This issue continues Steve Rogers’ gradual return to the Avengers that began in Avengers #298, although this annual does not feature any Avengers team we’ve seen before (which will be explained later). It is also part of a multi-part storyline, “The Evolutionary War,” stretched across the 1988 annuals, in a practice that would continue for quite a while at both Marvel and DC—remember “JLApe: Gorilla Warfare“?—and which still continues to this day. This issue is the final installment, but the overall story matters little to us, though, as the Captain leads an ad hoc assemblage of Avengers against Herbert Wyndham, better known as the High Evolutionary, a megalomaniacal gene manipulator.
After two pages showing Jocasta, the synthezoid Avenger thought to have been killed by Ultron in Marvel Two-in-One #93, being revived by the High Evolutionary’s Gatherers, the scene changes to Hydro-base, where Jocasta managed to send a distress call summoning the team… unaware that, as of Avengers #247, there is no longer a team. But there are reservists…
…and the first one to answer the call is the Captain, fresh from helping the team’s butler Jarvis in Avengers #298. As we saw there, Jarvis neglected to inform the good Captain about what happened to the “active” Avengers, so he’s clueless as to why he’s all alone.
Cap hears Jocasta’s voice but doesn’t believe it, and before he has a chance to investigate, he’s joined by an old friend…
…who acts like they didn’t see each other as recently as Captain America #345.
One by one, the rest of the “team” arrives—Hercules, Beast, the Hulk (now in his grey and snappy “Joe Fixit” persona), and the villainous Yellowjacket (who is wearing Hank Pym’s old helmet, through which she received the summons).
After tracing the call, the For-Now Avengers rush to Long Island, where they find Jocasta after Hulk takes care of the High Evolutionary’s agents (and a good deal of their machinery), for which Cap takes him to task, for all the good it does. (You think Cap misses the dull-witted Hulk yet?)
The Gatherer fills the Avengers in on the High Evolutionary’s plans, which sound all to familiar to Cap.
After the Gatherer triggers a bomb in his head and explodes, the Hulk makes a snide comment that concerns Beast and Cap, but Sam is more focused on Jocasta—settle down, Sam—whom Cap takes the chance to ask some questions.
As Cap leads the Avengers underwater to ask the Lemurians for help finding the High Evolutionary’s bomb, Jocasta explains that she was reconstructed by his Gatherers using all the parts and files they could find. (Fair enough.) They find themselves in the middle of a conflict between Lemuria and Atlantis, and after settling everyone down, Cap uses his authoritative manner to convince both nations they face a common problem… you know who.
Well, they don’t know who, actually… but after they find out, Sam hails Cap as quite the peacemaker.
After the combined forces find the High Evolutionary’s underwater headquarters, Cap shows off the benefits of being a history buff.
And I think the loquacious Beast is rubbing off on him, because I’ve never heard Cap say anything like “effect a surreptitious entry.”
The Avengers invade the High Evolutionary’s vessel and, after subduing the security forces, just observe things for a while, with Cap shifting gears from historian to anthropologist.
Cap remembers that the animal-headed people are “New-Men” created by the High Evolutionary, and Sam realizes one of the team makes a perfect candidate for blending in with them.
“Disguised” in a robe, Beast tells a few Gatherers (one of them secretly Cap) that the New-Men are not humans in masks but animals bent on conquest, which launches an internal revolt that masks their search for the bomb. (But I’m not sure “quasi-military discipline” is necessary to act like a thuggish goon for a few seconds, though it may might make Cap feel better about the subterfuge!)
Once the Avengers find where the High Evolutionary makes new New-Men—as well as where the bomb is—the owner himself shows up, and Jocasta is the first to rush him, to Cap’s objections.
Cap puts the shield T’Challa made for him (as shown in Captain America #342) to good use—not even needing to lean into the blast—while he takes charge, and Yellowjacket flips out a little bit.
Get it… “a little bit”? HA!
I don’t understand the High Evolutionary’s comment about Cap thinking like a machine—unless it was aimed towards Jocasta?—but Cap only doubles down, continuing to give orders, even to one of his best friends.
After the strongest among them free the team from the cage the High Evolutionary formed around them, Cap comes up with a new plan that involves using their foe’s gene-manipulation equipment on one of their own.
So he’ll be what, a god squared?
Hulk shows he’s not as rational as he seemed, and Cap realizes he might as well be the old Hulk anyway…
…so he cleverly tricks the High Evolutionary into transporting the Hulk to the desert outside Las Vegas. Cap takes advantage of the effort it took to do this by going on the offensive while the Beast gets ready to engodden a god.
Once supercharged with extra godness, Hercules joins the High Evolutionary in battle, and the Beast reveals that he built the Genesis Chamber device into Hercules’ armor so he would continue to evolve, eventually defeating the villain, who disappears, after which Hercules himself vanishes in a flash of light, leaving only the burnt-out armor.
I can only assume the panel below is a moment of silence for their departed colleague…
…before they get back to work. (Don’t worry: We learn in Thor #406 that both Hercules and the High Evolutionary were transported across the universe, both having become part of the Black Galaxy after being elevated to godhood… or more godhood, as the case may be.)
The three Avengers find Yellowjacket and Jocasta, who have launched a plan of their own…
…one that involves Jocasta sacrificing herself to save the planet from the High Evolutionary’s bomb.
It doesn’t seem Cap resisted very much—”no, Jocasta, there must be another way”—which I hope is because he quickly realized this was the only remaining option (and not because Jocasta is an artificial human).
Cap’s latest Kooky Quartet makes it out of the ocean just before the explosion, which Beast confirms was the ship and not just the bomb, and Sam cracks a Star Trek joke.
Avengers Annual (vol. 1) #17, 1988, “Prometheus Mutans!”: Walter Simonson (writer), Mark Bright (pencils), Mike Gustovich and Valerie Gustovich (inks), Evelyn Stein (colors), Bill Oakley, Michael Heisler, and Rick Parker (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)