Sep 14, 2020
Captain America #288 “Mazes!” The Deathlok saga (part 3 of 4)
Part three of our story opens with Captain America wandering through the bombed out remains of New York City, circa 1993…Waitaminute. Lemme go back and check issue #286… Ah-ha! It was originally 1991! So was Godwulf chilling in that subway for two years, or did editor Mark Gruenwald think 1991 wasn’t far enough in the future? Neither answer is very satisfactory.
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Bracketed by Godwulf (who I’m guessing has Luke Cage levels of tough skin seeing as he walking through the wreckage barefoot) and Deathlok, Cap notes how un-legendary he feels at this point. The following page gives us an info-dump as Godwulf explains to Cap how in the 1970s he worked for Brand Corporation’s Nth Command on a project that made a weapon that opened up dimensional portals. Specially trained commandos then stormed the headquarters of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers and used portable portal-makers to send the heroes off to dimensions where they instantly died. After that, it was easy enough to track down the solo heroes and take them out. Huh, that all sounds surprisingly… easy. I mean, how do you sneak up on Spider-Man, with his Spider-Sense? How did they catch Professor Xavier flatfooted? You’re telling me heroes who didn’t get taken out failed to organize and stage a counterattack? And what happened with all the super villains? I can’t imagine the Wizard or the Mad Thinker just sitting on the sidelines, or Magneto or Doctor Doom. And Ultron never came back? With no Sorcerer Supreme, you’d think Dormammu would have paid this plane a visit. There are a ton of holes in Brand/Roxxon’s plan, and even worse, these plot holes aren’t addressed by anyone.
The portable portals only had a short shelf life, so Roxxon had to use conventional forces to take over the United States. The fighting went on for years and years, and the country was torn apart as a result. Without the You Ess of Ay acting as a counterweight to the Red Menace, war broke out all over the world, and nobody knows who nuked the States. So now warlords vie for power, among them some bad-ass known as… Hellinger. Godwulf leads Cap and Deathlok into a building to meet the rest of le Resistance…
…who for some reason dress like they’re superheroes. I’m tempted to say they were inspired by the missing heroes, but more likely it’s to make it easier for readers to differentiate between the various characters. Outfits help define who and what a person is; the swashbuckler dresses like Errol Flynn, the strong guy’s tank top shows off his massive arms, etc. So yeah, maybe it would make sense for all these guys to be running around in city camo gear, but comics is a visual medium and without hearing their voices, readers need help telling guys apart. Cap is a bit overwhelmed by the instant hero worship as more guys show up; I’m guessing the white guy sporting the bright yellow doo-rag ain’t gonna last long. And… wow, there are some interesting characters here. It looks like they recruited Johnny Rotten, and a woman who’s sporting both a widow’s peak and Princess Leia buns. It’s like DeMatteis told Mike Zeck to fill out the background with random characters and he took the man literally.
Cap finds out these were all former Nth Commandos, which means every one of these assholes killed his friends. If I was Cap, I’d be more than a little pissed off at this point. They’re mercs who didn’t think of the ramifications of their actions before they did it. So none of them thought taking out the people who saved the Earth from time-traveling despots or planet-eating giants or militant mutants was a bad idea? Cap keeps a lid on whatever white hot rage he’s feeling and lets Godwulf further elaborate on what’s going on. The real big bad is Harlan Ryker, AKA Hellinger, who created Deathlok in the first place as the first of a legion of cyborg super-soldiers. And Ryker is not just the owner of the project; he’s a client, as he’s had some work done on himself. Man, whoever told him exposing his brains under a transparent dome must be a Washington or Oregon native or some other state without sun, because those brains would cook within seconds. The whole exposed gray matter look always seemed silly to me.
At least Mojo Jojo had the (ahem) brains to cover up his exposed bits with a hat. Showing off the goods is just begging someone to break glass and go to town on the thinky bits.
Deathlok asks Godwulf why the man sent his cybernetically enhanced butt back in time in the first place, and Blonde Tarzan explains it was just to keep him out of sight temporarily so Hellinger couldn’t find him. That’s… a pretty elaborate way of hiding somebody. It’s weird; they don’t have any gas to ferry Deathlok out of the city to hide out in the sticks, but Godwulf has a time machine? Unless Deathlok has some sort of tracker installed in him? But again, Godwulf has a time machine and a clone of Manning, but can’t figure out how to remove a LoJack?
Godwulf goes on to explain that he sees Deathlok as a guy who can lead this band of crazy misfits, but Deathlok says no way. That’s when Captain America steps up and uses his true power: his ability to inspire. He points out that Deathlok is the living representation of 1991 in that he pretty much got torn apart and put back together and looks like crap, and yet despite all that, his spirit is intact. He saw something of the old Manning in the clone, and that will is still there buried in Deathlok’s messed up roboticized corpse. Godwulf tells Cap that he can send him back home, but Steve says that this is still America, and by gawd, he’s gonna stay and help them kick Hellinger’s ass. Um, shouldn’t Captain America be getting home to make sure this version of 199
13 never happens? If Steve dies in the future, who’s going to tell all his friends that people are going to be showing up to send them to another dimension? I get that Steve wants to help, but isn’t what he’s doing now, you know, grossly irresponsible? Regardless, it turns out that Hellinger’s been listening in and he says that there’s no way he’s going to lose to bunch of soft fleshy fools.
We cut to Long Island, 1983, where Bernie Rosenthal patiently waits by the living room window for her man, Steve Rogers, and she wonders if she can love him and not his alter ego. She doesn’t love Captain America? What kind of godless communist are you, Bernie? Her ruminations are interrupted by her sister Nancy who suggests she get to bed. She notes that she seems really crazy about that guy and Bernie agrees; she is crazy.
