The details are fuzzy, but I remember that my uncle dropped off a box of used comics at my house when I was five or six years old. The box included the first comic I ever read – Stephen King’s CREEPSHOW – along with some issues of Force Works, Batman, some Peter David Hulk action, Superman, and some Amazing Spider-Man. I was going through those comics recently, the books that would spark the fire for my love of the genre that would one day grow to the heights at which it now soars, and I found an issue that I thought would be perfect to revisit for this month at Blastoff. You see, this was my first ever Captain America comic, and one of my first ever superhero comics… or, really, stories period.
It’s Captain America #342. It’s billed as Stan Lee presents Captain America: The Snake Pit. Credits are Gruenwald (story), Dwyer (pencils – hey, that was my grandma’s maiden name!), Milgrom (inks), Morelli (letters), Sharen (colors), Macchio (edits), and DeFalco (jumbo edits… huh). Immediately, I’m struck by how funny it is that I never much paid attention to these credits as a kid. I knew who R.L. Stine was on my Goosebumps books – I was admittedly far more into prose than I was comics back then – so I was aware that there were people behind the creation of stories. The process of putting together a comic seemed so foreign from the act of writing a book, which I knew even then that I wanted to do. Kind of funny how things turned out. Anyway, the comic was published in June 1988, one year after I was born… and it was seventy-five cents. Yeesh. Times have changed.
It opens with D-Man and Priscilla Lyons practicing some “rasslin.” Nomad, who apparently doesn’t like this, comes out and kicks the crap out of D-Man. They’re at some kind of estate here, and it’s going well until a sci-fi looking floating car thing shows up. Captain America runs out of the estate, climbs onto the garage, jumps onto the diving board, and launches himself up at the thing. He goes inside and tells the folks piloting it, K’Bali and M’Daka, not to break his windows or mess with his garden. They want him to talk to their liege via satellite and, being Cap, he agrees to it.
Black Panther pops onto the screen and reveals that he sent the ship to give Cap a gift… a brand new shield made for him on behalf of Wakanda to America’s honored embassador. Cap accepts the shield, but reminds Panther that he no longer has official status within America, saying that “the government gave my name, uniform, and shield to another man while I refused to become their glorified civil servant.” Just when things are getting warm and fuzzy between Cap and Black Panther, Falcon comes knocking on the ship. He tells Cap that “snake-crook Diamondback called claiming the Serpent Society is under attack!”
We then cut to said Serpent Society, where Diamondback is throwing down with a Latino villain with talons who speaks a lot of Spanglish. I’m unsure who he is, but their fight yielded this amazing line: “And while you’re off balance, I’d like you to meet my sidekick!” Accompanied by…
…a side-kick. Diamondback splits as Cap and friends are arriving, but they reconvene and plan to take care of the problem together. Diamondback thinks Cap is a hunk, and she really digs his new costume. He does look pretty badass.
Meanwhile, Viper is screaming at Bushmaster and Black Mamba to surrender and renounce their loyalty to Sidewinder. The amount of snake names here is truly, truly incredible. The art throughout is really cool, but the villain and costume design for these characters is like nothing you see in comics today. This part, I do remember reading as a kid, while the others are very blurry in my memory.
Cap, Diamondback, and co. rush in, but Anaconda and some others help hold them off. Diamondback rassles (heh) with Ana while Cap runs into Puff Adder, who he owns with his brand new shield. Toward the end, Cap and Diamondback join forces to take down Viper and Slither while the others keep the villains off of their backs. I’m unsure when because she kind of just disappears, but Viper splits and leaves her team to lose to the heroes. Cap ends up faced with the choice of continuing to fight the villains, or rushing to get an antitoxin for some of Diamondback’s people that have been poisoned by venom. He, being Cap, does the latter.
Some of the villains are captured, some escaped… but Cap is left with the foreboding knowledge that this sinister plot was just the tip of the iceberg for Viper.
And here’s the letter column… which, in 2014, makes for a fascinating read. It’s more than twenty years later, but the passion with which fans embrace these books and these characters has remained as potent as it was then.
Oh… and the ads are pretty spectacular as well.
PAT SHAND was born a year before this comic came out. Though he once thought he would take over as writer of GOOSEBUMPS after R. L. Stine died (some kids have morbid dreams, okay?), he ended up becoming a writer and editor for Zenescope Entertainment, which is at least as cool.