This issue of Captain America concludes the storyline with Baron Zemo that started in issue #276, although it leaves one thread to be resolved in the next issue (as we’ll see on the final page of the main story). It also wraps up the back-up storyline dealing with Sam Wilson’s struggles with his past persona of criminal “Snap” Wilson. Finally, we have a few panels from a lighthearted issue of Marvel Two-in-One, in which the Thing’s fellow heroes band together to guard him from opportunistic villainy while he gets some much needed rest after a couple particularly brutal recent battles.
The main story in Captain America #278 opens with Cap’s childhood friend Arnie Roth blaming him for the death of his boyfriend Michael Bech at the hands of Vermin, which Cap failed to prevent at the end of the last issue.
Cap tries to balance sympathy and understanding for his friend with a reasonable explanation for why he couldn’t save Michael, offering a defense with sounding too defensive… all of which delights Baron Zemo, who set all this up to strike at Cap where it hurts the most.
Despite relishing the emotional torment he is inflicting—including sending Primus, one of Arnim Zola’s shapeshifting creations, to Brooklyn in the form of Steve Rogers—Zemo decides to kill Cap (and, presumably, Arnie and Vermin) with the mutates he and Primus created. As usual, Cap is more concerned with others—namely, Arnie—than with himself.
Cap’s promise helps Arnie realize the truth about what happened to Michael, and he apologizes before giving his old friend a crucial piece of information.
Hearing this, Cap considers the source—meaning his state of mind, not his character—but realizes that doesn’t imply anything about the truth of what he said.
Acknowledging the moral status of the mutates, Cap realizes not only that he must try not to hurt them—a consideration he keeps in mind whenever he fights innocents not entirely responsible for their actions—but also that they have a common cause.
While appealing to the rational natures he suspects are inside them, Cap also admits to some implicit bias regarding their appearance…
…and rejects it, before inspiring them to take charge of their own lives and express their autonomy by refusing Zemo’s authority over them.
They mull it over quietly for a moment and then accede to his point—enthusiastically.
Cap gives credit where credit is due…
…and refuses to give up hope.
“–nothing is impossible!” Cap and Arnie surprise Zemo, and Arnie takes the money shot before the mutates take out their rage and resentment on Zemo’s equipment and castle.
Remember how, in issue #276, Nick Fury told S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Gail Runciter to follow Cap after Cap said not to? Well, she’s here, and she didn’t get the memo about the mutates.
Incredible facial expression above, courtesy of Mike Zeck and John Beatty.
I don’t think “idiot” was called for below, but it does show Cap’s frantic concern for the mutates whom he just led to their freedom.
Don’t worry—he will apologize for this too, in Marvel Team-Up #128. Once again I must point out the great expression above, and also that this panel and the Cap one above were placed opposite each other in the printed comic (very effectively).
Runciter tries to explain why S.H.I.E.L.D. stormed in, but Cap isn’t hearing it…
…and then Arnie realizes that Zemo escaped on his airship. (What he doesn’t know is that Vermin is his stowaway, and he would like a word with his ship’s captain.)
At the end of the the main story, we get a preview of the next issue, as Primus and Bernie Rosenthal enjoy their second date, until they’re rudely interrupted.
In the back-up story, we begin where we left off in the last issue, where Sam Wilson confronted his childhood minister with a heartbreaking claim.
He seems have to give in to the “Snap” persona, rejecting his heroic self (and his former partner), but Reverend Garcia pleads the truth (which Sam’s sister Sarah revealed in the last issue).
Sam backhands Garcia, but the minister stands firm, which seems to—ahem—snap Sam out of it. (Sorry.) But Sam is no less confused about what the truth actually is.
Reverend Garcia tries to make Sam see that he is the same good man he was before his parents were killed, who was later uncovered rather than created by the Red Skull—and now he’s free, in the existential sense, to be the authentic Sam Wilson.
His memory restored, Sam embraces his newfound radical freedom (as Jean-Paul Sartre called it), and prepares to forge a new path, all his own.
After he discloses the truth about his past to the press, his sister tells him something that has him questioning his recent experience… but thankfully not rejecting it.
Once again, thanks to writer J.M. DeMatteis for redeeming Sam Wilson, not by erasing the “Snap” Wilson period, but by integrating it into his history in a more complex and meaningful way.
Finally, in Marvel Two-in-One #96—Cap’s final appearance in the title, other than a flashback in issue #100, the series finale—just about every Marvel hero around at the time pitches in to protect Ben Grimm while he recuperates in the hospital from the battles against the Champion (in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7) and the Gladiator (in Fantastic Four #249, the aftermath of which we covered here). Naturally, Cap is eager to help, so he faces the Grapplers, a villainous team of wrestlers, whom Ben defeated in Marvel Two-in-One #56.
They give Cap a welcome chance to use his judo training, close shieldwork, and hand-to-hand strategy.
Did I mention that one of the Grapplers is named Screaming Mimi? Here’s why…
…not that it does her a lot of good.
Cap is feeling the strain of the battle, but he is tagged out just in time.
Finally, just for kicks, here is one final group battle scene in which all his friends face his collected enemies…
…but Sue’s fears are well-founded, as one foe does make it through. (Read the issue to find out who!)
Collected in Captain America Epic Collection: Monsters and Men.
Marvel Two-in-One #96, February 1983: Tom DeFalco (writer), Ron Wilson (pencils), Mike Esposito (inks), George Roussos (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in black-and-white in Essential Marvel Two-in-One Volume 4.
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #277 and Fantastic Four #250 (January 1983)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #228 (February 1983)