This issue sees the Captain return to the Avengers’ side temporarily, before rejoining on a more permanent basis in issue #298—and no time like the present, when the Avengers are facing “Heavy Metal,” a short-lived group of malevolent androids/AI. The main threat among them is the Super-Adaptoid, an invention of A.I.M. based on a Cosmic Cube who was introduced way back in Tales of Suspense #82, who can mimic the appearance, abilities, and equipment of any creature.
If you remember the Super-Adaptoid’s early appearances… well, he looks a little different now, having copied the appearance and abilities of Kubik, the sentient Cosmic Cube that we met in Captain America Annual #7 (who is not to be confused with Kobik, the sentient Cosmic Cube that the Red Skull will one day use to turn Captain America into an agent of Hydra).
(In case you’re wondering, the smaller green woman above is Marrina, a former member of Alpha Flight who is currently married to Namor and working alongside him and the Avengers—we met her earlier in Avengers #271-272 and Alpha Flight #39.)
After the Super-Adaptoid traps the Avengers in cubes (cosmic power sold separately), banishes Kubik to a black hole in another galaxy, and adopts a more typical humanoid look, he announces his plan to spawn a countless number of adaptoids that can replace humans, proclaiming himself the Supreme Adaptoid (because I guess we can just do that now).
After rejecting the idea of facing him directly, for fear of the cataclysmic power that would be unleashed in such a battle—and after delivering a Cosmic-Cube-powered diss to Uatu the Watcher in the process—Kubik decides to recruit the one person it has met that could possibly face the Adaptoid Who Just Up and Decided to Call Himself Supreme…
Of course, Cap agrees to help, thinking he knows a way to defeat the Adaptoid… or at least hopes he will soon.
Kubik transports him to where the Adaptoid and the Avengers are, while wiping his mind just a little bit, though he apparently he still remembers why he’s there (and is wholly dedicated to it). There, he finds the Super Supreme King Adaptoid the Great, who is apparently the only being in the known universe that can recognize him despite his totally, completely different costume.
Cap apparently tries to goad the Adaptoid into a fight by questioning his newfound free will, hoping he’ll follow his original programming instead… out of anger, I guess? This is some 12-dimensional reverse psychology here, folks.
Unfortunately, the Adaptoid sees through it, and sicks one of his mini-Adaptoids on him instead.
Cap fights the mini-Adaptoid while it tries to replicate him, and realizes why his gambit may not have worked: The Supreme Adaptoid has no “personality” to speak of and therefore no character flaws to exploit. (Well, there’s vanity, but he already tried that above, maybe kinda.)
Before we go on: What kind of sound effects are WHUG, SWOK, BTOK, and BWUNT? No one’s going to win an Academy Award for Best Sound based on this, I’m sorry.
Eventually, we have two guys that almost no one could ever recognize as Captain America.
Even though the A-Cap-Toid—I thought of that all by myself—has Cap’s skills, he lacks what makes Cap Cap, whatever his name may be, and the thing Cap usually cites when he fights androids more powerful then himself: heart, spirit, or the will to push back just a little harder than you think you can.
See, none of his friends recognized him! But Doctor Druid gives him his due, and gets an idea…
…and we’re back to 12-dimensional reverse psychology again, this time expanding on Cap’s argument against the Supreme Adaptoid mini-me to try to sway the real thing.
And it almost works, until the Adaptoid pulls the academic’s fanciest trick: When you can’t solve your way out of a conceptual problem, just redefine something!
BTWONKKKK! (That four K’s, for those keeping track at home. You have to respect the commitment, I guess.) After dispensing with Druid, the Adaptoid discovers his faux-Cap lost, and the real Cap asserts the pre-ordained victory of David against Goliath…
…and that, finally, is enough to get the Supreme Adaptoid to fight Cap on roughly equal terms. (Maybe Cap was actually playing 13-dimensional reverse psychology the whole time!) The Adaptoid argues that all that matters can in fact be measured (contradicting common wisdom), treating his battle with Cap like a role-playing game…
…but Cap changes the discussion to the life-giving nature of mortality, which gives living beings their edge against artificial beings who know not what it means to die, nor, by implication, what it is to live. When the Adaptoid tries to mimic this, though… well, he succeeds. (Good job!)
Kubik finally decides to reveal itself, hailing Cap for zeroing in on the Adaptoid’s sole weakness, and then reminds the other how lucky they are to have him (for the time being) before leaving them with a Shakespeare quote that’s a bit on the nose—not just for Adaptoid, but for the former Captain America himself as well.
Although this is Cap’s sole appearance in Avengers until the end of 1988, he does hang around with the group when they help out the Prince of Asgard in Thor #390, where Cap proves his worth in a whole new way. (I guess Tony will have to wait just a little longer to have a nice chat with the Captain about what he’s done.)
Avengers (vol. 1) #290, April 1988: Ralph Macchio and Mark Gruenwald (writers), John Buscema (pencils), Tom Palmer (inks), Max Scheele (colors), Bill Oakley (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)