This issue of Captain America wraps up the dangling storyline from the battle with Baron Zemo the Younger that ended in the last issue: namely, the one where Cap has to stop the shapeshifting creature Primus from stealing his life, starting with romancing his girlfriend, Bernie Rosenthal. After Cap deals with Primus, he has to deal with his childhood friend Arnie Roth, who puts Cap in his place. (Why? You’ll see!) Finally, we have a couple pages from this month’s issue of Marvel Team-Up in which Cap tells Spider-Man about Mark Twain—oh wait, that comes later, sorry. He does give him some good advice, though!
Our main story hits the ground running as Cap confronts Primus and blows Bernie’s mind but good.
Primus actually comes up with a good possible explanation why Cap is not really Cap, while the Softie of Liberty appeals to Bernie’s heart. (Aww!)
They don’t fight for very long before Cap seems to be losing control…
…but after Primus lands a good blow and cackles maniacally, the jig is up and he abandons his ruse. (I’m glad, because the whole “I’m the real Cap—no I’m the real Cap thing” is so played out.)
(Later, I hope someone tells Bernie that there was probably a mutant or two in that diner… but now’s not the time.)
Primus opens up a bit as he invokes Zemo’s name as part of his motivation…
…before he changes form again and—well, you can see for yourself. (Eww.)
Cap clearly need to talk to someone about why he’s so upset, so he seeks out the most sensitive, compassionate person he knows… but he has to settle for Tony Stark instead. After snapping at him, Cap unloads his guilt about endangering those he loves, which has been one of his enduring anxieties since Tony and the rest of the Avengers rescued him from the ice all those years ago.
I was going to comment on the fact that Tony does not appear to be drunk here, contrary to his other appearances around this time where, due to Tony’s heavy drinking, Jim Rhodes will be forced to take over in Iron Man #170, just two months from now. (We will see Cap confront Tony about it in Iron Man #172.) But then Tony goes and says something like “grasping for crutches,” and I no longer have any doubts: As Cap would have said back in the day, Tony’s tight.
But Cap doesn’t even have a chance to thank Tony for his support, because the real Mr. Sensitivity rings, and Cap has a few words for him too, in reference to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s bungling in the last issue.
Fury seems sincerely apologetic, but has more important news for Cap, which is devastating.
Meanwhile, Primus has absconded with Bernie to New Jersey, where he passionately explains his unique history, his strong bond with Zemo, and his plan to “save the world,” which Bernie doesn’t buy for a second.
Bernie comes to the realization that Cap has struggled with for years, while Primus reveals he is looking for someone to replace Zemo… and can be anyone Bernie wants him to be. (Again, eww.)
Primus continues to make Bernie an offer she absolutely would refuse, but he is politely interrupted…
…which is followed by an absolutely fantastic, nearly wordless page, courtesy of Zeck and Beatty.
Primus and Cap fight while they argue over Primus’s grand plan and his faith in Zemo, and Cap easily points out the flaws in both…
…before Cap plummets to the ground, only to be pummeled by Primus.
As she did in issue #270, Bernie summons the courage when the occasion demands heroism of her…
…and even if the exposition implies that she exceeded her own optimal degree of courage and stumbled to foolhardiness, she did it for good reason.
In the end, it is her words, not her fists, that hurt Primus more, and ultimately inspire him to reflect on what he thought was right.
Primus admits to Bernie that he wronged her and Cap before transforming into a rocket and blasting off into the sky, never to be seen again (in this book, anyway). When Cap comes to, he and Bernie share a tender moment…
…followed, I assume, by a few days of TLC, and then a visit with Arnie to Michael’s grave. Steve tries to be sympathetic, but quickly turns to his own complicity in putting those he cares about in danger’s way.
Just when he starts to ascend to the heights of melodrama, Arnie says enough…
…and reminds his old friend why they’re there in the first place. It’s great to see Arnie stick up for himself like this, rather than being meekly starstruck as he has been for most of the time since reintroducing himself to Steve in issue #270.
Arnie reminds Steve that, for all his identity crises and existential angst, he leads a blessed life, and once he realizes that, he’ll be free to embrace and enjoy that life (for once).
That’s Steve’s way of saying “you’re right.” (He’s a hugger, you know.)
Meanwhile, over in Marvel Team-Up #127 (co-starring Uatu the Watcher), it’s surprise guest-star Captain America’s turn to offer some advice.
“Just passing by”… admit it, Cap, you were waiting for Santa too!
Spidey’s situation is not important here—what is interesting is Cap’s advice, which has more than a little in common with Arnie’s words to him above, especially the part about self-pity. (The two comics were both written by J.M. DeMatteis, so maybe he planned this from the start!)
Merry Christmas, everyone! (And check out the post on Marvel Team-Up #128, legitimately co-starring our hero, and featuring the return of Vermin.)
Collected in Captain America Epic Collection: Monsters and Men.
Marvel Team-Up #127, March 1983: J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Kerry Gammill (pencils), Mike Esposito (inks), Glynis Wein (colors), Rick Parker (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Not yet collected.
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #278 and Marvel Two-in-One #96 (February 1983)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #280 (April 1983)