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The Cap Connection, Chapter 2: “Captain America #308″

tumblr_inline_ofraqogohd1qbruwb_540On the way home from an encounter with the Beyonder in Los Angeles, Captain America must defend West Coast Avengers Mansion from the Armadillo!

Captain America #308
“The Body in Question”
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Paul Neary
Inks: Dennis Janke

Don’t you hate being only a few issues into a promising run on a comic when it gets interrupted by a line-wide crossover? I sure do. It’s happened to me more than I’d like. (The worst instance for me is still Kurt Busiek’s “Camelot Falls” arc in Superman derailed by “Countdown to Final Crisis” tie-ins.)

Here’s a particularly early example.

Secret Wars was the 1984 Marvel mega-hit event, a 12-issue limited series pitting all of Marvel’s heroes and villains against each other in an epic fight at the whim of a godlike being called the Beyonder.

When you think of the books that invented the modern crossover event, Secret Wars is one of the top two on that list (alongside DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths).

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Secret Wars II was a 9-issue sequel which saw the Marvel heroes kind of fall all over themselves trying to contend with the Beyonder…walking around New York learning how to be human. It was about as exciting as that sentence sounds.

I might get more into it later if you’d like, but for now, let’s just say it’s a great example of how to execute an interesting idea quite badly.

As it turns out, it isn’t too necessary to know what goes on in Secret Wars II #1, and after this issue, it’s never mentioned again.

Let’s get it out of the way: Cap got detoured to Los Angeles from London by a psychic summons from Charles Xavier about the Beyonder’s return. Cap and the X-Men did battle with a crazy TV writer-turned-ersatz-Beyonder-powered-Thor-type called Thundersword, while the Beyonder just hung back and watched. (He did a lot of that in this story.) Afterwards, Cap bolted.

tumblr_inline_ofrasgnrrs1qbruwb_540The story picks up at West Coast Avengers Mansion, as Cap pays a visit in order to borrow a Quinjet.

To get there, though, he sprints across the lawn in order to test the mansion’s security system and presumably get his daily workout in. Keep in mind, this was all before CrossFit.

This opening sequence is also designed to catch us up on previous events, and it’s here where I praise one of my favorite innovations in comics: the recap page.

Nowadays, especially in Marvel books, issues begin with a single page designed to recap events in previous issues, to spare writers the task of filling the first few pages of an issue with a ton of exposition recapping the previous installment.

Not so here, as Cap tries to puzzle out exactly what day it was by going back over the events of issues #305, #306, and Secret Wars II #1.

None of that really mattered in the end. Captain America rolls up and asks Hawkeye, “Hey dude, what’s today?” (It was Friday.)

tumblr_inline_ofraue8gms1qbruwb_500The hook of the issue is that the mansion falls under attack before Cap can borrow the Quinjet, and since Hawkeye and Mockingbird have left for an event, he’s the only one around who can fend off the intruder: a giant armored mutate called the Armadillo.

Cap uses his superior tactical mind and the mansion’s defenses to maneuver Armadillo into a trap, and then…well, he listens to his foe and reasons with him. Not enough superheroes do that!

Armadillo was once a man whose wife fell deathly ill. No doctor could determine the cause of her sickness, except for Dr. Karl Malus. Malus, an expert in genetics, offered to help her in exchange for the heartsick husband’s aid in his experiments. He transformed the man into the Armadillo, then charged him with breaking into West Coast Avengers Mansion and stealing the body of comatose Avengers foe Goliath (Erik Josten, formerly the first Power Man, who would later become Thunderbolts member Atlas).

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he problem is that Goliath is stuck in giant size, and the shrinking solution Malus gave Armadillo to help transport him was spilled during the fight. Cap agrees to hand the body over to Armadillo and allows him to leave in order to get another shrinking capsule from Malus.

However, he secretly follows Armadillo to Malus, who flips out when Cap appears at his lab. Malus threatens to pull the plug on Bonita’s life support if Armadillo doesn’t kill Cap, but our hero quickly out-thinks the doctor, breaking his arm in the process with a shield throw. As a favor to Armadillo, he promises to leave Malus there for the police, rather than take him in to the Avengers.

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A couple other plots get a bit of time. All through the issue, a mysterious invisible figure has been stalking Cap, and as Rogers calls the police, the being adopts the hero’s physical form. Of course, this is the Beyonder, and this Secret Wars II thread continues in X-Men #196, a pretty notorious issue in its own right.

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Gruenwald also cuts back to Brooklyn, where Bernie pops into Steve’s apartment, only to find no one there and Jack’s belongings gone. (If you recall, he decided to move after his fight with Madcap last issue.)

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And at the end of the issue, we check back in with the trio of snake-themed villains camped out in Sidewinder’s apartment. They want their money from the last caper they pulled together, the theft of the Serpent Crown (a fun little Marvel Two-in-One three-parter also written by Gruenwald and future Cap editor Ralph Macchio).

Sidewinder pays Black Mamba, Death Adder, and Anaconda, but also offers them an opportunity to join his latest venture, one he promises to be more lucrative than they ever dreamed. And boy, is it ever.

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Thankfully, the crossover stuff is kept to the fringe while Gruenwald focuses on setting up new threats for Cap and possibly a new status quo. And Neary shines in a particularly action-heavy issue, exalting in showing Captain America in action, whether dodging lasers or baiting Armadillo. It’s a lot of fun.

(I should also mention the cover from John Byrne, himself responsible for a short, but iconic run on Captain America with writer Roger Stern.)

At least we don’t have to worry about another crossover for…six more issues?! Geez…

This issue available where back issues are sold, in the Society of Serpents collection, and digitally at Comixology and Marvel Unlimited.

Next time: The return of Madcap spells the end of a partnership! Plus: a conversation between this column…and you!

 

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