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I Love Ya But You’re Strange – Hey Kids, Look! In This Issue Captain America Gives a Lecture on Superhero Ethics! Fun!

Every week, I will spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories (basically, we’re talking lots and lots of Silver Age comic books). Here is the archive of all the installments of this feature.

Today we take a look at Captain America #401 by Mark Gruenwald, Rik Levins and Danny Bulanadi, an issue where Mark Gruenwald took the conceit of Captain America-as-a-square to a whole other level…

Okay, to give the context for this issue, note that the Avengers had just finished a mission in outer space where the Kree Supreme Intelligence intentionally destroyed roughly 75% of the Kree Empire so that the remaining 25% would evolve to become even stronger. The Avengers take issue with this, of course, so Iron Man (against Captain America’s wishes) leads a small group of Avengers (including Black Knight, Sersi, Hercules, Thor (Eric Masterson), Vision and Wonder Man) who proceed to hunt down the Supreme Intelligence and kill him/it/whatever. Now, this being comics, the whole “Kree Empire is reborn” thing has more or less been dropped and the Kree are pretty much the same as they’ve always been and the Supreme Intelligence has returned from the dead, but still, at the time Cap was quite irked at his fellow Avengers, leading to Captain America #401…

The issue opens up with Cap passive aggressively asking if they want him to quit…

(as a quick aside, you know you’re taking things too far when you have a “Chief Executive” Avenger)

After they correctly point out that Cap is basically throwing a hissy fit…

Cap then announces that he’s giving a seminar on superhero ethics…

After a short break where Gruenwald explains that Quasar (whose comic was written by someone quite close to Gruenwald) is one of the few Avengers who DOESN’T need a lecture on superhero ethics, we follow Cap to his office where he continues the passive aggressive whining…

“It’s so tough when everyone isn’t as professional as me.”

Then the seminar comes about…

By the way, I love that Black Widow, the spy, has great “superhero ethics.”

So Hawkeye brings Cap to a bar, where, in traditional Gruenwald Cap fashion, we learn that Cap does not drink alcohol (?!?)…

Then Tony Stark comes by to visit and basically throw himself on Cap’s feet for a few pages…

Cap does, at least, sort of kind of forgive Tony, but more in a “I still think you’re a scumbag, but I like you, so we’re still friends” way.

Then Cap learns that his missing friend D-Man is alive and the issue ends on an upbeat moment…

I enjoyed a lot of Gruenwald’s Captain America run. I think he did wonders to Captain America’s Rogues Gallery and he had a strong sense of excitement and forward movement throughout his run (lots of strong action pieces, especially during Kieron Dwyer’s run on the book). It got way too goofy in the post-#400 issues, but overall, the run was enjoyable. However, his “Captain America as a square” routine is just way too silly. I appreciate Gruenwald’s earnestness, but the approach just did not work and since he was on the book for so long, there’s a whole generation of readers who now think that Captain America has to be this goody-two-shoes, when that was not the case when he was created, it was not the case when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought him back, it was not the case during Jim Steranko’s issues, it was not the case during Steve Englehart’s run, it was not the case during J.M. DeMatteis’ run, it was not the case during Mark Waid’s run and it is not the case during Ed Brubaker’s run.

78 Comments

Brian, you are nailing my relationship with Cap. I grew up reading the Gruenwald Cap — the Cap who NEVER ONCE KILLED ANYONE IN WORLD WAR II. I kind of prefer him tot he Cap who, despite having been thawed out for 40 years now, still can’t believe all the fancy cell phones and talking pictures in the moviebox.

VictorLizcano77

January 20, 2012 at 7:29 am

Just to point/ask: what kind of sound fx is “WTSH”? :-P

The sound a door sliding open on Star Trek makes?

It is funny that at the Avengers meeting, all the women get to sit down, but all the dudes have to stand… except Spider-Woman. Screw you, Julia!

I enjoyed Mark’s take on it for what it was. I also enjoyed the other writers’ differing approaches as well. I think Mark loved Cap so much that he wanted to make him the Marvel equivalent of Superman, the only other hero who could get away with being a straight arrow without sounding dated or silly.

That was some nice art by Rik and Danny, by the way. I remember skimming through the whole Galactic Storm story arc, but it reads a lot better now that it’s aged a bit. Comics still featured actual single-issue dialogue back then before the “eventual trade collection format” became the norm.

I read “WTSH,” and my mind was immediately trying to figure out what it was short for. I thought he was yelling something like, “What The Sam Hill?!?” :-)

That Beatles reference makes me laugh twice; first, that “man out of time” Cap would reference The Beatles at all [I don't even want to think about when the Beatles albums came out by Marvel's sliding timescale], and second, the idea that he *didn’t* reference “We Can Work It Out”.

WTSH: “Wait! Thor’s Suddenly Here!”

WTSH: “Wait! Thor’s Suddenly Here!”

FLAWLESS VICTORY. Well played.

Guest appearance by Popeye in the bar scene!

@JoeMac307, I think Goliath took her invisible seat. :)

Why are there so many folding chairs for his seminar? Cap didn’t invite that many people.

Adam: Maybe Cap invited Jamie Madrox.

Because Jarvis doesn’t need a professionalism course either, that’s why. :-)

Ah, this is one of my favorite issues in the whole Gruenwald run. Sure, Cap’s a square, but you gotta love him for it. Or, I guess you don’t, but I do. I love the part where Hawkeye drags him out to the bar to get him to relax; Gru had a nice handle on the relationship between Clint and Steve. I didn’t really see the conversation with Tony as Tony throwing himself at Cap’s feet; for me, it was about damn time the two of them sat down and hashed out their issues from Armor Wars, which at this point happened 60 issues ago. For me, this was the perfect epilogue to Galactic Storm — and was actually more interesting than galactic Storm was. A very nice change of pace issue.

