Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade
Captain America: The
Captain

by Mark Grunewald,
Kieron Dwyer and Tom Morgan

collects Captain America
332 – 350 and Iron Man 228.
Why I Bought This: For
my money this is the single greatest Captain America story ever told. When the Cap
movie came out Marvel finally put this in trade, I waited a year for the price
to come down on Amazon and here we are.

The Plot: The
government forces Steve Rogers to give back the Captain America identity and
appoints John Walker as his replacement. We then get a good slow build
alternating between Rogers operating as a
vigilante and Walker’s
first missions as Cap before the two have the big throw down.
 

 Chapter 1 – Cap (Steve Rogers) goes to Washington DC to
confront the government about two different recent attempts to recreate the
super soldier program that led to psychotic out of control soldiers (one in the
prior issue of his own book and the other in the Daredevil classic Born Again).
He is referred to the Commission on Super Human Activities (which includes
prominent Marvel government supporting characters Val Cooper and Henry Gyrich
along with some new non-characters). The Commission lays out a case for how the
government gave Rogers his powers when he enlisted, designed his costume and
created his shield and then orders him to come back to work in a military agent
capacity. Rogers
says he needs 24 hours to think it over. Meanwhile a terrorist places a nuke on
the Washington Monument and makes demands before being thwarted by Super
Patriot (John Walker, has Spider-man level super strength) on national TV.
Steve talks the situation over with some of his former partners, Avengers and
civilian supporting cast before deciding to resign his commission as Captain America rather
than work directly for the government.

Chapter 2 – The Commission reacts to Rogers decision and after ruling out some of
his ex-partners and Nick Fury, they decide to interview Super Patriot for the
job based on his actions last issue. And we learn a little of Walker’s background including he is former
military (albeit in peace time). He is ultimately offered the job but he has to
forsake his business manager and two of three men that had been serving as his
BUCkies (which stood for Bold Urban Commandoes) and he accepts those terms.

Chapter 3 – Cap and the new Bucky (Lemar Hoskins,
African-American with same super strength as Walker now costumed as Cap’s WWII partner)
receive extensive combat training particularly in the use of Cap’s iconic
shield. We see them in sparing sessions against the Guardsman (low-level Iron
Man suit types) and the hiring of Taskmaster to teach Walker all of Steve’s shield tricks. Walker’s
former associates attempt to extort money from the government by exposing that
there is new Cap so Walker and Lemar don Guardsman outfits (to hide their
identities), take out the other two BUCkies in combat and then threaten the
manager with treason if he reveals the secret.

 Chapter 4 – Walker and Lemar are sent on their first
mission, which is back in Walker’s hometown in Georgia. They
are to infiltrate a right-wing domestic terrorist group known as the Watchdogs
that like to burn books and kill porn shop owners. Walker notes politically he agrees with much
of what they stand for and wonders if the Commission is testing him on purpose
with this assignment. Things go south in the mission and Walker has to allow
Lemar to by hung to complete the mission, which Lemar survives thanks to his
augmented neck muscles. After the villains are arrested Walker wonders if Lemar’s near death
experience was also orchestrated by the Commission to test how far he would go
to complete an assignment.

Chapter 5 – Steve is out in the Pacific
Northwest when he sees the new Cap on TV for the first time. We
also see tensions brewing between loggers and environmentalists, while Steve
flashes back to legal advice given to him by ex-girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal on
how he could reclaim the Cap identity in the courts. Meanwhile D-Man (aka
Demolition Man, a former pro wrestler with the same super strength as Walker
that served as Cap’s partner for four issues prior to this story) has called in
Cap’s other former partners Falcon and Nomad to look for Steve. Nomad is
accompanied by Vagabond, an untrained female who wants to be a superhero that
he is dating. In the woods Steve encounters a spot earthquake that derails his
van and he leaps out of the ravine to meet Brother Nature, who seems to have
complete control of nature and is using his powers to thwart the loggers. Steve
tries to talk to him but Nature insists on a fight attacking Steve with deer, a
bear, lightening and more earthquakes to no avail. In the process Brother
Nature breaks his own leg and destroys the forest he wanted to preserve. Steve
sees this as a cautionary tale for himself that if he were to sue the
government he could destroy his country/legacy as Cap.

