This issue follows up on the final panels of issue #290, when a strange bird surprised Captain America and Nomad; here, we learn the secret behind the bird as we are introduced to a new character who, for a short time, was poised to assume a prominent role in the Marvel Universe. Whether he does or not, he does prompt Cap to think about who exactly has a claim to represent America and what its values are.
Plus… it’s the jolliest time of the year! (I know, the cover says April, but it went on sale in November, according to the Grand Comics Database.)
We open with a second visit from the mysterious bird, this time appearing much larger…
…or maybe that’s just the way Steve explained to Bernie. (Wait til you hear about the fish he caught the other day… it was thi-i-i-i-is big!)
Bernie interprets his story as performance art…
…in a scene I show you because a) I’m a sucker for this stuff, and b) it’s important to see how comfortable Steve is getting in his relationship with Bernie, and how she adds much-needed goofiness to his life.
Before we look into that mysterious KLIK, I have to mention the new artists, penciller Paul Neary and inker Ed Barreto, who produce some beautiful linework reminiscent of the master, José Luis García-López (especially the wonderful faces, due to Barreto).
So the KLIK was not a camera but the door, thanks to Steve’s roommate Jack (also his crimefighting partner Nomad), which puts an end to the snuggles and sends Bernie out the same door… but not before casually mentioning lifetime romantic commitment.
Maybe it just slipped out? We’ll find out before the issue is done.
Next we see the bird… the crow, to be specific… which is not just a crow.
The next two pages give the man’s background…
…and detail his grievances toward the settlers who ravaged the native peoples and their land, focusing in the end of the man who symbolizes the nation currently occupying of that land.
The last two text boxes above, in which Black Crow describes his mission in dispassionate terms, strike me as similar to the ideal of retributivist justice, in which punishment is given to wrongdoers as a matter of right by institutions charged with “balancing the scales” or delivering what is owed, but not out of anger or vengeance. (See the linked reference above, or my edited volume on the topic, for more on retributivism.)
When we next see Cap, it is as Steve Rogers, mild-mannered freelance commercial artist, trying to duck out on his frequent employer, ad man Arthur Bennett, before Bennett can offer… oh it’s just too horrible to mention… critique!
It seems Steve is growing discontent with the advertising business in general, offering his own critique of the enormous financial resources used to support consumerism. (I imagine the fact that Kwikkee Burgers are promoted as being “heroic” particularly rankles him too!)
Bernie interrupts just in time and gives a very accurate picture of every teacher’s job in fall 2020 (when I’m crafting this post).
As Steve and Bernie stroll through the city doing some last minute Christmas shopping, a strange fog suddenly envelops them, followed by an even stranger lightning bolt.
After assessing his new foe—who we know to be a fully ambulatory Black Crow—Steve manages to get the upper hand, albeit only momentarily, leaving him vulnerable to attack, but Black Crow stops short of the final blow.
We need to read Steve’s final thought above in the context of Bernie’s casual mention of marriage earlier, two themes that will collide more directly before long.
Meanwhile, life continues for Cap in both his guises…
…with Kwikkee Burger campaign going from bad to worse. (From Steve’s expression, I’m guessing he had nothing to do with its new direction, despite the ambiguous exposition.)
When Christmas Eve arrives, Bernie and Steve host a party for their friends (and Bennett), but when a crow shows up at the window and attacks Steve, he knows Captain America has been summoned. He heads to the Brooklyn Bridge, followed by Nomad and Bernie, to hear Black Crow introduce himself and make clear his intentions.
Black Crow reiterates his solemn and impersonal mission, and dismisses Nomad’s threat (and his offensive epithet) just as easily as he does Cap’s shield.
After the exposition asserts Captain America’s courage in the face of mystical threat, Black Crow outlines his grievances…
…which seem to put even more weight on Cap as a symbol of America than Cap himself does (and that’s saying a lot).
Cap casually dismisses Black Crow’s language…
…while expressing some sympathy for the concerns underlying it, and urging a more peaceful resolution to them, but to no avail.
I guess he didn’t know Bernie followed him, but her presence makes him even more determined not to die this day, despite Black Crow’s best efforts to the contrary.
Cap struggles to his feet, but has a realization: perhaps that it is futile to continue to fight, but mainly that, in his role as the symbol of a nation that has wronged another, it is not a fight he should win anyway.
I see this as a more dramatic version of his later surrender at the end of the “Civil War,” after he realized that continuing the fight against superhero registration and the heroes supporting it is harming the very people he had sworn to protect.
Black Crow’s essential laughter is odd, but soon he realizes what Captain America has done, which I think he interprets as a first step in reconciliation.
The sense of reconciliation beginning is reflected in the exposition below as Cap embraces his loved ones… and Bernie reiterates what she casually said earlier.
More on this soon, but in the meantime… a massive line-wide event calls!
ONE FUNNY THING…
Finally, we’ll end this post on a lighter note, as Steve showed earlier (in the Captain America issue) that he is still behind the times as far as popular culture is concerned.
Just don’t say that too loud over here in Jersey, pal.
…AND ONE SERIOUS THING
In the letter column in issue #296, reader Billi Ford has an excellent interpretation of Cap’s kneeling in front of Black Crow. (And I can’t disagree with the first sentence!)
Collected in: Captain America: Death of the Red Skull
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #291 (March 1984)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #293 and Alpha Flight #10 (May 1984)