These three issues of Captain America, written by Mike Carlin, are part of the short transition between the legendary runs of J.M. DeMatteis, which ended with issue #300, and Mark Gruenwald, which starts with issue #307 (and lasts, with the exception of one issue, to #443!). Although we won’t see him much here, this story does feature the return of Batroc, the gradual departure of Nomad from the book, and finally the secret of Captain America’s shield (although, as we will see, it was actually revealed slightly earlier). Afterward, we get a brief appearance in a fantasy-themed two-parter from Uncanny X-Men that still shows Cap being Cap, no matter what he wears.
Captain America #302 opens in a very cinematic fashion with our hero emerging from the shadows to greet some characters who appear to be just as shady.
But appearances can be deceiving: These guys aren’t thugs, and it isn’t a weapon Tony is fetching.
In fact, as Cap rides away, he thinks about the fact that it’s people like Richie and his friends that give him his purpose, before he reflects on events just ended and his future with his fiancée Bernie and partner Jack, foreshadowing the latter’s impending bid for independence.
It is at this point that we welcome our first villain of the story, who is definitely not Danny Trejo.
They fight and fight and fight some more, and after Machete cuts the straps on the back of Cap’s shield, he almost manages to capture it, but Cap quickly reclaims it.
Well, “never” is going overboard: He doesn’t surrender in a simple fight, but he will when it’s necessary to protect another life, as we’ll see before the end of this issue.
Once Cap gets the upper hand in their fight, Machete flees, only to reappear later with a pal, Zaran (both working for Batroc), to face Cap and Nomad (who, earlier, hints at going solo). Zaran manages to separate Cap from his shield…
…before Machete gets hold of Nomad and forces Cap to surrender after all.
After they leave, Nomad beats himself up as usual—and even more after Cap realizes the villains’ goal all along (which Machete almost revealed above).
Oh, I see how it is: There’s property and then there’s property. (I know, I know, just kidding.)
That issue ends with Batroc gloating over having the shield at last, but it isn’t until Captain America #303 that we learn why he wanted it. (Hint: Cha-ching.) But before we get there, Cap is less defiant and more despondent about losing his best friend, while having to continue consoling Nomad at the same time.
Bernie consoles Cap, while the young student of logic points out that at least the shield is a unique needle in a haystack.
So what is up with that shield, anyway? For that answer we travel to Long Island and Stane International (yes, the same firm that is giving Tony Stark such a hard time these days).
The scientist above is Dr. Myron MacLain (not MacLean), introduced in Avengers #66 as the inventor of adamantium, the metal wot makes Wolverine’s claws so shiny. Now what do you think he’s trying so hard to duplicate?
As soon as Arons, the Stane employee, accepts a delivery from Batroc and his pals…
…he gives MacLain all he should need to finish his task.
And what was that process, exactly? We’re getting there… but first, let’s watch Steve draw!
From what I’ve heard from artists on social media, I am thinking he is not alone!
Soon, Cap and Nomad head out in search of the shield, and Nomad tries to broach the topic of going out as a solo act. (No, they did not suddenly acquire the power of flight, although you cannot be blamed for thinking they did.)
Insert your favorite “smack my face” GIF here… but at least Cap does realize something’s wrong with his partner.
While Cap keeps mulling this over, let’s return to Dr. MacLain, who finally reveals the origin of Captain America’ shield.
Although this is the first in-story mention of these details, the origin and composition of the shield was actually revealed two years earlier, at the end of the Captain America entry in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #2 (February 1983):
This was re-iterated in the separate entry on the shield in OHOTMU #15 (May 1984):
Neither of these entries, however, mention the unknown factor that has rendered the shield impossible to duplicate, and which mirrors the Project Rebirth process that created Captain America himself. (Both of these entries are reprinted, along with other Avengers-related entries, in the Avengers: Absolute Vision Book Two trade paperback, as well as with the entire series in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Omnibus.)
Even more curious, the composition of the shield was suggested over a decade prior, by a reader named Fred Jansson in a letter printed way back in Captain America #145 (January 1972):
Jansson’s theory has 100% too much Tony Stark in it, but he does insightfully point out that vibranium would help to absorb impact, which has been a key feature of Cap’s shield since his 1960s revival (although this would seem to compromise its ability to ricochet when Cap banks it off walls like a billiards ball).
Back to our story: After many beers, Machete and Zaran bet Batrac that he cannot defeat zee Captaine America, so he saves Cap the trouble of finding him. After Cap makes an important point about his shield…
…he does offer to let Batroc land one good shot, enabling him to save face while still losing the bet, in exchange for information about the location of the shield.
The story wraps up fairly uneventfully in issue #304, if you don’t count Cap infiltrating Stane Industries dressed as E. Paul Zehr.
Eventually he finds that Arons had more shields, as well as a body of armor, made out of MacLain’s flawed duplication of Cap’s shield, and after throwing several of the imitation shields and finding them lacking, Nomad tosses him the one he wants.
Once reunited with the real thing, Cap easily defeats the armored Arons (who clearly doesn’t know that Stark had a trademark on the word “invincible”), and finally meets the man responsible for his one true companion (which you’d think would be a bigger moment for both of them).
So now we know the secrets of the shield, after two decades of beating around the bush. (If anyone knows the behind-the-scenes details of this, please tell—I am guessing that Mark Gruenwald, main writer of the Handbook and editor of Captain America at the time, remembered reading that letter and introduced its main ideas when he had a chance.)
Meanwhile, in Uncanny X-Men #190, New York City is having wizard problems, as explained below.
Yes, meet Conan America, although he remains Cap at heart, as shown by his protectiveness…
…and his ability to inspire and lead, as well as his belief in equality.
The story wraps up in Uncanny X-Men #191, and when everything has returned to normal, Storm makes a point familiar to X-Men fans, one which Cap himself echoed recently in Avengers #252 when anti-mutant bigots burned down the house belonging to the Scarlet Witch and Vision.
Collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: Society of Serpents
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #301 (January 1985)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #305-306 (May-June 1985)