 

Chapter 6 – Cap’s former partners find his van and we learn
that D-Man has a heart problem. Meanwhile in Las Vegas a new version of the Serpent Squad
robs a casino. Their members include Fer De Lance (costume-based Wolverine
wrist blades), Black Racer (super speed), Puff Adder (super strength and acid
breath) and their leader Copperhead (armored costume with lasers in the
fingers). Steve meets up with his partners and decides he’s ready to resume his
crime fighting career; although he will not fight the government for the Cap
identity. D-Man presents him with a black costume and Steve takes the name “The
Captain.” Back in Vegas the police arrive and the Squad takes hostages. Steve
hears about the situation and thinking it may be the Serpent Society (who had
become his top foes in the past three years under Gruenwald) heads off to Vegas
with his partners. Cap and company win the day in a well-choreographed fight
scene; however Cap had to disobey a police order to intervene and he wonders
how far he is willing to break the law now that he is a vigilante.

Chapter 7 – Walker and Lemar are sent to face their first
super villain in Professor Power (seems to be a C-level Dr. Doom type whose powers are in
his costume).  Their first obstacle on
the mission are Mandroids (another Iron Man type suit). Meanwhile in Vegas the
Squad is in one cell while Cap and his partners are in another. Falcon tries to
see if he can use his Reserve Avengers status to get them released. While he’s
gone Sidewinder (teleporting leader of the Serpent Society arrives) and offers
to free the Squad. Meanwhile Walker
is now facing a giant. Back in Vegas, Steve has D-Man break the cell bars to
try and prevent the prison escape and then locks Sidewinder in a full nelson.
Back to Walker who is now facing generic thugs dressed like Roman centurions.
Sidewinder threatens to kill Fer De Lance if Steve doesn’t release him. He does
and Sidewinder reveals he was bluffing before teleporting away with the rest of
the Squad. Falcon returns with the heroes’ release but the broken cell bars put
a kibosh on that. Back to Walker,
who is finally battling Power. Walker
takes a laser blast to the face and loses his temper and beats Power to death.
Lemar tries to tell him it’s understandable but Walker knows he hasn’t lived up the legacy of
Cap with his actions.

Chapter 8 – As part of the Fall of the Mutants crossover
Famine is destroying crop lands in the Midwest.
Steve’s team hears about it and intercepts her. She’s on a flying robot horse
so Falcon takes first shot at her only to fall victim to her starvation lasers.
On the ground D-Man takes on her robot steed, while Steve tends to Falcon and
Nomad tries to take her on. Nomad gets a few shots in but Famine starve-blasts
him too. Steve uses a tractor door as a make-shift shield and incapacitates her
but Apocalypse teleports her away. In the epilogue Steve goes to Tony Stark and
asks him to make him a new shield.

Chapter 9 – Steve is testing his new adamantium shield and
thanks Tony. After Steve leaves Tony is planning to attack the Vault super
villain prison as part of the Armor Wars storyline as he wants deactivate all
of the government’s Guardsman armors. Steve figures out what he’s up to and tries
to talk Tony out of it. Tony pretends to agree but later has Jim Rhodes
impersonate Electro so as to get captured and sabotage the Vault from the
inside. They sleep gas most of the prison personnel and Iron Man takes down the
few remaining Guardsman. He was one last armor to deactivate when Steve
arrives. Steve prepares to fight but when the Guardsman’s internal oxygen
supply runs out he turns his back on Tony to save the man’s life. Tony
electrocutes Steve from behind and destroys the last armor. In the cliffhanger
we learn the fight disabled power to one of the cellblocks.

