Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Of Monsters And Men!

Bernadette Rosenthal, girlfriend to Steve Rogers, poses an intriguing question here:

Just who is the guy in the Cap uniform handing Steve Rogers his head?

Well, we're reasonably sure it's not the Captain America of the 1950s--and since they appear to be indoors, it probably isn't the giant Ameridroid. One of them could be the master of disguise, the Chameleon--probably as Rogers, since the Chameleon isn't much of a brawler and isn't likely to be throttling the guy who's Captain America.

This story occurs during the distinguished DeMatteis/Zeck/Beatty run on Captain America, ending a five-issue arc where the son of the notorious Baron Zemo has taken on his father's identity and legacy and concocted a plan to destroy Cap by uprooting the foundations of his personal life as Steve Rogers and hurting the people important to him. Zemo would try a similar tactic when he gathers the Masters of Evil and invades Avengers Mansion, but that's still three years off (our time); in this story, his cohorts are the creature known as Vermin, as well as a creation of Arnim Zola known as Primus, who feels a strong sense of loyalty toward Zemo in light of Zemo's far kinder treatment of him than the controlling Zola.

Cap has already met Zemo on his home ground and put an end to his plan, though at the cost of an innocent life--while Zemo himself met his fate at the claws of the vengeful Vermin (though we know better). That leaves the mutate known as Primus to deal with, who has taken the form of Steve Rogers and has been growing closer to Bernadette as part of Zemo's plan. And with a S.H.I.E.L.D. task force mopping up things at Zemo's lair, a fighting-mad Cap arrives at a Brooklyn diner to find that Primus, like Zemo, has pushed him to his limit.

Despite his anger and resolve, Cap faces an uphill battle with Primus, who's considerably stronger while also obviously possessing shape-shifting abilities. Given the chance, he could easily overwhelm Cap--and unfortunately, that chance arrives sooner than later.

Learning that Zemo is finished, Primus seeks time to plan--abducting Bernadette and taking off for parts unknown, while taunting Cap's inability to stop him and thus driving Cap's state of mind further to the edge. It seems Zemo's plan is having the desired effect, even with Zemo himself now removed from the field.

Cap's next stop is Avengers Mansion, where his first priority is to secure a device that will track Primus' whereabouts. He finds little to put him at ease, despite the rational and supportive words of Iron Man--while the news that Nick Fury is forced to deliver has a clear effect on his sagging morale.

DeMatteis, as in other work he's done in various Marvel titles, excels in bringing the human element to his stories, making Cap's supporting characters a vital part of his life--and so a plot like Zemo's is tailor-made for affecting Cap on a personal level, especially since the book has often focused on Cap trying to make some sort of life for himself aside from putting on his uniform. And so it's no wonder that he becomes so driven to rescue Bernadette, the one who has become the most personal of the ties he's made, ties that have been unraveling because of Zemo's thirst for revenge in the name of his parents.

As for Primus, he continues to evolve from Jack Kirby's original conception of him--building on the initial seed of rebellion Kirby planted in the character to rebel against Zola's tight-fisted control over him, as Primus insisted that he was a man and not another of Zola's mindless creations. With his assignment from Zemo to become a duplicate of Steve Rogers and take Rogers' place with Bernadette, Primus desperately longs to have her in his life for good, especially now that the counsel of his friend Zemo is lost to him; and thanks to the time he's spent with Bernadette as Steve, he desires a much more personal connection, even after his ruse has been exposed.

Primus clearly has a ways to go in his development, with his power unfortunately allowing him to act out his desires and needs before fully comprehending them or the complications involved in taking into account another person's feelings. Nor is Captain America in much of a mood to be patient with this creature when he locates him again; to Cap, Primus remains a creation of Arnim Zola, and the mutate's actions since his reappearance speak for themselves. The question remains, however: How is Cap going to overcome this powerhouse? His Plan B is to track him and then simply trade punches with him again? Because that worked so well the last time?

As before, fighting in close quarters does Cap no favors, and he goes down again--only this time Primus isn't of the mind to walk away. But Cap has an ace in the hole he isn't yet aware of--someone who's in a unique position to deal with Primus, but on a completely different level that even she is aware will have an effect.

It's difficult to accept Primus having become a far more sensitive version of Kirby's creation, who originally was more demanding and insistent of his place in the world but who seems to fold here a bit too readily. There's really been no change in Bernadette's attitude toward him, and thus no reason for Primus to be more sympathetic toward her other than the fact that her accusations have hurt him. At any rate, he ceases hostilities and offers to withdraw, accepting that it's the real Steve Rogers that Bernadette loves.

As for Cap, the time has come for him to pull himself back together--but can he? Zemo and Primus have demonstrated that his lifestyle represents a danger to those he becomes close to--and it would seem that he must return to a solitary life in order to avoid putting anyone he cares for at risk. The prospect understandably disheartens him--but in mourning a mutual friend who was killed by Zemo, one of those friends is able to bring clarity to Steve, by way of a little tough love.

It's unlikely that similar sentiments from Nick Fury, or Iron Man, or any of Steve's other peers on the front lines could have reached him in the way that Arnie Roth, his old friend and protector from his childhood in Brooklyn, has managed to here. It's the extra bit of characterization that DeMatteis brings to the table in his stories--in this case, that someone who has lost so much can still make clear to Captain America that the people he needs in his life are still there to be reached out for, if he has the courage and resolve to do so.

It's Primus, 1.0! But can he escape--Doughboy??

Captain America #279

Script: J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Mike Zeck
Inks: John Beatty
Letterer: John Morelli

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