In our look this week at Marvel's composite covers from 1981-'92, we come to two covers of Captain America where one of them doesn't seem to meet our criteria--that of having two distinct stories within the issue that represent the dichotomy of the cover image. Though as we'll discover, it makes something of an attempt to do so.
In the case of Nomad, pictured on the earlier Cap cover, his situation is more introspective in nature--trying to determine his own role in life aside from being the partner of Captain America. Nomad, formerly the partner of the Cap of the 1950s, now must come to terms with a world that's advanced decades from the time that he knew, just as Cap had to--and as far as his civilian life, he decides to start from the ground up.
But at the worst possible time for someone coming to grips with a new world, the dangerous villain known as Madcap makes his debut--and his power threatens to bring Nomad's worries about his situation with Cap to the foreground.
It takes some time for Madcap's effect on Nomad to wear off; but in the meantime, as he bounds across the city in a drugged state, he chances across his reflection in a store window, and his ravings take form before him.
When he returns to himself (an interesting way to put it, since his sense of self remains in question), Nomad finds that he's back to square one, having lost his job due to his abandoning his store to go after Madcap. To his credit, he doesn't decide to pack it in, but instead resolves to make his own stand, a decision which takes into account both Cap and Madcap.
By the way, if you picked up this issue because you were interested in the second promised segment of this issue--"A Dramatic Look Back At... The Invaders of World War II!"--here's hoping you were satisfied with what turned out to be a dramatically brief look, before Cap nods off to sleep:
The story taking place in issue #345, on the other hand, is more in line with its dramatic cover image that pictures not one but two Captain Americas, each having their own matters to handle which will eventually lead the two men to a reckoning in the title's 350th issue. Steve Rogers has resigned his iconic role, and taken up activities as the man known as the Captain; in his place, the agency known as the Commission on Superhuman Activities has assigned the job to John Walker, the former Super-Patriot. Yet the Commission isn't willing to just let the matter with Rogers drop, and has kept tabs on him--until an opportune time arrives when it falls on Walker to bring him in.
Walker follows his orders and accepts the assignment, albeit reluctantly, since like the rest of us he doesn't think the Commission is being straight with him on its reasons for apprehending the Captain. But the cover's bold caption, "Surrender!", correctly implies that both Walker and Rogers will find themselves in custody, though their circumstances will be entirely and tragically different.
In Walker's case, the shoe doesn't take long to drop, when the domestic terrorist group known as the Watchdogs take Walker's parents captive at gunpoint in retaliation for his capture of a large number of their teammates in an earlier encounter. Walker, still relatively new in the role of Captain America, has thus far enjoyed his heroic status--but, understandably, this hits too close to home for him (literally so), and suddenly he's thrust into a situation where he cannot go in charging.
(Jeez! Who put together that CNN high-tech graphic? Did someone have a marker handy?)
Meanwhile, Rogers has received his own phone call, courtesy of Nomad--arrested and held in custody along with the Captain's other accomplices (D-Man and Diamondback), but who's broken out under complicated circumstances that have left him frustrated and disheartened as to whether he's done the right thing. His hope is to team up with Rogers and settle up with the Commission in force--but like his girlfriend, Vagabond, and D-Man, both of whom elected to remain in custody, Nomad is astonished to see Rogers choose another course.
Both Rogers and Walker would eventually discover exactly who was behind the Commission's actions; but for now, Walker must somehow think of a way to save both himself and his parents from the Watchdogs, in a situation where it seems all of them are certain to be executed.
In desperation, Walker makes his move, executing a flip to free himself from both the rope and his handcuffs and hurling himself into the fray, already having been wounded by gunfire. Yet, unarmed and outnumbered 25-1, he cannot be everywhere at once, and the inevitable happens.
What follows is no less than a bloodbath, with Walker fighting through multiple gunshot wounds and savagely ending the lives of nine of the Watchdogs while wounding the others, three of them severely. But his greatest battle perhaps lies in facing those who died under his watch--a battle he appears to lose.
Walker would not fare well in his remaining time as Captain America, going on to decimate in a rage the mutant terrorists known as the Resistants--and then murdering both Left-Winger and Right-Winger, the two men who revealed his identity as Captain America to the public and thus ending up as the ones he blamed for the Watchdogs being able to track down his parents. Perhaps it's no wonder as to the reasons why the man who eventually became USAgent came off as somewhat less than stable.
At last! The return of... Donald Blake!?