The final Avengers story featuring Captain America before the cataclysmic Captain America #332 is this crossover between the annuals of the two teams. These comics were actually published after Captain America #332, but for continuity reasons I’m letting them jump the line and be covered first. It’s a fairly routine “split up and fight” story, but the last panel is an indisputable classic. (Go ahead, just try to dispute it—you can’t!)
The story begins in the West Coast Avengers annual, beginning with a setting familiar from the last annual crossover.
Is Thor’s “bat” regulation? Hmm…
Below, Cap tries to salute baseball, but I don’t think a game in which each team scores over 400 runs shows the sport at its best.
Suddenly, the Silver Surfer appears, warning that an Elder of the Universe plans to kill some Avengers, and next thing we know, the East Coast Avengers are found dead in their bullpen. They “awaken” in a strange realm alongside the Grandmaster…
…after which the West Coast Avengers show up (having been killed themselves), accompanied by the Collector.
Yes, it’s the story we’ve all been waiting for: Contest of Champions 2.0, with the two teams Avengers battling each other for the delight of the Elders.
The teams break up to face off against each other, with Cap facing Mockingbird—a not completely unfair match, thanks to her S.H.I.E.L.D. training.
Thank you, editor’s footnote, we almost forgot!
Cap admires the fight Mockingbird’s putting up…
…and Mockingbird feels the same about Cap, although neither will admit it.
Cap thinks he’s up a point after breaking Mockingbird’s staff, but two sticks work as well as one, as Daredevil would surely tell you.
Cap thinks of a clever way to capture her without engaging in more physical combat, which would risk injury to one or both of them.
As Edna Mode says, “NO
CAPES BIG SLEEVES!”
After the pairs are done fighting, they return to the Grandmaster, and Bobbi is proud to see Clint victorious over She-Hulk (and Cap wishes they’d paired off differently!).
In the Avengers annual, we see that the Grandmaster’s grand plan all along was to capture Death. (Don’t ask.) Cap’s clearly out of ideas, so he falls back on an old chestnut…
…”let’s fight some more!”
The Grandmaster starts a new game, in which he hides five “life-bombs” throughout the universe, defended by… well, you’ll see. Cap is optimistic as ever, but challenges the Grandmaster to make the game fair…
…so he does, in his way, by introducing his life-bomb defenders.
Comics being comics, of course, not all of the dead heroes and villains shown above are still dead, and some of them never were, at least not at this time—especially one James Buchanan Barnes, who will face who-know-who when the heroes split up to find the life-bombs.
Whoever this Bucky is and wherever he came from, he knows how to push Cap’s buttons, even though it’s been quite a while since Cap had a serious guilt complex over him.
Cap takes care of Blood, but is surprised and frightened by what “Bucky” has done to Janet.
Meanwhile, Wonder Man has flown the dead Hyperion into the sun, causing a solar flare that distracts Bucky and saves the Wasp, also giving Cap time to see the life-bomb and destroy it, having to go through Bucky despite his close affection for him. As always, Ca[ chooses duty over love (for better or for worse).
Before he can finish that thought, he finds himself transported with Clint to where the Grandmaster awaits them, along with new additions to his Legion of the Unliving.
Clint loses it when he sees who is among the Legion’s new members…
…and it’s up to Cap to calm him down. (Why didn’t the second panel below become an iconic meme like Batman slapping Robin?)
Clint takes a cue from Cap earlier and exploits the Grandmaster’s love of games.
Cap is skeptical, but just look at the Grandmaster’s eyes above—he has a gambling problem for sure.
Cap’s exactly right: Hawkeye’s gambit gives them a better chance than any other option… especially when he does something shifty.
Thanks to Hawkeye’s duplicity, the Grandmaster loses… and Cap is shocked to learn why, especially given his invocation of the principle of fair play to the Grandmaster earlier in the issue.
How shocked is he? Even when everything returns to normal, and the Pan-Avengers baseball resumes…
…Cap shows he will never forget.
This is such a classic exaggerated reaction on Cap’s part: Given his recent experiences with being forced to compromise treasured principles to serve the greater good, surely he can acknowledge that cheating to save the universe is not the same as cheating in baseball. (Then again, for some people the stakes could be much higher in baseball!)
West Coast Avengers (vol. 1) Annual #2, September 1987: Steve Englehart (writer), Al Milgrom (pencils and inks), Geof Isherwood (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Tom Orzechowski (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Avengers (vol. 1) Annual #15, October 1987: Tom DeFalco (writer), Bob Hall, John Romita, Jr., Keith Pollard, Marshall Rogers, Jackson Guise, Ron Frenz (pencils), Tom Palmer, Bill Sienkiewicz, Al Williamson, Bob Layton, Kevin Nowlan, Bob Wiacek (inks), Max Scheele (colors), Ken Lopez (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)