I have often identified the Incredible Hulk as "my first favorite character" but I don't think I've ever mentioned that Captain America is "my second favorite character" (in sequence, not in rank). I think I probably started collecting Captain America for good and all when Hulk #231 crossed over into Captain America #230. A friend of mine had a beat up copy of Captain America #227, and this was right around the time someone sold his comic book collection to the Armchair Adventurer bookstore and I was able to fill in most issues from #114 through Kirby's mid-70s return in one swell foop. I didn't take too much effort at that point to fill in the issues I had missed from #215-229. In any case, all these things happened right around the same time to the best of my recollection, and I continued to buy every issue of Captain America for many years to come. 

I was lucky enough to have bought the Stern/Byrne run in "real time" and I was on hand for the DeMatteis/Zeck/Beatty run shortly after that. Unfortunately, those two runs were not a one-two punch; more like a one-two punch with a feint between. I prefer re-reading comics in collected editions on good paper stock rather than pulling my originals out of their boxes if at all possible. The good news is: Marvel has a great line of "Epic Collections." The bad news is: I didn't find the Captain America Epic Collection Volume 9 (reprinting #247-266 and an annual) to be a particularly good buy for me.

First of all, the DeMatteis/Zeck/Beatty team took a while to coalesce and gel. Second, the Stern/Byrne run has been collected an reprinted so often I really don't have any need to own it again. Third, between the two runs was a series of fill-ins. The DeMatteis/Zeck/Beatty run didn't really kick into high gear until #267. the best news is that the Captain America Epic Collection Volume 10 collects #267-285 (plus an annual and a crossover), the very height of the run. I've got a ton of trade credit built up at my LCS, but I was waiting until the release of v10 to get both.

The only (slightly) disappointing aspect concerning v10 is that the cover of #280 (which depicts Cap beaten and in chains) was chosen as the cover of the collection. Better choices would have been #275 (Cap in full-on action mode leaping directly at the reader) or #284 (Cap on a rooftop with the American Flag below him, flapping in the breeze).

Although it hasn't been just too long since I last read the Stern/Byrne run, approximately five years A.T. (i.e., after moving to Texas) as I like to say, when I return I plan to begin this discussion with issue #247. 

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Philip Portelli said:

Plus I feel that Steve downplays the Ne-Nazi vandalism because he can't believe that it could happen in America. Indeed, it's hardly a major threat in his eyes, though I have no doubt that he would stop if he saw them actually committing the vandalism. 

Thanks, Philip. Steve here sounds naive to the point of being almost brain-dead. 

I prefer to think of him as idealistic. 

Being idealistic is what makes him Captain America. 

#276:

This issue begins where the previous the left off, as Captain America compliments the police sergeant in charge of the riot squad for peacefully dispersing the protesters. Bernie approaches Captain America and, just by looking in his eyes, she knows. What's more, he knows that she knows. 

INTERLUDE: The scene switches to the high rise offices of the Coalition for an Upstanding America. Unlike CRAP (the Committee to Regain America's Principles from Steve Englehart's run), the CUA is not out to besmirch Captain America, but to co-opt him. A man named McArthur is speaking: "Listen up, gentlemen! We've been wracking our brain about this new campaign, trying to hit on that nebulous something that will touch the America psyche in all the right places! A spokesman whose very presence on our billboards and TV spots will assure people that the Coalition is more than some collection of uptight kooks and religious fanatics!" He whips aside a sheet to reveal his campaign poster: a picture of Captain America and the slogan MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! No, wait, that's not right... "AMERICA AS IT ONCE WAS... AMERICA AS IT COULD BE AGAIN."

Later that day, Steve and Bernie discuss her discover outside of their Brooklyn Heights brownstone. A car pulls up and from the back seat emerges Gail Runciter. She tells Steve that there's trouble at "the shop" and "the boss" needs to see him right away. At SHIELD's midtown HQ, Cap learns that a giant, claylike monster has absconded with Arnie, Michael and Vermin, and has left a challenge for him to find them. He refuses help, but Fury assigns agents Runciter and Corrigan to follow him anyway.

Before too long, Cap encounters a large man in a hat and overcoat. He follows to a futuristic aircraft and they fly to a castle somewhere in Mexico, where they are greeted by Arnim Zola and a man calling himself Zemo. They are flanked by Vermin and a... what's the collective noun for a group of monsters? 

SNAPPING, Pt.1: The "Sam Wilson for Congress" sub-plot has graduated into its own back-up feature, which will run for three issues. In his campaign headquarters, Sam angrily reacts to a smear campaign being waged by Marvin Alvis, his political opponent. Also there are Leila, Sarah and his campaign manager Carol Davis. He storms out of the office and his sister realizes he's beginning to act like "Snap" Wilson, his other personality.

