These two issues of Avengers finish up the five-part story begun in issue #314 that features new Avengers Sersi and Spider-Man… although only one of them makes it out of this story as a member of the team! Plus: The Silver Surfer updates Captain America about Thanos (after he paid him a visit in Silver Surfer #36), and Cap and Hawkeye check in on the Black Knight in the first issue of his own miniseries.
In Avengers #317, having captured Nebula at last in the last issue, the Avengers now have to deal with the cosmic being named the Stranger (whom Cap first met in Captain America #150), who is also looking for the adopted daughter of Thanos. (I’m sure they were surprised that they never saw the Stranger.)
In case you’re not familiar with our cast, the two-page spread below will fill you in.
The Stranger grabs Nebula and flies away, leaving the Avengers to gawk, until Cap comes to his senses and crafts a new plan, starting with pushing the limits of Sersi’s powers yet again. (“Don’t to be afraid to try again,” he should tell her. “Everyone goes south, every now and then.”)
Wait, this is the most inspiring battle cry Cap could come with?
As the Avengers stare up at the Stranger’s gigantic ship, Spidey has second thoughts, but Cap is resolute as always, and lets the wallcrawler know this is all part of the gig before he gives orders to his team.
Oh, look who thinks he’s Yogi Berra.
On the Stranger’s ship they are greeted by Blockade, a robot guard, and then by the Stranger himself (sort of), both of whom demand the heroes leave, but Cap plants himself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tells them no.
Cap knows, of course, that you may never understand how the Stranger is inspired, but he isn’t always evil, and he is not always wrong… as he finds out below when the Stranger tells him why he is chasing Nebula.
He explains that Nebula took “the most powerful weapon in the multiverse,” something called the Infinity Union, which can make someone all-powerful and therefore threatens the existence of the universe (which she kinda almost did already in issue #314).
When the Stranger starts psychically probing everyone in the vicinity to try to learn where Nebula hid it, Cap reaching his limit, and finally appreciates the urgency of the moment. (You can tell from the clenched teeth and fist.)
Cap may clench both fists after he hears what Iron Man has to say… but instead his pants just turn red.
Of course, the one thing he tells them not to do, Spidey does, triggering the device and giving Nebula absolute cosmic power, as we see in the top half of a double-page spread in issue #318 (complete with character introductions, albeit shorter than last time).
(I wonder: Is the scene above supposed to invoke the famous spread from Secret Wars #1, in which the all-powerful Beyonder brought many heroes and villains together?)
Nebula toys with the Stranger, repeatedly blinking him in and out of existence, until he looks like he had one too many rides on the Beast (the greatest roller coaster anywhere) after eating one too many chili dogs. This prompts Cap to lecture Nebula on the immorality of such torturous treatment—recalling Iron Man and Vision’s concern for alien life in issue #316—but she seems not to care. (Sigh.)
Nebula decides to make her battle with the Avengers more personal, although it was lopsided enough already without her turning into the 50 Foot Woman.
I’m glad Cap fell back on a classic battle cry this time!
The fight begins, and eventually Spidey covers Nebula’s eyes with webs, which doesn’t do much good but does earn him a kind word from Coach Taylor.
Cap orders a strategic retreat, which Thor does not like, but Vision and Cap each provide their own style of counterargument.
The retreat may have been “the logical course of action,” but calling Nebula’s bluff on something she was happy to do before? Not so sure.
Somehow our heroes manage to get away, and Spidey wonders about the truth behind Cap’s resolve…
…before Nebula goes through with her threats and starts blinking the universe out of existence. (“I can do this all day, Captain! Ha ha ha!”)
The Avengers jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, and Cap implores the team to work together…
…before Nebula starts splitting them up, forcing another hasty retreat, to which Thor once again objects, but based on a reason better than pride this time.
But Cap argues they need the time to think of a better plan than simple fighting, which can’t work against Nebula in her current form.
Luckily for them, Nebula’s ally Gunthar turned against her earlier and led the Stranger to the Infinity Union, and while he addresses the device itself, he gives the Avengers a more direct task, at which Cap bridles at the first, but presumably admits the risk is worth saving the entire universe. (And what makes him so sure this would be fatal to her anyway?)
When Nebula staggers due to the Stranger’s manipulation of the Infinity Union, Cap orders Sersi to remove the implant, which she does… and look, Nebula’s just fine, at least until Spider-Man gets a shot at her.
It’s interesting that Thor is the one to settle the Avenging Spider-Man down, while Cap seems more sympathetic, seeing the bigger picture as well as being more aware of human frailty and temptation. (Remember the clenched teeth and fist.)
In the end, Gunthar makes up his treachery to Nebula by transporting them both away (again), after which the Stranger returns the Avengers to Earth. Cap takes a moment to have a talk with Spidey, and reveals he’s had a change of heart since issue #316. (I guess levity and bonhomie are not of as much value as he previously thought.)
Our story ends with an evergreen panel.
Yeah, good luck with that!
In Silver Surfer Annual #3, Norrin catches up with Cap—perhaps in the “tomorrow” Cap was so looking forward to—to update him on Thanos, after having checked in with him earlier in Silver Surfer #36.
Norrin tells Cap how he, in the above-referenced Silver Surfer #38—in which Nebula also reappears after her disappearance in Avengers #318 above—destroyed Thanos’ ship and, unbeknownst to him at the time, the Mad Titan as well.
Cap is right to be skeptical: In that same issue, Thanos reveals at the end that he is very much alive, having planted a dead lookalike in his ship to fool the Surfer.
Nonetheless, Cap takes Norrin’s word for it, but finds him desolate and reflective about the whole affair. (Well, he’s always reflective, but… you know what I mean.)
Cap knows all too well how causing a death can affect you, and tries to counsel the Surfer… who seems to get over it very quickly (which I don’t think was really Cap’s point).
Finally, in Black Knight #1, Cap and Hawkeye return their fellow Avenger, the Black Knight, to his family home, although he can scarcely enjoy it, seeing how he’s been trapped (again) in the form of a statue (as of Thor #400).
Clint takes offense at Cap’s presumption that Dane would prefer to be mobile—which is a fairly safe assumption, I would think—but Cap apologizes nonetheless, aware of his friend’s pain.
After the sorceress Victoria Bentley takes custody of Whitman’s body—only to end up summoning the spirit of Sir Percy, the original Black Knight, into it later—Cap and Hawkeye leave, with Cap back to probing Clint’s anger issues while acknowledging that Bentley is clearly up to something.
Avengers (vol. 1) #317, May 1990: John Byrne (plot), Fabian Nicieza (script), Paul Ryan (pencils), Tom Palmer (inks), Christie Scheele (colors), John Morelli (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Silver Surfer (vol. 3) Annual #3, June 1990, “Lifeform—Termination?: Jim Starlin and Ron Marz (writers), Ron Lim (pencils), Tom Christopher (inks), Tom Vincent (colors), Ken Bruzenak (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in Silver Surfer Epic Collection: Thanos Quest.
Black Knight (vol. 2) #1, June 1990: Roy Thomas and Dann Thomas (writers), Tony DeZuniga (pencils and inks), Al Ramirez (colors), Bill Oakley (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Not yet collected.
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #316 and Silver Surfer #36 (April 1990)