>> that was not the case when he was created, it was not the case when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought him back, it was not the case during Jim Steranko’s issues, it was not the case during Steve Englehart’s run, it was not the case during J.M. DeMatteis’ run, it was not the case during Mark Waid’s run and it is not the case during Ed Brubaker’s run. <<

I guess Gruenwald was a better Cap writer than the others.

To be sure, it would be better if Cap brought in somebody like a professor of ethics to lead the seminar. And made it a discussion rather than a lecture.

Cap’s assumption that his ethics were the best was arrogant. A good ethicist might’ve challenged him on that.

Brian Cronin:”who now think that Captain America has to be this goody-two-shoes, when that was not the case when he was created, it was not the case when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought him back, it was not the case during Jim Steranko’s issues, it was not the case during Steve Englehart’s run, it was not the case during J.M. DeMatteis’ run, it was not the case during Mark Waid’s run and it is not the case during Ed Brubaker’s run. ”

As you say, Brian, despite Gruenwald’s many strong points as a Cap writer, he simply did not have a firm grasp on the character. Gruenwald seemed to see Captain America through a Silver Age DC lens, ignoring the fact that Cap is a mixture of Golden and Silver Age MARVEL, a considerably more rough and tumble world.

“Guest appearance by Popeye in the bar scene!”

I missed that when I read that panel. Damn the Easter Eggs! Now when any background character is a bit too specifically drawn, I wonder if it’s an Easter Egg. Like I wonder about that guy in the back of Steve 2 panels before BIG TONY HEAD.

I think there may be intended to be a Hitchcock cameo in the last panel of the bar scene, too, but it’s not exactly clear.

I think there’s nothing out of character here at all. You actually think Gru didn’t have a handle on Cap’s personality? How is this story out of line with the other Cap writers? I love ya, but you’re wrong.

Hrm, the issue above could probably be used to argue that the ending of Civil War was in character for Captain America.

Gru-Cap was the best. Unparalleled confidence. This was a guy who: i) was ready to die in a fiery plane crash instead of hooking up with Diamondback, ii) placed himself in the targetting sights of Scourge, who had already murdered over 30 criminals, iii) jumped out of a plane with only the vibranium in his shield to save him, iv) regularly took on the entire Serpent Society single-handedly, and (my favorite) v) mercilessly pulped Mr. Hyde when he had the chance to avenge Jarvis’s “Under Siege” beating.

Which is why it was so powerful when, in the run-up to “Captain America No More,” he couldn’t defeat John Walker/Super-Patriot. That whole run up to 350 was all about how Steve gets his groove back. Surprised these haven’t been collected.

Cap really can’t understand the logic behind offing a genocidal dictator? Wait… what war did he fight in?

Gotta love those Editor’s Notes. What? “R & R” stands for “Rest and Relaxation”? No shit, Ralf!

Also, Brian, when using parentheses inside of parentheses, it’s appropriate to use the secondary parentheticals. Example: (When you need a second set {use these} or [use these]). I’m not being a dick, that was something I was really confused about a while back myself and had to look up.

Oh my. Steve was a bit much. I would have hated his guts if I’d read this as a kid. It is kind of hilarious that Steve was arrogant enough to decide to give a superhero ethics seminar with himself as the lecturer (not to mention giving the potential attendees only a few hours notice, yet still apparently expecting a large turnout to hear his words of wisdom), but I doubt that was Gruenwald’s intention.

Maybe I’m misremembering, but I think the Supreme Intelligence was defeated and helpless when the Avengers tussled over whether to kill him. It was intended more as a cold-blooded execution, a punishment, or to stop the SI from acting again.

So it wasn’t a “kill Hitler to stop him from killing the Jews” scenario. More of a “kill Hitler summarily without a Nuremberg trial” scenario. Cap might kill in the first case, but not in the second.

Batman hasn’t killed the Joker, or any of his mass-murdering foes, yet. Are we arguing that Batman is more moral than Captain America? Just because Cap was a soldier once? I have no problem seeing Cap as a former soldier who decided killing was wrong except in wartime.

Man with No Face

January 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm

If you want bad Beatles references in Captain America, check out the last panel of #215, where Roy Thomas has Cap think, “In the words of Lennon/McCartney ‘I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.’ ” Would World War II guy Cap really be that familiar with the Beatles? Do people really think with slashes in between names?

Pretty much every panel in the bar scene is an easter egg, there are about twenty hollywood cameos

Apparently Hawkeye frequents the same bars as Popeye.

Wow, you’d think that the Avengers could afford better than a bunch of folding chairs for their seminars.

Sean wrote: [I don't even want to think about when the Beatles albums came out by Marvel's sliding timescale]
The exact same time that they came out in the real world. Marvel Time just means that the superhero events keep moving forward in time, not all of history. That way lies madness.

Who exactly is that Goliath up there? It’s not Pym, since he’s on the left. I don’t see Hawkeye – did he briefly go back to Goliath in that story? And then switch back to Hawkeye that day in time for the seminar?

That’s exactly what happened, yes.

I somehow have two copies of this issue. As a kid who just read comics for the bits where they punched each other, this was the most boring comic ever.