Chapter 10 – Steve meets up with the rest of his team
outside the prison and he plans to track Tony back to LA. In the prison Mr.
Hyde, Titania, Armadillo, Griffin
and Vibro escape. Falcon sees Vibro and Griffin
from the sky and we get an aerial fight between Falcon and Griffin. Steve’s team realizes there is a
prison break and tries to head back to help on motorcycle when Mr. Hyde drives
a truck at them running Nomad off the road and hitting Steve’s cycle head on.
Steve comes through the windshield at Hyde. Meanwhile D-Man encounters Titania
and he offers her a chance to surrender noting he can lift 15 tons. She’s
unimpressed as she can lift 85 tons and throws him off the mountain. On the
side of the mountain Nomad encounters Vibro and he has no problem using his
stun discs to dislodge Vibro from the mountain and letting him fall to an
unknown fate; Nomad also muses in a thought balloon how he doesn’t agree with
Cap’s no killing policy since becoming his own hero. D-Man feels he’s going to
die as he continues to fall when Falcon saves him and together they take out Griffin. Meanwhile
Armadillo comes across Vagabond, who is alone in Cap’s van. We cut to a two
page very well choreographed battle between Steve and Hyde with Steve noting
this is the first time he’s had a chance to confront Hyde since he tortured
Jarvis in the Avengers Under Seige storyline. Steve wins and has a chance to
kill Hyde by dropping him off the mountain but in the end he chooses not to.
D-Man encounters Titania again and decides to just let her go because he knows
he can’t stop her. Vagabond drives up with Armadillo, who she was able to talk
into surrendering.  

Chapter 11 – Steve is waiting for Tony at his house. He
returns the shield to him and then tries to arrest him but Tony armors up. They
have a brief fight but without a shield there isn’t much Steve can do against
Iron Man and Tony flies off after trying to explain himself. Steve decides its
better to give Tony the benefit of the doubt than to commit the resources
necessary to track him down and take him in. Meanwhile Lemar has adopted a new
costumed identity as Battlestar, in attempt to be his own hero and a better
role model for African-Americans. The government then holds a press conference
announcing there is a new Cap as the original “retired” but the press
conference is crashed by former BUCkies Jerome and Hector now known as
Left-Winger and Right-Winger. They reveal Walker’s
secret identity on national television before Cap and Battlestar defeat them.
Finally we cut to the Serpent Society where we learn the new Serpent Squad are
agents of Viper. They give her coordinates of the Society headquarters and she
teleports in, poisons Sidewinder and has her men orchestrate a coup. Desperate
for help Diamondback calls Captain America’s hotline (still owned by
Steve) for assistance.

Chapter 12 – D-Man is teaching Vagabond some wrestling holds
so she can be a better crime fighter, which makes Nomad jealous and he starts a
brief fight until a hovercraft interrupts them. The hovercraft is from Wakanda
where Black Panther has made Steve a new vibranium shield. Back at SS HQ where
Diamondback defeats Fer De Lance only to be attacked by Coachwhip (no powers
she has whips on her wristbands). DBack uses Sidewinder’s cloak to teleport
them to safety. Steve receives her hotline call and mobilizes his team to meet
with her. Back at SS HQ we see Viper has poisoned all of the other Serpent
Society members giving them a choice to join her within an hour or die. Steve
sends Vagabond with Sidewinder to the hospital and then takes his team to SS
HQ. They are greeted by Anaconda (super strength, stretch powers and gills),
who Diamondback thinks escaped but in fact has defected to Viper. Anaconda,
Rattler (bionic tale that makes vibration attacks) and Rock Python (rock hard
skin and trick egg weapons) attack. Steve leaves his teammates to fight them
and continues where he encounters and defeats Puff Adder with ease. Diamondback
joins them and the two of them find Viper, Slither (literally a snake man) and
Coachwhip with the prisoners. Steve takes out Viper’s minions, while Rachel
frees Cottonmouth (expandable jaw with fangs) who then attacks her as he too
has defected. Steve saves her, and she manages to free the still poisoned Asp
(mutant with venomous laser blasts). As the battle continues, we cut to the
ambulance carrying Sidewinder where Black Racer overtakes it. Vagabond manages
to win her first fight and defeats her. Back at SS HQ Steve’s team has won
their fights but Viper is escaping

