Captain America: Dead Men Running (A 3-issue Story Arc)
Issue 1, March 2002 / Issue 2, April 2002 / Issue 3, May 2002
Darko Macan (writer), Daniel Zezelj (artist), Matt Madden (colors), Todd Klein (letters)
Ran in 2002, the three issue storyline of Captain America: Dead Men Running caught me off guard. I understood that comics, especially these days, can have deeper meanings and shed light on serious subject matter. This arc of Captain America was not what I was expecting when I picked it up. Admittedly, though, I haven’t been in the comic scene for about 10 years, and even then I only dabbled in the Marvel side of the pool. This series was picked up on eBay for a grand total of $5.00, and it was a great buy for the story inside.
The story picks up with a handful of soldiers in the jungles of Columbia. They are running from someone, an even smaller group of children with them. They are running from drug lords, they have “liberated” the children and broken them out of the mobs headquarters. But, they have also lost their radio man, have no idea where they are going and have lost all hope. And then, a plane flies overhead and a lone shadowy figure jumps and parachutes down into the trees. Rushing to find out who has landed, they are amazed – and frightened to find out it is Captain America.
The Captain stirs their morale, it seems, and he tells them there is a monastery where they can rest up ahead and that he also has a friend with a plane that will wait for them for two days. That is when they are ambushed. Cap takes out the majority of the guys, but he receives a flesh wound from one of the enemies bullets. Suddenly a helicopter appears and one of the children call out to their papa …
After the chopper has been ran off, Captain America asks the simplest question: Why did the girl call out to her papa when the chopper appeared? Suddenly, one of the soldiers injects our hero with a drug that knocks him unconscious. They are actually mercenaries, sent in to make a deal with the drug cartel, get a piece of the “pie,” but when things didn’t go smoothly, they kidnapped the main man’s children and are heading back to rendezvous with their commanding officer, Major Buxley.
Using Cap as a tool, they manage to infiltrate the monastery, but only after one of the nuns test their civility. The leader kills her, splattering the Captain’s shield with her blood. They force their way into the monastery and hold up, managing to contact their major and tell him things have gone bad but they have the children. He says he will send someone for them. Meanwhile, one of the soldiers has a heart-to-heart with the Captain, as he is drugged and unresponsive. He tells how his grandfather pushed the tales of Captain America down his throat for years, beat him when he didn’t live up to Captain America’s presentation of morals, and explains, in general how living in the shadow of someone like Captain America has been nothing but a nightmare. He knocks Cap around a bit, until Captain America begins to come to. They have a brief heart-to-heart, but it is cut short because …
Up top on the monastery’s wall, the groups leader hears the approaching planes. Jets. Fighter jets. He suddenly wonders how a couple of jets are going to rescue them all when, as it hits him, the planes launch missiles at the compound, blowing up everything in the area. The leader falls, almost managing to escape death, when Captain America’s shield he has been carrying decapitates him, adding his blood to that of the nuns he shot earlier.
Captain America and the guys he was being abused by make it to the top, help free the kids. The remaining soldiers decide to stay behind and face their fate with the drug cartel, telling Cap about their major that is behind everything and telling him to take the kids and go ahead.
Captain America walks away with the children as trucks pull up with members of the drug mob dressed in black outfits with skeletons imprinted on them jump out. The soldier who had beat on Cap, pulls on the Captain’s mask that he had taken from him, hoping that it will finally make his grandfather proud of him, and begins to fight. They lose, of course, and in the last frame we see Cap’s plane taking off into the air.
So serious, so bloody and dark, so adult. This was a great story arc, told perfectly in three issues by the writers. This is why comics aren’t just for kids anymore, folks, and I recommend this as a great find and read to anyone. I’m sure there are much better stories out there, but as a rehabilitated noob coming back into the comic world, I consider myself lucky to have stumbled onto this one. Love the story, love the narrative, and I always enjoy seeing how the lives of heros affect the average man, as is the case with the soldier who was constantly pushed to be better by his grandfather. Not all heros are heros to everyone.