (that’s a New Deal era coalition of communists, socialists and others leftists) icon. There cannot be any dispute about that. Punching out Hitler meant something very different in December 1940 than it means when today’s Neocons cum in their PJs while dreaming about it…  After the war, the character went into eclipse–except during a very ill-advised mid-1950s revival in commie-smasher guise…

Here, basically, is the Captain America that Huston wants:

He lasted THREE issues.

Stan Lee defrosted him during the TV Dinner Age, using the character to comment upon the incompatibility between New Dealism and sixties New Leftism. This produced a few interesting storylines. During the 1970s, Steve Englehart gave us a “Won’t Get Fooled Again” portrait of Cap as a kind of damaged ’60s radical, saved by the icon’s hard-wired WW II era idealism. This approach, too, yielded very ripe textual fruit. Then: the return of the King! Creator-Kirby recreated a very Tea Bag-friendly Cap in the image of the political cynicism and conservatism that afflicted him (along with the many “Reagan Democrat” types of his generation) during this period. As with a lot of stuff that The King did during the mid-to-late-1970s, no one knew what the hell to do with his expressionistic two-year run on Cap, and people rarely discussed it again, until the great age of Everything-Kirby-Ever-Did-Is-Great-Because-Corporate-Comics-screwed-him-over dawned. (In fact, I agree that these comics are very fun to look at–but, politically, they are…ahem…somewhat out of touch). Okay–AK (after Kirby), we get a bunch of people doing some very perfunctory things with the character–i.e. even Stern & Byrne’s much-lauded run  (which I like very much in itself) is toothless enough for today’s Marvel-Disney to endorse it… Of course, J.M. DeMatteis did come up with a few memorable tales (geriatric Cap vs.  Skull), and developed the crucial figure of Bernie Rosenthal (introduced by Stern and Byrne)…

Then, in 1985, Mark Gruenwald grabbed hold of the reins, and…

Next: Cap #307!

good night friends



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