Looking at the cover, you might think Captain America is back as “The Captain”… but didn’t he just reclaim his original identity four issues ago? Maybe it’s someone else in the red, white, and black costume? But whoever could it be? I mean, sure, there’s that “other guy,” but he’s dead, isn’t he?
This issue is set up in “split-screen” format, with the two storylines shown one above the other on each page, the illustrations (and sometimes the dialogue) roughly paralleling each other. As seen in the opening page below, the top story deals with Cap trying to find the mastermind behind the robot attacks he and Nick Fury endured in issue #351 (starting just down the road from me in picturesque suburban New Jersey), while the bottom story starts with Lemar Hoskins investigating John Walker’s assassination in the same issue.
I’ll just show one more complete page for now, after which we’ll focus on Cap’s story, and then turn to the relevant parts of Hoskins’ afterwards. Below, Cap laments how busy he’s been (in Avengers #301-303 and Captain America #352-353, respectively) before revealing that his main suspect for the computer attacks is Machinesmith, who is presumed dead… but who isn’t these days, am I right? (If you wonder what those “parts” of Spidey and the Thing are doing there, you should revisit issue #249—it’s fine, we’ll wait.)
Cap doesn’t find anything incriminating to Machinesmith’s old hide-out, so he returns to the Quinjet with one of ‘Smith’s robot heads and plans to call Damage Control to get the rest before reflecting on his responsibilities as Avengers leader in a world without SHIELD.
After he returns to Avengers Island, he finds a guest he seems to have invited somewhat reluctantly: Fabian Stankowitz, the former Mechano-Marauder who farcically annoyed the team in Avengers #217 and #221 and more recently tried to audition for the team as Mechanaut in Captain America #352 (alongside Speedball and other premier Marvel heroes).
In fact, Cap does invite him to join the Avengers, but as part of the support crew, alongside Michael O’Brien (seen here) and Peggy Carter. With Stankowitz, though, it’s more a matter of “keep your friend close and your enemies closer,” even if they are more aggravating than dangerous.
When they get to Massachusetts, they find a relic from Cap’s past, which Fabian seems to be as familiar with as Cap is.
And here we learn why: Fabian reads comics (including this one).
Not only does this exchange give Cap a chance to think about Sharon (whom he has believed to be dead since issue #237), but it also reminds us that the 616 version of Marvel Comics publishes its resident heroes’ adventures in a semi-journalistic fashion, so much so that they qualify as evidence in court (as explained in She-Hulk, vol. 1, #2, June 2004), despite not getting everything right (such as having to protect secret identities).
After they transport the apparently inert Sleeper to Avengers Island, Fabian is like a kid in a candy store…
…and he saves the editor the trouble of adding a footnote.
Maybe not so inert? After the Sleeper comes to life, Cap fights back, giving us several pages of great action scenes, including the acrobatic one below…
…and an homage to Kirby with the great pose in the second panel below. (Who else could put Cap in such a pose and make it look so dynamic?)
To make matters worse, Cap is taunted by the Machinesmith head he brought back from New Jersey, who reveals he is behind the Sleeper’s de-sleeping.
Hey, that’s Captain Blue-Britches to you, mister.
Eventually Cap manages to activate the stasis field generator and stop the Sleeper—but before we show the final panel of that story, let’s catch up with the other one, in which Hoskins finds more clues suggesting something’s up with Walker’s assassination, which he tells Valerie Cooper. Later, Cooper is with the rest of the Commission to see General Hayworth’s latest toy…
…the U.S. Agent.
The general shows U.S. Agent off by having him fight an Iron Monger that he saved from Tony Stark’s recent purge of his tech (which he and Cap “discussed” in Iron Man #228 and Captain America #341), which provides yet another opportunity for a great Kirby homage.
While the display continues, the rest of the Commission gradually tease out of the general that he staged John Walker’s assassination, at which point they correctly guess that the U.S. Agent is none other than Walker himself.
But not the “old” Walker, according to Hayworth, though—he’s a “new” Walker (although that remains to be seen, even today).
We finish this post with the complete final page, showing Cap victorious against the machinations of Machinesmith, as Walker is against the Iron Monger.
You must have figured that out quickly, Mr. Sikorsky, because in West Avengers #44, you call Hawkeye to inform them of the team’s new leader, whom at first they mistake for someone else.
But don’t worry about Clint… after all, this is the “new” Walker. (Nothing to worry about.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #354, June 1989: 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 Bloodstone Hunt
And even though I didn’t cover it officially, I did show pages from it, so let’s give credit where credit is due…
West Coast Avengers (vol. 2) #44, May 1989: John Byrne (writer and pencils), Mike Machlan (inks), Paul Becton (colors), Bill Oakley (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Avengers West Coast Epic Collection: Vision Quest
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #352-253 (April-May 1989)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #304 (June 1989)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #355 (July 1989)
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