Gimmick or Good? - Captain America #400

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence "Gimmick or Good?" Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1992's gatefold cover of Captain America #400...

Captain America #400 (published May 1992) – script by Mark Gruenwald, pencils by Rik Levins, inks by Danny Bulanadi

To commemorate the 400th issue of Captain America, Marvel busted out a number of gimmicks. Keeping with April’s “theme” for “Gimmick or Good,” the comic has a gatefold cover revealing vintage Captain America illustrations from the character’s earliest days. The comic also sports a “flip book” format, where if you turn to the book’s back cover and then flip it, you reveal another comic to read. With these giant-sized anniversary issues, the flip book format was a popular way to reprint a Silver Age issue, as Marvel did for Captain America #400, re-running Avengers #4, Cap’s first Silver Age appearance.

But what about inside the comic?

In addition to serving as a centennial issue (which have historically featured “special” stories and bonus content), Captain America #400 is the 15th part of the massive Operation Galactic Storm storyline, an unofficial sequel to the ballyhooed Kree/Skrull War which ran in the Avengers series in 1971-72. This time around, both the Avengers and the West Coast Avengers are caught in the middle of a cosmic war between the Kree and Shi’ar empires. The arc is notorious for it’s downer ending, which sees a small group of Avengers, led by Iron Man intentionally kill their adversary, the Kree Supreme Intelligence, despite Captain America’s objections.

This dramatic final scene is a quintessential Captain America moment, demonstrating his unfailing devotion to his moral code, while also exhibiting the icy relationship between Cap and Iron Man that would go on to define the Avengers series for years to come. Unfortunately, this fantastic moment did not occur within Captain America #400 but rather Avengers #347.

Instead Captain America #400 reads more like a placeholder instead of as a significant component of the larger arc.

Cap has been imprisoned by the Supreme Intelligence when he’s unexpectedly confronted by some of his most diabolical villains: Red Skull, Crossbones, King Cobra, Flag-Smasher and the Viper.

The five gang up on Captain America until it is revealed that they are actually a mental manipulation by the Supreme Intelligence.

What’s frustrating about Gruenwald’s script is that from the very beginning of the story, Cap is expressing the implausibility of this confrontation and that these villains must be a figment of his imagination or a manipulation of some sort. And still Gruenwald tries to cast some doubt on this logical explanation....

until the big reveal is that … Captain America was right all along. It just feels very circuitous and does little to nothing to advance the immediate story of Captain America #400 and the larger Galactic Storm plot.

That’s not to say there’s really anything objectionably “bad” in Captain America #400, but absolutely nothing that sets it apart either. It’s probably the only issue in the Galactic Storm arc that can stand on its own without additional context needed from any other issue. Avengers #347 features such an iconic Captain America moment, I wish Marvel could have used its story for Captain America #400 instead. These centennial issues should have a special, historic feel to them, and instead this comic is a glorified villains greatest hits list, complete with a battle with zero consequence since it’s blatantly obvious that the whole thing is a hallucination.

The big question for me, is if I’m a new or casual reader picking up this comic when it came out in the early 90s, what would I have learned about Captain America, the character, beyond the names of a few highlighted members of his rogues gallery? Wouldn’t highlighting a moment that shows how Captain America is even willing to stand up and severe relationships with his teammates if he believes they’re ethically doing the wrong thing be more compelling to new Cap fans?

Granted, what I’m doing right now is the comic book reviewers equivalent of Monday morning quarterbacking, but as a sincere Captain America fan, I’m just disappointed by how humdrum issue #400 comes across. While this issue came out during the infancy of the “Chromium Age” of gimmicks, Marvel still should have done more to sell the story of Captain America #400 rather than making its featured story just a middling component of a larger arc, while the rest of the issue is just the usual fluff and reprints used to fill out annuals and “anniversary” issues.

Verdict: Gimmick

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