Captain America #376-378 (September-October 1990)

These three issues wrap up the “Streets of Poison” storyline that began in issue #372, which has seen Captain America gradually become more unhinged due to being caught in an explosion in a drug warehouse. At this point, he appears less and less himself in each issue, as well as less and less period, as we approach the end of the story, until a significant event brings him back, a changed man.

In issue #376, after six pages of Daredevil fighting Crossbones (as teased at the end of the last issue), we finally see Cap on page seven, recovering from his own battle with the Man without Fear, and finally becoming aware, as his friends have realized for some time, that something’s not right…

…which only gets worse when “the voices” come back.

Nonetheless, he insists to himself that it’s just exhaustion, to which he still refuses to submit.

In the meantime, Diamondback and Black Widow have reconciled over their mutual concern for Cap, and together with John Jameson they search for him, finding him “questioning” some kids about the drugs he’s been trying to wipe out…

…the same drugs that have affected him so strongly, which Black Widow tells him point blank, but to no avail, and the three begin to fight.

Cap doesn’t realize it’s Rachel in the new costume at first, but he doesn’t seem to care even after he does…

…and when Widow criticizes his “ladies” crack and mentions the drugs again, he loses it, giving Diamondback an opportunity she fails to take advantage of, presumably due to her affection for him.

In his deranged paranoia, though, Cap believes she has betrayed him, while it is Black Widow who delivers the knockout “widow’s bite.”

Like before, issue #377 begins with six pages of other characters fighting—this time Crossbones and Bullseye—before we see Cap, now under the care of the Avengers’ physician, Dr. Keith Kincaid (husband of Jane Foster, and the model Odin used to create Donald Blake to be Thor’s original mortal form).

Kincaid explains how Cap’s super-soldier serum complicates the issue of treating him for the effect of the Ice, reinforcing the underlying theme of the serum being an early form of performance-enhancing drug itself…

…a theme taken up again in Cap’s dreams, beginning with the original Project Rebirth treatment, about which young Steve Rogers questions Professor Erskine.

Erskine answers the question much more assertively than expected—while slowly transforming into someone else—and Steve defends himself, arguing that although the serum improved his physique, he had the virtues of Captain America all along (as most of the retellings of his origin confirm).

By now, Professor Erksine has become the Red Skull—who could only wish to be a professor, ha—who argues the opposite, that it was the serum that made Steve into Captain America, and that it could have been done to anyone, which Steve easily refutes…

…before apparently waking up, having had his batteries recharged, and confident that it is, in fact, his core virtues and principles that make him Captain America. Note that this does not deny that others could be Captain America; they would simply have to share his virtues and principles, which many people potentially do, as suggested elsewhere, such as Captain America: The Chosen and The United States of Captain America. (After all, we’re not talking about Mjolnir here.)

Still in the dream in some extent, Cap keeps arguing with the Skull while he demolishes his room, explaining that his American Dream is to help others achieve theirs, through both inspiration at a personal level and (as I read it) social reform (by which he probably means fighting corruption more than promoting policy changes).

When he finally comes to, as we see above, he finally acknowledges what he has long denied, and asks Hank Pym for help, which he happily agrees to provide (in the very effective minimalist panel below).

Hank and Keith have a heart-to-heart regarding Cap, both men fully aware of what the proposed solution means—although Hank obviously didn’t read the last few pages about Steve not needing the serum to be Cap. (Do your homework, man!)

We shouldn’t be so hard on Hank, though: Cap himself is not quite so sure about it when he wakes up after the transfusion. (He’s also not certain he can trust his judgment after his erratic behavior while under the influence of Ice.)

(It looks like the penciller and inker intended for Cap’s sleeves to go all the way to his wrists, while the colorist wanted them to end where the gloves start. Comics!)

Cap confides in Peggy about his concerns, which are more about the treatment’s effect on his physical abilities than his moral character, and whether he can continue serving as Captain America without the serum, which nonetheless goes to the core of his identity and the meaning of his life.

Just as long as he doesn’t go picking a fight with someone like Crossbones, he should be good.

Issue #378 opens with a similar scene to issue #372, which Cap explicitly references…

After checking on his rationality, he summarizes the story so far—purely for his own benefit, wink wink—before leaning into the question of the day once again.

In the middle of a literary allusion, Cap notices strange activity at Yankee Stadium…

…where the Red Skull and the Kingpin are having a title bout of their own. But before he can reach them, Cap needs to get through… uh-oh.

Crossbones anticipates Cap’s next move, which is not a good sign…

…nor is Cap’s next realization.

This disadvantage forces Cap to fight a bit more cleverly…

…as well as a little dirty, targeting possible sites of injury…

…before essentially pulling Crossbones’ “hair” and smashing his throat (a common move of late with stronger foes, seen in issues #361 and #364, the latter his first battle with Crossbones).

Even though his victory confirms for Cap that he hasn’t lost it, I’m surprised that there’s no acknowledgment of the fact that he had to resort to tactics he wouldn’t ordinarily use if he were at full strength. In other words, he may still be Captain America, but not exactly the same Captain America he was before, given that he may be forced to compromise his principles more often in the battles to come. (As long as this status quo remains, of course. <big comedic wink>)

Cap gets to the scene of the battle royale too late to stop the defeated Red Skull from escaping, and the Kingpin just wants credit for beating him, leaving Cap with only the win against Crossbones—and his confidence that the gang war between the two villains is over—to keep him warm.

Still waiting on that one, I’m afraid, which I’m sure would not surprise Cap.

When Cap reconnects with his friends later—sans Peggy, pourquoi?—Hank offers him his special sauce back, but Cap declines, in what seems more like a forced anti-drug message than a principled decision made in the interest of being the best Sentinel of Liberty he can be. (See also his refusal to accept Karl Malus’ strength augmentation in issue #328, because he appreciated his “limitations.”)


ISSUE DETAILS

Captain America (vol. 1) #376, early September 1990, “Cross Purposes”: Mark Gruenwald (writer), Ron Lim (pencils), Danny Bulanadi (inks), Steve Buccellato (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). More details at Marvel Database.

Captain America (vol. 1) #377, late September 1990, “The 100% Solution”: Mark Gruenwald (writer), Ron Lim (pencils), Danny Bulanadi (inks), Steve Buccellato (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). More details at Marvel Database.

Captain America (vol. 1) #378, October 1990, “Grand Stand Play”: Mark Gruenwald (writer), Ron Lim (pencils), Danny Bulanadi (inks), Steve Buccellato (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). More details at Marvel Database.

All collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: Streets of Poison


PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #375 (August 1990)

ALSO THESE MONTHS: Avengers #322 (September 1990), Marvel Super-Heroes #3 (September 1990), Uncanny X-Men #268 (September 1990), Captain America Annual #9, West Coast Avengers Annual #5, and Avengers Annual #19 (September 1990), Avengers #323-324 (September-October 1990), Spectacular Spider-Man #168-169 (September-October 1990), Marvel Comics Presents #60 (October 1990), and Avengers #325 (October 1990)

NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #379 (November 1990)

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