5 Aug 2009

Working The Boxes: CAPTAIN AMERICA #372-378

In Working The Boxes we highlight any recent back issue purchases we've found buried in comic boxes or discovered on eBay that we think are worthy of further attention.

By Matt T

I should have known this seven-part storyline from 1990 would be memorable from the writing credit on the first page. Mark Gruenwald was a hugely acclaimed writer before his untimely death and was responsible for the twelve-issue Squadron Supreme limited series that has since influenced numerous super team books. This arc on Captain America, entitled Streets Of Poison, wasn't just classic action, featuring the likes of Daredevil, Crossbones, Bullseye, Black Widow, Red Skull and Kingpin, but asked some truly probing questions of the Sentinel of Liberty himself.

Starting with a sidekick's drug issues and spiralling into an unexpected first hand bit of experimentation, Cap is put through the ringer to say the least. As the world of narcotics - in this case focusing on a designer drug called 'Ice' - isn't normally Avengers territory it seems logical for Cap to be somewhat wet behind the ears to the effects. When lecturing his addicted cohort, Cap is posed the question of how he sees the Super Soldier Serum that gave him his powers, as surely that is itself a drug?

Therein lies the central theme for the next six issues as an explosion at an Ice factory dowses Cap in the substance. Acting like a man possessed with more than an air of paranoia, the classic, slightly clichéd effects of substance abuse can be seen as Cap dashes around trying to track down the origins of Ice. As the drug begins to take a more obvious effect, friend and foe merge, with the combined efforts of both Diamondback and Black Widow doing little to slow the big man down. A first meeting with Bullseye is a closer fight, and Crossbones looks far more pumped than any of his modern appearances, but there seems to be more big-name throwdowns in these seven issues than in twenty of most average comics. There's even time for a burgeoning love quadrangle, with Cap's new girlfriend Diamondback meeting with fiery ex the Black Widow and J. Jonah Jameson's son John.

With Cap hurtling around beating the snot out of just about everyone who gets in his way, the true perpetrator of the sudden spread of the demonic substance comes to the fore in the portly shape of The Kingpin. Red Skull then wants in, and challenges the Kingpin to a one-on-one fight. Inside a bubble. In their pants. I won't spoil the ending of that particular battle, as it has to be seen to be believed, but needless to say Cap is treated by his buddies to a rapid dry-out, and is back on the wagon sans Super Soldier Serum. Unfortunately this comes at the worst possible time, as the aforementioned chubby gangster versus scarlet Nazi smackdown needs disrupting, and Crossbones is blocking the route. Good may triumph over evil in the end, but Cap was left changed for a fair while, and all thanks to an accidental dose of a drug.

The themes in Streets Of Poison aren't exactly subtle, and the “drugs are bad, even when they're good” moral might as well be written on a sledgehammer and wrapped round the readers head, but for a seven-issue arc Gruenwald packed in the action so tight it was fit to burst. The current Cap series suffered a touch from sticking to a single plot for too long, where as this managed to turn out more mad moments in a single issue. For a bit of ‘90s excess and some interesting battles this storyline is well worth picking up.


Tom P said...

I still think the Red Skull would have a swastika branded pair of pants for this type of thing...

Matt C said...

Or maybe a picture of the Führer's face? To distract his opponent?

Tom P said...

< Herr Skull, did you wax to achive The Führer? >

Matt T said...

euw. Supervillain homo-erotica. No need.

Matt C said...

Yeah, homoeroticism in comics - whoever heard of that?! ;)