Welcome, mon freres and frerettes, to the inaugural edition of Down With The Runs!
I was sitting in the bathroom one night and asked myself how I could come up with another toilet-humor-themed column. Then last night's burrito put on some shoes and that answered that.
Whereas Skid Marks serves as an outlet for my opinions on the comics industry, DWTR deals with back issues. Some of you may recall my Back Issue Reviews thread. This column will serve the same purpose reviewing back issues in chunks rather than one single-ply at a time.
This column's chunk is Captain America #366 to #386. The significance? It encapsulates Ron Lim's run on the character.
By Cap #366 (cover dated Jan. '90), Ron Lim was already well-known for his work on Silver Surfer. His stellar collaboration with Jim Starlin had yet to begin. But Lim's art had a different luster in his collusion with the late, great Mark Gruenwald.
Gru, as he's affectionately known, was well-entrenched into his run on the book. A lengthy tenure which began at #307, cover dated July '85. By this point, Gru had received acclaim mostly for the Scourge and the Cap Quits storylines. Though one story that doesn't get enough huzzahs is The Bloodstone Hunt (#357-364).
But that's a review for another time. Maybe.
#366 was the second installment of the title's intersection with the Acts of Vengeance story. Previously, Sub-Mariner had fallen under sway to The Controller. Namor and Cap duked it out and Subby became comatose. A fight between Cap and Conny was forthcoming to get the control disc safely removed from Namor's neck.
#367 is not a Lim issue, but rather Kieron Dwyer's final issue on the series. I thought it deserved special mention for the excellent melee between Magneto and The Red Skull. Quick summary: Mags locks Skull in an underground bunker for being a Nazi pig.
#368-371 mark the true beginning of Lim's run. After working out the kinks in #366, Lim is finally able to hit the pages running. These issues serve as an epilogue of sorts to the aforementioned Bloodstone Hunt. #368 depicts a cover battle between Cap and Magneto, but looks are deceiving. We're also re-introduced to The Resistants. A mutant rights group from about 20 issues ago. Crossbones, Mother Night, Machinesmith, and The Voice embark on a quest for the missing Red Skull. #369 has a remarkable back-up, by Gru and then new artist Mark Bagley, detailing the Skull's underground ordeal. #370 gives us a chilling deathbed confrontation between Cap and an enemy he has believed dead since #300! Finally, #371 provides a humorous respite with a "blind" date between Cap and Diamondback, the plucky Serpent Society siren who developed more than a little crush on Cap during (guess what?) The Bloodstone Hunt.
#372-378 present the lauded Streets of Poison saga. A new drug called Ice is flowing through the streets of New York. Cap wants to stop it up. He nearly does until a warehouse bust devolves into a warehouse boom. The explosion has an unintended effect. It douses Cap with vaporized Ice particles. Particles that bond with the serum in Cap's body, turning him into a Super Drug Soldier. Though Cap has no inkling even as he grows more paranoid and psychotic. But he has a few friends looking out for him. Friends like John Jameson, The Black Widow, Daredevil, and the amorous Diamondback. They need to find him soon, because Cap's drug induced psychosis will endure as long as the Super Soldier serum endures. And there's a few people out there making that goal a bit difficult. Crossbones, Red Skull, Kingpin, and Bullseye to name a few. Even Typhoid Mary shows up.
Of course, psycho-Cap isn't going quietly. There's even a great little fracas between Cap and Daredevil in #375. I'm not going to tell you who wins, but the loser gets POUNDED. And then Diamondback teams up with Black Widow in #376. After some bumps and bruises, Cap is back in the right hands. But how to fix him?
Well, the solution is obvious. Since you can't get the drugs out of Cap's blood, you have to get Cap's blood out of Cap. I'm talking total blood transfusion. But now the question is can Cap still be Cap without the thing that makes him Cap? The answer is a humdinger wrapped up nicely in #378. Two battles of note here. Cap vs. Crossbones, of course. But the kicker for me is Red Skull vs. Kingpin for domination of New York's drug underworld.