I love this issue. It’s mostly about housekeeping, but Gruenwald was the best at housekeeping; he did a fantastic job of figuring out how Cap’s relationship with the Avengers was going to work in the future (he left the team in the following issue) and finally brought Cap & Iron Man back to a place where they could speak to each other. There was also a strong reinforcement of his relationships with Hawkeye, Quasar, Black Widow & Scarlet Witch. Finally, he makes a friendly overture to US Agent for pretty much the first time in their shared history; this was essential reading for Captain America fans.

I never felt Gruenwald’s Cap was “square” – just moral and professional. If promising to support his girlfriend after she’s guilty of murder, refusing to take drink because his father was a drunk, refusing medical treatment so he can rescue kidnapped children or beating Crossbones in a fair fight only hours after receiving a total blood transfusion makes him square… then all heroes should be so square.

Also, that bar scene is crowded with cameos from Bond to Dick Tracy. Easter egg it, already!

Brubaker’s Cap would’ve joined Iron Man in the fight to destroy the Supreme Intelligence. He wouldn’t have enjoyed having to kill, but he would’ve realized that a genocidal mass-murderer with such a high death toll had to be stopped and prevented from committing such atrocities again. This is why I didn’t have any interest in Cap before Ed Brubaker took over the character.

Gruenwald did address some questions which were later very successfully explored in DC’s Kingdom Come. Maybe he was just ahead of his time.

Can’t read thru these comments without saying that Mark G’s Cap made me leave the book after starting with the Stern/Byrne issues all the way til Gru started. Ugh, what attrocious writting and horrible execution.

So glad that Mark Waid brought Cap back. i prefered the Liefield Cap to Mark G’s version & boy is that saying something!

@ Neil K

You should at least try Waid’s take on Cap as well as JM Dematties and the Stern/Byrne stuff. All those are good to great and show Cap as a great character.

All That i’m Saying is Give Cap a Chance!

[sorry bout that reference]

Brian, you absolutely nailed it, and I fully agree with you about Gruenwald. His characterization of Cap was ridiculous, with the whole “a hardened war veteran who never EVER killed or condoned killing during the world war, seriously” nonsense. Gru was otherwise a very skillful writer, so I followed his run for a while, but that story about Cap shooting terrorists who were holding hostages and then having a great moral crisis about it… well, that was just dumb. Gru’s hand-wringing Rogers didn’t come across as a paragon of great moral fiber, he came across as someone with a saturday-morning-cartoon understanding of what a “soldier” does. Just laughable.

As Sean pointed out, this issue’s hissy-fit about killing a genocidal dictator makes no sense whatsoever once you consider Cap’s whole WW2 experience.

While I’m not all that enamoured with Gruenwald’s characterization of Cap (and never was really) I have to say the artwork by Levins and Bulandi is first-rate. I love the splash page and there’s some nicely drawn scenes.

@ Hammerheart

“As Sean pointed out, this issue’s hissy-fit about killing a genocidal dictator makes no sense whatsoever once you consider Cap’s whole WW2 experience.”

It makes perfect sense. Would Cap condone killing Hitler if he had surrendered, was helpless, or not defending himself. Of course he wouldn’t. It’s called an execution, or more accurately if not sanctioned by the proper authorities – murder. That’s what we call a “War Crime” during wartime. So ask yourself this – Is Cap a murderer? Does he summarily execute bad guys? Does he condone assassinations? Does he condone any warcrimes? No, he doesn’t. That isn’t Captain America. I doubt many real WW2 veterans would condone such actions either.

Would Cap have a problem killing a genocidal dictator during battle, to defend himself, to prevent him from murdering others. Yes he would. HOWEVER – Of course he’d have a problem taking a human life!!! Would he do it in these circumstances if he had no other choice? Of course he would. But you can be damn certain he wouldn’t just dismiss his actions, and go and chug a beer and celebrate. More likely he’d head straight to the Avengers Gymnasium to “make himself better” so he wouldn’t be faced with that choice again. He’s his own harshest critic.

Brubaker’s a great Captain America writer. But people forget he’s writing Cap in 2012 without having to also adhere to the Comics Code Authority. He’s writing in a period where exposition and thought bubbles are rare. It’s a different time. Sure, Gruenwald’s Cap can be somewhat heavy-handed at times, but when placed in context this is an excellent arc that was written to specifically address the increasing popularity of heroes like Wolverine, the Punisher, and all those Image heroes who would casually take lives, commit mass murder, speak a witty one-liner, and then go chug a beer. In the real world we call those people sociopaths and psychotic. Certainly not heroes. I for one applaud Gruenwald for his stance at this time.

Gruenwald, for all his faults, knew Captain America and was a damn fine writer.

@Jamie,

Coudn’t agree more. Excellent summary, pointing out what too many readers who are only looking at Brubaker’s Cap are too easily overlooking.

Jamie: there was no “war crimes tribunal” on the Supreme Intelligence’s future, IIRC; so if the Avengers had washed their hands the Supreme Intelligence would’ve gotten away with it. I’m pretty sure that if Hitler had been captured and there were no war-crimes tribunal awaiting for him, the soldiers who captured Hitler would’ve gladly putten a bullet in his head, and nobody would’ve objected. So the parallel with an imprisoned Hitler is far from perfect. But take the goofy terrorist-killing incident instead, another instance when Gru’s Cap reacted to the taking of enemy combatants’ lives as if it were a line he’d somehow never crossed before (which is, of course, an intrinsically nonsensical idea). That was just ridiculous, and not only compared to Brubaker’s Cap but also compared with Kirby’s, Englehart’s or Steranko’s Caps… Gruenwald’s Cap expressed a child’s understanding of war, pure and simple.

