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The Cap Connection, Chapter 5: “Captain America #311″

screenshot_2016-11-30-08-10-44-1Steve Rogers gets a new job as…the artist on Captain America! Captain America meets an old foe in the Awesome Android! And a mysterious assassin targets the Constrictor!

Captain America #311
“Working”
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Paul Neary
Inks: Dennis Janke

Read along with me!

You can find this issue wherever back issues are sold, or as part of the Society of Serpents Epic Collection!

You can also purchase it digitally at Comixology or Marvel Unlimited.

One of the most tested devices of superhero storytelling from the Marvel Age onward has been the slow and steady establishment of threats as subplots, major villains gestating until the time is right to deploy them against the heroes.

It worked for the Serpent Society, as Gruenwald took a few issues to organize the group in the shadows, before debuting them with a twist–the supervillain team as labor union.

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This issue is different, however, in that the foreshadowing kicks off the book. The Constrictor survived his encounter with Anaconda from last issue, albeit barely. He’s beaten and bandaged, laid up in a Manhattan hospital, but he won’t cooperate when Captain America asks him point blank who left him in that condition. It seems to be fear keeping him in line; after all, Constrictor was all too happy to sell out the Society last issue.

Cap already has a good idea of what happened, but realizes he won’t get anywhere with Constrictor, so he leaves the villain to his nurse’s care. But what no one expects is for the nurse to pull a pistol on her patient the instant Cap slams the door shut.

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It’s only due to Cap’s last-minute haranguing that the hit is botched–Cap peeks in to ask one more question, but quickly flings his shield to block the nurse’s shot. Before he can catch the renegade caregiver, she jumps out the window, leaving Cap to try to save Constrictor from bleeding out. When he is finally able to pick up the trail, he finds the nurse’s uniform, plus padding and a latex mask. Who was that nurse?

My natural inclination is to leave you in suspense, but…I guess I should share something else with you. Six months earlier, in Iron Man #194 (edited by Mark Gruenwald), another villain, the Enforcer was assaulted by a random person carrying a similar firearm, disguised as a homeless woman. This attack was fatal, and three more villains died by this person’s hand before the failed attack on Constrictor.

The attacker described him/herself as “the scourge of all criminals.” For a while longer, the Marvel Universe’s supervillain community would find itself bedeviled by this scourge. We’ll come back to this soon, but for now, let’s leave it in the background to fester.

Pencils: Captain America!

As I mentioned last issue, Mark Gruenwald had a habit of asking weird questions and following them through to delightful effect. One of those questions was, “Why don’t supervillains unionize?” This issue, we found an answer to, “Why can’t Captain America draw his own comic?”

The answer, as it was last time, is “Why not?”

Steve Rogers marches into Marvel Comics with his portfolio and meets with editor Mike Carlin. Carlin is wowed by Steve’s sample pages and offers him Captain America immediately, reasoning the book is facing cancellation and could use a creative shake-up.

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I don’t need to tell you it’s absolutely unrealistic for a guy to come in off the street and immediately get hired to work on a cornerstone Marvel title, even if it is circling the drain. But whatever, this is the Marvel Universe, so Steve Rogers gets to draw his own adventures. Earth-616 is a funny place.

And while Steve’s fiancée Bernie is happy for him, she’s also focused on restarting her own status quo. Bernie prepares to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), and while it only rates a brief mention this issue, we’ll hear more about it soon.

Snake-themed villains for hire! Competitive rates!

Speaking of brief, the Serpent Society only gets a few pages this issue, but they’re important enough to mention. Now that the Society has passed Sidewinder’s initiation tests, the next step is to put the word out there. Sidewinder has his members fan out and contact “all of the major criminal and subversive organizations” nationwide to offer their services. Hydra, A.I.M., the Maggia, the Zodiac, the Secret Empire, and the Kingpin’s organization are all listed in Sidewinder’s carefully prepared dossiers.

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We only see two of these meetings this issue. The Asp and Cottonmouth approach Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, and demonstrate their usefulness by beating up his security detail off-panel. It’s a lot of effort just to drop off a business card, but it works. His interest is piqued.

The last page of the issue sees Bushmaster and Diamondback meeting with representatives of Advanced Idea Mechanics, basically a think tank devoted to world domination. In comics, their members are known for their distinctive yellow jumpsuits and flat-top hoods. A.I.M. is a bit hesitant to outsource, but it’s hard to argue when the Society guarantees satisfaction or your money back.

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A.I.M. becomes the first group to contract the Society, but their mission is a doozy: to kill their former leader, MODOK!

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MODOK is a lot to get into right now. We’ll discuss him in detail next time.

The thing in the barn!

Handling reader mail isn’t always a perk for comics creators, but for Steve Rogers, it’s an unexpected benefit to find a letter from a young fan addressed to Cap asking for his help. The reader explains there may be some kind of alien being living in his neighbor’s barn. If you’re a Marvel editor, you probably discount that sort of thing as a crank (although if you’re living in the Marvel Universe, I can’t see a reason not to forward that letter to the Avengers).

But Steve has a good feeling it’s legit, and off he flies to Mayfield, Ohio, to meet with young Bobby Hutchinson and his dad. It’s a good thing too, because Bobby is half-right. There’s something in the barn, but it’s not an alien…it’s the Mad Thinker’s Awesome Android!

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I realize there’s a good chance you don’t know who the Mad Thinker is, nor his Awesome Android. Allow me to explain.

The Mad Thinker was a Fantastic Four villain, a scientist who could use his astonishing intellect and skill with probability to predict and engineer near future events. In his first meeting with the Four, he broke into their headquarters, the Baxter Building, and used Reed Richards’ research to create his Awesome Android, a giant grey humanoid with a head like a fleshy-looking hammer and the ability to mimic the properties of any surface it touched.

Of course, the Fantastic Four defeated the Thinker, but he and the Android would return to plague the Marvel Universe again and again. That doesn’t explain why it resurfaced in a rural Ohio barn, but Cap finds himself too busy defending himself from the Android’s attacks to find out. In a typically great Paul Neary fight scene, Cap does his best to evade the Android, and escapes the barn to warn the Hutchinsons.

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He learns, however, that the Android has no intention of leaving the barn, and simply stands still while alone. Cap believes the Android is guarding something, and returns to find out what, only to meet another assault from the oversized automaton. Cap is thrown out of the bar, and decides to take a moment to figure out what to do next.

I’m a sucker for moments when heroes outsmart their foes or reason their way through problems, and this is a good one. Cap remembers that the Android needs to be programmed to do anything, and posits that it wasn’t programmed to guard anything, but simply to stay out of sight. And a flashback reveals he was right; the Thinker left the Android in a barn months before after a battle with the Spaceknight ROM and commanded it to remain there until his return.

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Cap just leaves the Android there and instructs the Hutchinsons to keep watch over the barn and not tell anyone what’s inside or let anyone near it. He also leaves them with the Avengers’ private number just in case anyone disturbs the barn.

As Cap departs in his Quinjet, he realizes there’s no real way for anyone outside of New York to contact him for help. The fan mail to Marvel was a fluke–he needs something clearer and more available to the public.

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Don’t worry, he’ll figure it out soon.

Next time: A double-sized spectacular! Captain America fights Flag-Smasher! The Serpent Society sets out to murder MODOK! And Steve Rogers strikes it rich!

Let’s talk about this issue! Leave a comment, or tweet me!

 

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