For those of you who may not know, when Captain America first met the decent, good-hearted, idealistic man who was to become his partner, the Falcon, he was on the run from the Red Skull. Years later, the Skull revealed that Sam Wilson's personality was actually a construct of the Cosmic Cube, layered atop Sam's real personality, that of a small-time gangster known as "Snap." It was eventually determined that Sam Wilson had a third personality, made up of the previous two. When Sam encountered and almost beat "Little Angel" back in #272, the "Snap" persona began to emerge. 

."AMERICA AS IT ONCE WAS... AMERICA AS IT COULD BE AGAIN."

Kinda the same thing. America has always been great for some people, not all (the same as every other country). A work in progress. 

#277:

The cover is an homage to Neal Adams' Detective comics #395. Regarding the Coalition for an Upstanding America, McArthur takes his "Morality in the Media" campaign to Bennett Advertising, where Mr. Bennett has just the artist in mind. (Guess who?) I honestly don't recall how this subplot plays out, and I am eager to rediscover how it does.

"Baron Zemo" reveals himself to be the son of the man Cap knew, but also the Phoenix who fought Cap in #168 and subsequently fell into a vat of Adhesive X. Phoenix's costume protected his body, but he was not wearing his mask. Consequently. his face is "melted"... to a much greater extent than, say, Dr. Doom's. also, "Arnim Zola" is revealed to be Zola's creation Primus, melded with another of his creations, Doughboy. Primus now has the ability to shape himself into a perfect duplicate of Steve Rogers. they fight, but Primus surreptitiously injects Cap with a knock-out drug during the scuffle. 

When Cap awakens, he finds himself chained to a wall alongside Vermin, who Zemo has decided he doesn't need any longer. Arnie and Michael's consciousness have been transferred into "mutates" (as Michael's was in #270). Cap must defend himself from the mutates while simultaneously prevent Vermin from doing them any harm. Unfortunately, Vermin gets past him and kills the mutate housing Michael's mind, thus killing him. the shock of Michael's death sends Arnie's mind back into his own body, and he blames Cap for Michael's death. 

Meanwhile, Primus has assumed Steve Roger's life and has encountered Bernie.

SNAPPING, Pt. 2: Sarah relates Sam's early life in detail. After witnessing both his father's and his mother's violent deaths in separate incidents, Sam retreated into his "Snap" personality. the Red Skull didn't so much layer Sam Wilson's "good" persona atop "Snap's" as he did strip away that personality to reveal the true Sam Wilson beneath. His father's friend, the Reverend Garcia, confronts Sam on a rooftop, the same rooftop, in fact, where Sam nearly beat "Little Angel," and Sam "snaps," becoming his other self. 

#278:

Cap and Arnie turn the tide of battle and fight their way free. Arnie tells Cap the Zemo's monstrosities are really men. Cap makes a speech which wins them over. Just then, SHIELD burst in and starts killing them. Cap doesn't call Rinciter "ms." or "miss"... he calls her "idiot." Zemo escapes only to find a vengeful Vermin waiting aboard the escape craft. This story is difficult to read because the verb "mutate" is incorrectly used as a noun eight times. (It is used correctly once.) This is not J.M. DeMatteis' fault; Marvel has long since coined a unique definition for "mutate" since they built their house on a fantasy definition of "mutant."

CLIFFHANGER: Cap confronts Primus on a date with Bernie. 

SNAPPING, Pt. 3: the reverend Garcia tlks Sam down from his "Snap" persona, then proceeds to relate Sam's own story as he sees it. Sam comes clean to the press about his past as "Snap." Later, Sarah says she thought Garcia was out of town and never tried to contact him. Instead of realizing that his sister was obviously mistaken, he concludes that the reverend he encountered was a creation of his own mind (which, in its own way, would be as troubling as his multiple personality disorder). Although it won't be revealed in the series of stories I am dealing with here, Sam eventually loses the race, but that's not what this story was really about in the first place. 

#279:

Cap and Primus fight, Primus drops his disguise, changes to his "Doughboy" persona, and kidnaps Bernie. Cap goes to Avengers Mansion where Iron Man creates a device to track an artificial lifeform such as Primus. Nick fury calls on vid-phone and informs Cap that Michael has died.

INTERLUDE: A wealthy man on the upper east side is found dead in his townhouse, killed by crows.

Cap tracks Primus to the abandoned Camp Arrowhead in Lakewood, NJ. Primus defeats cap quite handily, and is is Bernie who makes with the speech which send Primus away. A couple of days later, at Michael's funeral, Steve Rogers makes it all about himself and Arnie lays into him. Now it is Arnie's turn to make a speech (a good one, too). the issue ends with a...

PRELUDE: Acouple walking through Central Park at night discover the body of a young woman (you guessed it) killed by crows. The villain behind the murders is revealed to be the Scarecrow. 

#280:

This is not the last example we will see of how Mike Zeck can make even the lamest of villains look menacing.

