Friday, September 1, 2017

Captain America #314 (February 1986)

Once a month for the past year, I looked at an issue of the maxi-series that was considered Mark Gruenwald's magnum opus, Squadron Supreme, which explored what may have happened if a Justice League-esque supergroup decided to not just fight crime, but actively fix the world. But did you know it had a crossover with the main Marvel Universe? Yes, it did! You see, at the time of writing Squadron Supreme, Gruenwald was also writing Captain America's book, and it did make sense for the two books to interact in some way, and thus, this tie-in was born. So, let's dig into Captain America #314, and see how this contributes to the Squadron Supreme's epic tale!

The cover is epic. Seriously, look at this thing! We got Cap and Nighthawk fighting Mink, Pinball, and Remnant on a giant typewriter. One can get a bit of a Dick Sprang Batman vibe from the cover, which makes sense as the Earth-712 Nighthawk was meant to be a pastiche of the Dark Knight. Paul Neary turns in some fine work on this cover.

On another note, it's kind of appropriate that I look at a Captain America comic this week. This week saw the celebration of what would have been the 100th birthday of the legendary Sultan of Sequential Art, Jack "The King" Kirby. Since Cap is a co-creation of Kirby's, it's actually some nice serendipity there. It's also the 100th entry I wrote on this blog this year. More serendipity! Awesome!

Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Penciler: Paul Neary
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Diana Albers
Colorist: Ken Feduniewicz
Editor: Mike Carlin
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The story begins with Nighthawk arriving at a place called the Temple of Contemplation, home of Professor Imam, the Wizard Supreme.

Professor Imam is Earth-712's main mystical defender, much like Doctor Strange is in the mainstream Marvel Universe. The Marvel Appendix has theorized that he also may be an homage to Dr. Fate. Imam has been expecting Nighthawk, and knows why he is there. Nighthawk wants his help in facing the Squadron, but Imam can't. You see, he has very little magical power left, and must conserve it so he can train his successor in 443 years. Yeah, that's not going to happen. Trust me on this.

Nighthawk feared this, as Imam had vanished years ago, and it took him months to find. So that's what Nighthawk's been up to. He then has another idea: can Imam transport him to Earth-616 so he can get help from there? Imam agrees to this, and puts a spell on Nighthawk that will take him to the main Marvel Earth. He has 12 hours to get help, before it pulls him back home.

The spell works, taking Nighthawk into somewhere rather awkward.

In the classic superhero tradition, he and Cap get into a bit of a tussle, but Cap is able to put an end to it. Nighthawk introduces himself as Kyle Richmond, but Cap says he can't be as the 616-Kyle Richmond died in Defenders #106. He pulls off his mask to convince Cap...a mask that still revealed his whole face. Okay. Cap still needs more proof, so Kyle recounts the Avengers' previous enouncters with the Squadron Supreme in Avengers #85, 147, and 148. Cap doesn't remember Nighthawk among their ranks, but Richmond explains that he at the time was retired from crimefighting for the less hazardous world of US politics.

Nighthawk has explained that he's come to Earth-616 to get some help. He tells Cap about how his world got devastated by the Overmind, and then the Squadron decided to not only help rebuild, but make it a Utopia. However, Nighthawk feared that it would result in a world ruled by a Squadron dictatorship. Cap decides to call an emergency meeting of the Avengers.

The Avengers of the time arrive: The Dane Whitman Black Knight, Hercules, the Wasp, the Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel, and Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four, who were visiting.

The heroes have various ideas over what should be done. Hercules, ever eager for adventure, is all too for going to Earth-712 and fighting the Squadron. Dane Whitman is reminded of the Vision's attempt to do so in Avengers #238-254. I think he's referring to his being incorporated into the supercomputer known as ISAAC. Monica is uncomfortable with doing this, as she feels it's out of the Avengers' jurisdiction. Wasp is in agreement.

Dane Whitman reminds Wasp of some kerfuffle with the Skrulls in Avengers #259-261, saying that was not much different than what Nighthawk was asking. Captain America is against this as well, feeling that the Avengers have no right to change governments they don't like. Reed contributes that the Fantastic Four did get involved with fighting a dictator in another dimension in Fantastic Four #272-273, but there was a personal reason for it. Reed suggests they turn down Nighthawk's plea. I love the nods to previous issues like this. Really helps show the idea that these characters have grown and been shaped by their experiences in those adventures. It's a real shame the Big Two (especially DC), don't treat continuity like this anymore.

Utimately, the Avengers decide they have to turn down Nighthawk's plea. Cap goes to tell him the news, as he feels he was responsible for that. He tells Nighthawk the news. The Night Protector asks about the Defenders, but they've disbanded. Nighthawk goes to look up some other superhuman teams, like the West Coast Avengers, Alpha Flight, and the X-Men, while Cap goes to check the hotline he had going at the time. Yes, at the time, Cap had a hotline where people across America could call if they needed help.

Cap is given a call of sighting s of a man flying around on a magic carpet, and Nighthawk comes along, realizing it sounds like one of his old foes. The two heroes go to the scene of one of the sightings, a theater. A witness explains that three people on a flying carpet appeared out of nowhere, and flew out like a Bat out of Hell. Nighthawk finds some animal hair, and notices it also smells of perfume. It's a calling card of another one of his old enemies: The Mink. Cap gets ready to leave, but notices Nighthawk has vanished.

Cap realizes that he has an appointment to keep as Steve Rogers, and while he heads there, he contemplates the Avengers' decision to not help Nighthawk free his world.