Elsewhere in 1983, Nomad is chilling in Central Park with the woman he saved in that alleyway last issue. Her name is Scarlet and they’ve been talking for hours. And it seems they’ve hit it off so well she’s letting him get to second base…
But oh noes! “Scarlet”‘s lipstick is spiked with a drug and Nomad drops, helpless as she starts to brainwash him. Hah! Called it. Cut back to 199(sigh)3 and we find ourselves at Hellinger’s upstate New York condo of doom. Hellinger is monologuing like a boss, going on and on about how “homo ascendant” must rule (and now I’m wondering what happened to the rest of the mutants? Did the Hellfire Club just roll over for these jokers? Am I obsessing over this? Probably). He’s got “alpha mechs” stationed all over the world, ready at his signal to go nuclear, because yeah, that’s just what this messed up world needs: more clouds of cancer causing atomic ash, and irradiating crops and fresh water sources. But hey, eggs and omelettes, right?
Hellinger’s train of thought is interrupted by the arrival of the heroes, who are flying open cockpit flying speeders, and I’m guessing it must be August or something, because otherwise Godwulf would be dead of exposure. That, or he really does possess Luke Cage levels of toughness. Cap worries that Deathlok might not be able to handle his new role as leader, but his ruminations are cut short when the cyborg reports that his computer is picking up an incoming threat.
Aw, they’re so cute! The little drones come swooping in, shooting laser beams at our heroes. Cap’s shield deflects incoming blasts while he uses his other hand to both pilot his ship and shoot his ray guns. Pretty impressive for a guy who just learned how to pilot the thing. The drones kind of suck, as Godwulf is able to shoot one out of the sky with a bow and arrow. Is he using Hawkeye’s old gear? It would’ve been kind of nice if that were the case and they said so. In fact, wouldn’t it have made sense if some members of the resistance were surviving Avengers, like Hawkeye or Black Widow? Maybe Daredevil survived and went underground? Did Black Panther get wiped out? What happened to Wakanda and Atlantis? And why can’t I stop falling into these plotholes and enjoy the story?
Swashbuckler almost buckles his last swash as his ship gets blown out of the sky. But not to worry, because he’s able to leap from his wrecked skycar onto Iron Butterfly’s. The gang lands and Cap tells them to stick close together. First, isn’t Deathlok supposed to be in charge? And two, clumping together is one of the biggest mistakes an infantry unit can make, and it turns out that in this case it was a huge mistake, because Hellinger activates a trap door.
Cap says they’re “flutter[ing] helplessly”, and that implies maybe there’s some sort of anti-gravity going on. That would also explain why people landed without broken bones. The gang find themselves in a maze, and I’m wondering why they’re bothering walking through it. The walls are maybe seven feet high; just have Iron Butterfly stand on the strong guy’s shoulders to see the exit, then everyone can just hop over walls. QED. Man, if this had been my old Dungeons & Dragons group, we’d have been out of that maze in two minutes. And also bringing our DM to tears.
As the gang negotiates the maze, Sage and Swashbuckler are scooped up into the air by… something. If it was tentacles, we don’t see them, and if it was anti-gravity, I don’t know why it didn’t snatch anyone else. The bear guy and the Mister T-looking guy are cut off from the others by new walls sliding in, and soon they’re overwhelmed by gas. And again, I’m wondering why they don’t just hop over the walls? Okay, maybe the big guy might have trouble, but I could totally see him tossing Mister T Jr. to safety. Meanwhile, Hellinger mocks our heroes, telling them they’ll become homo ascendant just like him. I’m getting a creepy Cybermen from Doctor Who vibe here, which really is a good thing. Also, Deathlok’s onboard computer, which has up until now been able to warn Manning of every potential threat, isn’t warning him about anything now. Okay, Manning, what did you say to it that made it pout?
Deathlok’s response to losing the two men is cold, and Iron Butterfly reacts negatively to the cyborg’s inhumanity. Godwulf defends Manning, but soon he and Butterfly are taken out by wall mounted tentacles. It’s just Cap and Deathlok now, and Rogers notes how Manning sounds as inhuman now as he did when he first met him. Deathlok’s computer is now reporting Hellinger is up ahead…
…huh. So does that mean the stuff in Hellinger’s head isn’t really brain matter? Did he have a giant brain grown for him? If so, why does he need so many brains? That question gets answered as he explains to Cap that while everybody else can be reborn as cyborg slaves, Captain America’s inherent decency and strong will makes him a bad choice for foot soldering, especially since he’s already shaking off his hypnotic powers. Hypnotic powers, you ask? Why yes, the hypnotic power that has Deathlok under Hellinger’s control. Manning shoots Steve in the back and Hellinger decides that now is a good time to get to nuking. Captain America lays on the ground and realizes he’s not dead, and that he really should be dead, seeing as how Deathlok’s ray gun should have cut through him. But it was set for stun and Steve realizes that Manning is resisting Hellinger’s control. He reaches out to Deathlok, and the struggle in Manning’s face is obvious. And it all comes down to this: one man’s will determining the fate of Mankind:
Mankind 1, Hellinger 0. Deathlok destroys Hellinger’s computer network and soon the rest of the misfits show up. Godwulf points out this is just the beginning; there’s a whole messed up world out there that needs fixing. Deathlok volunteers to help, and the issue ends with Cap calling the man Luther. Next week, we see the final chapter in this time traveling saga.