Monday, April 4, 2016

Weird(cool) Panels: Captain America Man & Wolf

This installment of Weird(cool) panels is brought to you by the most action packed decade in comic books, the 1990's! By 1992, I had been reading Captain America comics for about 3 years, starting with the absolutely legendary 1980 9 issue arc by Roger Stern and John Bryne, collected as War & Remembrance. From there I started reading Cap monthly, growing up on Ron Lim's bulky and action oriented style along with Mark Gruenwald's writing which pitted Cap against The Serpent Society, drug dealers and the Red Skull's Skeleton Crew. By 1992, Lim moved on and Rik Levins took over. His art wasn't as crisp or impressive as Lim's but had an energy about it along with giving each character a long and lithe look compared to Lim's blocky and compact style. Issues 402 through 408 belong in Cap's Weird(cool) Hall of Fame because the Star Spangled Avenger becomes a werewolf! I've had the hankering to revisit the saga after seeing a new Cap action figure come with a replaceable wolf head. I don't need another Cap action figure but my lady was sweet enough to buy me the head by itself on eBay. With the majority of my comics collection is in storage in another state, WonderCon came through as my lady spotted the trade in a 60% off bin and I nabbed it.

In the crazy 6 part run, Steve Rogers aka Captain America is looking for his pilot, one John Jameson, son of Spider-Man's newspaper publishing nemesis J. Jonah Jameson. John was a decorated NASA pilot and astronaut who came into contact with a gem on the surface of the moon which turned him into a manwolf. He's now gone missing at the same time as a rash of rumored werewolf killings are happening in quaint northern Massachusetts. Going to investigate, Cap seeks out some supernatural support but Dr. Strange unavailable, so Doctor Druid is enlisted to help him on his quest. The pony tailed master of the occult agrees and the two Sky Cycle up to Starkesboro, population 932 where they're immediately attacked by a werewolf and a silver masked and haired baddie on a flying motorcycle, Moonhunter. Turns out the town has some natural lycanthropes, you know people who turn into werewolves while others are being turned into them by Dr. Nightshade and her caped, bad guy wizard boss Dredmund. X-Men scrapper Wolverine is also investigating the murders and fights it out with a horde of werewolves before being captured and injected with werewolf serum but his healing ability rejects it. Instead Wolvie gets mind controlled like the rest of the town and becomes a more feral and violent version of himself.

Meanwhile back in New York we get an appearance from Steve Rogers' former love, Bernie Rosenthal, whom he met in War & Remembrance coincidentally. Bernie is back in town trying to get back together but Steve had been seeing former criminal and thief Diamondback unofficially. In the meantime, Bernie screws up as she's taking a walk with Avenger butler Jarvis and Steve's old friend, Dennis Dunphry, a former pro-wrestler turned superhero sidekick D-Man. D-Man was recently found in suspended animation up in the arctic and has been a mute near zombie ever since. But he does hit the gym with Cap, bench pressing 8500 pounds! Anyways, Jarvis has to bolt then Bernie loses sight of Dennis who wanders off in Central Park. Back in Stakesboro, Cap is captured and injected with the wolf serum, turning him into Cap-Wolf! From there he has to try and maintain his humanity, organize his fellow wolf captives and lead a revolt. Wolfsbane from X-Force makes an appearance, as does her leader Cable, the giant shoulder padded and gun toting soldier from the future. Adding to the WeirdCool-ness, Dr. Druid has some interesting mind powers like being able to levitate Cap out of trouble and heal his slit throat by sheer force of will. It's like that yoga Dhalsim does that lets you spit fire.

CapWolf leads the prison escape, faces off with Dredmund and grabs the Moongem. In a kind of random showdown, Cable and CapWolf get stymied by a giant rug wrapping them up which Wolverine then slashes through to set them free. Turns out the alpha wolf in captivity is John Jameson, who has been trying to find a way to be as super heroic as Cap and the Avengers after being an astronaut was no longer enough in the modern age. Man & Wolf is a fast and fun read which a familiar but enjoyable set up of a small town taken over by an evil baddie, experimenting on the locales. Throw in a found on the moon gem that turns you into a wolf, Cap spending half the issues as one, cameos from Wolvie and Cable and you've got yourself a quirky yet well executed change of pace. You even get some Infinity Gauntlet/War spillover as Captain America's evil darkside manifests into reality and tries to kill him. I don't know how Cap was selling back then but the issues were running twice a month which I'm pretty sure is a good thing.

Supporting Mark Gruenwald and Rik Levins you had Danny Buldanadi, Steve Alexandrove, Don Hudson and Ray Kryssing on Inks, Joe Rosen and Bob Sharpe doing Lettering, Gina Going and Arianne Lenshoer Coloring then Pat Garrahy, Barry Dutter, Ralph Macchio and Mike Rockwitz Editing. While it's been 15 years since I first read these issues, they were still pretty fresh in my mind. It was funny going back and realizing that Cap was picking bullet slugs off his armor, not the slimy bugs and as a 10 year old wondering why those things you see on the sidewalk would hurt. Reading up on the issues, I found out that artist Rik Levins went into video games after spending 3 years on Cap then started teaching at Full Sail University. Levins sadly passed away in 2010 from complications of cancer. Thanks to Levin and team for providing me with childhood adventure that has made for positive lifelong memories.

No comments:

Post a Comment