These two issues are fill-ins after the end of the Stern-Byrne run on Captain America that began in issue #247 and ended with the last issue. Both of the stories take place in England, where Cap was at the end of issue #254 (not counting the origin issue, #255), and each has its merits, even if neither matches the stellar run we just concluded or the stories to follow.
Issue #256—pencilled by Gene Colan, a longtime artist on this book a decade prior—touches on two older storylines, the first invoked by Cap himself as he revisits Greymoor Castle in the north of England, site of one of Cap and Bucky’s World War II adventures as told in Tales of Suspense #69-71.
In his earlier years out of the ice, Cap thought about Bucky often, but by now it is less common and actually somewhat welcome, especially when Cap remembers him so well.
As Cap investigates the castle, he remembers the adventure regarding Cedric Rawling and his Z-Rays that could shrink matter—and after being attacked by someone in knight’s armor, Cap falls into a pit containing those very rays, saved only by his acrobatic skills and resilience.
Even though Cap manages to save himself from falling into the pit, he does knock himself unconscious when he swings into the wall. (As the exposition kindly reminds us, “he is also human,” which makes his feats of strength and heroism all the more impressive.)
The knight turns out to be none other than Cedric Rawlings himself, who suspects the castle of being haunted by ghosts… for which Cap has a more morally loaded explanation.
Below we learn Cap’s attitude toward the supernatural: Although he has seen direct evidence of it, especially in his last adventure in which he fought a vampire, he prefers to rule out scientific explanations first.
(I like to think both the Invisible Woman would be pleased:
That’s from Fantastic Four, vol. 3, #68, June 2003, by Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo, Karl Kesel, and Paul Mounts.)
When Cap finally apprehends one of the “ghosts,” he learns it is yet another old acquaintance, this one from Captain America #188.
Cap’s a bit harsh on Demon Druid below; if he’s trying to psych his foe out or trigger his temper, it doesn’t seem to work.
After some fighting, Cap finds himself hovering above the Z-Ray pit yet again, but this time with Demon Druid above himself, ready to strike… until an unlucky ally comes to his rescue.
Cap would like to save both men but can only save one, but the choice is not a difficult one in this case.
In issue #257, Cap flies… elsewhere in northern England, again to revisit an old memory, although this one turns out to be much more meaningful.
Neither can I, Nancy!
Cap enjoys what may seem to be a moment of zen if not for the exposition detailing his emotional state and steadfast demeanor in spite of it.
Soon, Cap falls prey to a sneak attack, though he still manages to impress his attackers with his stamina.
When Cap comes to, he meets… well, not another old foe, but rather another old foe’s flunkies. (And we get another hint as to why Cap traveled to northern England on this day.)
The man in the cell above is none other than Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk, who was abducted earlier in the issue. Cap walks silently past his cell as he picks up clues from his surroundings, like some sort of dark knight detective…
…but it doesn’t take a sleuth to see the behemoth the minions have created, based on the Hulk’s physiology, which they want to test on Cap.
Cap heads to Banner, frees him, and smacks him—which I didn’t think you were supposed to do, but what do I know. Cap’s got more important things to worry about, anyway, like fighting
a bunch of Zemo’s goons tyranny!
Maybe smacking Banner wasn’t such a bad idea after all… and who knew the Hulk was a Bowie fan?
That won’t be the only time Cap manipulates Hulk into helping him, though it seems crude to use his hatred of his alter ego to do it.
After the Hulk gets blasted with Adhesive X, Baron Zemo’s super-strong adhesive introduced way back in Avengers #6, Cap takes a whack at it, less to break the adhesive itself than to piss off the Hulk.
Good job, Cap.
Cap leads the rampaging Hulk to where the Gammadroid is and (again) tricks him into tackling their mutual foe, defeating him before turning back to Cap, who is saved by a sudden blast of gas, which only gives him a chance to jerk the Hulk around a little more. (I realize the Hulk at this point is not a rational being, but I would expect Cap to have a little more compassion for him than shown here, where the Hulk serves as more of a tool for Cap than any kind of a person.)
If Cap did mistreat the Hulk, he makes up for it by carrying Banner up a ladder, through an escape hatch, jumping into the ocean, and swimming with him a mile to shore.
So… why was Captain America in northern England on that day, and what does it have to do with Zemo? The issue ends with the somber answer.
Captain America (vol. 1) #256, April 1981: Bill Mantlo (writer), Gene Colan (pencils), Al Milgrom, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Simons (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Jim Novak (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #257, May 1981: Mike W. Barr and Jim Shooter (writers), Lee Elias (pencils), Josef Rubinstein, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito (inks), Bob Sharen and Ed Hannigan (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in Captain America Epic Collection: Dawn’s Early Light.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #255 (March 1981)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #258 (June 1981)