#379 is a guest story, not drawn by Lim, that I never bothered to read. Sorry.
#380-382 are a special Serpent Society story. Diamondback gets in trouble when her partners in crime learn she's been dating Captain America. They refuse to believe Cap has no motive to do that beyond taking them out of the game. And if Diamondback can't convince them otherwise, the consequences will be fatal. Cap searches for her alone, but is assisted (in a way) by the purple-padded soldier of fortune known as Paladin. In these issues, Gru realizes his subplot (back-ups in #366-367) to turn the craven Cobra into a menace to reckoned with.
#383 brings us to Cap's 50th Anniversary celebration. While chasing a criminal, Cap falls through a portal to another world. A pure, idealized world where legends live. Cap meets several storied figures out of mythological America like John Henry and Paul Bunyan. But Cap doesn't have the time to hang out. He has a criminal to catch. And even as he tries to do that, he has a sitdown with perhaps the biggest American legend of them all.
There are also several back-ups in this oversized issue. A nice little World War 2 ditty with Cap, Bucky, and the Howling Commandos written by Tom DeFalco. Drawn by Ron Frenz in his best Kirby homage style. Another good one features the very first meeting between Crossbones and The Red Skull.
#384 is a great done-in-one showcasing some of Lim's cleanest and slickest art to date. Cap heads up to the Arctic when he hears rumors of a man in ice being worshipped by local eskimos. Y'see, back in #349, Cap and D-Man (remember him?) had an adventure up there. One that resulted in a fate for D-Man very similar to that of Bucky back in the old days. So Cap runs up there to find his friend. Though it isn't D-Man, it is somebody Cap hasn't seen since WW2.
#385-386 show an encounter with The Watchdogs. A supremacist group last seen in #345-346. The Watchdogs are back to dealing their own brand of moral justice by blowing up crack houses and porno shops and the like. That's not all, though. One of Steve Rogers' old friends is involved with the group. And Steve's ex-girlfriend is endangered by that association. Naturally, Cap wants to shut The Watchdogs down.
But that's still not all.
USAgent, formerly Super Patriot, wants revenge on The Watchdogs for his parent's deaths in #346. Now the last thing Cap needs is an unbalanced psycho busting in and endangering every innocent in sight.
Doesn't mean it's not gonna happen.
Well, that was quite a chunk of reading. Very enjoyable reading for me. Ron Lim shows that he doesn't have to stick to cosmic characters to shine like a star. And the crispness of his pencils are ably enhanced by the inks of Danny Bulandi.
As for the writing, Mark Gruenwald's craft is at its peak in this run. All of Gru's previous stories enhance everything you have read here. Sadly, Gru's passion for the character seems to slip a bit after Lim's departure. Following are several plots one may wish one could unsee. The Superia Strategem and Cap Wolf are bland examples of the kind of writing infecting much of Marvel at the time.
Maximum Carnage/Clonage, anyone?
Maybe it was the change in art. Rik Levins is a decent artist. Check out his X-O Manowar if you don't believe me. But his style back then was action-starved in comparison to the slip-n-slide lines of Lim.
Maybe with Lim gone, Gru no longer had that kind of syzygy with other collaborators. In one's opinion, it would not exist for the rest of Gruenwald's tenure on the book. Not until the fledgling team of Mark Waid and Ron Garney began dropping their run.
So that's it for now, folks. If you currently read Captain America and want a little background on characters appearing these days, check out some of the books I've mentioned here. Betcha don't know where Crossbones first appeared. Here's a hint: It has Bloodstone in the title.
I cannot recommend Brubaker's Captain America enough. It's a book that's only getting better. Even after the main character was killed off last year. But it's interesting to see how much of the Gru era that Bru draws from. Perhaps he was a fan of the very issues I reviewed here. Just as I am.
Just as you will be if you go out and scoop them up now!