With this issue we reach the culmination of the Red Skull’s most recent and very personal campaign against Captain America, whom he considers his equal and opposite (as we saw in the last two issues), and with whom he is locked in eternal battle to the death (helped by the fact that he poisoned both of them). Also, this issue brings back Black Crow, the Navajo warrior who premiered in issue #292 and made a brief re-appearance in the last issue, and after this issue was almost… well, more on that at the end of the post.
In fact, this issue begins with Crow, as his visions of Cap and the Red Skull continue…
…and expand considerably, as seen in the double-page montage below, summarizing many of the key events in this storyline since issue #290 in the form of a message from the Earth Spirit.
Because the text may be too small to read, here is the verbal part of the Earth Spirit’s message to Black Crow, reiterating his relationship to Captain America and summoning him to his brother’s aid.
In case the Earth Spirit wasn’t clear…
We’ll see more of Black Crow later, but for now, we return to Captain America and the Red Skull, who have finally come to blows in the Skull’s underground bunker after the villain blew up the castle above them, killing Caps’ friends the Falcon, Nomad, Bernie Rosenthal, and Arnie Roth, as well as the Skull’s own daughter, Mother Superior.
At the same time, Cap’s friend Dave Cox, the pacifist who was willing to sacrifice his life rather than kill for Mother Superior and Baron Zemo in issue #294, is hovering near death, and only gets closer as Cap and the Skull fight (as we see intermittently during their battle).
Speaking of whom, the Skull reminds Cap of their impending death by poison as they continue to pummel each other (to the sounds of SPOKKK, FAKT, and BUTT, which is still not a sound effect).
The Skull continues to monologue about his plans, and Cap eventually has enough, making clear to his arch enemy that yes, he fights, but he fights to live…
…specifically, to get the antidote. There’s a hitch, though.
The Skull relishes in the fact that he has driven Cap to savagery…
…which Cap concedes, succumbing to the base hatred that he has resisted for so long and even acknowledging that he will kill this man who lies beneath him.
But will he do it?
Of course not. He’s only human, exhausted and pushed to the limits of even his physical and moral endurance, so he came close, but at the end he stopped himself, as we knew he would.
But while you and I are nonetheless relieved, someone else is not, and he makes a final desperate plea, which in the end proves unnecessary.
This is the end of the Red Skull—at least for a while—but it is a new beginning for Dave Cox, thanks to Captain America. (Or maybe it is the black crow outside his window? Who knows?)
His enemy fallen, Cap recommits to countering the deadly poison in his veins, struggling to carry the Skull’s corpse upstairs and steeling himself for the sight he will confront on the other side of the door.
Surprise! There was no explosion. (Good one, Johann—you shoulda seen his face!)
Somehow I doubt it, but if that’s Cap’s suspicion, it is a very generous one.
Finally, one hero collapses…
…and another one arrives.
The Black Crow works quickly…
…and the spirits of the symbols of two different Americas convene on another plane.
On Black Crow’s prompting, it is Captain America’s faith in his country and the people who make it up that saves him, the spirit of the modern America reviving its living symbol.
Meanwhile, Cap’s friends have escaped from the castle and immediately start looking for Cap, and it is Nomad who finds him back inside, free of the poison but still aged, and lying next to an old man that Cap is happy to make a memory.
There’s an epilogue in the next issue, in which the Avengers try to help Cap reclaim his artificial youth—but not if Mother Superior and the Sisters of Sin can help it! Before we go, there’s one more thing to address with respect to this issue, and it’s right there at the bottom of that last page:
Who in the world is Michael Ellis?
Well, that’s a good story, which is tied up in who Black Crow was supposed to become and why this was the last issue of Captain America that J.M. DeMatteis was involved with… but the good sir tells the story so well that I’ll just direct you to his blog for the sordid tale.
Even though it didn’t end the way he wanted, DeMatteis’s run remains one of my very favorites, refining Cap’s relationship to the American dream and the American reality, and fleshing out a meaningful life for Steve Rogers, neither of which was simple—but that’s life, even for the Sentinel of Liberty.
Captain America (vol. 1) #300, December 1984: J.M. DeMatteis (plot), Michael Ellis (script), Paul Neary (pencils), Dennis Janke (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Diana Albers (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Captain America: Death of the Red Skull
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #298-299 (October-November 1984)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Secret Wars #8 (December 1984)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #301 (January 1985)