My Misspent Youth: Captain America by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

Considering I operated with only a modest outlay of spending change, my youthful comic book obsession was shaped by selectivity. I went all in for Marvel Comics early on, but I was never able to be one of those kids who bought practically everything with the company’s distinctive banner cutting across the top of the cover. I even forced myself to bypass some of the publisher’s most stalwart characters, such as the star-spangled Avenger himself, Captain America. There were times, though, certain comics broke down my defenses and forced me to artfully reallocate my budget. Nothing stopped me in my dinky sneakers like a cover that promised a monumental event in the long arc of the Marvel Universe. So when I saw Captain America #251 in the spinner rack, the title hero racing into action chagrined to find “THE MAN CALLED NOMAD!” at his side, I immediately knew where my two quarters were going that day. As if I needed further convincing, the cover breathlessly boasted, “TOGETHER AGAIN FOR THE 1ST TIME!”

That strange phrasing referred to the fact that the nature of Nomad’s identity, at least as previously established, would have made a team-up with Captain America about as unlikely as Clark Kent and Superman attending a party together, hand-in-hand. Nomad was the alter ego briefly adopted by Steve Rogers in a nineteen-seventies story that found him rejecting the Captain America mantle. Since a favorite Marvel trope is to slap that red,white, and blue costume on just about anybody, Nomad and Captain America (or, if you prefer, “Captain America”) had technically shared a cover before. Still, the 1981 story that brought the somewhat obscure figure back felt like a big deal to me, one of those instances when creators were drawing upon the complicated continuity that came before to generate something new and bold.

Also, for reasons I can’t pin down, I really liked the fact that the multi-part story began with Steve Rogers concluding a drunken night out with buddies by woozily taking on a group of crumbum muggers, using a garbage can lid as a substitute for his trusty shield.

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My modern appreciation for potent potables is well documented, but it didn’t really line up with my eleven-year-old sensibility. Just why it tickled me so remains a mystery.

While nursing his hangover the next day, Captain America gets called into Avengers mansion, where, among other things, they’re monitoring a feed from the West Coast that shows a fellow adorned in the Nomad costume saving the day. That leads to Captain America recounting the history of the Nomad identity in a series of panels speckled with asterisks and captioned citations of earlier issues, exactly the sort of dense explication of fictional history that I found irresistible. Captain America obviously needs to find out the identity of this adopter of his former superheroic side project, so he heads to Los Angeles, where he encounters Nomad in no time.

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The story, written by J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Mike Zeck, has a wild enough foundation, but there’s always more that can be added to the mix. Before it’s through, the saga incorporates Ameridroid, an oversized robot replica of Captain America that is imbued with the intellect of a former Nazi scientist, and a goofy light satire of Hollywood moviemaking. The latter is part of the stealthily nefarious plot that gets Captain America to California in the first place. This dastardly scheme is presided over by a cloaked figure named as the Teacher, who kind of resembles a Jawa with a cigarette holder jabbing out of his face-hole. As is practically a necessity in any Captain America story involving a shadowy, uncertain figure, the Teacher is revealed to be none other than Cap’s arch-nemesis, the Red Skull.

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Basically, this story had it all, just what a little true believer would hope for when making a rare venture into the territory of Captain America. At the story’s conclusion (a mere three action-packed issues, a level of brevity almost unheard of today), the title moved back off of my personal must list, I’m afraid. I needed to settle for Captain America’s appearances over in The Avengers. Though it was a necessary decision, it was made with some regret. The Captain America issues I bought and read proved I was missing out on good stuff in that title.

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Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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