Captain America #396-397 (January-February 1992)

These two issues finish up the current storyline involving the Red Skull and his cronies, also featuring the current Thor, Eric Masterson, whom Captain America has been mentoring recently in both this title as well as Avengers and Thor’s own book.

Issue #396 picks up where the last one left off, with Cap and Thor captured by Arnim Zola and his “wildest creation,” the aptly-named Doughboy.

Cap naively invokes Zola’s sense of honor with that final request, which Zola grants, if disingenuously, for he and the readers know full well the Red Skull is alive. (Alive alive alive.) Plus, it’s odd to hear Zola praise “injustice”—so much for villains being the heroes of their own stories.

Good thinking, Eric—you need to save that sweet oxygen for Cap too, you know.

How do you get out of an underwater organic tomb if the only tool you have is a hammer?

“Poosh,” heh. (I only include the panels above and below for their wonderful absurdity.)

Thor remains underwater to pummel some soggy dough while Cap swims to the surface and finds Skullhouse completely gone. After asking Thor to search for it, he heads underground, remembering the last time he assumed the Skull was dead and lamenting that “only the good die for good,” which I’m sure he’ll recant when his loved ones start to “return from the dead” themselves (as happens with astonishing regularity nowadays, so much that an entire upcoming event is predicated on it).

Turn out to be two C-list (at best) villains, Jack O’Lantern (not the original) and Blackwing (although you’d be excused if you thought the latter was this fella), whose father is not the Red Skull, as Cap may suspect, but the previous owner of Skullhouse (under a different name, of course).

Cap engages the two miscreants, getting his hands on Jack first, who challenges Cap’s authority to hold him, to which Cap answers with an interesting legal theory.

Despite getting a blast in the gut from Jack and becoming overwhelmed by Blackwing’s bats, Cap uses acrobatics to evade their further attacks…

…only to find himself falling into a huge jack o’lantern head?

As issue #397 opens with a similar splash…

…but Cap practices some focusing exercises (possibly part of SHIELD’s training against mental manipulation) that enable him to resist which is clearly an illusion. (Nonetheless, it’s not a pleasant sight to see Cap crouched in fear.)

The two villains try to attack our hero while he’s down, but he fights back while making sure not to open his eyes.

Daredevil might be impressed!

When a glowing dome covers the Skullhouse site, Jack and Blackwing leave, and when his hallucination eventually wears off, Cap investigates the dome for himself, recognizing it from looong ago, and starts to find his way out of the basement-from-hell.

Luckily for Cap, his two new friends are struggling to do the same, despite one of them having grown up there, so Cap is able to get the drop on them.

Cap tries to advise Jack about his code of honor, but he doesn’t seem to want to listen, much to his shame.

Cap admits to himself that legal avenues for holding the two are slim… until something happens to render this issue moot.

Suspecting the Scourge, who also apparently killed the Red Skull in issue #393, Cap sees him and gives chase while he disappears, until Cap hurls one of Jack’s hallucinogenic bombs at him… or, I should say, her. And that’s not the only surprise…

Viper, of course, is Madame Viper, whom the Red Skull recruited into his crew in issue #395 and quickly became Mother Night’s rival for the Skull affections (such as they are).

Hey, look who’s back and clearly needs to read these two issues to catch up.

After our two Avengers wait for a while, Thor submits a negative review of the mission, to which Cap issues an optimistic reply containing the main takeaway from these last five issues.

Up next: “Operation: Galactic Storm,” the massive event crossing over most of the Avengers’ titles, which begins in Captain America #398.


Captain America (vol. 1) #396, January 1992, “Trick or Treat”: Mark Gruenwald (writer), Rik Levins (pencils), Danny Bulanadi (inks), Christie Scheele (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Captain America (vol. 1) #397, February 1992, “Shot in the Dark”: Mark Gruenwald (writer), Rik Levins (pencils), Danny Bulanadi (inks), Christie Scheele (colors), Steve Dutro (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)

Collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: The Superia Stratagem.

PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #394-395 (November-December 1991)

ALSO THESE MONTHS: Avengers #343-344, Thor #444, and Wonder Man #5 (January-February 1992) and The Adventures of Captain America #4 (January 1992)

NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #398, West Coast Avengers #80, Quasar #32, and Wonder Man #7 (March 1992)

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