At risk of Rob throwing me off this site for reviewing new books that I almost paid full price for... I pre-ordered this from Ace Comics and got it for 25% off cover price (plus a bit more discount for being a nice guy). I still paid over £15 for it, but considering it's got a scandalous rrp of £25-99 and even Amazon are selling it for £22.09, that's not bad, I suppose.
Was it worth it?
Probably not. But I had to buy it anyway. Here's why...
Back in the mid-80s, something very exciting began happening in the pages of my favourite Marvel comics. A duff old villain would suddenly spring up out of nowhere, often completely unconnected to the main plot, and start spouting about their latest nefarious scheme... and then, suddenly, from nowhere, they would be assassinated by a heavily disguised vigilante, firing a gun that always made the same sound effect ('Pum-Spak!'), followed by the catchphrase cry of "Justice is served!"
We never knew when this mysterious killer would strike again - or in which book. This was in the days before we all started being given every single detail of every single comic three months before they were actually published, so the deaths would usually come as a big surprise.
After a while, the plot behind these random murders began to take shape, and it did so in Mark Gruenwald's Captain America book. The killer had by this time been dubbed The Scourge of The Underworld and Cap, being the sort of do-gooder who cares as much for the welfare of his enemies as his friends, dedicated himself to tracking down the Scourge and putting an end to his reign of terror. Gruenwald bucked expectations in the showdown - both in the revelation of Scourge's mysterious identity... and in his fate. And that's really where the story should have ended, except that - as is often the case in comics - it'd proved quite a successful stunt, so Marvel decided to return to it later with unnecessary complications. I'd pretty much given up on the Captain America book by this time so I never read the rest of the story... but I was drawn to this collection both as an exercise in nostalgia for the early part of the storyline... and to finally see what happened next.
The book collects all of Scourge's early appearances - often just one or two page excerpts from books like Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers and The Thing (plus a full reprint of John Byrne's all-splash-pages Hulk story from Marvel Fanfare which has already been collected in a Hulk Visionaries volume)... though they do edit together quite well. Then there's the showdown from Captain America 318 - 320. What follows is a variety of bits and pieces from books I hadn't read, culminating in a four issue USAgent mini series that attempts to tie it all together and reveal the full Scourge back story. I think I got out at the right time.
The interesting thing about this book is that it can be seen as an encapsulation of just how much Marvel went downhill from the 80s into the company's creative nadir of the 90s. Even once-reliable writers like the late Mark Gruenwald were churning out unreadable tat with lacklustre art by the mid-90s - so it's no wonder the company was skirting bankruptcy. Thank god they turned it around.
If, like me, you have fond memories of the original Scourge saga, you might want to pick this book up and relive them. I wouldn't recommend reading beyond the reprint of Captain America #320 though... and if you see somebody selling a cheap copy of the first half only, I'd snap their hand off.
There are a large number of Captain America collections coming out in preparation for the film. Many are culled from Gruenwald's run which started strong but lost the plot as the 90s wore on. Unfortunately there haven't been any collections of the JM DeMatteis / Mike Zeck run that preceded Gruenwald... which is an absolute crime - those were classics.