This kind of thing was a regular part of Gruenwald's Cap work, exploring what was the right thing to do. To me, it's one of the things that makes his run a great one. A regular theme of his work was doing the right thing, regardless of personal cost, and such a philosophy made him a good fit for Cap.

Cap arrives at the building Marvel Comics is housed at. Yes, in the Marvel Universe, there is a Marvel Comics. Their comics were authorized retellings of the heroes' adventures. Very meta. And at the time, Steve was working as an artist for them.

Nighthawk is searching for Remnant and Mink, and as Cap is contemplating whether it was okay for the Avengers to turn down Nighthawk's plea for help, the Night Defender himself is wondering maybe he was hasty himself in asking for their help. He figures that the Avengers have plenty to deal with in their own world, maybe asking them to help was too much to ask.

Steve Rogers arrives at his apartment in Brooklyn Heights, and his greeted by his then-girlfriend, Bernie Rosenthal. Bernie has some great news for him.

Yup, Bernie's got some her LSAT scores back, and she did well enough to go to any law school that she desires. Yay for Bernie! Steve, naturally, is very proud of his best gal, and she says the two of them should go out and celebrate. Steve fills her in on the whole thing with Nighthawk, but Bernie asks where will this end. Cap is already dealing with problems all over the country, now he's jumping around to other dimensions? The issue is tabled as Cap gets a call about a sighting of Nighthawk. He suits up and heads out, leaving Bernie to think about how hard dating a superhero is.

And where is Nighthawk?

He's in Manhattan, checking out the Magic Carpet nightclub. Nighthawk thinks it would make sense for his old enemies to be there. Mink is fond of the jetset places, and Remnant, in the vein of old Silver Age supervillains, likes any place that has a carpet theme. Nighthawk finds himself considering a terrifying possibility: What if Mink and Remnant had been B-Modded by the Squadron Supreme, and were sent here to go after him?

Despite this possibility, Nighthawk goes to the club to investigate. Mink, Remnant, and Pinball are there, and they flee when they see the Night Defender. Pinball inflates his suit, and takes on Nighthawk, but he's able to use Pinball as a trampoline to get at Remnant's flying carpet. He's able to grab it with a grappling hook, but Mink attempts to cut it off with her claws. The carpet ends up flying them into a building that has a warehouse filled with oversize props. Yup. Nighthawk takes the two villains on.

Heh heh, poor Pinball. Mink blasts Nighthawk with her Mink-Stink, and prepares to slice him with her claws. However, Cap arrives and demands the four of them surrender. Mink tries to slash at Nighthawk, but the 712-born hero barely dodges it, and falls through the massive typewriter's keyboard, as it's made of cardboard. Remnant and Pinball take Captain America on. Pinball tries to roll over Cap, but he's able to use his Mighty Shield to send Pinball rolling back, slamming into Remnant. Nighthawk is able to free himself.

Ha ha, That bit is funny. Poor Pinball is a real punching bag in this issue. He can't get a break. It's even funnier because Cap doesn't even look right at him when he tosses his shield. Nighthawk calls for Mink to come down, and she agrees, figuring that she wouldn't be much of a match for Cap. She leaps down and the two heroes catch her. Nighthawk remarks that Mink was pretty gutsy to take that leap. She then explains that she didn't trust Nighthawk to catch her...but she did trust Cap to do so.

Outside, the three explain to Cap why they came to Earth-616. Remnant recalls the events of Squadron Supreme #6, and he tells Cap the Squadron are using the B-Mod to brainwash people like him. Remnant admits he's demented, but he doesn't want to lose his free will. Mink pleads with Cap to grant them asylum. Pinball says they'll accept being put in a mental hospital, even prison, as long as they get to stay on Earth-616.

Cap ponders this, as well as explains a major problem. It would be the humane thing to grant asylum to them, but the problem is...they'd be non-persons on Earth-616 because they come from another universe. As such, Cap can't guarantee that they'd get humane treatment from any government. Also, what if the Squadron discovers the three of them are on Earth-616 and tries to come get them? Cap can't guarantee Earth-616 will be safe for them as a result.

He does propose another solution: Join forces with Nighthawk and Cap to find more allies and take down the Squadron. Nighthawk agrees, but tells Cap that he had come to a realization. He feels now that perhaps maybe he had no right to involve Earth-616 in this. Mink, Pinball, and Remnant agree to this, as they feel it may be the only option they have. Just then, Professor Imam's magic spell wears off, and the four Earth-712 natives are transported back home.

The comic ends with Captain America hoping that things work out for them on their Earth, and maybe Cap did get to help after all, by convincing the three extradimensional villains to take up the good fight against the Squadron's tyranny.

This was a very fun comic. It was also a pretty good tie-in, as it helped fill in a gap in the mini-series narrative: Where did Nighthawk go? It also got to function as a basic fun team-up story, Cap and Nighthawk fighting some villains. Paul Neary turns him some good art, although it is a bit wonky in certain panels. Despite this, it was minor and nothing was hurt. The fight in the giant props warehouse felt like a 1980s take on a Dick Sprang Silver Age Batman story, which fits as this Nighthawk is a pastiche of Batman. I imagine that was what Gruenwald wanted to do with this story, give us a little something fun with some Earth-712 characters to balance out the darker main Squadron Supreme story a little bit.

Next time, we take a look at an adventure of the Silver Surfer, as in the midst of the Infinity Gauntlet crisis, he deals with the Rhino...

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