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The Cap Connection, Chapter 4: “Captain America #310″

screenshot_2016-11-23-09-12-54While Steve Rogers discovers his new career path, the Serpent Society finally emerges!

Captain America #310
“Serpents of the World Unite”
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Paul Neary
Inks: Dennis Janke

First off, read along with me!

You can find this book in print where back issues are sold, and collected in the “Society of Serpents” trade paperback!

Or you can read it digitally on Comixology, or on Marvel Unlimited!

Enter the Serpent Society!

Over the past three issues, the sinister Sidewinder has operated in the shadows, approaching a number of other snake-themed villains with the prospect of something major and potentially very lucrative.

His recruits include:

  • Black Mamba, a telepath who is also able to wield Darkforce energy (think actual darkness that can be used to choke the life from others)…
  • Anaconda, whose adamantium-laced skeleton and scaly skin make her incredibly tough, and whose elongating arms make very deadly…
  • Death Adder, left mute by the process that gave him gills, a bionic tail, and poison-tipped claws…
  • Cobra, veteran of the original Serpent Squad, super-strong and agile, and able to dislocate his joints at will…
  • Princess Python, a snake-charmer formerly of the second Serpent Squad and the Ringmaster’s Circus of Crime…
  • Asp, a dancer who wields bioelectric “venom bolts”…
  • Rattler, whose bionic tail can generate dangerous sonic vibrations, as well as simply bludgeon foes…
  • Bushmaster, the younger brother of a former Iron Fist villain of the same name, given bionic arms (with extendable fang-like blades) and a tail to replace the limbs he lost in an underwater accident…
  • Cottonmouth, another former Iron Fist villain, but not that Cottonmouth; this guy has super-strong jaw and neck muscles and huge steel fangs…
  • Diamondback, also not that Diamondback; trained by the Taskmaster and wielding gimmicked throwing diamonds, including acid-tipped and explosive diamonds…
  • and the Constrictor, a former undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. who abandoned the agency for a life of crime after suffering a breakdown while undercover.

The twist is that Sidewinder’s new group isn’t just a supervillain team, it’s a labor union.

screenshot_2016-11-23-09-10-02-1

That’s such a brilliant idea.

Sidewinder figures that the good guys keep winning because they work together easily, while the bad guys work alone, take all the risks and eat all the costs. Here, the bad guys can work together on big money jobs, make guaranteed money, and get health insurance! That’s not even mentioning the ultimate perk: Sidewinder using his teleporation to instantly spring any of his members from jail.

The best thing about it is that Mark Gruenwald plays it relatively straight. Sure, there’s a sly, knowing humor to the concept, but he doesn’t do it to lampoon unions. Instead, he’s asking a long-overdue question, “Why wouldn’t the bad guys unionize?” After all, they’re career criminals out to make some cash, not ambitious world conquerors.

There’s often a lot of talk, especially when it comes to adapting superhero comics for the screen, about grounding these characters in realistic settings. Usually, when producers say that, they mean to tone down the color palette, pare down the humor, and remove the fantastical elements that make these stories and characters unique.

Gruenwald, however, was ahead of that curve. His way of juxtaposing the mystical with the mundane brought fresh air to the Captain America, simply by asking “Why not?”

Steve Rogers’ new career

That approach wasn’t just applied to the villains, but to Steve Rogers as well, in a weirder, more meta fashion. Rogers already had a job as a freelance advertising artist in his private life, but Gruenwald decided to twist that further.

Having quit advertising last issue, Rogers was in a funk about his prospects. By chance, however, he happens to overhear a couple of kids talking about his comic book on a subway train and inspiration strikes.

screenshot_2016-11-23-09-09-23-1

Ever since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking run on Fantastic Four, it had been long established that a fictional, in-universe version of Marvel Comics actually published the adventures of the Marvel heroes. The Avengers and Fantastic Four both licensed their likenesses and adventures to the publisher. At this point, Steve Rogers’ secret identity was still unknown to the public, so there was no reason he couldn’t try to get a job at Marvel drawing his own comic book.

Unfortunately, his fiancée Bernie Rosenthal doesn’t share his enthusiasm. After losing the lease on her glass-blowing studio/shop, she was way too bummed to be excited about his new career choice. And while the two of them share a tender moment amidst at the end of the issue, it’s not hard to see their uncertainty towards the future covers more than just their jobs.

screenshot_2016-11-23-09-12-33-1

Anaconda unleashed!

As teased by the cover, Cap battles Anaconda this issue, as she, along with Rattler and Cobra, are sent on a mission to retrieve an item from the Brand Corporation. It’s an initiation test that Sidewinder expects to go smoothly. What he doesn’t expect is the Constrictor’s interference.

Constrictor is the lone holdout from the group. He doesn’t trust Sidewinder, but also fears the Society cutting into his bottom line. Rather than get his own hands dirty though, he calls the Avengers’ emergency hotline with an anonymous tip blowing the operation.

screenshot_2016-11-23-09-10-42-1

Captain America shows up, and while he recognizes the Cobra from a previous battle with the original Serpent Squad, Anaconda and Rattler are unknown quantities to him. Anaconda rushes to fight him, and between her stretching arms and his sonic rattle, Cap is momentarily surprised–more so as she smiles through his punches.

Paul Neary draws a fun battle scene between Cap and the snakes, with Cap trying in vain to stun the powerhouse Anaconda with punches. Only when he gets to his shield does he actually win, slinging it across her head just before she can break his ribs. In the commotion, Cobra and Rattler escape, and return to Sidewinder with the stolen item.

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Constrictor gets his in the end though. Cobra tracks him to his favorite bar and lures him out back, where Anaconda–already sprung from jail by Sidewinder–beats the snot out of him. It’s a great little scene, firmly establishing Constrictor as the real villain of this particular story for his betrayal and momentarily placing its sympathies behind Sidewinder and his union.

Almost everything** about this issue is on point. The characterization is clear and compelling, the plotting is tight as a drum, the art is dynamic and engaging, and even the dialogue is pretty fun for an ‘80s superhero comic. Moreover, it’s a great start to an arc with a lovely, refreshing idea. The first three issues were great table setting, but the fun is starting in earnest!

screenshot_2016-11-23-09-12-04-1

Want to talk about this issue? Leave a message in the comments, or talk to me on Twitter!

Next week: The Serpent Society advertises! Steve Rogers, Marvel artist! An old threat is unearthed! And a new…scourge makes itself known!

**Almost everything, except for the opening sequence, unnecessary at best and creepy at worst, with Cap and fellow Avengers Black Knight and Starfox. It’s weird because of Starfox, a singular embodiment of the word “problematic” in comics. Starfox, Thanos’ brother, has superhuman strength, but prefers to use his “special” ability, to arouse the pleasure centers in an opponent’s brain. As you can imagine, this gets him into deep trouble down the road.

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