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The Cap Connection, Chapter 3: “Captain America #309″

captainamerica309Nomad will risk his sanity to bring down Madcap and prove he is his own man, while a new threat prepares to strike.

Captain America #309
“Nomad Madcap Cap…”
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Penciler: Paul Neary
Inker: Dennis Janke

Lots to talk about this week, so let’s get into it.

First off…

Why am I doing this?

The idea for this feature came to me after reading Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme maxi-series for the (woefully belated) first time.

The series crossed over with Gru’s Captain America run towards its end and I decided I’d give it a try.

I wanted to give this a go because I thought it would be fun to read through this whole run and I wanted to provide a place for others to read along and talk about it, to enjoy comics for the fun of it. I also wanted to provide a service for fans of the MCU, who wanted to know more about the source material without judgment from fans for not having read the comics before.

So if you’d like to engage here, check out this issue, available in print where back issues are sold, as well as in the “Society of Serpents” collection. Digitally, you can find it at Comixology, and on Marvel Unlimited. Then read on and hit me up in the comments, or on Twitter. Talking about comics can be a lot of fun, and I’m going to keep doing this as long as it stays that way!

Now, before we get into the story, I wanted to give a brief history of Jack Monroe, the soon-to-be-ex-sidekick known as Nomad. That’s right, we say goodbye (sort of) to him this issue, and before we see him off, I wanted to give newcomers more of an idea of who he is.

So who is Nomad?

Just about everyone has a passing knowledge of Bucky, Captain America’s wartime sidekick. In the comics, he’s a plucky teen in Steve Rogers’ unit who learns Steve’s secret identity and becomes his partner. (That was retconned slightly decades later to explain Bucky was also an advance scout and assassin.)

Most people also know that Bucky was thought killed during the war, while trying to defuse an airborne bomb that also sent Captain America into an arctic deep-freeze. (Yes, movie fans, I know it happened slightly differently in The First Avenger, but here, it all happened at the same time.)

That was Cap and Bucky’s wartime fate as established upon Captain America’s return in Avengers #4.


But what most people didn’t know was that Marvel’s precursor Atlas briefly relaunched Cap and Bucky in Cold War adventures fighting a Communist Red Skull. The revival didn’t last more than a year, and his more successful ‘60s return ignored those ‘50s stories.

That changed in 1972 when writer Steve Englehart and artist John Buscema brought the ‘50s Cap and Bucky out of mothballs by revealing they were impostors who disguised themselves as the real deal so that the country could have a Captain America around to battle Communists.

They injected themselves with a version of the Super-Soldier Serum, but without a blast of vita-rays to stabilize their dosage, the two of them went mad and began attacking people simply for having dissenting views.

The government arrested them and forced them into cold storage.

The two of them were revived (in a story by Roger McKenzie, Jim Shooter, Michael Fleisher, and artist Sal Buscema) by a white supremacist organization called the National Force. The fake Cap was brainwashed into becoming their “Grand Director,” and seemingly murdered the fake Bucky before killing himself.


Of course, this being superhero comics, both deaths didn’t last.

J.M. deMatteis reintroduced the fake Bucky, using the name Jack Monroe, four years later, with him being cured of his mental deterioration.

Steve Rogers decided to take Monroe under his wing and give him his old costumed identity of Nomad.

That’s another long story that involves Rogers giving up his Cap identity after learning the leader of a terrorist organization called the Secret Empire is actually President Nixon.

That’s the moment Cap has his faith in American leadership shattered, a theme we’re going to return to later.

That’s how Nomad as we know him came to be. Now let’s get rid of him!

Nomad and Madcap…team up?!

The main event here is another confrontation between Nomad and the mirthful Madcap, who made his debut a couple issues ago. Nomad has tracked Madcap to his Coney Island hideout, but instead of fighting him, he offers to join forces.


It seems Jack has realized nothing makes sense, and he wants to learn more from Madcap. This ranges from running out on the check at breakfast to causing chaos in the city. It also includes learning Madcap’s origin. Once, the mystery man was a very orderly, church-going guy, until one day on a field trip when a truck filled with chemicals–specifically, a nerve agent developed by longtime Marvel arch-foes Advanced Idea Mechanics–crashed into his bus.

Everyone else on the bus was killed, including his little sister, but this man survived and learned in short order that exposure to the toxin gave him superhuman healing abilities and an invulnerability to pain. Shock and sadness overwhelmed him to the point where he renounced any and all faith in an orderly universe.

Thus was born Madcap.


Welcome home, Cap!

