* Prices may differ from that shown
Having watched and thoroughly enjoyed the Captain America: First Avenger movie, recently, I decided to go back and read some his old Marvel stories that I might have missed; never having previously been much of a fan of this paticular Marvel character. This graphic novel especially was recommended to me as being paticularly gritty and interesting and offering a very different look at this long-standing Marvel character whose adventures have lasted through several decades.
For those not quite up to speed, Captain America is the alter-ego of Steve Rogers; a World War 2 hero who was injected with a Super-Soldier Serum that gave him super strength. Following his adventures in the War, Rogers was frozen in ice after a plane crash only to be revived decades later by the Super-Hero team that would become known as The Avengers. In time, Captain America would go on to lead this team before setting off on his own...
In Streets Of Poison, a story inspired by the big media and public outcry against drug use during the late eighties/ early nineties, Cap discovers that someone working in the Avengers building has been using an illicit substance called ICE and has become an addict. In his attempt to help bust those responsible for distributing the drug, Rogers is caught up in an explosion at an Amphetamines lab and the blast forces the drug to bond with the Serum in his bloodstream. This has disastrous results....
Before long, Captain America is hallucinating and paranoid and begins to see everyone as an enemy to the point where he even beats up DareDevil!!!! Black Widow is able to subdue the Cap but it soon becomes clear that the only way he is ever going to get better is by removing the Super-Serum from his body. Only one problem, without the Serum, Rogers will be just like everybody else again.....
This is an odd tale and one that kind of forces the whole drug issue firmly down your throat but you know what? As an anti-drug message, it actually kind of works. Of course in later storylines it was revealed that the Serum could not be effectively removed from Cap's body indefinitely because it had fused with him at a molecular level and was now a part of his DNA, but, for now, the thought of the Cap being left as just another normal human was quite a sobering one!
There a lot of people out there who don't like this short story-arc but I for one disagree! It is something very different from the majority of other stories out there and if you can gloss over the moral message that the writers blatantly attempt to force down your throat with no apology, then what you are left with is a very clever tale that shows a hero forced to face an uncertain future!
It would be unfair to say it has aged well because this reads, looks and feels like a product of its time but I would say it is all handled very well and provides a very important chapter in Marvel's history and gives a fresh perspective into the life of Captain America; examining as it does the man behind the mask!
Captain America: Streets of Poison is a graphic novel by Mark Gruenwald that collects together issues #372 to #378 of the Captain America Marvel comic from the early 1990s. I've always liked Captain America. He's like the John Boy Walton of superheroes and it was refreshing in a way that he was more or less just a determined athletic man with a big metal shield rather than some character flying above buildings firing laser beams and dispensing cosmic powers. This particular story arc was apparently actually suggested by a reader who wrote to Marvel and argued that Captain America's "Super Soldier Serum" (the drug injected into him during World War 2 to make him stronger and a superhero agent at America's beck and call) was surely a performance enhancing drug like anabolic steroids. Wouldn't the squeaky clean too good to be true Captain America be against such a thing? Is he a cheat relying on this rather than his natural abilities? The idea is used to tackle the topical drugs problem of the day in a wider context. Captain America discovers one of the employees at the Avengers (Marvel superhero team) headquarters is addicted to "ICE" (a new drug sweeping New York) and takes to the streets to investigate this knotty social problem for himself. However, while tracking a drugs pusher named Napalm (great names they have in these comics!), the Capster is caught in an explosion in a drugs lab and breathes in a large quantity of ICE himself. The methamphetamine from the explosion bonds to his Super Soldier Serum and he's soon wandering around unshaven suffering from hallucinations with all this pesky ICE in his system.
When the aggressive and confused Captain America is finally apprehended by his superhero friends from The Avengers he is told what has happened to him and it is explained that the only course of action is a blood transfusion to remove the drugs in his system from the explosion. However, he is told the process will also remove the Super Soldier Serum from his body too. Can he still be Captain America without it? Meanwhile, a vicious and escalating turf war between the Kingpin and the Red Skull is unfolding in New York. The Red Skull (who lest we forget is quite literally an old Nazi) is intent on taking over the Big Apple. "I believe America to be weak, morally bankrupt country whose underpinning is being eaten away. It is my goal to speed up that process!"
