These two issues of Avengers finish up “The Collection Obsession,” the battle that began in issue #334 between the Avengers and the Brethren, an alien race who until recently had been prisoners of the Collector and who are led by Thane Ector, currently holding Sersi as his prisoner (although she is developing feelings for him). We also have a few guest appearances of Captain America with the team in Thor, Iron Man, and Damage Control, for good measure. (So many guest appearances in the early 90s!)
In Avengers #338, the team, which was split for much of the story, reassembles (with the Collector in tow), and Cap is hopeful that new information will be shared that will turn the tide of the battle in their favor.
Cap welcomes and congratulates Black Panther and his sub-team, who we have not seen here because… well… Cap wasn’t with them! And when Quasar introduces an elderly member of the Brethren named Olar, Cap promises he’ll be treated well (as a prisoner of war or even better, I’d imagine).
The Beast tells Cap what we learned in the last post about the nature of the Brethren as bacteria created by the Celestials—and when Hercules quickly celebrates what this implies about the ease of destroying them, Vision asserts their worth and dignity as sentient creatures, which Cap quickly backs up. (If only Hercules got the point.)
Cap is alarmed after Jarvis notifies the team of an invasion of Brethren—including Thane Ector, who kills Olar before the Hanks Pym and McCoy could study him and learn how to defeat the Brethren.
Thane demands to see both the Avengers and the Collector, and they appear, with Cap standing defiant as ever.
After Thane Ector battles the team for a while, he gets closer to the Collector and mocks him for letting Black Widow protect him. Cap steps in and argues that killing the Collector is pointless, despite the harms he inflicted on the Brethren, and calls for a cease-fire and reconciliation…
…but Thane does not trust his sincerity, considering the biological nature of the Brethren, which Thane himself regards with disgust.
Thane starts to beat the Collector senseless—or so it seems, until the “victim” gets a lot better.
How much better? We see just how much at the end of that issue, where the Collector reveals that the “release” of the Brethren was part of his plan to conquer the Earth, and the beginning of Avengers #339, as the final act of the story begins.
Below, Cap refuses to match Quasar’s rage, staying cool as he tries to parse the new facts of the matter…
…but then says “forget it” and launches into action anyway before offering the Collector a chance to gloat about his evil plans.
It always works for James Bond and it works here too: The Collector reveals he simply wants to wipe out the bulk of humanity and absorb the survivors into his collection, and he used the Brethren to do it.
After executing Thane’s second-in-command, Lady Sybil, the Collector begins to break down the Brethren into their constitutive bacteria to spread over the Earth, shocking the Avengers into action.
With the bacteria-that-used-to-be-Brethren no longer sentient, the Avengers feel free to destroy them…
…and Cap is happy to have Sersi join the battle, but she has something, or someone, else on her mind.
After Vision realizes that the bacteria are still communicating with each other psychically (albeit on a very simple level), similar to the “unimind” of the Eternals (also created by the Celestials), Cap and Sersi try to persuade Thane Ector to use this psychic link to call off his former Brethren and assert their independence from the Collector for the last time.
With Sersi’s help, Thane manages to assemble the Brethren’s unimind…
…and together they destroy the Collector. (For now, at least.)
Afterwards, Thane Ector collapses and dies in Sersi’s arms. When Cap tries to console her, she points out several ironies of the situation, which Cap follows with “the bright side” that Thane Ector and the Brethren reclaimed a higher purpose in their final moments—and he’s not the only one who thinks so.
Look at Uatu, just chillin’ with his peeps.
Also this months, Cap appears in the prelude of Thor #436, which features the return of the Absorbing Man, heralded by the strange activity of his ball and chain…
…from which Cap protects the others while trying to capture it, but to no avail.
Oh well… it’s Thor’s problem now!
Over in Iron Man #273, Cap trains with She-Hulk and points out her advantage in combat, followed by what could be read as snarky passive aggression (“you’re so lucky in that you don’t need speed or skill”) if it weren’t Captain America saying it.
Unbeknownst to them, a different sort of watcher is overhead: Natasha sees She-Hulk wrangle a lunch date with Cap before she makes a better offer and gives She-Hulk an opportunity to embarrass the Sentinel of Liberty.
(And I certainly hope She-Hulk has met Black Widow by now—they’ve only been teammates since Avengers #329.)
In the fourth and final issue of the third Damage Control miniseries, Cap rallies the hero community to face the unbelievable threat of Edifice Rex, a member of Damage Control who acquired cosmic powers, attracting the attention of the Watcher, Galactus, and even Eternity, in a clever and hilarious spoof of events like Secret Wars.
While Cap has the big picture on his mind, Damage Control personal assistant Bart Rozum just wants his autograph… before Cap gets killed, of course.
When at last the heroes confront Edifice Rex, Cap gives it to him straight in classic fashion…
…but in the end, it is an act of personnel management that brings the all-powerful being down to size.
Avengers (vol. 1) #338, late September 1991: Bob Harras (writer), Steve Epting (pencils), Tom Palmer (inks), Renée Witterstaetter, Kevin Tinsley, and Sarra Mossoff (colors), Bill Oakley and Rick Parker (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Avengers (vol. 1) #339, early October 1991: Bob Harras (writer), Steve Epting (pencils), Tom Morgan (inks), Kevin Tinsley, Sarra Mossoff, Scott Marshall, and Evan Skolnick (colors), Bill Oakley (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Both collected in: Avengers Epic Collection: The Collection Obsession.
Collected in: Thor Epic Collection: The Black Galaxy.
Collected in: Iron Man Epic Collection: War Games.
Collected in: Damage Control: The Complete Collection.
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Infinity Gauntlet #3-4 (September-October 1991), Adventures of Captain America #1 (September 1991), Captain America #391-392 (September 1991), Avengers: Death Trap — The Vault (September 1991), Avengers Annual #20, Namor the Sub-Mariner Annual #1, and West Coast Avengers Annual #6 (September 1991), and Captain America #393 (October 1991)
NEXT ISSUE: Avengers #340 (October 1991)