Chapter 13 – Walker and Battlestar arrest a porcupine
powered mutant as part of the Mutant Registration Act (it was a thing in the
X-books at this time stemming out of Fall of the Mutants, basically Civil War’s
registration act but only applying to mutants). Lemar doesn’t feel good about
being asked to round up and persecute minorities (in this case mutants) for the
government. Back at SS HQ Viper is taking off in a Serpent Saucer when Steve
manages to use gymnastics to catch the landing gear. Falcon tries to assist but
the craft is too fast for him. However Rachel (DBack) loads the team up into
another craft and chases them. While enroot Nomad tortures Slither for info on
Viper’s plan. Back with Walker
where he and Lemar are under attack by a mutant group called the Resistants (so
named because they are against the aforementioned Registration Act). They
electrocute Walker,
set Lemar on fire and after freeing porcupine dude blow the helicopter out the sky.
We cut to Washington DC where Copperhead, Cobra (stretchy powers
and poison dart weapons) and Boomslang (no powers, uses boomerangs) pour a
chemical into the water supply under Viper’s orders (via radio). Back in the
air Nomad has Rachel fire missiles at Viper’s craft (D-man doesn’t approve but
bows to Nomad’s seniority). They blow the craft up but Viper teleports away,
while Steve uses his vibranium shield to absorb the impact of falling from the
sky. He battles Viper on the ground and defeats her as Nomad lands and is
horrified to learn Steve was on the ship he shot down. They tell Steve of
Viper’s poison plot (obtained by Nomad from Slither) and they have Falcon use
his Avengers ID to call in an emergency alert. Back with Walker and he and
Lemar survived the crash but their military pilot is dead. And finally at the
White House we see the President drink some water just as the emergency call
comes in.

Chapter 14 – President Reagan has been turned into a snake
man by Viper’s chemical in the water. In DC scaly people who consumed the water
are rioting. As the villains observe their handiwork Cobra regrets throwing in
with Viper—he’s worked with her before and she’s always been an anarchist whereas
Sidewinder kept the Serpent Society working only on paying gigs (as
mercenaries) and compensated everyone well. Steve and Rachel meet the three henchmen
and Steve dispatches Copperhead and Boomslang while Diamondback allows Cobra to
escape when he convinces her he is a double agent. In truth he’s a coward and just
wants to escape but when he next runs into Nomad and D-Man with Viper as
prisoner he shoots one his darts to kill her but Nomad deflects it with a stun
disc thinking he’s trying to free her and ironically the deflection causes it
to hit her manacles and she frees herself. She then poisons D-Man and escapes.
Steve and Rachel find D-Man and administer anti-toxin but with his heart
condition he’s in real trouble. Steve trusts Rachel to guard him while he
chases down Viper, who is now storming the White House. In the streets of DC
Nomad runs into the riot and without powers he’s dragged down by the sheer
number of snake people and beaten into critical condition.  Viper gets her hands on the first family and
gives them more water. Walker
finally makes his way back to DC and finds Diamondback. They fight briefly and
she runs away and he gives chase. Battlestar finds all the prisoners and D-Man.
D-Man attacks Lemar (thinking he’s another Serpent villain in his delirium) and
after three pages of fighting Lemar wins, while Walker returns with an unconscious Rachel.
Steve arrives at the White House where Viper forces him to fight a fully
mutated President Reagan. Steve is able to work the toxins out of his system, and
then is forced to escape Secret Service. Outside he finds Cobra who has
captured Viper and turns her over to Steve, then escapes. In the epilogue we
see the Commission is now holding Nomad, D-Man and Diamondback prisoner.