I actually consider that whole “no killing under any circumstance ever, otherwise I’m as bad as the enemy” to be pretty offensive to real-life soldiers, who DO have to kill in the line of duty. Because according to this infantile Captain America’s tunnel-vision of reality, american soldiers who kill their enemies are bad people who just don’t value life as much as he does. The truth is that Gruenwald’s Captain America behaved as someone who had never experienced real war for a single day in his life. And everytime Gru’s Cap threw one of these tantrums over something that he had to have seen hundreds of times before, it snapped my suspension of disbelief like a twig. If this guy says he’s a war veteran AND he claims to have never killed or condoned killing, then either he’s lying about never having killed or he’s lying about his war experience. Remember the first half of the Captain America movie, when Steve Rogers was a propaganda character for the war effort who was sneered at by real soldiers? THAT was the only Captain America who could believably say that he had never killed before.

Did Cap ever carry a gun during World War II? As I think Brubaker noted, Cap was a symbol of American greatness: a propaganda tool. He wore a flag and carried a shield while Bucky did all the dirty work.

So how exactly did Cap personally kill Axis soldiers? Beheading them with his shield? Twisting their heads until their necks snapped? I don’t think it’s implausible that a guy without a lethal offensive weapon never actually killed anyone.

Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Daredevil are among the heroes noted for never (or rarely) taking a human life. Are we seriously arguing that they don’t understand how to fight evil because they don’t kill their foes? That killers such as Wolverine and the Punisher are somehow morally superior? Discuss.

P.S. The Shi’ar arranged a tribunal for Galactus, so I think they could’ve arranged one for the Supreme Intelligence. Quasar was familiar with cosmic entities who might’ve arranged a “Phantom Zone” type of imprisonment for the SI. These were options to consider, anyway. The Avengers had alternatives besides executing the SI or letting him go.

Rob, I’ve always figured that Cap broke a lot of nazi necks, both with the shield and with his bare hands. In a battlefield it makes no sense that a soldier would “knock out” entire regiments of enemies and leave them alive, because that would expose your platoon to a second attack from the previously-faced group of enemies that you left alive. Furthermore, we see Captain America trying to impose that ludicrous “no killing ever” policy to the people who work with him, which raises the question: did Cap try to impose that same laughable policy to actual soldiers he worked with in WW2? Are we to believe that the Captain scolded the Howling Commandoes for killing nazis? Are we to believe that Cap disapproved of Bucky killing nazis? Come ON now.

And comparing Captain America to Spider-Man and Superman is kind of a straw-man argument, because I’m not saying that all superheroes should kill or anything of the sort. Spider-Man is a civilian, he’s not EXPECTED to be prepared to kill enemy forces. But Captain America is a soldier who has been at actual war, and as such his professed “no killing” policy is less believable than the Easter Bunny.

And it’s interesting to see you bring up the “moral superiority” argument – because when Captain America says he has never killed even in war because Killing Is Wrong Under Any Circumstance, what he’s basically saying is that he’s morally superior to any soldier who has ever killed in the line of duty. Is Captain America more respectable than real-life soldiers since he respects life so much more than them, or is he just a propaganda tool with a poor understanding of a real soldier’s duties? Discuss.

And of course, that question at the end of the previous post is a trick question – the real answer is “Of course Captain America has killed enemy forces in combat, because he’d understand what war is; it was the otherwise-talented Mark Gruenwald who clearly didn’t get it.”

Gruenwald’s characterization of Captain America stands as one of the most flawed efforts of his illustrious career, and while I understand the urge to defend stuff we liked when we were kids, it’s clear to me that Gru’s portrayal of Cap not only made no sense but was also pretty offensive to real soldiers if you stop to consider its implications.

Say what you will about this issue, but Gruenwald’s cap had a HUGE influence on me as a kid. I think I got a lot of my morality from him growing up, and this issue hit right in the peak time of me as a reader. I sort of grew up without religion and What Would Cap Do meant a lot to me.

@Matt D It’s awesome that Cap was able to work as a moral compas for you growing up. I think there’s definitely a place for that type of characterization, especially in work that’s geared to younger audiences. If Gruenwald’s Cap works for anyone, there is nothing wrong with that AT ALL. He is entitled to his interpretation of the character, and anyone is free to enjoy it.

The argument is when you take a look at the character, how he was portrayed prior, and subsequently, as well as his basic premise, it is Gruenwald’s work that deviates from the core of the character.

HH’s view on a no-kill-Cap is one I agree with completely. He’s a soldier, he has worked in the company of soldiers. It makes sense for Cap to value life, and to even dislike the necessity to kill, but he should understand that necessity.

I would take it even a step further, Sean, and note that if you think that Gruenwald’s Cap makes sense, fine. I have no real problem with writers changing characterizations if the end result is good (like Claremont and Magneto, for instance). I would differ on Gruenwald’s Cap change being a good one, but whatever, that’s not important. The important thing is to note that my issue, as I laid out in the piece, is not that people liked Gruenwald’s Cap characterization but that they believe that Gruenwald’s Cap is the “right” characterization for Cap and that it is every other writer in Cap history (including his creators) who have it wrong. That’s what I think is unreasonable.

>The important thing is to note that my issue, as I laid out in the piece, is not that people liked Gruenwald’s Cap characterization but that they believe that Gruenwald’s Cap is the “right” characterization for Cap and that it is every other writer in Cap history (including his creators) who have it wrong.

Speaking as a die hard Gruenwald fan who also loves the Lee, Stern & DeMatteis Cap – and sees plenty in common between the four – I have difficulty believing there can be that many fans as you describe. Heck, I was a regular for 7 years on the comicboards Captain America forum and didn’t find many Gruenwald fans, let alone any with the attitude you’ve described.