While Jack is on his “Training Day” of sorts, Steve finally returns from his long trip home. He and Bernie catch each other up on what’s gone on: his adventures abroad, her shop closing down thanks to a huge rent increase, and Jack’s disappearance. Bernie shows him a newspaper clipping about Jack’s previous battle with Madcap. Worried, Steve contacts the Falcon and Nick Fury, his only two crimefighting friends who know Nomad personally. It’s Edwin Jarvis, though, who tells Cap of a recent encounter with Nomad that tips him off to where he could be.

(For you MCU fans, the Earth-616 version of Edwin Jarvis, like his MCU counterpart, is the Stark family’s longtime butler though older and living in contemporary times. When the Avengers are founded, Stark sets Jarvis up as the team’s butler and majordomo at Avengers Mansion.)


Before Steve can focus on Jack, he has another pressing matter to deal with. While away, the graphic artist by day missed a major deadline, and his ad agency boss isn’t happy about that.

It turns out his boss is pretty forgiving, but Steve realizes he’d rather be doing something more emotionally fulfilling, and severs his freelance relationship with the agency. Don’t you worry though; Steve has something a bit more…appropriate coming his way.


Nomad vs. Madcap, round 2

Of course, Nomad has been plotting to bring Madcap down all along, but he’s forced to act sooner than expected when the villain unleashes his specific brand of hell civilians again. The battle leads back to the amusement park, which is where both plots intersect, as Cap arrives just in time to witness the two fighting atop the roller coaster.

Before he can jump into the fight, Cap realizes that Nomad needs to handle it himself in order to prove to himself he can stand on his own, so he hangs back and watches.


In a crackerjack sequence by Paul Neary, Nomad manages to destroy Madcap’s bubble gun and thinks he’s won. However, he’s horrified when Madcap reveals the gun was never a real weapon, and that he’s able to mesmerize others on his own. It seems like Madcap might finally put an end to the sidekick, but Nomad uses quick thinking to blindfold Madcap with his own cape, then smother him into unconsciousness.


With the fight over, Cap steps out of the shadows to applaud a beaming Nomad. But Jack surprises the elder hero by telling him their partnership must come to an end, so he can stand on his own. That’s the last we see of Nomad…for a while, anyway.

Snakes…why’s it gotta be snakes?

As all of the above has been going on, the sinister Sidewinder has been continuing his recruitment effort from last issue. First, he breaks Cobra, another original Serpent Squad member, out of jail. Then Death Adder pays a visit to the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime (yes, there’s a Circus of Crime, and they’ve fought everyone from Spider-Man to the Hulk) to talk shop with Princess Python. Finally, Anaconda tracks down the Constrictor, an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned costumed mercenary, and makes the same pitch.


It’s only one page, and as Gru’s narration admits, “the purpose of these serpentine encounters will not be known for days.” But days equals next issue, and I promise you, things get really good really fast.

So where do we stand?

It took a few issues, but Gru is finally ready to get his run started in earnest. Cap’s superhero life is already changed with Nomad gone, and his personal life is about to change with both himself and Bernie out of jobs. Personally, I felt Nomad a touch whiny, so I’m glad to see him gone.


While the Marvel Universe hasn’t seen the last of Madcap, we have in this series. He resurfaces to battle Daredevil, She-Hulk, and a number of other heroes, before things get really weird between him and Deadpool. (To be fair, things always get weird when Deadpool is involved.)

About Madcap: Gruenwald once said in an interview that the character represented “purposelessness, the disaffected youth of today who thinks ‘What’s the reason for doing anything?’ The ultimate dropout generation.“ It’s a very “old man” kind of viewpoint, which means I should hate Madcap. But I’m intrigued by him–maybe Gru was a little too good at his job…What did you think of him?

There are a couple of things I didn’t like. Steve and Bernie’s dialogue feels too cutesy by half, which is a problem I have with most couples’ dialogue from ‘80s superhero comics. And speaking of Gru’s “old man” writing, Cap comes across as almost aggressively bland at times here: the dude’s favorite food is actually an American cheese sandwich on whole wheat with a glass of milk, and I’m not sure if that was a gag or if Gru was being sincere. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe it was the former, especially since Gru was shaking Marvel storytelling up at the same time on Squadron Supreme (which we’ll get into later).


It’s cool though, because Gru’s plotting really kicks into gear starting next issue, and Paul Neary’s art doesn’t disappoint.

Whether it’s Madcap beating a street gang on his own or Cap getting in a workout at Avengers Mansion, or even Steve quitting his job, Neary excels at drawing physicality of all kinds.

He and Gru are only getting better.

Next time: Enter the Serpent Society…and Steve Rogers’ new job!


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