Chapter 15 – The Commission has video of Steve’s new costume
from White House surveillance cameras and begins briefing Walker on a mission to capture Steve. Falcon
tells Steve he has to get back to his life in Harlem,
while Steve decides to stay behind in DC to search for D-Man and Nomad. In Georgia the Watchdogs take Walker’s parents hostage in retaliation for
his first mission. Walker
learns of this and the Commission refuses to give him permission to save them
so he goes AWOL while Lemar stays behind to cover for him. Sidewinder and
Vagabond teleport into the Commission’s prison and frees Diamondback. Rachel
convinces him to also free the heroes in repayment for saving the Society from
Viper. Nomad takes him up on it but D-Man refuses citing Steve’s example in
Vegas. Vagabond also decides to stay behind causing Nomad to break up with her.
He uses the hotline to get in touch with Steve, who finds him very drunk in a
bar. He clues Steve into D-Man’s fate and then decides he’s done helping Steve
if Steve won’t take on the government to get his identity back. In GA, Walker surrenders to the
Watchdogs. They plan to hang him in front of his parents. Walker makes his move to escape at the last
second but the Watchdogs gun down his parents before he can stop them. Walker then goes batshit
and violently kills everyone in the room (at least a dozen men). We then see
him talking to his dead parents clearly no longer sane.

 

Chapter 16 – The Commission picks up Walker from the local sheriff’s office, then
we see them interrogating D-Man about Steve (and holding him without due
process). Cut to the Resistants who free Mentallo from a prison van so they can
have a telepath on their team. Back in DC Commissioner Rockwell suspends Walker then reports to a mysterious man in red silhouette,
who instructs him to keep Walker
on as Cap. Meanwhile Battlestar is assigned to Freedom Force (a government run
mutant team made up of members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants) and they are
tasked with capturing the Resistants with the plan of Mystique impersonating
Quicksilver and standing trial to draw them out. Rockwell reinstates Walkers as
back-up to Freedom Force for this mission. The Resistants attack the trial by
throwing a meteor at the courthouse but Destiny gets everyone to cover in time.
While Freedom Force and Lemar are digging out of the debris, Walker attacks the Resistants, goes apeshit
and massacres them.

 

Chapter 17 – We open with Walker in costume threatening a little old
lady, in this case the mother of one of his former partners. This indeed
succeeds in getting the attention of Hector and Jerome. Meanwhile Steve is
still being held without due process making him question if the Commission was
acting outside the law when it stripped him of being Cap. Meanwhile the second
Communist Red Skull escapes from prison only to be killed by Scourge, whom we
learn is following orders from last issue’s mystery man. Left and Right Winger
meet up with Walker in Texas
and we get another fight with Walker
again showing he is deranged. After Walker
wins he ties both men upside down over a gasoline spill and sets kit on fire
causing an explosion that presumably kills them both.

Chapter 18 – Flagsmasher is being attacked by his own
terrorist group ULTIMATUM but he defeats his pursuers and escapes. The
Commission suspends Walker
again, but then Reagan shows up to congratulate him while also questioning why
he wasn’t informed of the decision to fire Steve. He also orders them to
release Steve, noting Steve saved him during the Viper incident. After he
leaves the Commission decides not to fire Walker
until Reagan is out of office in a couple months since otherwise they’ll look
bad. Flagsmasher takes over an arctic science lab and demands Cap meet with
him, so the Commission decides to send Walker
in hopes that he’ll die and save them from cleaning up his mess. Steve is
released from prison. Walker
refuses to negotiate with Flagsmasher even when he threatens to kill a hostage
causing Flagsmasher to realize he’s not the original Cap. They fight and
Flagsmasher wins despite Walker
going crazy again. Battlestar arrives and Flagsmasher orders him to return with
Steve or else he will kill Walker.
Steve meanwhile heads off to go deal with the Inferno crossover in the pages of
Avengers.