The story opens with another "murder by crow." The CUA's posters featuring Cap have been plastered all over the city. Captain America himself swings into their boardroom and tells them in no uncertain terms that he wants those posters taken down... by tonight. James McArthur, Jr. was unable to get in touch with Cap to secure his permission, but so sure was he that Cap would be sympathetic to their cause, he told his father that Cap had signed a contract. 

I continue to be shocked and surprised at how relevant this storyline is today. Here is part of a two-page inner monologue as Cap leaps across rooftops: "There's something about the Coalition itself that gets my hackles up. I can't say i disagree with their goals. Having seen this country fly apart in recent years, I understand the fire that drives men to want to improve out lot, to see a return to a better, more decent, time. But it's their methods that leave me cold. What happens to the individualist in a land where morality is wielded like a club? Where decency is dictated by those with the loudest voices, and the greatest wealth?"

The Scarecrow's victims, it turns out, are all CUA supporters or family of board members. Because the Scarecrow slipped through his fingers in Annual #6, Cap feels particularly responsible. Arriving at the offices of Bennett Advertising (who have taken the CUA campaign), he finds the Scarecrow attacking Mr. Bennett. Cap is forced to let the Scarecrow escape in order to safeguard Bennett's life.

We learn a lot about the Scarecrow's backstory. He and his brother, Anthony, were physically abused by their father, a man of the cloth who did not practice what he preached. It is because of the beatings administered by their father that Anthony is somewhat slow-witted. That is why he particularly against hypocritical organizations such as the CUA. In prison, the Scarecrow was held in solitary confinement for a year before he escaped. 

The Scarecrow attacks the ceremony at the launch of the CUA media network. He has a tape of James McArthur Sr. admitting that he intends to make a fortune by exploiting the fears of his viewers. James McAhtur, Jr. was sincere in his desire to "make America great again" (to co-opt a phrase). After Scarecrow is defeated, Anthony reveals that everything his brother has said were lies: their father wasn't a preacher, he was a farmer; he didn't beat them, he was a good man; Anthony's name isn't even "Anthony," it's Ralph. Something happened to him while he was in prison, though, and he came out believing all these lies, leaving Captain America to question...

CLIFFHANGER: "Yes, but whose lies, Ralph? Whose lies?"

Jeff of Earth-J said:

We learn a lot about the Scarecrow's backstory. He and his brother, Anthony, were physically abused by their father, a man of the cloth who did not practice what he preached. It is because of the beatings administered by their father that Anthony is somewhat slow-witted.

J. M. DeMatteis used a similar theme in his story arc "The Child Within," in Spectacular Spider-Man #178-#184. The child abuse suffered by Harry Osborn and the child who later became Vermin at the hands of their fathers is presented as the basis of their low self-esteem and later insanity. Vermin's low self-esteem is so extreme that it alone mutated him from a normal kid!

#281:

Stevie and Bernie go out on a date to the movies. Just as it happened in #268, someone recognizes him and follows them home. A knock at the door. Standing in the hallway is someone who appears to be Bucky Barnes. Steve Rogers immediately starts whaling the tar out of him. Frankly, he has fallen for the ol' "Bucky Lives!" ploy so often it's refreshing to see he's learned something. But this is not Bucky Barnes, the the Bucky of the 1950s, Jack Monroe. He recaps his history, lack of vita-rays drove him and his Cap insane... freed a few years ago... "his" Cap became the Grand Director of the National Force. By the time I read this story for the first time, I had already read #153-156 and #236, so I was able to experience some continuity from memory rather than seeking out backissues.

There is a four-page sequence in which Spider-Woman seeks out Viper (formerly Madame Hydra. Hey! More continuity I was already familiar with). I had completely forgotten about this scene, but it would have been my first ever exposure (other than in ads) to Spider-Woman. A few months after this, she crossed over into Avengers which prompted me to buy the last few issues of her solo series. After that, I decided to read from the beginning, but I was so adverse to he "High Evolutionary" origin in Marvel Spotlight that I stopped reading immediately. It wasn't until years later (on this board, in fact) that someone (Captain comics, I'm pretty sure) told me that that wasn't her real origin. In this issue, she believe the Viper to be her mother (but that turns out not to be true, either). Besides the first few and the last few issues and some guest appearances, I still have yet to read the bulk of Spider-Woman. But I digress.

In her underground lair, a minion informs Viper that Spider-Woman escaped her latest trap. she quite literally shoots the messenger, then feeds him to one of her giant snakes. Looking on is SHIELD agent Gail Runciter working undercover.

Captain America let Jack Monroe, dressed in his old "Bucky" outfit, accompany him on patrol in order to blow off some steam, They are attacked by the Constrictor, who is now working for the viper. Jack is stunned and left behind, but Cap is taken prisoner.

If there was a character that I thought that I would never see again, it was the Bucky from the 1950's. Not only did Sal Buscema make him look so twisted in #153-156 but he was supposedly KILLED by his Cap in #236. In the book, his hair was colored black, not brown.

The Viper was so cruel here but she almost seemed like a prototype for the future Mother Superior/Sin character.

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