This issue—written by David Kraft, who wrote the Spider-Man team-up in issues #265–266, and featuring similar over-the-top dialogue and exposition—is situated in the world of professional wrestling, which turns out to be a passion of Bernie Rosenthal’s but is completely alien to Steve Rogers. (Whether you’re more like Bernie or Steve in this respect, you’ll enjoy Douglas Edwards’ book Philosophy Smackdown, a philosophical exploration of professional wrestling. According to some fella quoted on the cover, it’s “one of the best popular philosophy books I’ve ever read!”)
Our story opens with Steve alarmed at Bernie’s security protocols, which apparently allowed someone to get into her apartment and paint a strange message on the wall.
To Steve’s surprise, Bernie’s favorite show is not The MacNeil-Lehrer Report—and to her credit, she doesn’t make excuses for her passions.
If Steve could see the TV from that angle, he’d see King Arthur, a “babyface” (good guy), criticizing Mr. X, a “heel” (bad guy)…
…who suddenly emerges to attack King Arthur in what Steve assumes, and Bernie knows, is an act for the audience.
Of course, Steve compares the performance of pro wrestling to <checks notes> the realities of war, and to nobody’s surprise he finds few similarities.
That last bit of self-awareness is welcome, as is his recognition below of some moral worth to the artificial battle in pro wrestling, as discussed by Edwards in chapter 4 of his book (and similar, ironically, to what we find in superhero comics and movies).
Very realistic indeed, as events on the screen get closer to Steve’s experiences in war than he would like.
The replay shows Mr. X using a controversial drop-kick on Jumpin’ Jack Flash and then fleeing the arena, after which we see King Arthur lowering his trainee from the ring and promising vengeance against Mr. X, both for the man he killed as well as for pro wrestling in general and its fans… including a certain Ms. Rosenthal.
I trust that Steve is referring to justice in the dispassionate sense, not the vengeance that King Arthur promised. The fact that every death still affects him, which he appreciates, is a welcome note, and reminds me of his later statement that he never forgets the name of a soldier he served with, which he considers a privilege rather than a burden.
Cap pays a visit to his local police station—where it seems there are more interesting stories to be told, judging from the characters in the first panel below—and offers his assistance, which it seems they definitely need.
When the lieutenant asks Cap why he’s so interested in this case, he refers to the publicity of the murder and the effect it would have on young viewers if Mr. X got away with it. He ends with some inspired words—though perhaps a bit much for the occasion—before royalty appears.
King Arthur passes on an interesting proposal, one better suited to the world of pro wrestling than criminal law. Cap is skeptical of the source of the plan, but Arthur counters with an appeal to his own integrity, which Cap can definitely relate to.
Maybe the lieutenant is bored with the way criminal cases are usually adjudicated, because he actually wants to hear more… but then balks at Cap’s suggestion to make it even more entertaining (again, consistent with the wrestling theme of the issue).
The lieutenant casually dismisses the civil rights of murder suspects, which Cap seems to consider (hopefully not seriously) before doubling his resolve to win this “trial,” then shares a warm handshake with King Arthur.
The lieutenant fails to understand the connection, but the strange British gentleman surely does. (Does he have something to do with the case involving the clown? Is he from Scotland Yard, helping to investigate an international clown crime ring? Tell us that story, Marvel!)
Afterwards, Steve is thinking about the lull in his art career when an emergency presents itself, and concerns about his secret identity take a distant second place to his duty to save a life.
As it turns out, the woman he saves might have a particular interest in the secret he might have revealed, had she been paying attention…
…but as she tells Steve (after some effusive praise of his poise), the murder of Jumpin’ Jack Flash affected her more deeply than either of them had realized.
Again, even if he means that he’ll bring the killer to justice, I bristle whenever Cap “swears vengeance,” making him sound more like the Punisher than the Sentinel of Liberty. (And yes, I know his team is called the Avengers… don’t get me started.)
Finally, the day of the match arrives—during sweeps week, probably—and King Arthur extends his earlier comments about integrity to the related concept of honor, connecting it with a self-enforced code of discipline. As I discuss in chapter 4 of my book (and briefly in this recent podcast), this is the positive aspect of honor, as opposed to the frequently negative version, such as the external validation Mr. X wants to “redeem” with this wrestling match (which King Arthur endorses as well).
Arthur correctly locates Cap’s ethics within the first sense of honor, while Cap cautions himself not to take victory for granted, especially considering the stakes of the match.
When Mr. X shows up, Cap alternates between letting his opponent get blows in and evading them altogether…
…sizing him up and managing to evade the same kick that felled Jumpin’ Jack Flash.
Cap lets Mr. X in on his strategy, suggesting he thinks the match is all but over, and gets in a dig reiterating his thoughts on wrestling from earlier in the issue.
I think Cap owes Hawkeye a thank you for the move below… but before he can give his friend any credit, he unmasks Mr. X to the surprise of all watching (which also explains X’s thoughts above).
His wrestling days behind him, Steve finally gets back to his drawing table. He cannot get his mind off something curious, though, so he launches into detective mode… but not until he takes care of something for Bernie.
Under the pretense of needing reference for his art, Steve tries to gain access to King Arthur’s video library, but the trainer claims to keep none. On the way out, however, Marty the announcer shows him exactly where it is—and naturally, Steve wonders why, especially given how marvelous a person King Arthur is.
I’m sure he would have figured out King Arthur wasn’t the solid guy he thought, given long enough, but for the sake of a comic that’s near its end, he finds out a bit sooner.
Steve manages to save himself from the incinerator’s flames, then immediately turns his attention to freeing Deacon.
When Cap returns, he takes the chance to make the obvious gag I’ve had to avoid this entire post…
…and then gets even more dramatic as King Arthur takes out one of his fellow criminals who tried to double-cross him and rejects the noble ideals he claimed earlier, mocking them as weak and literally endorsing “might makes right.”
(Points to both for using “espouse.”)
King Arthur proves to Cap that he’s more than just show, but Cap prevails in the end, after refusing to renounce his ideals and making another lousy joke.
After making a subtle Led Zeppelin reference, Cap takes King Arthur out, but it’s Marty that deals the final blow… of testimony!
Cap comes off as a bit naive above, especially regarding Deacon’s employment opportunities as a famously (if falsely) convicted murderer who was (falsely) accused once again.
And finally, remember the flowers Steve sent? They worked.
Collected in Captain America Epic Collection: Monsters and Men.
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