As for what I BELIEVE with Cap, it’s that he’s a master of “There’s always another way.” he’s the guy who is SO good at what he does that 9 times out of 10 he can find another way.

On the other hand, that #10 time? Well, he does what he has to but he sure doesn’t feel good about it.

RE: Cap and killing,

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made it pretty clear that Cap did kill during WW2:

TALES OF SUSPENSE 63: In Cap’s retold Silver Age origin, Cap and Bucky blow up a Nazi ship.

TALES OF SUSPENSE 71: Cap blows up a German force that is attacking some Rangers with a V-2.

Cap doesn’t like killing, but he is willing to do it.

“Rob, I’ve always figured that Cap broke a lot of nazi necks, both with the shield and with his bare hands. In a battlefield it makes no sense that a soldier would “knock out” entire regiments of enemies and leave them alive, because that would expose your platoon to a second attack from the previously-faced group of enemies that you left alive. Furthermore, we see Captain America trying to impose that ludicrous “no killing ever” policy to the people who work with him, which raises the question: did Cap try to impose that same laughable policy to actual soldiers he worked with in WW2? Are we to believe that the Captain scolded the Howling Commandoes for killing nazis? Are we to believe that Cap disapproved of Bucky killing nazis? Come ON now.”

See this is the problem. You stated it yourself, “I’ve always figured” which in the end is meaningless. It’s your interpretation of the character – not the actual events that have happened in the comic, or have been drawn on the page. Until recently, there have rarely been ANY stories involving Cap breaking necks, shooting “real” guns, or breaking necks with his shield. When Kirby drew Cap using a ray gun 99% of the time he was firing it off panel or at the ground or some kind of machinery/ vehicle. Rarely at an actual person. Sure, on the Timely covers he’s shown blasting machine guns etc (mind you he was never shown using a gun inside the pages), but any longterm Marvel reader knows that Timely comics are not part of Marvel Universe continuity.

Now, I’m not a Gruenwald apologist at all. He wrote some excellent Captain America stories. He also wrote some absolute dogs as well like Capwolf (which is even more hilarious in light of “Hulked-out Heroes,” “Spider Island” “Marvel Apes” and “Marvel Zombies”) and the gender-bending Superia Stratagem. I take issue with the fact that you, Brian and others are being so unfairly harsh with him and his interpretation of Cap. IMO his interpretation of Cap is not far removed from previous Cap writers.

Cap has a long history of being used to address a writer’s concern about society at that time. Steve Englehart used Cap to address his own and America’s disillusionment with it’s government at that time. Lee’s original interpretation of Cap was often to reflect on how much America had changed from the glory days of the 1940′s (good or bad). Gruenwald’s Cap, for a time, was used to reflect the writer’s concern of the increasing violence becoming apparent in comics and the popularity of the “anti-hero” like the Punisher, Wolverine, and others (John Byrne did a similar thing with Superman at the time as well).

The “no-kill” policy of Cap was a reflection of this concern. Sure, it was heavy-handed at times, but I remember reading it at the time and totally agreeing with his POV. I remember being really disillusioned with Marvel at that time, especially when they were pushing those “extreme heroes” to the detriment of Cap’s own status in the Marvel Universe. Gruenwald’s Cap was totally in line with how I felt a “Superhero” should behave during that time. Was it entirely successful? Of course not – even I agreed the “no kill” policy, and the self-righteousness, was somewhat over-the-top. But it wasn’t as far removed from how Cap acted throughout his comic that you and Brian are accusing it of being.

Everyone has a shot at the “Cap killing the Ultimatum Agent” and becoming angst-filled about taking a life. But they forget to place the story in the context of the overall story Gruenwald had written that commenced with Cap’s failure to defeat an opponent (Super Patriot) that was the catalyst for his loss of faith in himself and his abilities. The killing of the Ultimatum Agent came at a time when Cap was at his lowest point – and he acted accordingly. He moaned and bitched and wailed and whined – but it was an accurate depiction of how he felt at the time! It’s called a character arc people! It was a reflection of the titles poor sales and the companies lack of interest in the character. Gruenwald’s subsequent story involving Cap’s resignation, replacement, and journey to regain his “mojo” resulting in a kick-arse Captain America who was again popular both in comic sales and within the Marvel Universe was to be admired. It remains one of my favourite arcs.

Two other points you bring up – why would Cap just knock Nazis unconscious when they could possibly just get up and attack Allied troops? This issue has been discussed in the comic before – when Cap knocks someone out they stay unconscious for a long time, long enough for them to be disabled and taken as prisoners. That’s what previously used to happen. That’s not my interpretation, it’s what was presented in the comic (not just by Gruenwald). Many comic stories during Englehart’s and DeMatteis’ runs featured Cap throwing himself into battle against hundreds of AIM or HYDRA agents trying to kill him. He was knocking them senseless – he wasn’t killing them. Using your logic the writers should have included a panel where he goes around breaking their necks so they don’t get up to fight him again?

Secondly, the “no killing ever policy” (which seems to now be obselete seeing as he’s working with a mass murderer like Wolverine) applied to the superheroes he was working with in current times e.g. the Avengers, Diamondback, Nomad. He was referring to being a superhero in a modern day world and not wartime. Additionally Cap never, EVER thought he was morally superior to soldiers, including the Howling Commandos for taking lives. He knew it was a neccessity for them to survive and succeed on the battlefield. And I remember him stating in a comic written by Mark Waid that the reason he rarely killed was only because he had the advantage of the Super Soldier Serum that made him faster, and stronger than the regular GI.

