The Marvel Comics annuals of 1993 each introduced a new character who received the majority of the issue’s focus, in this case the Bantam (seen to the right), a welcome Puerto Rican addition to the ranks of Marvel heroes (who unfortunately was little used afterwards). Captain America only appears in the second of the three stories here, but his appearance does nicely tie in to recent events in his history (and D-Man’s, who will return to the forefront of the monthly book in issue #418).
In the first story we are introduced to Roberto Velasquez, a boxer-in-training—and a bantamweight, wink wink—in San Juan who takes some thugs’ offer to make him bigger, courtesy of Dr. Karl Malus (who also enhanced John Walker as well as members of the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, including Dennis Dunphy). When Roberto discovers the same criminals are rigging fights, one of them nearly killing one of his friends, they try to kill him, but it only triggers his enhancements, making him bigger and stronger. Inspired by American superheroes, Roberto puts together a costume and proclaims himself the Bantam to fight back against criminals like the ones who hurt his friend.
In the second story, Cap enters the ring (so to speak), concerned about reports of enhancement in boxing—but no one asks him about his enhanced motorcycle helmet (as well as the supercharged motorcycle).
Cap easily makes the connection between the problems in boxing and wrestling…
…but now I’m distracted by the red trunks. Maybe this isn’t Cap after all, but the Acrobat, as in Strange Tales #114, the feigned “first appearance of Captain America” before his real Silver Age debut in Avengers #4?
The patient who
the Acrobat Captain America is checking on is Roberto’s friend, who reached out to Cap out of the concern for Roberto…
…but has since had a change of heart, which doesn’t fool Cap for a second.
Cap decides to infiltrate the enhanced boxing scene himself, using his surprisingly effective Roger Stevens alias.
Maybe he brought along the red trunks just to wear them in the ring. (Where’s my No-Prize, guys?)
As he fights Rollo, Cap is grateful for his fighting experience, and forgets that he’s fairly enhanced himself.
To make my point, the other thugs jump Cap after he defeats Rollo and demand to know who enhanced him—after claiming to be a mutant, Cap “admits” he got Malus’s treatment, but Malus apparently never forgets a face (at least without his cowl).
Bantam fights the thugs while Cap changes behind the scenes—wisely ditching the red trunks for his final scene in the story. (And now Malus remembers him.)
After pitching in with Bantam’s fight, Cap humbly introduces himself, but Roberto is is no state of mind to reply, attacking Cap instead.
Cap’s stunned by Roberto’s skill and speed (and his fist), and is aware of his compromised mental state, so once he regains his footing, he uses his shield to protect himself while trying to calm Roberto down and ask him a few questions.
After Roberto calms down, he explains himself, and also lets Cap know that the criminals killed his friend Manuel Torres after Cap visited him in the hospital—and impresses Cap again with his speed.
Cap and Bantam split up, and when Cap misses his boat, he decides to go fishing…
…and then takes in a little fun on the water.
After they both catch their prey, Bantam gets a confession out of the man who killed Manuel, and Cap develops a plan to reform boxing before enhancement can take it over.
OK, we’ll go with that.
In the third and final story, Ricardo intervenes in a gang fight that convinces him that “Captain America was right about me after all,” and he decides to be “Puerto Rico’s newest superhero.” A noble goal, but unfortunately Bantam was not seen again (aside from a “Cap’s Friends” pin-up in next year’s annual) until 2006’s Civil War: Front Line #3, where he died trying to apprehend an unregistered hero. (I guess he didn’t believe that Cap was right about that.)
Captain America (vol. 1) Annual #12, May 1993, “…And in This Corner… the Battling Bantam!”: Mark Gruenwald and David Wohl (writers), M.C. Wyman (pencils), Charles Barnett (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Rick Parker (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Captain America Epic Collection: Arena of Death.