Captain America #344 (August 1988)

This “giant-sized issue” picks up where the last left off and wraps up the serpent-saturated storyline of late, with Viper’s attack on the White House bringing the Captain back to Washington, DC, for the first time since he relinquished the shield and stripes to the Commission in issue #332. And yes, just to get it out the way, that is former President Ronald Reagan on the cover, having been transformed by the Viper’s poison into a snake creature. As we shall see, this leads to predictable mixed feelings on the part of Cap, especially given that he is not sure how much input the president had in the Commission’s actions.

We first see our hero when he and Rachel Leighton, aka Diamondback, intercept some of Viper’s serpents on their way back from dumping her poison in the Washington water supply

Needless to say, the serpents aren’t much of a threat, although Cobra does manage to escape to the other aircraft in which D-Man and Nomad are holding Viper, freeing her before fleeing once again, with Nomad on his tail while Viper bites and subdues D-Man.

Meanwhile, Douglas Rockwell of the Commission gets word of the Falcon’s call warning of the Viper’s attack, and when he can’t get through the president, he bypasses the Avengers with a sick burn and calls on his own “security force” instead.

Speaking of the new Captain America and Battlestar, at least one of them is getting sick of being ordered around.

Hoskins’ feelings, which echo Steve Rogers’ original reaction to the Commission’s over-reach, will make their upcoming meeting in issue #349 very interesting (especially given what happens with John Walker in the meantime… shh, no spoilers!).

After Cap and Diamondback find D-Man and give him antitoxin in case the Viper poisoned him, Cap announces his intentions to go after the villain, even though he also wants to stay with his friend. He orders Diamondback to stay with D-Man, offering her a chance to get in his good graces.

After he leaves, Rachel engages in some wallowing reminiscent of 1950s romance comics. (Imagine what Roy Lichtenstein might have done with the final panel.)

Before long, Rachel grows impatient and abandons D-Man to follow Cap… only to find a different Cap waiting outside for her. To her credit, she realizes it’s actually Walker almost immediately.

Inside the ship, Hoskins finds D-Man, who, despite his diminished state, puts up an impressive fight, although Hoskins prevails in the end, after which he’s joined by Walker, who seems to have had little trouble with Diamondback.

Just as he regretted leaving D-Man to pursue Viper, Cap also laments the fact that he has to let so much street crime go unaddressed to pursue more important prey.

Cap is betting that Viper went straight to the top, and while he vaults the fence, he thinks about the jeopardy he’s putting himself in with the Commission, just one more valid concern that is of less priority than saving the country from Viper’s plans.

Once inside, he finds Secret Service agents on the ground, unconscious and bleeding, and starts searching the premises for Viper. Meanwhile, he also waxes nostalgic about the symbolism of the White House while thinking back to his encounter with a corrupt president at the conclusion of the original Secret Empire storyline in issue #175.

This leads to wondering about the current president’s position on Captain America’s role and status, before he comes to the Oval Office, which takes him back to the events first shown in issue #255.

This only serves to further remind him how much being Captain America meant to him…

…which he can’t afford to dwell on once he finds the president, looking far worse than others he saw contaminated by the Viper’s poison.

Naturally, Cap is mindful not to hurt him while also protecting himself.

Although it hardly seems worthwhile at the present moment, Cap tries to reason with the serpentine chief executive, arguing for his own role, purpose, and symbolic importance, as well as the president’s.

The fight continues until they are joined by Viper herself: As always, Cap is primarily concerned with protecting the president, while Viper lays out her nihilistic endgame in the style of a classic Bond villain.

After the Secret Service arrives the gunfight begins, and while Cap shields the president he notices his perspiration, unusual for a snake, which suggests he’s fighting back against the effects of the poison.

Before long, the president does shake the toxin off, shedding his snakeskin, and once again Cap leaves to go after Viper (as well as, I’m sure, to evade the inevitable sticky questions about his presence).

Once outside, he finds that Cobra apprehended his fellow serpent, and tries to bargain with her release…

…but he is not a very good negotiator, folding at the first refusal. Cap considers going after him, but as they say, a snake in the hand is worth two in the bush. (They do say that, honest.)

We should not be surprised that Cap gives his enemies too much credit, but as shown earlier in the issue, Cobra just wants to make sure Viper takes the blame for her foiled plot rather than him, and has been working against her to this end all along.

Finally, the Commission discusses recent events and the mysterious stranger who cracked case—and Rockwell is not fooled by Cap’s slightly different appearance, nor by legal technicalities regarding his continued operations…

…because he believes he has all the reasons he needs to bring him in, and more to come from his latest captives.

In the next three issues (covered together in the next post), the Commission’s actions against Cap ramp up, while John Walker experiences a personal tragedy that takes him over the edge, bringing us closer to the resolution of this epic storyline in issue #350.


ISSUE DETAILS

Captain America (vol. 1) #344, August 1988: Mark Gruenwald (writer), Kieron Dwyer (pencils), Al Milgrom (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), John Morelli (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: The Captain and Captain America: The Captain


PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #342-343 (June-July 1988)

NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #345-347 and Marvel Comics Presents #2 (September-November 1988)

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