This issue serves as an epilogue to the “Death of the Red Skull” saga (as the subsequent trade paperback collection was titled) that began in issue #290 and ended in the last issue. In case you didn’t read the last post, the Red Skull died in Captain America’s arms after the hero refused to kill him (but not without coming very close to giving in to his exasperated vengeance). Black Crow saved Cap from the Red Skull’s poison that was killing him (and presumably killed the Skull as well), but Cap was left in his aged state, and Mother Superior and the Sisters of Sin were still at large…
…and, as this issues opens, they greet our hero as he carries the Red Skull from his castle (joined by Nomad).
Despite everything the Red Skull did in his long life, Cap plays him a final honor in returning his body to his daughter.
Before you say “aww,” later in the issue Mother Superior spits on her father’s face and throws his body in a fire. But still, Cap did a nice thing!
When Cap and Nomad finally get outside, they’re greeted by the Falcon and Bernie, as well as the arriving Avengers, with one in particular realizing his greeting is a bit on-the-nose.
It takes a Wasp to point out the obvious.
While Hercules—or “Hurcules,” as Cap puts it below, although it sounds the same—and Starfox gather up Cap and Nomad’s stuff, Cap is grateful but otherwise quiet, which concerns Bernie and the rest of the Avengers,
Once back at Avengers Mansion, Cap graciously offers to step down from active service, but his teammates and friends won’t hear of it, all committed to find a way to restore Cap’s youth… and Cap, who rarely asks for anything, is visibly touched by the unanimous support and love.
In a very sweet and tender moment—accentuated by the shadowy first panel below—a tearful Bernie pledges her undying love, regardless of what happens regarding her fiance’s physical age.
The team calls in former member Hank Pym (recently seen also in Avengers Annual #13) to examine Cap, but his diagnosis is not positive, leading to the first of a number of reminiscences, this one from Cap’s close friend and former partner, the Falcon.
Soon, Hawkeye arrives from his regular gig with the newly formed West Coast Avengers, and immediately starts to regret all the ribbing he gave Old Man Cap back in the days of the Kooky Quartet (starting with Avengers #16). And when Clint starts telling Cap how much he’s learned from him, it’s just too strange!
Finally, the Avengers acquire the Red Skull’s aging machine, which they plan to use in reverse on Cap—which, as the narration notes, is eerily similar to the Project Rebirth transformation that created him.
Now it’s time for Bernie to think about her short time with Steve Rogers, all they’ve been through already, and the life with him she wants so dearly…
…when uninvited guests arrive.
Hawkeye wants to help, but the Scarlet Witch wisely keeps him out, appealing to how deeply they each care for the man inside.
As soon as Cap realizes what’s going on, he tries to reason with Mother Superior, to whom he showed compassion recently (in issue #296)…
…but to no avail, and the five women instead attack Cap in his weakened state. Nonetheless, he realizes the only way he can win is to continue to let the de-aging rays do their job.
Mother Superior does not want to give him the chance to recover, so she readies a final psychic blow, which Cap can only counter with his own iron will…
…aided by the fact that the de-aging rays weren’t working on just him. (Apparently they took away the teen girls’ powers as well. Convenient!)
And if they’re younger…
…so is Captain America, as shown in the brilliant portrait below that closes the issue as well as the storyline.
(In fact, Cap does return to the Avengers this month in Avengers #251.)
Collected in: Captain America: Death of the Red Skull
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #300 (December 1984)