Do these answers make sense in the “real world?” Of course not – but it’s how they were addressed in Cap’s comic throughout his comics run. It’s not my personal POV, it’s how he was portrayed – not just by Gruenwald as well.

Brian and you stating that if you enjoyed or agree with Gruenwald’s interpretation of Cap that you are discrediting previous writers work as invalid or something – c’mon, SERIOUSLY?!?!. There is little, if any, difference between Gruenwald’s Cap, and Lee’s, Kirby’s, DeMatteis’, Stern’s, Waid’s, Jurgen’s, Englehart’s, or other Cap writers. Gruenwald’s propensity for Cap making outlandish speeches was no different than Lee’s or DeMatteis’, or Englehart’s. They all had Cap do it. However, if you’d like to find a number of examples that prove me wrong I welcome them. I just don’t see it.

So, in conclusion, is Gruenwald the best Cap writer and knows Cap better than anyone? No, but he had a pretty good idea and used the character, by and large, in a relevant and exciting manner (Personally DeMatteis is my favourite and leaves Brubaker in the dust, but hey, that’s another post). He deserves a lot more respect than some of the comments being presented in this comments section.

Something else to bear in mind is that several of MARVEL’S 60s era heroes had experience with killing:

Reed Richards: As originally conceived by Stan and Jack, Reed was a behind the lines OSS major during WW2. It’s hard to imagine that he made it through the war without killing his share of Germans.

Ben Grimm: A Marine fighter pilot in the Pacific during WW2

Tony Stark: The guy made his fortune selling munitions; it would be rather hypocritical for him to oppose killing. E.g., , in TALES OF SUSPENSE 39, Tony kills Wong Chu in an explosion.

Nick Fury: Nuff said.

not the actual events that have happened in the comic

Except the examples syon showed right before you.

Steranko, too, had Cap knocking grenades thrown at him back at the Hydra agents. He wasn’t like “Oh man, I love killing,” but he also didn’t care that some soldier trying to kill him was killed instead.

Then Gruenwald came in and had Cap not only claim that he had never killed before, but that the idea of killing someone agonized him so much that he moped about it for multiple issues. It was ridiculous.

Brian Cronin:”Steranko, too, had Cap knocking grenades thrown at him back at the Hydra agents. He wasn’t like “Oh man, I love killing,” but he also didn’t care that some soldier trying to kill him was killed instead.”

A clear example of Cap killing in a post-WW2 context occurs in Steranko’s CAPTAIN AMERICA # 113 (script and edits by Stan Lee, so he approved of the contents). Cap and Rick Jones (costumed as Bucky) blow up a motorcycle as HYDRA troopers are approaching; the HYDRA troopers are blown to smithereens.

RE; Silver Age MARVEL and heroes who kill,

Looking back on it, I’m not sure how many Silver Age MARVEL heroes would have had a problem with killing, given the appropriate circumstances:

Hulk: Frankly, the Kirby Hulk is more Mr Hyde than tormented innocent, so I can’t see him having any qualms about killing people.

Thor: Again, given his mythological background as a warrior-god, I can’t see him having too many objections, providing that the killing is done “honorably.”Same thing goes for Hercules.

Ka-Zar: I can’t see a Tarzan rip-off having any problems.

Black Widow: As with Nick Fury, nuff said.

Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch: Three reformed villains; I can see them killing, given the right circumstances.

Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Tony Stark, Nick Fury: Previously discussed.These guys are established “killers.”

Heroes whose Silver Age stance on killing is uncertain: Johnny Storm, Susan Richards, the original X-MEN. I’m not sure about their views on killing.

Heroes who would not kill/have a major problem with killing in the MARVEL SILVER AGE:

Spider-Man: I can’t think of any examples of him killing in the Silver Age. More importantly, I’m quite sure that he would have been horrified if he had killed anyone. He was always concerned about losing control and hurting/killing someone with his powers (hence, the power of the MASTER PLANNER ARC, where Peter does go all out).

Daredevil: Although less consumed with dread over the prospect of killing anyone, the Silver Age Daredevil seems like a character who would not kill.

Left out Namor and Dr Strange:

Dr Strange: Given Strange’s penchant for meting out punishment to his mystic adversaries (check out what he does to the Demon of the Mask and his whole dimension in STRANGE TALES 136), I would say that he has no qualms about killing.

Namor: As with Thor and Herc, I can’t see Namor having any real problems with killing.

A clear example of Cap killing in a post-WW2 context occurs in Steranko’s CAPTAIN AMERICA # 113 (script and edits by Stan Lee, so he approved of the contents). Cap and Rick Jones (costumed as Bucky) blow up a motorcycle as HYDRA troopers are approaching; the HYDRA troopers are blown to smithereens.

Thanks, syon, that issue also had the scene I was remembering, only it was rockets not grenades. Madame Hydra shot rockets at Cap and Rick Jones and they diverted the rockets so that they miss them and instead blow her up. Their reaction was not “Oh man, what have we done?” but rather, “It’s over! We won!”

As a long-time Captain America fan who first began following the character regularly during Mark Gruenwald’s run, I have mixed feelings concerning it. I think that around 80% of what Gruenwald did in Cap was very good. Gru obviously saw Cap as a very moral, principled individual. Some of what he was writing was clearly, as others have observed, a reaction to the rise of grim & gritty anti-heroes. Unfortunately, Gru was often heavy-handed when it came to getting his messages acrosss. And two decades later, some of his characterization of Cap does seem overwrought & silly. But at the time I felt it mostly worked, and he was one of the key creators whose work led me to become such a huge fan of the character.

