Compared to most fill-in issues, Avengers #340 is very good, presenting a welcome and enjoyable team-up between Captain America and the Wasp that actually offers much of interest to this blog and its fine readers (even if the premise of the story is somewhat contrived).
The issue opens at a celebration of the Avengers’ public service at the opening of a “super hero medical research and treatment facility,” a fascinating idea that is never mentioned again. (I guess the relevant market is small enough for Night Nurse to cover by herself.)
And nothing against She-Hulk, of course, but I wonder why she’s included in the statue of the classic Avengers, taking the place of Hank Pym, who could potentially be a researcher in the facility… especially with Janet as one of it’s chairpersons, who below takes the opportunity to acknowledge the unsung heroes who save lives every day.
Before long, a woman screams, imploring the Avengers to “help the children” before she’s hit by a car—and after Cap calls for medical help from the massive facility they just helped dedicate, the woman indicates she knows him.
Cap doesn’t recognize her, and as the paramedics prepare to take her inside, one makes an unnecessary snide comment that Cap nonetheless takes to heart, consistent with his decidedly unvirtuous trait of taking responsibility for harms he could not possibly prevent (as the Wasp tries to tell him).
(Kudos to the comic’s creators for working a reference to recent events into a previously prepared fill-in issue.)
It seems the paramedic is not the only one cynical about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes…
…but they clearly don’t know Cap, who continues to beat himself up over the woman’s cryptic words in the Avengers’ gym late into the night.
When Janet and Jarvis interrupt, Cap’s first thoughts are that he was making too much noise, but then learns that they have been working the case too, and in a slightly more effective way.
Mr. Berditchev is a “reclusive weapons manufacturer”—which Cap thinks may explain Ms. Ehman calling him crazy, which I don’t think Tony Stark would like to hear—who is not only keeping his quintuplets with Ehman captive on his walled-in estate, but is also suspected of stealing plutonium to build a nuclear bomb, explaining Ehman’s plea to save the—specifically her—children.
The two Avengers head to Berditchev’s compound—with Jarvis, who will be masquerading as Sir Armond Carlyle, a wealthy English weapons dealer. (This was Cap’s suggestion, apparently made in a rare moment of lightheartedness.) Once there, Cap and Janet recoil at learning that Berditchev’s children serve as armed guards, but Cap cautions his partner (and himself) to keep their minds on the mission.
Once Jarvis is safely inside, Cap shows he has lost his temporary whimsy when he refuses to enjoy Janet’s jokes…
…especially when he defeats his objection to the first one (about the rallying cry giving them away) by intentionally giving them away.
Inside the fortress, the father—sorry, make that “Commander Father”—and his other sons react to the intruders, and Cap counts down three seconds starting with… five?
Despite Cap’s prickliness, Janet keeps poking at him. (Good for her!)
Maybe it worked, because Cap lightens up a bit as he and the Wasp joke about the ruse they’re pulling on Berditchev…
…after which Cap admits some concern about her before reminding himself of her experience and capabilities. (And also that she’s a “bad girl,” which I can only hope was some feeble attempt at early 90s slang.)
Inside, we get a clue as to Berditchev’s motivation when two of his sons blab to Jarvis. (Three guesses as to who the “great soldier” is, and the first two don’t count.)
Time’s up! Berditchev gives us the answer, and Cap plays along with his lame trap…
…which even its designer quickly realizes is not up to the task. The frustrated would-be conqueror reveals his background with Cap, whom he definitely does not understand very well at all. (He should read a book sometime!)
As one of his sons starts to figure things out, Berditchev doubles down, showing appreciation for Cap’s frequent moral struggles without acknowledging the moral principles, including compassion and respect for others, that ground them.
Just when Cap thinks he, the Wasp, and Jarvis have the case all wrapped up, he meets “the world’s deadliest assassin” Bulwark in his one and only Marvel Comics appearance, which casts some doubt on his rather bold claim—as does Cap’s snappy comeback.
Before Bulwark can prove himself to Cap, another young Berditchev comes to his brothers’ defense, but is surprised when Cap does not react as expected, which distracts Cap just long enough for today’s “world’s deadliest assassin” to get one blow in.
Meanwhile, Janet and Jarvis find the boy inside, still shocked at learning Cap is not who Commander Father said he was—but that’s nothing compared to when Janet reveals the recent news about the boys’ mother.
As the fight outside continues, Cap makes a comment that seems out of line and out of character…
…but is explained (if not fully justified, given Cap’s high standards for himself) below as a strategic gambit.
To be fair, one has to wonder what exactly Berditchev’s memories contain that resulted in a such a warped conception of Captain America. It isn’t hard to imagine: Perhaps he witnessed Cap in a particularly vicious battle with Nazi soldiers, in which Cap was forced to “fight dirty” to survive, and young Berditchev’s takeaway was only the violence.
Jarvis and Janet, accompanied by one of the boys, confront Berditchev, who further reveals that he was preparing his sons to replace Cap one day… an inevitability the current Cap is confident won’t come soon (but will come eventually, several times).
Ignoring the sloppily edited speech bubble at the top of the first panel below—which unfortunately pulls you out of the story to wonder what it might have said before—we see Cap regard even Berditchev with sympathy at the end, as he regresses to the young boy he once was, trying to survive a genocide after losing everyone he loves.
The story ends with Berditchev being taken into custody amid good news about Ms. Ehman; and in the end it is Janet’s turn to feel the outsized weight of responsibility, refuting the police officers’ earlier characterization of the Avengers as she expresses concern about the children, yet another generation of Berditchevs forced to grow up with trauma.
Avengers (vol. 1) #340, late October 1991: David Michelinie (plot), Scott Lobdell (script), Paul Abrams (pencils), Robert Jones and Charles Barnett (inks), Renée Witterstaetter and Marie Javins (colors), Brad Joyce (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Avengers Epic Collection: The Collection Obsession.
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #338-339, Thor #436, Iron Man #273, and Damage Control #4 (September-October 1991)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Captain America #393 and Infinity Gauntlet #4 (October 1991)
NEXT ISSUES: Avengers #341-342, Quasar #28-29, and Amazing Spider-Man #354 (November-December 1991)
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