These two issues introduce a little (very little) bit of international intrigue as Captain America confronts opposed factions within the Soviet superhero world, including a trip behind the Iron Curtain (which would fall later that year) himself.
Issue #352 opens with Cap holding auditions for Avenger Idol across the top half of a double-page spread, and is none too impressed with what he sees, at least in terms of teamwork (which, as we saw in Avengers #301-303, is not a key feature of the current Avengers team either).
He’s called away by Michael O’Brien, the Avengers security chief hired in Avengers #301, who alerts Cap to an uninvited guest to the auditions.
It’s the Soviet Super-Soldiers—Vanguard, Darkstar, and Ursa Major—whom we saw here in the X-Men Vs. Avengers miniseries…
…and naturally a fight breaks out, only to be broken up once Daddy gets home.
When the Russians have a chance to explain, they give Cap some surprising news.
Before he can deal with the Soviet Super-Soldiers, Cap has to dismiss the Wannabe Avengers, which he does with an even balance of straight talk and encouragement.
Speedball would go on to be a member of the New Warriors, who were responsible for the catastrophe in Stamford, CT, that launched the superhero Civil War. He subsequently had quite an ordeal himself, eventually adopting the name Penance and a new costume that took hairshirts to a new level.
When the Russians explain their plight to Cap, he hears a very familiar tale of bureaucratic overreach.
They also make clear, as Cap did repeatedly during his own recent exile, that their issue is with their government, not their country and the people of it. This must make Cap more sympathetic to their cause, but he still takes a prudently cautious attitude toward their visit, as we see in his instructions to Jarvis.
Next, Cap sits down to give an update to Ram Riddley and the rest of his Captain America hotline when an old girlfriend asks to Zoom, sending him on an emergency mission.
“Good ol’ Peg”… is this Captain America talking or Don Draper?
Strangely, Cap meets with the Russians around the same time, but is uncharacteristically short with them…
…and after he invites Thor, Iron Man, and Vision to help test the Russians’ powers, he becomes even more extreme.
“Combat knows no honor”? You guessed it: This is not the Cap we know. In fact, none of the Avengers here are.
It’s the Supreme Soviets, the official team the Kremlin wanted the Soviet Super-Soldiers to join, which includes a new Red Guardian (whose predecessor Cap met in Avengers #43), the Crimson Dynamo (a longtime Iron Man foe), and new characters Perun, Sputnik, and Fantasia.
Soon thereafter, the real Cap returns to find the Russian visitors missing, immediately suspecting the worse before finding them two minutes later.
As the blurb above suggests, Cap travels to the Soviet Union in issue #353 and is surprised by the reception he receives (despite this being the period of glasnost or “openness” in the USSR).
Cap is fluent in Russian… who knew? He takes this opportunity to promote the Avengers as a global superhero team, not only for the west any more.
What does president Mikhail Gorbachev, seen “klapping” in the crowd, think about this? As Ozzy Osbourne would sing in Moscow later that year, “Я не знаю.”
It takes a hot shower for Cap to admit to himself what we all know, that his reason for this visit was not only to improve relations between the Avengers and the USSR, but also to investigate his suspicions that the forces who defeated the Soviet Super-Soldiers came from their own country (a natural suspicion, given that they were defecting), especially given how powerful those forces must have been.
When an enormous monster appears outside his window, Cap gives his patented “when things go south” speech and leaps into action (which does not go unobserved), hoping that all flagpoles are made the same.
I really like the shot in silhouette above, courtesy of Kieron Dwyer, Al Milgrom, and Bob Sharen.
After Cap fights the monster, only to watch it vanish into thin air, he gets a visit from a new Red Guardian, his Soviet counterpart, and they waste no time comparing political philosophies.
Uh-huh, sure. <eye roll>
Cap realizes this trip through the streets of Moscow is partly propaganda, but still displays some naivete about the Red Guardian’s role within the Soviet government (or the people’s awareness of it).
After the creature reappears, both Cap and Red Guardian fight it until it absorbs the Soviet hero and then disappears again. Cap wants answers and heads to the source to get them, but finds himself the target of suspicion. (He seems to have much less reticence about angrily confronting government officials after his recent experience with the Commission!)
Cap’s eyes are wide open now as the monster shows up again, followed by three of the Supreme Soviets.
Cap saves two Russian citizens, who must not have heard his speech earlier.
After the collected heroes fight the creature some more, the Russian three are absorbed, and Cap just dives in after them, discovering—as the Crimson Dynamo suspected, and his allies came to see as well—that the monster embodied the spirits of the Soviet Super-Soldiers, using their powers from the other side of the globe to attack the Supreme Soviets.
Naturally, Cap opposes their plan, arguing for the unquestionable value of life…
…but after the creature vanishes, leaving the Supreme Soviets weak but alive, we’ll never know if Cap’s argument worked, or if the Soviet Super-Soldiers just got what they needed without killing their comrades.
When Cap returns to Avengers Island, he finds the bedridden Soviet Super-Soldiers unaware of what happened but claiming to have dreamed about it (collectively).
Afterwards, Cap is characteristically generous—or naive, depending on how you look at it—regarding the motivations of all involved, resting satisfied in the knowledge that no lives were lost.
While all this was happening, Lemar Hoskins was investigating what happened to John Walker after he was shot in issue #351 and his body disappeared mysteriously soon thereafter. In the next issue, we’ll pick up that story, as well as Cap’s search for the person behind the killer machines he and Nick Fury faced (also shown in issue #351).
Captain America (vol. 1) #352, April 1989: Mark Gruenwald (script, co-plotter), Kieron Dwyer (pencils, co-plotter), Al Milgrom (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), John Morelli (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #353, May 1989: Mark Gruenwald (script, co-plotter), Kieron Dwyer (pencils, co-plotter), Al Milgrom (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), John Morelli (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: The Bloodstone Hunt
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #351 (March 1989)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #302-303 and Thor #402 (April-May 1989)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #354 (June 1989)