RE: The difference between Cap and kill-by-preference characters,

Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli conveyed the difference between Cap and people like Wolverine and the Punisher in a brilliant sequence in BORN AGAIN. In issue 233, Nuke goes on a rampage, gunning down anyone who gets in his way. Suddenly, we “hear” the sound of bulletts being deflected. Nuke gives a stunned reaction shot. Then we see nothing but Cap’s shield.

The scene beautifully presents the dichotomy between the gun toting, Rambo-esque Nuke and Captain America. It is the gun vs the shield, the man who kills by instinct vs the man who kills out of neccessity. Sadly, Gruenwald was never able to convey the essence of Cap with such beautiful economy.

I disagree completely that there is anything ‘strange’ about this issue.

This is the way Captain America SHOULD be written.

After the untimely passing of penciler Rik Levins in 2010, I wrote up a retrospective on his work, forcusing mostly on his time drawing Captain America. Here is a link:

http://voices.yahoo.com/captain-america-artist-rik-levins-6353996.html

Levins’ work on Cap #401 was one of the highlighs of his run which I pointed out in my write-up. He was definitely a good, solid, underrated artist.

I don’t buy Cap breaking Nazis’ necks with his bare hands at all. Prove it with actual instances in the comics or it didn’t happen.

Cap may be a soldier by temperament, though it’s debatable that four years at war would define him more than any other person. He’s not literally a soldier in the present. He’s a FORMER soldier who’s now fighting criminals, terrorists, and would-be conquerors. As a civilian superhero, it doesn’t seem odd that he’d fight under different rules of engagement.

Therefore, comparing Cap to Superman, Batman, et. al is more than apt. And comparing him to WW II soldiers killing under different circumstances is the straw-man argument. If Spider-Man or Daredevil don’t use lethal force, why should Cap? Because he was a soldier 70 years ago in a different lifetime?

Most of the examples given–blowing up a ship, redirecting a missile, bouncing back a grenade–are impersonal forms of killing. You expect people to be injured or die, but it’s not guaranteed. You may not care about their fate because you’re in a combat situation, but you’re not personally executing them. You’re following orders and it’s arguably your superior’s responsibility, not yours.

I interpret Gruenwald’s scenario in that light. Not that Cap never caused someone’s death by blowing up an enemy installation or whatever. But that Cap never personally killed someone one-on-one. In cold blood, so to speak, even if it was necessary.

As for Captain America #113, did the story show the body parts of the Hydra troopers allegedly blown to smithereens? Henchmen are tough in the Marvel Universe; showing them flying through the air isn’t proof of death. And redirecting a missile at Madame Hydra 1) was arguably self-defense and 2) probably didn’t kill her. Cap knew that you usually can’t kill a super-villain with a simple explosive.

Again, show us an example of Cap’s personally breaking someone’s neck, shooting someone dead, or tossing a grenade that blew someone into visible pieces. Until then, I agree with Jamie. The Gruenwald bit may have been over the top, but it wasn’t far removed from previous portrayals of Cap.

Rob Schmidt:”Most of the examples given–blowing up a ship, redirecting a missile, bouncing back a grenade–are impersonal forms of killing. You expect people to be injured or die, but it’s not guaranteed. You may not care about their fate because you’re in a combat situation, but you’re not personally executing them. You’re following orders and it’s arguably your superior’s responsibility, not yours.”

1. I would argue that firing a V-2 missile at German soldiers does “guarantee” that a large number of them will be killed.

2. Following orders: Cap was not ordered to fire a V-2; nor, for that matter, was he ordered to blow up a Nazi ship.

Rob Schmidt:”Again, show us an example of Cap’s personally breaking someone’s neck, shooting someone dead, or tossing a grenade that blew someone into visible pieces. Until then, I agree with Jamie. The Gruenwald bit may have been over the top, but it wasn’t far removed from previous portrayals of Cap.”

Following these rules, one would be hard pressed to prove that Nick Fury killed anyone during the the Silver Age run of SGT FURY. After all, we very seldom saw Fury actually shooting anyone (most shooting panels involved Fury shooting at someone who was off-panel; following your logic, perhaps he was just wounding/shooting the guns out of their hands.Perhaps Fury made it through WW2 without killing anyone?

Rob Schmidt:”As for Captain America #113, did the story show the body parts of the Hydra troopers allegedly blown to smithereens? Henchmen are tough in the Marvel Universe; showing them flying through the air isn’t proof of death. And redirecting a missile at Madame Hydra 1) was arguably self-defense and 2) probably didn’t kill her. Cap knew that you usually can’t kill a super-villain with a simple explosive.”

1.Body parts: As this was the Silver Age, no. On the other hand, I suggest that you look at that panel; if you saw something like that involving, say, Nick Fury, wouldn’t you assume that the HYDRA troopers were killed?

Rob Schmidt:”Therefore, comparing Cap to Superman, Batman, et. al is more than apt. And comparing him to WW II soldiers killing under different circumstances is the straw-man argument. If Spider-Man or Daredevil don’t use lethal force, why should Cap? Because he was a soldier 70 years ago in a different lifetime?”

2.Show me a panel involving Spider-Man that is similar to the scene in CAPTAIN AMERICA # 113, where Cap and Bucky blow up the fuel tank on a motor cycle as HYDRA troopers are approaching; I certainly can’t think of anything from the SA that is comparable.

3.Soldier 70 years ago: Frankly, yes. Cap’s life experiences have had an impact on him. Remember, it hasn’t been 70 years for Cap.

