On the surface, this issue seems like an editorially-mandated lead-in to a series based on a toy line—which it most certainly is—but there is still plenty to talk about in terms of Captain America’s ethics, thanks to masterful writing on the part of J.M. DeMatteis (complementing the beautiful line-work of Mike Zeck).
We start our story at brunch in the kitchen of Anna Kappelbaum, one of Steve Rogers’ neighbors, where our hero reveals his skills at competitive eating.
Steve offers to help Anna with the dishes (naturally), but she rejects his offer while roping him into discussing another topic…
…namely, their mutual friend and neighbor, Bernie Rosenthal—the same Ms. Rosenthal that said “I love you” to Steve in the last issue.
If Anna only knew how old Steve actually is! Seriously, though, I would expect him to shy away from talking about Bernie, but instead he appreciates that Anna was concerned enough to ask, and then he is admirably open with her. (Perhaps he hopes she would talk to Bernie for him!)
Unfortunately, the next topic of conversation is distinctly less friendly, and generates an appropriate reaction from Anna, who suffered in a concentration camp during World War II (until it was liberated by Captain America, as told in issue #237).
Steve presents a strong defense of free speech, but his example of Nazis wanting to limit free speech suggests a counterargument: As Karl Popper put it in his “paradox of tolerance,” even the most tolerant of liberal societies cannot tolerate all instances of intolerance, especially when they threaten other core values such as equality and respect. Steve may be aware of this, but only admits it as a last resort, hoping that discussion and reflection will prevent such ideas from spreading before such extreme measures are necessary.
Anna doesn’t get the chance to respond, though, when someone pops in to apologize…
…which Steve all too happily joins in with, before he admits to being ambushed, maybe for the first time in his life (not that he’s told her about the more eventful parts of it).
But as he always seems to do, Steve runs out on Bernie for another appointment, although not as urgent a matter as usual (as we shall soon see).
Above and below, Cap laments his lack of a personal life, which has been an issue since soon after emerging from the ice, but now wonders if it’s even reasonable to expect to have a life separate from his duties as the Sentinel of Liberty—and to involve Bernie in it, someone who, unlike Sharon Carter, is not accustomed to a dangerous lifestyle.
Eventually, we learn what Cap’s appointment is and why it’s important for him to be there—and we also see his humility on display to the young police officer that greets him at the entrance.
And finally, we—and Cap—meet the special guest-stars of this issue.
Turns out they have a mutual admiration society, even though one of them is not a member…
…but even he changes his mind after Cap shows off his own skill on a bike.
Before Cap can finish enjoying this moment, a vortex appears in the middle of Madison Square Garden, from which emerges a creature who abducts one of the Nobel laureates.
Of course, Cap is in hot pursuit, as are his three new sidekicks.
The vortex transports Cap’s latest Kooky Quartet to a sleepy town, which includes a unexpected yet familiar face to our literary superhero (who quotes the stranger in Amazing Spider-Man #537 in December 2006).
To his credit, Cap is skeptical, despite how much he would truly like to meet both men…
…not to mention their amazing friends.
Finally we learn the mastermind behind this odd assemblage—the Mad Thinker, a Fantastic Four villain—and despite Cap’s warnings about the danger he poses, Team America attack.
Cap doesn’t want to say “I told you so,” but… he kinda does.
That doesn’t stop Cap himself from tackling the android, asserting the superiority of man over machine. (To be fair, he has faced a lot of malcontent machines lately.)
After the Mad Thinker acknowledges that Cap defeated his android—as he predicted, of course—he opens a trap door under Team America and uses their abduction to force Cap to suffer through hearing his evil plans… to create just the bestest book club ever.
Once the Thinker reveals the purpose behind his abductions, Cap lashes out, but his foe is one step ahead of him…
…capturing him and adding one more impressive mind to his collection.
It seems the Mad Thinker has the same high opinion of Captain America that we do…
…an opinion reinforced by Cap’s arguments against the Thinker’s plan.
As the man himself recognizes, one of Cap’s key traits is his inimitable will and resolve, and without them, he is simply not Captain America.
Who put the whooom in the bop-she-bop-she-bop… I mean, the panel above? A completely new element in our story, who will be important in the Team America comics to come (and go).
But he does shake things up enough to allow Cap and Team America to take down the Mad Thinker and his plans, which sound sincerely pitiful below.
So we won’t be get a Mad Thinker: Friendship Is Magic title out of this, then?
Nick comes to clean up the mess, and we get a nice little call-back to his and Cap’s time together during the war…
…before Cap leaves to think about… what exactly, I have no idea. (Maybe Bernie, hmm?)
The Team America comic would last exactly twelve issues, after which their name was changed to the Thunderiders (when Marvel lost the license to the toy line) and they appeared in several more comics (including The Thing).
Captain America (vol. 1) #269, May 1982: J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Mike Zeck (pencils and inks), John Beatty and Josef Rubenstein (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Jim Novak (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in Captain America Epic Collection: Monsters and Men.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #268 and Defenders #106-107 (April-May 1982)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #219 (May 1982)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #270 (June 1982)
I’m sure you’ll discuss the “Should we allow Nazis to have free speech” question in more detail in the near future when you cover Cap #275, so I’ll point you to J.M. DeMatteis’ reflecting on the question again in 2017, since it’s relevant to the discussion…
In regards to Karl Popper and the Paradox of Tolerance, well, I wish I could find the exact quote. Basically someone stated that DeMatteis’ position on Nazis and free speech made much more sense in the early 1980s when these stories were written and the political landscape was still relatively stable & civil, but that we now find ourselves in a VERY different environment, with a corrupt, racist, would-be authoritarian President who actively empowers white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Good point, yes — it isn’t just an academic debate anymore, is it? Sigh.
And thanks so much for the link — I remember reading that at the time, and I’ll include it in the Cap #275 post (with a tip of the hat to you).
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