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!




Filed under Uncategorized

7 responses to “Captain America #308 — August 1985

  1. West Coast Avengers was like a lot of Englehart’s later Marvel work, in that it had a kind of rollicking metatextual edge to it — Hawkeye’s success in turning his team from a clutch of neurotic cranks into a plucky bunch of world-beaters mirrors Englehart’s success in making WCA into a book worth reading even though it’s full of second-stringers. Crazy “editorial” mandates produce the situation in both cases, and in both cases the problem of how to redeem debased character-currency is all but overmastering…but then of course the good guys end up winning against these impossible odds, as they always do. Englehart and Milgrom borrow some war-movie tropes for this one, I think — it’s a gorgeous approach, still completely unrecognized today.

    And, ahhh, Secret Wars II…you know, the best thing I can find to say about it is that although it was a dumber publishing decision than Secret Wars I, at least it was a smarter editorial decision — at least more of its awful dumb-ass freight was carried partway by writers and artists who were well enough established on their own books that they could shine it up a bit, as it passed through their hands…and God help me, I’m starting to like this boring Cap of Gruenwald’s! Maybe it’s the same thing I get when listening to that Bill Hicks record where he rails against the unforgivable collapse of musical integrity that is Debbie Gibson, or the Mojo Nixon record where he rails against the sickening blandness of Michael J. Fox…Hicks would probably want Debbie Gibson back, if he were alive today, and Mojo could find a hell of a lot of targets more deserving of scorn than Michael J. Fox. I thought this Cap run was annoyingly bland and earnest at the time, full of laughably stock “Marvel-style” filler like the Armadillo, no zest, nothing going on with character…now it seems gentle and self-aware, and readable.

    Secret Wars still sucks so bad, though.

  2. oh yes–West Avengers deserves a blog series of its own, or a podcast, or something… Englehart just dove right in to the thick of Marvel continuity with that thing, doing magnificent stuff with Hank Pym, Ultron, Zodiac, Hawk/Mock, Moon Knight, the Old Time Marvel anti-communism and, especially, adding a huge layer to the quintessential Marvel time travel story (building on the original FF Rama-Tut story; the 1970s Avengers “break: reflections of the Pharaoh stuff; the Stern-Rogers Doc Strange, etc…)

    have you been re-reading the Gruenwalds? if so, that’s awesome! There’s no doubt about this Cap’s dullness–he’s kind of the Bartleby of 1980s superheroism, clinging to his New Dealer persona, preferring not to have anything to do with Reagan America–in a more Bronze Age-ishly loquacious way than the ol’ scrivener himself, natch (we’ll see more of that in #309!)

    of course, I would argue that Gruenwald does help to make things dynamic by throwing all of these Serpent Societies, Super Patriots, corporate Red Skulls, etc. at Cap… but we’ll see if you agree!

  3. FrF

    Re: Hawky, Mock, Maddy (the latter comes up in #309): Dave, you must admit that Gruenwald enthusiastically adds some tics of his own to the Marvel Bronze Age catalogue!

    There are people who argue that even in real life unwavering kindness is boring and in fiction it’s certainly not the best recipe for excitement but so far I’m enjoying Cap’s unrelenting decency.

    Take this for example: Cap offers Professor Malus help after he has hurt him: “Let me see that arm. If indeed it is broken, I’ll see to it that you–” To which Professor Malus bellows “Shut up!” as an answer. I had to laugh at this point.

  4. A friend of mine recently shot some Simone Weil at me about the “boring” thing — basically that to live a life of virtue is exciting and full of novelty, to live a life of vice is gloomy and soul-deadeningly dull…but for some reason people insist on maintaining that it’s the other way around, even though that trick never works in real life.

    SO using that for a post…!

    Say, I’ve just remembered…Mockingbird’s a Gruenwald creation, isn’t she?

  5. FrF

    This is a nice and very consoling quotation, pillock.

    I intensely hope it’s true and we don’t have to create random (malevolent) dramas in our lives just to keep things “interesting”.

  6. FrF

    I like the first few issues of Gruenwald’s run. They’re also very nice to look at, thanks to Paul Neary’s art.

    Back in the days of Motime Like The Present, Dave was writing with such (inspiring!) fervor about Gruenwald’s Cap that I thought that he was indeed making “transcendent claims” about it. Therefore anything that amounts to accomodation of critical common sense* is almost a bit disappointing 🙂


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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s