Despite the rather daft and somewhat depressing sounding storyline, Captain America: Streets of Poison is quite a fun comic and manages to cram in a good deal of intrigue with the odd famous cameo or two. Captain America always seems like the superhero you could least imagine in the real world with his bright spangled costume and old fashioned virtues (he was a forties hero frozen in ice and thawed out decades later so he has a homespun anachronistic quality which I like) but here they dirty him up a bit and have him venture out onto the dark litter strewn New York streets and alleyways at night, a coat over his grate cheese at one hundred paces super loud costume. He's never going to be Batman or The Punisher but it makes him a bit more realistic at least. Because Captain America is so sensible, incorruptible and perfect it's quite enjoyable to see him going somewhat bonkers and losing his grip on reality. You know Captain America has lost the plot when he has stubble! He duffs up the red costumed blind crimefighter Daredevil - who just happens to be passing through and is not the full ticket himself at the time. Daredevil is left battered by his fight with Captain America and then has to fight his way out of a chance encounter with the Red Skull's imposing bodyguard Crossbones. This is a huge man with a mask like a wrestler and arms the size of tree trunks. Daredevil is a great character I think. He has a billy club and although blind he can see shapes and hear heatbeats. He can sense everything around him in a remarkably heightened way. I always like the way that Daredevil is introspective and enigmatic. You wouldn't catch him being part of a superhero team.
I like Crossbones too and his climatic battle with the Super Soldier Serum free Captain America is fun. Of course, if Captain America can handle Crossbones without the Serum then it will prove he can go on without it and still be Captain America. It doesn't make an awful lot of sense really. Surely he'd get killed or absolutely battered if he battled super powered supervillains as an ordinary man! Actually, I think Marvel went back on this plot twist anyway a year later or something and said the Serum was still a part of him afterall. To be honest, I don't think having the Serum was a major crime in a world where other superheroes are actual Gods or were bitten by radioactive spiders. Although this is a tad grittier than your average Captain America caper it's still a colourful and undemanding read and enjoyably silly at times. The art is vibrant and bold and the brewing turf war between the Red Skull and Kingpn is a lot of fun too. Kingpin is Wilson Fisk, a huge fat man with a shaved head who always wears a cravat. He's like a billionaire Mafia boss. He pretends he's on the straight and narrow to the outside world but has a lot of blood on his hands. He is most connected with Daredevil though rather than Captain America and is to Daredevil what Lex Luthor is to Superman. The two crime bosses attempt to do away with each other via their bodyguards and hired muscle. Crossbones for the Red Skull and Bullseye for Kingpin. Bullseye wears a blue suit with a target on his mask and is - hence his name - deadly accurate with anything he throws. He must be amazingly good at darts I'd imagine with a few nine darters on his resume. Nice confrontation between him and Captain America in the dark.
The feud between the big gangster rascals becomes increasingly silly and they eventually decide to settle their battle for New York by having a fight in a deserted baseball stadium at night as their various bodyguards look on! The fight is highly entertaining and amusing. Throughout the story though we are never in any doubt that Kingpin, crook and murderer that he is, has the support of the writers in this feud. The Red Skull is a Nazi I suppose. Black Widow and Diamondback (only Marvel nerds will have the faintest idea who I'm talking about) also make cameos in the story and the women are certainly drawn in curvaceous fashion here. How they fit into those costumes I'll never know. One of the strangest Captain America arcs I ever read was called the Superior Stratagem, all about a group of feminist supervillains who wanted to get rid of men and take over the world. That was a mad comic, but I digress. Captain America: Streets of Poison is a decent enough read and a nice burst of colourful Marvel nostalgia if you get hold of a copy. The only caveat for Marvel and Captain America fans is that it only runs to about 128 pages and so isn't terribly long by graphic novel standards. I did have a good time flipping through this and it's certainly worth picking up a copy if you are a fan of vintage comics.