These two issues of Avengers feature minimal Captain America content because, despite the cover, the main conflict of the issue—involving someone who is supposed to be dead! DEAD!—actually happens while Cap is minding the farm (aka Avengers Headquarters). Happily, we have two fellow Avengers’ comics in early 1992 that feature Cap more, both in a supervisory capacity.
In fact, Cap is serving that role when he first appears in Avengers #343, after new member Crystal shows up (with Lockjaw, her infant daughter Luna, and Luna’s nanny Marilla). Alongside the (still) new Thor, Eric Masterson, she immediately faces what they perceive as a threat, which is already being confronted by Hercules and the Black Knight. When Crystal and Thor generate gale-force winds in response, only the Vision saves the two more experienced Avengers from blowing away, after which the true purpose of the “emergency” is revealed.
Cap enters with Black Widow and gives his version of the Emergency Broadcast System message (familiar to American readers of a certain age).
We’ll let teaching assistant Ms. Romanova announce the students’ grades.
“As expected”… ouch, Eric. (He’s not that new any more.)
After the Black Knight shows Cap his new sword—essentially a lightsaber, don’t tell Mr. Lucas—Crystal takes the opportunity to remind the group that she was also a member of another prominent local superhero team that the Widow neglected to mention.
As Natasha learns, Cap is bothered by recent developments with the team, especially its unstable line-up…
…which he takes to reflect a diminished appreciation of what the team means, especially compared to how important it’s been to him since they discovered him in the ice almost 30 years ago (in our time). But he’s also aware that he is likely alone in that feeling, which reveals a more contemporary aspect of his “man out of time” persona.
Don’t make him blush, Nat!
The remainder of the issue deals with the rest of the team responding to an emergency call from Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, which was actually a ruse to draw out the team by a woman named Magdalene and a man appearing to be the Swordsman, former foe and then member of the Avengers who was widely regarded to be deceased (hence the cover).
Most of Avengers #344 is spent on the ensuing battle, which ends with Magdalene escaping with a critically injured Swordsman, after which the Avengers reassemble to brainstorm who he might have been… because, as several point out, he seemed to be the real thing.
The Black Knight anticipates Echo in confirming this based on the Swordsman’s body language…
…and while the rest of team continues to debate the Swordsman’s identity, Cap is more concerned with what the battle and the false message from Johnny portends for the future.
The Swordsman’s true identity is revealed when this storyline is picked up again in Avengers #355 (although Cap won’t be around for it).
We’ll return to this issue at the end of the post, but in the meantime, in a story dedicated to Dr. Seuss in Thor #444 titled “How the Groonk Stole Christmas,” Eric meets… well… the Groonk. And what does the Groonk say?
Meanwhile, Cap is looking for his fellow Avenger, but I think he shows insufficient regard for secret identities when he surprises Eric’s neighbors below!
When he finds Eric later, Cap tries to get the details about Groonk from him (after offering him a bed in Avengers Mansion). Just like in Captain America #395, Eric tries to excuse his questionable conduct by claiming a “judgment call”…
…which Cap doesn’t accept, shifting the focus to Eric’s judgment itself.
In this case, though, Eric may have made a good call: After chasing Groonk into the sewers, he learned that the creature was stealing gifts for the homeless children who lived there, inspired by the Dr. Seuss classic one of the kids read to him, and Eric was convinced that Groonk did not belong in jail.
Nonetheless, Eric’s subsequent thoughts are very understandable—who among us would feel differently after being criticized by the Living Legend of World War II?
Next, Wonder Man #5 opens with Cap and the title character in what seems to be a contentious interaction…
…but we soon learn it is merely a training session, which Simon requested (such as Tony Stark did many years earlier in Iron Man #125).
The session continues…
…and when Old Man Cap starts into a war story, Simon nicely deflects, showing a different type of battle prowess!
Just when it appears he’s not getting it…
…Simon shows he does.
Cap takes an opportunity to mess with his teammate a little, which might make up for the dismissal of his story before!
Finally, let’s return to Avengers #344, the final page of which points to the next big event, courtesy of our favorite Watcher:
This story does indeed kick off in Captain America #398, followed by installments in most of the Avengers-related titles (including next month’s Avengers #345).
Avengers (vol. 1) #343, January 1992: Bob Harras (writer), Steve Epting (pencils), Tom Palmer (inks and colors), Bill Oakley (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Avengers (vol. 1) #344, February 1992: Bob Harras (writer), Steve Epting (pencils), Tom Palmer (inks and colors), Bill Oakley (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Avengers Epic Collection: The Collection Obsession.
Thor (vol. 1) #444, February 1992: Tom DeFalco (writer), Ron Frenz (pencils), Al Milgrom (inks), Mike Rockwitz (colors), Michael Heisler (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Thor Epic Collection: The Thor War.
Wonder Man (vol. 2) #5, January 1992: Gerald Jones (writer), Jeff Johnson (pencils), Jan Anton Harps (inks), Joe Rosas (colors), Pat Brosseau (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Not yet collected.
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Avengers #341-342, Quasar #28-29, and Amazing Spider-Man #354 (November-December 1991)
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Captain America #396-397 (January-February 1992) and Adventures of Captain America #4 (January 1992)
NEXT ISSUES: Avengers #345 and Iron Man #278 (March 1992)
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