This issue may seem like a disposable fill-in, but it actually resolves an issue that the Marvel brass may have wanted, as the title of the CBR column goes, abandoned and forsaken: the removal of the super-soldier serum from Captain America’s bloodstream in issue #377 and the ensuing (as was expected, at least) decline in his abilities. It took years to reverse the super-strength Cap gained in issue #158, but only seven issues for this more recent change is be… reconsidered. Also, we say hello (and goodbye?) to a Golden Age hero we only briefly met earlier—although he may seem familiar in several ways—and in Namor’s book this month, we get a lesson on superhero testimony that has since been overturned itself.
In Captain America #384, the main focus is laid out on the first page, along with a memo from the team leader that just might have been prompted by all the junk food seen in the meeting room in Avengers #329!
Cap knows he feels good, but he wants to hear it from team physician Dr. Keith Kincaid as well—and the good doctor has a theory as to why.
In short, the Project Rebirth treatment permanently altered his system so it would replace any of the serum it lost (for instance, through blood transfusion).
Besides the obvious, Cap is relieved both that he had a chance to prove to himself (in issue #378) that he didn’t need the serum while it was depleted, and that the super-soldier serum has even less in common with recreational and performance-enhancing drugs than he thought. (This second point was never a significant concern, but it is hard to see how its self-maintaining ability affects that comparison—if anything, it makes the super-soldier serum a more dangerous analogue of other drugs.) So, not only does this resolve a change in the character that I doubt anyone really wanted, but it also put Cap’s mind to ease… always a good thing!
Below, we get some basic medical info about the Sentinel of Liberty, none of which is surprising…
…until Dr. Kincaid hits on a concern somewhat unique to Cap (and very Gruenwaldian), which prompts some reminiscing on events recounted many times since Avengers #4.
We do get a few new details about Cap’s impressions as he fell through the air and into the frigid waters below, making the episode more terrifying than it seemed in previous recountings.
Of course, we get “that” scene, one of the most famous panels in Marvel Comics history.
Cap continues to speculate while Dr. Kincaid follows up…
…which leads Cap to remember more recent but similarly tragic events, which reminded him at the time of losing Bucky (as we saw).
This starts Cap thinking that D-Man may actually be alive (but not Bucky, no way, he definitely blowed up, not possible), and when Peggy Carter shows up with the latest tabloid, it just adds fuel to the fire.
Thanks to the priming, Cap jumps to the conclusion that the figure in the ice could be D-Man, and even though Dr. Kincaid tries to tamper his expectations, Cap’s off to the races.
(Kincaid’s offhand comment about Sasquatch—Walter Langkowski from Alpha Flight—is cringeworthy, not just for treating gender reassignment surgery as a punchline, but also because Sasquatch’s spirit had recently been transferred into the body of Snowbird, his female Alpha Flight colleague, and then a closer female analogue of himself named Wanda Langkowski, which was likely the truthful basis for the tabloid story he saw.)
While flying with John Jamseon to the site of the mystery man, Cap second-guesses his past decisions, as he is wont to do.
Once there, Cap rides his sky-cycle to the ground and asks two indigenous men—one of them a shaman—to show him the frozen man, and when Cap starts to free him, the shaman begs him to stop (albeit in his native tongue).
The shaman’s companion is able to translate (at least one way) when Cap explains his sympathy for the men’s religious convictions, but there is a man’s life at stake—a conflict Cap acknowledges but does not find difficult to resolve.
It turns out Cap’s initial blow was enough…
…but the issue of the identity of the man in the ice takes second place to the coming of the ice demon (as the shaman warned).
Cap radios to John and asks him to have Peggy call Thor, and then proceeds to fight the ice demon while trying to free the man inside… until the demon swallows him whole.
As he travels through the ice demon’s digestive system, Cap bumps into the man frozen inside, but before he can confirm his identity, he starts to pass out, acknowledging that this might be the end (or the beginning of another spell in ice for him).
Eventually he awakens to a vision of Death and the Statue of Liberty in combat—subtle, that—before reviving completely and greeting his companion… who is not D-Man at all.
You will no doubt remember Jack Frost from 1976’s Marvel Premiere #29-30 and Invaders #6, in which he appeared as a member of the Liberty Legion, after debuting in USA Comics #1 in August 1941. (However, you would be forgiven if you thought for a second it was Captain Atom, especially as drawn as Pat Broderick in his DC Comics series that launched in 1987.)
Cap and Jack continue to fight the ice demon from the outside—with Jack proving he could show young Bobby Drake a thing or two—but Cap is more concerned with making sure the shaman doesn’t sacrifice himself to stop the monster.
Cap faces another conflict of values, which again he seems to find easy to resolve, always erring on side of saving a life.
(Well, this is comics, so not really… but OK.)
Jack sees a way to defeat the ice demon, but knowing all too well how Cap feels about self-sacrifice, he doesn’t let him know ahead of time.
Cap prepares to counter the ice demon’s attack when it suddenly turns, and once he sees Jack, he knows what he’s planning and he commits to stopping him.
While again second-guessing his past decisions, Cap tries to combat the ice demon from above to free Jack from his chosen destiny below… but to no avail.
Hey, look who finally showed up! At least he has a fun fact about Jack…
…which, as of the time of writing, has never been followed up on. In fact, aside from the occasional Golden Age flashback, Jack Frost has not been seen again, so we can only assume he’s frozen inside the ice demon once more, waiting for the next industrious Marvel Comics writer to haul him out. (Gee, wasn’t there a War of the Realms recently?)
Cap and John fly back to New York… leaving a certain friend unseen. (How many people are in the ice up there, anyway?)
Will D-Man return? Wait and see!
Either before and after his arctic journey, Cap appears in Namor the Sub-Mariner #13, where his fellow Invader (and sometimes Avenger) faces charges stemming for allllll his acts of aggression against the surface world. Cap would love to testify on his behalf…
…but the law says no. (Naturally, it takes Matt Murdock to get this law overturned in Daredevil, vol. 5, #25, October 2017.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #384, April 1991: Mark Gruenwald (writer), Ron Lim (pencils), Danny Bulanadi (inks), Steve Buccellato (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: Streets of Poison
Namor the Sub-Mariner #13, April 1991: John Byrne (writer, pencils, inks, letters), Glynis Oliver (colors). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in Namor Visionaries by John Byrne, Volume 2.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #383 (March 1991)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #331, West Coast Avengers #69, and Web of Spider-Man #75 (April 1991)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #385 (May 1991)
To be honest at the time the idea that the SS serum had always stayed in his body afterward seemed strange to me. So I really didn’t care for them making such a big issue of the whole thing becuase to me it would have left his system soon after it transformed him. (I know it makes the whole “frozen in ice” thing more plausible but… comics!)
Same — it’s one of those things I would never have given a moment’s thought to if they hadn’t brought it up!