Chapter 19 – Steve is arriving at Avengers Island following
the Evolutionary War crossover, noting how the team had disbanded while he was
in prison (thanks to my favorite Avenges villain Nebula actually) and vows to
reform the team. D-Man finds him there and Cap makes D-Man an Avenger.
Battlestar arrives and D-Man wants to engage him in a rematch until Steve
intervenes. Battlestar fills Steve in on last issue. Flagsmasher is torturing Walker when ULTIMATUM
attacks. The Quinjet arrives just then and Steve and Lemar take the fight to
them while Dennis pilots. Steve fights his way to Flagsmasher who reveals he
left ULTIMATUM when he learned they were being secretly funded by the Red Skull
and are about to operate a doomsday device. Lemar frees Walker and leaves to get him medical
attention. Steve, Flagsmasher and D-Man storm ULTIMATUM HQ then when they get
to the doomsday machine Flagsmasher reveals he doesn’t know how to disarm it so
Steve orders Dennis to crash the Quinjet into it (and parachute to safety once
it is aimed in the right direction). Several ULTIMATUM agents land on his wings
and begin planting bombs and in a scene drawn to recall Bucky’s death D-Man
attempts to disarm the bomb and is caught in an explosion over the water. Steve
searches but doesn’t find the body.

Chapter 20 – A man who looks like Steve is sparring with
five faux Caps and kills them all. In the hospital Walker is mad at Lemar for calling in Steve;
later he gets a mysterious phone call about his missing shield (Flagsmasher
took it from him and Steve took it from Flagsmasher.) The Commission is yet
again discussing Walker
with most of them except Rockwell feeling firing Steve was a mistake. At night
Steve breaks into the Commission offices to return the shield and catches
Rockwell talking to the mystery man. When Steve confronts him the phone sprays
the Red Skull’s Dust of Death thus killing Rockwell. Meanwhile Walker finds himself confronted by the man
who looks like Steve. After convincing Walker
he is Steve/original Cap, he has members of the Watchdogs, ULTIMATUM, Sweat
Shop, Resistants and Scourge attack him. Walker
of course goes apeshit and kills them all Shining
style. Steve meets the mystery man (via video screen) who claims to be the Red
Skull reincarnated in Steve’s body. He takes credit for the Commission firing
Cap and then shows Steve video footage of Walker
as Cap committing several murders/massacres and claims that tarnishing Cap’s
legacy is his ultimate victory. Cap searches the building to find Walker astride the
aftermath of his latest massacre and we finally get the fight scene two years
in the making and it’s a great one. Walker is
stronger than Steve and thanks to Taskmaster has the same training but Steve of
course still wins proving that it’s the man and not the costume, shield or
super powers that make him Captain America. Afterwards Red Skull
arrives saying that just as he has a new life, he has a new M.O. and he will be
more of the untouchable corporate/political crook than the over terrorist/Nazi
he was before. He tries to Dust of Death Steve but Walker hits him from behind causing it to blows
back into his face giving him an actual red skull head instead of a mask like
he always had before; however the Skull escapes. In the aftermath the
Commission offers Steve his identity back and he turns them down at first until
Walker convinces him to take it so that Commission doesn’t hire someone else to
try to live up to Steve’s impossible legacy and with that Steve is once more
Captain America.

Chapter 21 – a brief back-up tale shows how Arnim Zola put
the Red Skull in a cloned body of Steve’s and we get the Red Skull’s origin and
a chronology of every one of his comic book appearances up to that point.
Critical Thoughts: Yea,
this is still the greatest Captain America story ever told and high in
the running for best Marvel story period for my money.

Why I like this story so much. Obviously the primary theme
that Captain America is more than just the flag costume is one that as a major
Cap fan is one I’m going to like and be partial too. That said I also think the
pacing of this story is perfect in terms of the slow build to Steve vs. Walker. I like the
nuances used to get their. For example, Walker
starts out legitimately trying to do his best to live up to Cap’s legacy. I
like the distinction of how the Professor Power incident shows that Walker probably was never
going to be that guy even if his parents hadn’t been killed. I like how we
don’t see there is a mystery man behind the Commission until the third act:
after all the Commission’s case for controlling the Cap identity has its own
logic. It’s also why Steve’s decision to disagree with them but still accept their
logic when he surrenders his identity is believable. And ultimately I think the
climactic battle between Steve and Walker delivers on the long build on both
the surface action level and the deeper thematic level of Steve proving he’s
more than his strength, shield and training.

