This issue of Daredevil—taking place in between scenes in Captain America #374—features a very critical and outspoken Sentinel of Liberty regarding problems he sees with contemporary America (circa 1990). As we know from the current “Streets of Poison” storyline in Captain America, Cap has not been himself since the explosion in the drug warehouse at the end of Captain America #372, so it is interesting to guess which of his statements in this issue are his sincere opinions, perhaps amplified and exaggerated by the drugs, and which are wholly out of character for him. (It is a testament to writer Ann Nocenti that this is a very difficult distinction to make in most cases, at least for me.)
The story begins with a preview of its conclusion, as a man with his own axe to grind has wrapped himself in the American flag…
…before apparently plunging to his death in front of an audience that includes our two heroes, who obviously are familiar enough with the man to know his name.
The story then shifts back in time, when Daredevil is wrapping up an adventure with the Inhumans and the Silver Surfer against Mephisto in upstate New York (from the last issue), very near where Cap just happens to be as well, investigating an unknown case that took him away from his personal war on drugs in his own title. But seeing as how there is nowhere to buy a magazine in New York City, Cap picks one up before he leaves…
…and is incensed by the cover, leading to a tirade against American activity in Latin America as well as the drug war itself.
It certainly is not unknown for Captain America to be critical of the positions and policies of the American government, though he is rarely this vocal and adamant about it—especially regarding the fight against drugs, in which he expressed a strongly pro-enforcement stance in conversation with John Jameson in Captain America #374.
After “returning” the magazine, Cap happens upon an inventor—Victor from the opening scene of the issue—promoting his energy-efficient flying car, the sight of which seems to please and impress our hero.
Cap enthusiastically shakes Victor’s hand, happy to meet a fellow American working to make the world a better place (as opposed to a government he currently regards as being in the pocket of special interests).
As Victor flies away in his car, Cap sees Daredevil chasing it, and he feels very defensive of his newfound friend.
After Victor gets home and engages in lucid dreaming—during which he thinks of his inventions—he begins to get harassed by the government, first on the phone by the immigration authorities, then in a letter from IRS about unpaid taxes, and finally in the form of a visit from the FBI, which Daredevil is there to overhear.
And that’s not all he hears, or smells, as he begins to suspect foul play below.
I really wish Cap had pressed his question. I realize that, at this point, few other heroes know Daredevil’s secret identity, much less the fact that he is blind, but they don’t seem to be aware of his enhanced senses either, which would be useful information to have in light of their shared mission to fight crime. Does Matt think that, if his fellow heroes knew of his enhanced senses, they would be able to deduce his secret identity? It hardly seems likely.
Regardless, both Daredevil and Cap intervene on Victor’s behalf, with Matt taking the lead and Cap standing beside him menacingly. (The book is called Daredevil, after all.)
After the FBI agent leaves, Daredevil and Cap turn their suspicions on each other before Victor tries to introduce them to his wife…
…whose name is Nora. Hmm, Victor and Nora… their last name isn’t Fries, is it? Nope, it’s Cieszkowska. Oh well.
After they all watch a news report that claims Victor’s flying car was a fraud, prompting the police to join in the search for him, Cap and Daredevil get some air on the porch. The Sentinel of Liberty opens up further about his thoughts on America in 1990, which sound all too familiar three decades later, focusing in particular on economic inequality and racism, with Matt adding the insight about other countries around the world taking steps toward greater equality.
Cap expresses admiration for the protests happening in other parts of the world for greater equality and opportunity, and laments the forces that hold back improvement on these fronts at home (even though it’s far ahead of those other countries). When he lashes out against the military-industrial complex, even Daredevil, who is hardly Cap’s best friend, realizes that he doesn’t sound like himself, in content or tone.
(You’d think Matt would be able to hear something different about Cap’s heartbeat, or the smell of his perspiration, given the drugs that are strong enough to affect his mind.)
But Cap’s not done, expressing reservations about continuing to represent a country he sees as owned by corporate interests.
Reminiscent of when he abandoned the Captain America identity twice before, Cap goes so far as to tell Daredevil that the national symbols he wears feel constraining, especially when Victor, who should be heralded as exemplifying the best of America, is held back and harassed by the government on the behalf of private interests.
Then Cap asks Matt a question he has struggled with his entire life, as chronicled by nearly every writer on his book since Frank Miller. But he dodges it very effectively by raising the issue of the original inhabitants of America and their dreams…
…as well as making some novel claims about their metaphysical and ethical positions, which (at the very least) overgeneralize the views of a people made up of many distinct tribes, many of whom would seem to be characterized by a reverence for nature, tradition, and community, not individual autonomy. (But I am no expert: The philosophy of indigenous peoples, in America and elsewhere, is woefully neglected by most all modern philosophers.)
Unfortunately Matt doesn’t have a chance to elaborate once he and Cap become aware of vandals trying to destroy Victor’s car, which he can’t rebuild without having another dream revealing how.
“Someone’s coming!” says the thug, while Captain America and Daredevil are standing right in front of him. (Did he mean Nora, running a close third?)
The page below doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say… I just like a good heroic portrait, this one pencilled by Mark Bagley, very early in his illustrious career.
Cap and Daredevil defeat the vandals, but the car is destroyed in the process…
…prompting a brief descent into despair from Cap, before he’s snapped out of it when Nora tells them Victor’s gone.
At this point the story has caught up with the first scene of the comic, and we now know why Victor is atop the roof, wrapped in the flag of the country that seems determined to prevent him from fulfilling his dream.
Victor jumps, but the result is not what we were led to believe the first time…
…as Victor soars with a new version of his flying device, which also renews Cap’s faith in the American dream symbolized by the stars and stripes he wears and holds.
The way that writer Ann Nocenti and penciller Bagley emphasize the American flag throughout this issue is very interesting, especially compared to how Frank Miller used it in Cap’s famous appearance in Daredevil #233 as well as Marvel Fanfare #18. Mark Gruenwald even references it in Daredevil’s brief appearance in Captain America #374, which takes place after the current story, leading into Captain America #375, in which Daredevil reconnects yet again with Captain America—and this time, they don’t have a friendly chat on the porch about politics.
Daredevil (vol. 1) #283, August 1990: Ann Nocenti (writer), Mark Bagley (pencils), Al Williamson and Tom Morgan (inks), Max Scheele and Richard Rasche (colors), Clem Robins (letters). More details at Marvel Database.
Collected in: Daredevil Epic Collection: Last Rites
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #374, Avengers #320, Captain America #375, Avengers #321, and Thor #420-421 (August 1990)
Regarding the conversation on the porch, D.D. obviously doesn’t know Cap very well. Part of Cap’s dialogue in this issue reminds me of things Mark Waid has him say (much abbreviated) a few years later in Volume 3 #13 page 3. If Steve Rogers is an artist whose formative years were the 1930s, and if he was so opposed to Nazi fascism & militarism that he volunteered for Project Rebirth almost an entire year before Pearl Harbor, then it’s safe to say he was a pretty progressive populist before he became Captain America. Economics and class were a much bigger part of the conversation on the left back in the 30s (and the military-industrial complex didn’t even exist then). Based on Cap’s behavior since he was revived in 1964, and based on the beliefs of every single one of his major writers from Kirby through Gruenwald (at this point in time), I’ve always been confident that these are Steve’s actual beliefs and that the lowering of inhibitions caused by the drug is just allowing him to be less circumspect and subtle about it than he usually is (and that the need to sell comics usually called for).