Hey dont forget Cap first story arc in the Avengers. As I recall, he was going kill Zemo to avenge Bucky. Zemo died fighting Cap, though it wasnt really Cap’s fault, and Cap was pretty much cool with it. That was Lee/Kirby too.

I see Cap as someone who would kill if there was no other way. He wouldnt cry about it.

I grew up on silver age Cap and I kept reading into Gruenwald Cap and I loved this take on the character. I don’t like him attempting to force himself onto everyone else but I like the idea of Cap expecting more out of the Avengers. I agree, a tougher Cap is better but he grew up in a time when respect and honor weren’t just words. I think Gru wrote him like a guy from the 40′s but went a bit too extreme.

Rob, arguing that “Well, the missile hit the ship but he didn’t kill anyone personally” is a cheat–not just for this debate but for Cap.
It’s true that psychologically this is different from shooting someone (if the guys who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima had run through killing 100,000-plus people one at a time they’d have had to be stark raving monsters). But it is killing, and I doubt Cap would fudge that. I do agree with you though that he’d apply a totally different standard to working as a civilian super-hero.
On the other hand, Syon, Hawkeye’s been shown to be one of the firmest believers in Heroes Don’t Kill–the Black Widow broke up with him once because she was afraid that her even being willing to kill an alien invader would upset him too much. Nor is there any sign that Wanda is murderous when she’s not possessed by something (insert joke here).
And I think generally referring to WW II (or whenever veterans) as “killers” is simplified–I’ve known plenty of vets and they don’t seem inclined to go around administering vigilante justice after the war.
Re: The Supreme Intelligence, I don’t think Cap would have worried too much about a tribunal. The Nuremberg Trials were a radical development, rather than the usual approach of just hanging or exiling the other side, and Cap wasn’t even around for them.
On the other hand, trying to extrapolate Cap from what a real life person of that era would be like is pointless. A guy who has no problems with blacks, Jews, Catholics, women on the frontlines (IIRC, his only objection to Sharon working for SHIELD in the Silver Age was that he loved her and worried about her, not that it was gender-inappropriate) and in more recent recounting, gays, isn’t typical. For that matter, someone who went into suspended animation when the Soviets were our allies and emerges spouting anti-Red McCarthyite rhetoric (though no more than most of Marvels characters of the time) as if he’d lived through the witch-hunts isn’t typical either. He’s always been the “best” of America–which, of course, varies with the era.
One thing that strikes me rereading Englehart’s run is that Cap actually enjoys what he does. When he becomes Nomad during the period he’s too disillusioned to be Cap, it’s because he wants the excitement, not just out of a sense of duty. I miss that.
Must say, this is one interesting thread.

Oh, HELL yeah! Gru’s Cap still inspiring passionate debate about serious topics decades later? That is why I love the man. (That and the Popeye cameos.)

Travis Pelkie

July 7, 2012 at 12:44 am

I may have skimmed past a reference by someone in the comments, but as to Cap and drinking:

(spoiler-y bit if you haven’t read the Bru run, or heard about it at all…)

I’ve just been re-reading a good chunk of the Bru Cap run, and in one of the issues in the Red Menace Ultimate Collection, Steve’s been out with Sharon, and is elated when they find out for certain that the Winter Soldier is Bucky. Sharon asks if he’s drunk, and he says he “can’t get drunk”. The implication that I read into it is that due to the Super Soldier Serum, liquor doesn’t affect Steve, so he’s got a reason to not drink — it doesn’t do anything for him.

You know, there was a time when you could read cool stories with dirty charachters like Wolverine or The Authority and cool stories with clean ones like, well, mostly all the rest. You had a palette ranging from idalists like Cap to more down to earth guys like Iron Man and merciless killers like the Punisher. You know, like an universe filled with *different* characters.

Nowadays the Avengers gleefully advance hacking skrulls to pieces and the JLA slashes through an army of parademons bathing in their gore. Wolverine becoming a school teacher is what prophetised that 80′s What The story about the DC villains escaping to the Marvel Universe because their heroes had turned so grim and gritty even they were scared of them.

Have to disagree pretty strongly with the complaints about the “fair and square” Captain America.

If you pay attention to the character throughout his modern history, you will notice that he becomes more overtly “fair and square” during those times when everyone else is becoming darker and that he lightens up some whenever most of the other heroes are more idealistic.

As he says in the bar, he sees himself as a role model, and those darker eras are the times when he takes his duties as role model that much more seriously.

Thus, it fits the character’s continuity perfectly for him to be more concerned about drinking during a time when so many of his fellow heroes are having ethical problems.

I honestly don’t see how people can defend Gruenwald’s “idealistic” Cap. I mean, it would be one thing if he had done a competent job portraying him as an idealistic superhero, but he didn’t even manage to do that. Instead we got a hypocritical Cap who moans about how even killing to save innocents is wrong despite having been a WW2 solder, and an arrogant asshat who believes he’s right and everyone who has a different view is wrong to the point that he’d give a “lecture on superhero ethics” for his comrades. Not even a discussion, a LECTURE, on something as opinionated as ethics.
I’m sorry, but if this is your idea of a well-written Cap, or a reasonable interpretation of the character, I must humbly request that you take off your rose-tinted nostalgia glasses (or fanboy glasses, depending on the source of your bias).

I don’t think that anyone has to “defend” Gruenwald’s run. Given the number of years he wrote the title there are bound to be some storylines that aren’t as good as the others (much like the end of the second volume of Brubaker’s run). I humbly suggest you put your rose-tinted glass on and read some comics that reflect simpler times before cynicism and the “need to defend” comic book runs became important to you.

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