The final battle ties into another big strength which is the
fight scenes are very well choreographed throughout particularly those
involving Steve and his partners. These are generally speaking under-powered
characters: Steve and Nomad are basically human; Falcon flies which is usually
a secondary power; and while D-Man has true super-strength, he is also the
least experienced and isn’t exactly Hulk class as he finds out in the Titania
fight. In all of the group fights the reader can understand what the heroes
strategies are and why; something sorely lacking in a lot of current books.
Let’s use the Vault escape as a perfect example of using fight scenes to
further establish character. The most obvious example here is the difference between
Nomad and Steve on letting a villain fall from the cliff. Look closer you also
have the different ways Steve. Falcon and D-Man battle stronger foes: Steve
finds a way to win against Mr. Hyde because that’s what he does. Falcon takes
on Griffin
because as an experienced hero he knows he has to, but when he sees he’s
out-powered he falls back on his experience as a longtime partner to Cap (and
member of teams the Avengers and Heroes for Hire) to find a teammate to help
him overcome his stronger foe. D-Man at first underestimates Titania and then
when offered a rematch lets her go because he doesn’t think he can win (and he’s
probably right given his inexperience).

This leads to my next positive, the story has a large cast
and yet it’s filled with nuanced characterizations. D-Man and Nomad are two
different types of heroes. Some members of the Serpent Society live up to their
mercenary roots and defect to Viper right away, others like Cobra do so reluctantly
only to save their own lives, while a few remain loyal to Sidewinder.
Sidewinder reveals he would not have killed Fer De Lance even though she’s not
a member of his team yet just out of professional courtesy. Armadillo can be
talked into surrendering by Vagabond because he misses his wife and wants to be
paroled one day and have a normal life. Left and Right Winger’s frustration at
being left behind when their two partners get good government jobs is
understandable and we see them later express regret when they learn their
revealing Johnny’s secret on TV led to the death of his parents. Taskmaster
trains Walker
in exchange for early parole. Time and again Gruenwald takes a big superhero
story and yet brings it down to a human level.

I’d also point a lot of the supporting heroes are quite
likable in this story in their own right. This primarily applies to D-Man and
Battlestar, who are given plenty of opportunity to show how loyal they are to
their respective Captain Americas. Even Vagabond has a nice little character
arc from super hero groupie to a minor hero that proves surprisingly capable
despite her lack of powers and training in dealing with both Armadillo and
Black Racer. This is why I often criticize a writer like Bendis, who always
treats minor characters like jokes. I think narratively there’s more value in
showing these smaller characters as heroes even if they aren’t the world savers
that the A-listers are.

Finally I think the ending set-up a better status quo for
the Red Skull moving forward, by making him both Cap’s physical equal and
making his face the skull instead of it just being a skull mask. This does lead
to my only criticism of the story, which is while I like the Skull as a master
manipulator, having him be behind every single threat Walker faced as Cap (plus
half of Steve’s foes since issue 300 when he died as well) is overkill. It is
one thing for the Skull to finance terrorist groups like the Watchdogs or
ULTIMATEUM surreptitiously, since their actions help destabilize the government.
But as the X-men have shown since forever there is no shortage of anti-government
mutant criminals so the Skull’s involvement with the Resistants is a stretch,
while a super-villain killing vigilante like Scourge working for him makes
almost no sense at all; particularly standing in a room with all those other
criminals to attack Walker-Cap. Still it’s a minor criticism for what is an
otherwise superb story on every level.

If I have one of other nitpick about this trade it is I’d of
liked to see it begin with issue 327 instead of 332 as 327 is the first
appearance of Super Patriot, in which he fights Cap to a draw and questions Steve
on whether his ideals are still relevant while doing so. Clearly Cap’s victory
over the now-better trained Super Patriot in the finale is the payoff to the
story thread that began in that issue; plus you’d see Hector and Jerome in
action as Walker’s
partners making their arc more relevant as well. While not as essential issues
328-331 is D-Man’s introduction as Cap’s partner. I understand this trade is
already gigantic at 20 issues but it would be nice to have the earlier story
threads included too.

Grade A+. Nuff
said.