These three issues are as much (if not more) about Deathlok, cyborg super-soldier from a dystopian near-future, as they are about Captain America, so we can discuss them as a group. As the best writers do, J.M. DeMatteis finds the humanity inside this sci-fi tale of cyborgs and time travel, and connects the events to Cap’s core character, exploring his inner thoughts toward the end (and extending into the next issue as well).
When we first see our hero in issue #286, he is training Nomad (Jack Monroe, the 1950s Bucky) in Avengers Mansion while thinking about the young man’s past and future in relation to his own.
As the same time, Cap considers Jack’s unique position, in which he needs to break out of the “sidekick” role. (I know a fella in Blüdhaven he could talk to about that.) Also… is Cap’s back OK after that twist in the first panel below? Ouch.
Cap isn’t averse to getting a little psychological with his training…
…although, in the end, it is himself who Cap continues to examine most closely.
(I must point out, yet again, that BUTT! is not a sound. I can only assume Hawkeye was watching from around the corner and yelled that just as Cap fell on it.)
Later, as Steve Rogers take the train to Long Island, we find him singing a classic song from the 1944 Judy Garland movie “Meet Me at St. Louis” while he reflects on how nervous he, the Living Legend of World War II, the Sentinel of Liberty, role model to millions, is to meet his girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal’s parents.
Oh great, another artist with aspirations to write… stay in your lane, pencil boy!
At least he’s self-aware enough to realize his anxiety is not about the parents at all, and that the reclamation of Steve Rogers as an independent identity that he worked so long to achieve may not be what he wanted after all.
For the first time, he considers that he may need Captain America to ground Steve Rogers, mainly to give him the confidence he has when suited up, but possibly for much more.
While Steve continues to struggle with this, and how much to share with Bernie, his story collides with Deathlok’s…
This is not the Deathlok we know (Luther Manning), although he’s wearing the same outfit. Actually, it’s a clone with the same brain patterns who nonetheless feels incomplete without the original, whom he has traveled back in time to find. (Hmm, a government-crafted super-solider with dual identity issues… you see where this is going.)
At least it got Steve out of meeting Bernie’s parents for a little bit, right? Because only Captain America can handle this particular case, see?
Yes, you are.
It’s interesting that even the clone’s internal computer, from the future, doesn’t know what Cap’s shield is made of.
Cap is admirably trusting of this Manning, and agrees to help him find the original Deathlok—which, based on his thoughts below, makes him feel comfortable in a way he simply can’t as Steve Rogers, living a normal life.
They quickly find the original Deathlok… or rather, he finds them.
In issue #287, we learn that the Manning clone is less dead than he seemed, and Cap leaps into action, defiant as ever, even again a more powerful foe.
As they fight, once he realizes how the cloning process compromised Deathlok’s own mind, Cap uses psychological tactics again, like he did on Jack Monroe in the last issue, except this time, he’s trying to revive the man inside the machine.
But it takes reconnecting with his clone—literally—to restore Deathlok to normal, after which he and Cap fight on the same side at last.
As they prepare to fight their way out of the Brand building, Cap implores Deathlok not to kill…
…but the cyborg with death in his actual name doesn’t even hide the fact that he went and did it anyway.
Deathlok leaves to return his own time, but Cap can’t stop thinking of the dystopian future he described, in which all the heroes were killed and the rest of humanity were either wiped out or enslaved, all stemming from events in 1983—in other words, now. But he also remembered dinner at the Rosenthal’s, and he is forced to choose between preventing a future hellscape… or going to one now!
I hope Bernie saves a plate for him.
Cap catches up with Deathlok and follows him through a time portal, and as issue #288 begins he finds himself in 1991, very different from our 1991 (although I assume grunge is very big there too).
In case you think you recognize the third guy and are thinking of a great “three guys walk into a bar” joke, it’s Godwulf, the guy who sent Deathlok into the past in the first place, and is now a leader is what passes for the underground rebellion, fighting a bad guy by the name of Hellinger, who created Deathlok in the first place.
Below, Godwulf and Cap try to convince Deathlok to be a leader, and Cap once again sees a bit of his own problems in his.
Godwulf offers to send Cap back to his own time, but Cap sees a fight where he is needed in 1991… and sees only Steve Rogers (and the Rosenthal family dinner) were he to return to 1983.
Speaking of the Rosenthals, why don’t we touch base with the one we know best, who is also wondering about her relationship with both Steve Rogers and Captain America.
Back to 1991, Cap finally meets Hellinger, who probably thinks he’s being original when he calls Cap an anachronism for maintaining his faith in humanity, but he does get the upper hand when he reveals he still has some control over Deathlok.
Not total control, though, which Cap realizes by virtue of being not so dead.
In the end, Deathlok reclaims the humanity within him, and after killing Hellinger, agrees to help rebuild their world. (For his part, Cap will return to 1983 in the next issue, albeit cover-dated January 1984.)
Collected (without some pages not related to main story) in Captain America: Deathlok Lives.
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #285 and Fantastic Four #258 (September 1983)