This three-issue story is from Secret Defenders, which started out as a second Doctor Strange book after his powers were reduced in his main book, and he was forced to assemble specific teams to handle different cases. (Starting with issue #12, other people brought together teams, starting with the Mad Titan himself, Thanos.) Captain America is part of the select team for this mission, although he doesn’t get to play with the other kids for very long—which may have had an outsized effect on his disposition, as we shall see.
Issue #6 opens with the wizard Xandu breaking out of his asylum with the help of the Wand of Watoomb and his fellow patients, whom he has entranced. Although Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and the Scarlet Witch are familiar with Xandu, the first hero he faces is not.
Naturally, Cap realizes that the other patients are being manipulated and is mindful not to hurt them too much, while he focuses on their manipulator instead.
After settling on the topic of the day, Xandu plants Cap against a tree beside the river of truth…
…until he is rescued by the rest of this story’s Kooky Quartet.
It’s good that it’s not just Cap who believes that the mind-controlled patients must not be harmed.
Eventually Xandu flees to the Death Dimension and Doctor Strange puts the patients to sleep—literally, don’t worry—after which our heroes turn to checking on the staff in the asylum.
Afterwards, they compare notes, with Strange explaining why he called on Wanda and Spidey, but says that Cap’s participation is not in the cards…
…again, literally, which takes the other three aback (especially Cap himself).
Cap tries to rationalize his rejection, which Spidey still can’t accept…
…but Cap consoles him before leaving with a snarky last word to Doctor Strange. (This is somewhat uncharacteristic, but all too understandable and relatable!)
For most of the rest of the story, Cap remains at home while the other three battle Xandu in the Death Dimension—but rest assured, our hero is very much part of this fight. After he fills in the local authorities as much as he can…
…the danger comes a-knockin’, prompting some disturbing pessimism from Cap (which again, seems uncharacteristic, but can easily be explained by his discomfort with the supernatural).
Issue #7 begins withsome inspiring exposition about Cap, highlighting his limitations while at the same time heralding his determination to do as much as he can within them.
His rather sour tone continues below.
That’s dark, man. (I don’t remember Thanos inspiring this level of despair!)
Even Detective Simon can’t believe Cap was ejected from the away team, and Cap reveals he’s still bitter about it before continuing with the doom-and-gloom theme.
Most of the rest of this issue takes place in the Death Dimension, but we return to NYC near the end, at which point we introduce zombies to the cast…
…but the real surprise is that Cap knows who George Romero is.
In issue #8, Cap helpfully clarifies that the zombies are not alive but the people they endanger are.
He quickly saves Simons from a batch of them and downplays the resulting gratitude, not from his usual humility but—you guessed it—out of despondence.
Meanwhile, Doctor Strange is battling Xandu in the Death Dimension, and when his opponent mentions Cap, Strange gets an idea to send his colleague a gift…
…a gift that provides a way to disable the zombies, but at tremendous cost to its holder, who withstands it with no complaint.
Next, Strange sends Melinda, Queen of the Dead (and Xandu’s beloved), to Cap, who somehow finds it in himself to be charming even in this madness.
There’s that smile! Nice to see something, or someone, cheer him up.
Xandu follows close behind and promises to make Melinda lord of this world as well after he’s done with it, but Cap makes like Quicksilver and spirits her away (but presumably not as quickly as it appears below).
After Xandu and Melinda both double over in pain, they realize they need to return to the Death Dimension where they truly belong, but Melinda resists—until Cap gives her a little nudge.
Once they’ve returned, Doctor Strange powers Melinda up, giving her the strength to defeat Xandu and send him back to Earth, where he collapses at Cap’s feet. Afterwards, Melinda explains everything to the heroes, highlighting Cap’s role in particular, leading our extradimensional trio of heroes to ponder whether Cap’s exile was a good idea from the beginning, or simply ended up working out for the best.
When Cap’s amazing friends return to Earth, Spider-Man asks the question that nobody was asking, but it seems to have something to do with protecting Doctor Strange’s secret identity as… umm… Doctor Strange.
Again, I have no idea what the exchange above is in reference too—is Cap pointing out that he helped defeat Xandu, even though Strange made him stay at home? I figured that was always the plan. (Oh well, whatever.)
Collected in: Doctor Strange and the Secret Defenders.
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Captain America #418-419 and Silver Sable and the Wild Pack #15 (August-September 1993), Invaders #4 (August 1993), Amazing Spider-Man #380, Spectacular Spider-Man #203, Spider-Man #37, and Web of Spider-Man #103 (August 1993), Infinity Crusade #3-5 (August-October 1993), Captain America #420, Nomad #18, and Thor Corps #1-2 (September-October 1993), and Avengers: The Terminatrix Objective #1-2 (September-October 1993)