Title: “Stop Making Sense”
The Gruenwald era begins strangely!
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:
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:
Well, first 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:
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