I can't begin to understand Marvel's publishing wiles, but this is a strange book to release. Granted, its got a story from the Shooter era that spans a lot of issues before this was the done thing, so it makes a natural book length collection, but the tone of it is all over the place, for reasons that I will come to shortly. In addition, its the tail end of writer JM DeMatteis run on the title. He worked for around three years with Mike Zeck in an under-appreciated run of quality and intelligence, before the penciller left for fame and glory and Secret Wars.
Zeck was replaced by Paul Neary, and DeMatteis left under a cloud around issue after issue 300, collected in this volume. Neary would eventually become a great Cap artist, but the reason for the shifting tone in this volume is because he goes through a series of inkers, and the finished art changes hugely each time. It's not until the last couple of issues when he is paired with Dennis Janke that the artwork finds any form of consistency, which is a shame. I'm especially surprised at how badly his pencils clash with the inks of Josef Rubinstein.
Equally strange is the decision to include issue 291. This is an obvious fill-in issue by Bill Mantlo and Herb Trimpe, that features none of the supporting cast and Cap on his motorcycle. It does nothing to the story other than get in the way, even if the art is lovely.
But I still loved it. DeMatteis had built up a strong supporting cast by now, and by having the Red Skull threaten all of these, it becomes a real ensemble piece with a true sense of jeopardy. And obviously, by featuring the 'death' of Cap's arch-enemy, it was trying to get rid of some of the baggage, and tell a story of real import.
Sadly, its not to be - politicking and the variable quality stop it from being as good as it could be, but as a piece of 80s nostalgia, I really enjoyed it.
Cost : It's got a cover price of $29.99. It's around 15 pounds from the usual online retailers, some of whom probably even pay Corporation Tax in the UK. At that price, it's worthy of your attention.