This issue is the first of two “day in the life” issues, with Captain America dealing with more down-to-earth problems in both his professional and personal lives. But this shouldn’t be taken to suggest that these are easy days for him—this is an incredibly heavy issue of Captain America, with plenty of emotional turmoil for him to deal with and ethical issues for us to discuss.
(Before we start, though, let me point out the cover, by Mike Zeck, with Cap trying to answer Thomas Nagel‘s classic philosophical question, “what is it like to be a Bat?“)
We open at the bedside of Dum Dum Dugan, recovering from the battle with Viper that concluded in the last issue, alongside his pals Cap and Nomad (Jack Monroe, the 1950s Bucky, who reappeared in issue #281). Oh, and Nick Fury too.
Cap plays good cop to Nick’s very very bad cop (and anticipates Marvel’s smoking ban nearly two decades later).
“Yeah? Well you’re old,” says the old man.
After they leave Dugan, Nick makes Jack an offer he seems to have no trouble refusing, citing a crisis of meaning and purpose that fits very well into this book.
Actually, Jack, you were partner to the fourth Captain America, after Steve Rogers, William Naslund, and Jeff Mace, but who’s counting?
As expected, Cap sympathizes with Jack’s plight, making clear he doesn’t expect anything from him while offering a hand if he wants it, before a cry for help gets their minds back in the game.
Jack lets himself be too impressed by how quickly Cap jumps into action, earning a rebuke from his idol… but, at the time, bringing him a little closer to learning a quarter of what the older hero knows!
Cap continues to guide Jack as they deal carefully with a potentially deadly domestic situation…
…one that ends quickly, making Jack realize even more than he did before that Cap doesn’t need an inexperienced young sidekick getting in the way.
Cap is surprised as a plea to stop comes from behind him, but the facts of the matter start to come together, albeit in tragic fashion.
Cap listens to Mrs. Beehan’s pleas and trusts her, deciding not to turn her husband in, and then offering his help to both of them.
This could be interpreted as an example of rehabilitative justice over retributive punishment, as discussed in issue #260, or, more simply, the acknowledgment of mercy as an essential component of justice. As Cap explains to Jack afterward, things are rarely as cut and dried as they seem in the heat of the moment, and we must always be mindful of the difference between a bad person out to do wrong and a decent person who makes a bad choice—both of which should be stopped, but they don’t necessarily deserve the same treatment.
Boy, if I had a nickel every time Steve Rogers went to a party… well, I’d have a nickel.
It’s great to see so many familiar faces above, including Sam Wilson and Arnie Roth, but more important, Steve is emphasizing the importance of friends and social structure to a self-proclaimed Nomad before he takes the name too seriously.
But leave it to Steve and Bernie to make Jack—and maybe the reader too—just a little bit uncomfortable.
Steve reconnects with Josh Cooper, meets his girlfriend, and then touches base with Sam, getting an update on his political career and whispering sweet superhero secrets to each other… until the sneak attack comes.
I think MOVE and BUTT count as stage direction or description more than sound effects, but anyway… it’s Bernie’s ex-husband Sammy, whom we last saw in issue #276. Steve’s battle-honed reflexes are wasted on Sammy, although they do impress his friends while annoying Bernie.
Just when Steve’s words about the importance of making friends were starting to ring hollow, Jack meets Arnie, who is also a fish out of water at this party and recently lost someone… and Steve might just have earned that merit badge after all.
After the party is over, our lovebirds finally get some time together, and Bernie remembers a late-night broadcast of a movie she’s sure Steve appreciates… and she is right. (When Steve says it was the best party he’s ever been to, you know he means it was the only party he’s ever been to.)
Oh no… no no no… Good thing Jack’s asleep.
Let’s just pause to express gratitude that this never happened.
Back to Bernie and Steve, who are about to have a breakthrough in their relationship when they hear a news report from an address Steve remembers all too well.
It’s been a while since we saw the conflict between duty and love mentioned in this book (though it was touched on recently in Marvel Team-Up #128). The topic arose often when Cap was involved with Sharon Carter, but it seems even more relevant now that he has made significant inroads toward a private life as Steve Rogers.
After Captain America assures Captain DiMarco that his presence doesn’t augur an impending galactic invasion, he looks up to find who he expected to, but hoped he wouldn’t, see.
Of course, Cap’s thoughts instantly focus on his own decision the day before and the consequences of it, which he needs to rectify before things turn much worse.
(Look at DiMarco above, and think about Cap calling him “son.” The cheek!)
Cap continues to implicate himself in what has happened…
…but he shouldn’t be too hard on himself. Yes, Cap chose not to turn Beehan into the authorities, and but for that choice the current situation would be different. But Cap did what he thought was right, all things considered… and ultimately it was Beehan’s decision to pick up the gun again, and the blood of anyone he kills will be on his hands, not Cap’s.
Happily, Cap comes to much the same realization, after rejecting the simplistic approach all too many people accuse him of, and before acknowledging that in moral dilemmas, there are no easy answers.
We finally hear from Thomas Beehan, who seems to exemplify the distinction that Cap frequently cites between the American dream and American reality… and says it to Cap’s face.
Calmly yet firmly, Cap responds with a call for patience and hope…
…which rings hollow to Beehan, who presumably feels he has been patient and hopeful for long enough. (Although we need to know more about Beehan’s history, many would add that what is needed more than individual fortitude is institutional reform, a message that would appeal to Cap’s own growing disenchantment with the more corrupt aspects of government and business.)
Cap leaps into action to save Beehan from a police sniper, a bullet only adding to the impact of the frustrated man’s words.
Unfortunately, Cap’s heroism does nothing to convince Beehan of the well-intentional sincerity of the hero’s words…
…and it falls to his wife Mary to stand up to him and call his bluff. (This seems a bit reckless to me, especially with respect to the kids, but perhaps she was confident that would work.)
Unfortunately he turns the gun on himself, a choice all too common among those who consider themselves a burden on those they love. But his wife’s love for him inspires Cap to one last desperate move, which saves Thomas Beehan’s life and gives him at least one more chance to be the husband and father Mary and their children deserve (after he answers for his crime).
After he returns home to Bernie, we see the effect this night has had on Cap as he finally says those three little words.
Perhaps he realized his last words to Beehan also applied to himself: Regardless of the burdens of his duties as Captain America, he has a lot to live for as Steve Rogers, including embracing love when he finds it.
One last thing, from earlier in the issue: a quick glimpse at the third Captain America, Jeff Mace, whom we learned has cancer in Captain America Annual #6.
Will Cap see his old friend before it’s too late? Find out next issue.
If you are a victim of domestic assault, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
If you are thinking about ending your life, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
And if you love someone… please let them know.
Captain America (vol. 1) #284, August 1983: J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Sal Buscema (pencils), Kim DeMulder (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Diana Albers (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in Captain America Epic Collection: Monsters and Men.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #283 (July 1983)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #234 (August 1983)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #285 and Fantastic Four #258 (September 1983)
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