While Captain America returns from a mission in London, his partner Nomad faces both an existential crisis and the mysterious Madcap!
Captain America #307
“Stop Making Sense”
Written by Mark Gruenwald
Pencilled by Paul Neary
Inked by Dennis Janke
Mark Gruenwald had been editing Captain America for three years before he took over as writer for what would be an even longer stay.
At the time, Mike Carlin was doing a short stint as writer, following previous scribe J.M. DeMatteis. Carlin had written a couple of arcs–one where Cap hunted down his stolen shield (which featured a memorable confrontation with a drunken Batroc), and another teaming Captains America and Britain against Mordred.
When Gruenwald took over the book, Steve Rogers was living in a modest Brooklyn Heights apartment and working as a freelance artist, mainly in advertising.
He was engaged to another artist, glassblower Bernadette “Bernie” Rosenthal, who he first met after she moved into the building (in issue #247).
He also had a sidekick, Jack Monroe, the Bucky of the 1950s who returned took over his second costumed identity of Nomad (in issue #282).
Gruenwald picks up where Carlin left off, with Cap boarding a plane from London after his adventure with Captain Britain.
A talkative fellow passenger leads Cap to realize he’s more famous abroad as a member of the wartime Invaders (with Bucky, Sub-Mariner, the original android Human Torch, and Torch’s sidekick Toro) than he is as an Avenger.
That’s pretty much Cap’s entire plot this issue. He’s in the first few pages, before Gruenwald cedes the floor to Nomad.
Nomad, oh Nomad. From the looks of it, he’s a listless young man growing dissatisfied with his role as Cap’s partner.
He fights crime and sleeps on Steve Rogers’ couch. That’s about it. (He has a history that involves suspended animation, chemical-induced psychosis and racial separatism, but that’s too much to get into here.)
This time, Bernie drops in while looking for Steve and leaves a passive-aggressive hint that maybe he should get serious about finding a job. Jack takes this pretty well, actually.
Well, about as well as can be expected. Bernie’s chiding does light enough of a fire under his ass to prompt him to start looking for whatever job he can find. It leads him to apply for a supermarket bag boy job. Despite being frankly overqualified for the job, the manager decides to hire Jack, against his better judgment.
There’s a subplot here with Bernie’s shop in crisis, as the landlord is jacking up the rent.
But the real story focuses on Nomad trying to stand on his own, both as working man Jack Monroe, and as a crimefighter against a weird new threat.
A guy with a stolen costume cuts a path through town with a gun that appears to shoot bubbles that drive people into insane fits, laughing and babbling uncontrollably.
When that path of madness reaches Jack’s job, he springs into action as Nomad.
After a brief battle with Madcap–during which both he and Madcap learn that about the villain’s invulnerability in surprisingly gruesome ways–he catches a few bubbles to the face and ends up going crazy just like everyone else.
But mixed in with the mirth is a bit of introspection: when he sees his reflection in the mirror, half of him is Captain America. Jack might not just be losing his mind–he’s afraid he might lose himself too.
He does lose his job, and he finds out the girl he’s into at work has a boyfriend. What’s more, he angrily decides to move out of Cap’s apartment, so Jack doesn’t really come out ahead on this one.
The credit blurb for the issue promises “A Bold New Era for America’s Greatest Hero,” and though Cap only appears in the first three pages of the issue, it’s not hard to see something forming here.
I only read the previous four issues of the book before launching into Gruenwald’s tenure, and Nomad barely showed up, so I don’t have much idea of the internal conflict plaguing him past this issue.
But the last page makes clear it’s leading to something.
And that isn’t just with Nomad. The final three panels feature the Serpent Squad of Anaconda, Death Adder, and Black Mamba breaking into the apartment of their one-time ally Sidewinder, looking to settle some kind of score. Without giving too much away, I really like where this story goes later.
Let’s get this out of the way: Gruenwald was about as good as most comic writers of the day when it came to dialogue (which is to say much of it feels stiff and silly now), and as his Squadron Supreme miniseries was proving, he was no Alan Moore either.
His plotting wasn’t revolutionary, but it was efficient. He knew how to tell an action story. What helped set him apart, though, were the ideas he inserted into the rudimentary framework of the superhero action-adventure.
Madcap, for example, was an inspired creation and a great foil for the increasingly self-flagellating Nomad. He was lighter and far less murderous than the Joker in his methods, but incredibly nihilistic in his viewpoints.
“Dare to accept the truth,” he cried out in between punchlines and Strawberry Fields Forever references, “that there is no truth! Reality is fake!”
Credit must also be given, of course, to penciller Paul Neary, a holdover from the previous creative team. His work is solid if a bit too traditional, but his storytelling is clear and his action suitably kinetic. I love his cover for the issue too–it’s playful in its oddness and intrigue, balancing Nomad’s psychological trauma with the whimsy and weirdness of Madcap. And though he’d already been on the book for over a year, his best work on it was still to come.
(About that cover though: the bottom of it promises a “dramatic look back at the Invaders,” but that look is one panel and hardly very dramatic.)
Next week: Cap swings through Los Angeles and gets mixed up in a Secret Wars II tie-in! Already?! It’s only the second issue, for crying out loud!