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

Dave

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Captain America #307 — July 1985

  1. Ha, I did actually buy and read this…is it possible I have more of these in the longboxes than I thought?

    My co-collector Ed liked Madcap, as I recall…actually I liked him too, and it was part of what I found sinister about Anarky when he finally came along in Batman…I wanted him to be sympathetic, but wasn’t sure it was all right to want that. And I wasn’t sure he could really be wahat he claimed to be, without true madcappery. Politics, again.

    Well, thank God for Mr. Nobody, is all I can say! A figure absent of a sordid compromise, as Anarky was. Yes, I do remember this issue, I had high hopes for it in fact…Gruenwald had written some awful crap, almost to my mind unforgivable crap, but there did seem to be a zest for Cap and all-things-Cap here, that wasn’t problematic for me, that was in the Englehartian vein, or at least branching off from the Englehartian root-structure. Gerber too: I mean I never really did like Da Groo, but he didn’t exactly conceal his influences. A pleasing thng here is that Madcap expresses anger, but the anger’s explicitly denatured, is not part of the supervillainy…is essentially despairing. If I recall this book right, nobody learns anything from Madcap’s anti-rampage…it’s just Foolkiller territory, obviously. An inferior version of Foolkiller to be sure, but because the point’s more thundering maybe it’s in this case better?

    Is that the entire argument for the supposed greatness of Gruenwald’s run, Dave? That it dares to be obvious?

    I want to buy it — I yield to no one in my love of Cross-Country Motorcycle Cap! — but I’m not sure I can. Many Cap writers have been very obvious before, in fact I can’t think of any who weren’t — the whole thing about the character, at least up until the time when Brubaker started working his crypto-Englehart magic on him, was the incredible obviousness. Sure, I’ve often said the Cap title was in many ways Marvel’s most “cosmic” (God I want to see a Mignola Cap!), but surely that’s because it was always so obvious?

    On Andrew’s blog, people were talking about 1968 as the time when mild psychedelia gave way to “rootsy authenticity”…Stones over Beatles and so forth…

    Is this the “roots rock” era of Captain America?

    Is it all Eightiesed-up? “Born In The USA” and all that? Less cosmic, more quotidian? Smashing the bad guys?

    I eagerly await the next installment…and your reply to this semi-drunken comment of mine.

    Soon to be fully-drunken.

    AH.

    There we are.

    I apologize for being lax about commenting on Montreal Fiores and Anagramsci, by the way…now that I’ve done six years’ worth of laundry I’ll be delighted to get back to that reading.

  2. “Is that the entire argument for the supposed greatness of Gruenwald’s run, Dave? That it dares to be obvious?”

    in a nutshell–yes!

    as you imply, a character named Captain America might just as well be called Captain Obvious… Gruenwald’s iteration blows everything else out of the water because he accepts that condition without any reservations–and resolves to make maximum symbolic hay with it (With great obviousness comes great responsibility?)

    Gruenwald himself could lay a pretty impressive claim to the Captain Obvious mantle–and I mean that as a compliment, obviously… and the even more impressive thing about him, as a genre comics auteur, is that he combines that supercharged surfaceness (I use the term in order to avoid the more purely pejorative “superficiality”) with an inspired sense of narratological structure… there is absolutely ZERO subtext in Gruenwald (in Cap, in Squadron Supreme, in Quasar, and in DP 7)… it’s all right there for you–and there’s SO MUCH OF IT that it achieves aesthetic defamiliarization through the sheer exuberance of its familiarity… Gruenwald uses superhero plots (and characters) the way Frank O’Hara uses New York street noises–and both writers lay bare aspects of life in America during the second half of the 20th century that are so glaringly, nakedly in front of everyone’s eyes that we usually do the covering up ourselves

    I like the Springsteen analogy–I think it fits (although I’m not a fan of Springsteen’s more lachrymose brand of obviousness)–and Gruenwald is definitely after many of the same “bad guys” in 1980s America

    re: the other writing–no problem! it’ll always be there–although if you do get a chance soon, I’d really love to hear what you think of the preview-chapters of PARADISE REAGANED

    a bientot!

    Dave

  3. Pingback: Captain America #309 — September 1985 | Captain America's Been Torn Apart

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