This final issue of Captain America’s first miniseries shows us his first encounter with the Red Skull, as well as the fallout from the revelation about Lieutenant Cynthia Glass from the last issue, and sets the stage for Cap and Bucky’s lives going forward. (Warning: Some of the imagery in this issue may be disturbing.)
As the issue opens, Cap is just hanging out in Paris, and we learn who the gunshot at the end of the last issue was meant for…
…showing our hero how the Nazis treat their own as a means to an end, disposable when necessary, both by the Red Skull’s actions as well as his words as he pulls Cap up.
Once back on the ground, Cap sees his two companions while the Skull prepares to launch into a tirade (and oddly suggesting that Cap is already well known for this).
The Red Skull begins with typical fascist ranting about being superior and the Nazis’ success being a historical inevitability before attacking our hero personally. Naturally, Cap does not give in…
…but he is speechless when an ashamed Lieutenant Glass is outed as a Nazi spy (as Bucky learned in the last issue).
The Nazis take Cap and Bucky to a concentration camp, the horrors of which Bucky had only heard about but is now seeing with his own eyes—and horrors he instantly becomes determined to confront as soon as he has the chance.
Bucky continues to snap back at the Nazi guards as they strip him and Cap, spray them down with hoses, and dress them in prison clothes, while Cap is despondent and numb, stunned by the revelation of Cindy’s treachery (and Fletcher’s murder earlier). The Führer himself notices this when he visits Cap’s cell, and orders that he be restored to prime fighting condition, at least in appearance, in preparation for a display in front of the German people.
Before they can do this, however, Bucky gets a chance to talk to his friend, giving him what may be the first meaningful explanation of what Captain America means to people on a personal level, not least to Steve Rogers himself.
Eventually, the Nazis bring Cap his costume, and Bucky shows why he is the original new kid on the block.
After Cap is led out of his cell, Bucky manages to break out of his, and immediately sees Cindy, whom he clocks… before she literally gives him the keys to the kingdom, out of guilt for what her people are doing to Cap.
We finally see the circus in which Captain America has been cast…
…and the clown he’s set to fight (complete with the over-the-top wrestling introduction).
Meanwhile, Bucky has not forgotten his adopted mission: After knocking out a Nazi guard and putting on his uniform, he finds the Jewish prisoners and starts to free them (after being shocked, once again, on the inhumane conditions of their captivity).
Of course, he has to convince the prisoners he’s not actually a Nazi guard, but once he does, they join forces to free others.
Back at the main event, the Red Skull tries to draw a false parallel between himself and Cap (whom he called weak and a failure earlier, but whatever).
When the Skull proclaims that they are both “the first of a new breed of men,” Cap is rightly disgusted and accurately predicts the outcome of such thinking.
After they fight more, and Cap still refuses to concede to his opponent’s claims of their mutual supremacy, the Skull prepares to deliver the killing blow…
…but Cap is not finished yet, showing the perseverance and defiance he will become legendary for.
As Cap gains the upper hand in the battle, various segments of the viewing audience react very differently, and Cap takes the chance to show his inspirational lines are much better than the Skull’s.
He then turns his attention to the crowd (and the small man overhead), making clear that he won’t take the step the Skull tried to and explaining that it’s not consistent with the ideals of the country he represents, ideals he’s willing to die for.
But before anyone can respond, a tank with “DIE NAZI SCUM” painted across the front bursts through the stadium accompanied by a wild howl, and Cap easily guesses who’s behind the wheel.
Note that Bucky does not share Cap’s antipathy toward killing, which again foreshadows his later character development in the mid-2000s.
While Bucky and the prisoners fight the Nazi rank-and-file, Cap finds himself in a four-way standoff with Hitler, the Red Skull, and Cindy, and is forced to wield a distinctly different shield in his own defense…
…before turning it on those to whom its hateful symbol belongs.
To drive home how easy it was to throw the disc-shaped shield (despite its paint job), Cap awkwardly catches his pointy one from Cindy just in time…
…but then can only watch as the Red Skull guns her down after she gave up the shield to save Cap.
Bucky implores Cap to turn his attention to those who can still be saved, and as hard as it is to accept, Cap knows he’s right.
The tank heads to an airfield where a plane is waiting to take Cap, Bucky, and the prisoners out of Germany, with the Red Skull in pursuit. When Bucky rotates the turret and fires on the Skull’s car, the Nazi leaps onto the tank, landing one shot in Cap’s shoulder before being ejected from the vehicle.
Once safely in the air, the prisoners celebrate Bucky’s efforts (which he only partially deflects) before noticing his partner is not in the mood to celebrate. (Get used to it, kid.)
Cap is conflicted over Cindy’s treachery and her death, but Bucky tries to minimize the former with the help of a little white lie.
After Pat and Eliot, Steve Roger’s roommates from the first issue, watch a newsreel of Cap and Bucky’s successful landing in America (after a stop in London to drop off the freed prisoners), the final page shows Cap in his classic outfit, the famous round shield in his hand, and Bucky beside him in his red-and-blues, ready for more adventures.
The Adventures of Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #4, January 1992: Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire (writers), Steve Carr and Kevin West (pencils), Terry Austin (inks), Paul Mounts (colors), Richard Starkings (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Adventures of Captain America #3 (December 1991)