Welcome to the eighth edition of Super Blog Team-Up! Since the movie Captain America: Civil War is now out, our theme is “versus” as the various SBTU contributors spotlight famous comic book battles and rivalries.
I’m taking a look at the volatile relationship between two of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters, Steve Rogers aka Captain America and Logan aka Wolverine.
Although Wolverine made his debut in 1974, he did not meet Captain America until a decade later. In 1980 there were tentative plans by Roger Stern & John Byrne to have Cap and Wolverine meet and for it to be revealed that Steve and Logan actually knew each other from World War II. Unfortunately Stern & Byrne left the Captain America series before they could tell that story. Cap and Wolverine did not run into each other until 1984, in the first Secret Wars miniseries, and they did not have their first extended one-on-one meeting for another two years, in the pages of Captain America Annual #8 (1986).
“Tess-One” was written by Mark Gruenwald, penciled by Mike Zeck, and inked by John Beatty & Josef Rubinstein. The story opens with Logan hanging at a dive bar in northern Westchester County. Logan’s boozing is interrupted by a huge brawl, as several thugs attack a large figure who they believe to be a mutant. This turns of to be Bob Frank, aka Nuklo, the intellectually-challenged son of the Golden Age heroes the Whizzer and Miss America. Nuklo was cured of his out-of-control radioactive powers, but still retains enhanced strength, and he wipes the floor with his bigoted assailants. Logan is intrigued, and stealthily follows Bob after he leaves the bar. He is surprised when Bob is suddenly attacked by a giant robot, Tess-One. Wolverine leaps to his rescue, but the robot flies away, controlled by a costumed figure.
Several states west, Captain America is investigating a mysterious hole that has appeared in the middle of a parking lot. Going underground, Cap navigates a series of death traps, eventually coming to an empty chamber. Looking at the machinery and the giant footprints in the dust, Cap deduces that the chamber’s previous occupant “must have been some sort of robot.” And if you can see where this is headed, faithful readers, then feel free to award yourselves a No-Prize!
After rushing the critically injured Bob to the hospital, Wolverine begins tracking down the robot and its human master. The trail leads to Southern New Jersey, specifically Adametco, “the nation’s leading manufacturer of adamantium,” the Marvel universe’s near-unbreakable metal alloy. Tess-One and its human controller Overrider have forced a truck driver making a delivery to Adamentco to smuggle them in. After they arrive, Overrider knocks out the driver, but he recovers enough to contact Captain America’s emergency hotline. Cap arrives at Adametco just as Wolverine is sneaking in.
At last Cap and Wolvie meet, and they are immediately off to a rough start. Cap is upset that Wolverine is trespassing in a high-security area. He also expresses serious doubts about the X-Men as a whole, given their recent association with Magneto… and, yes, if you were not actually reading Uncanny X-Men over the previous few years to see Magneto’s efforts at redemption, you could be forgiven for thinking the team had thrown in with an unrepentant terrorist. Y’know, I’ve always said that what the X-Men really needed was a good public relations manager.
Wolverine, who back then was still very much a temperamental loner with little respect for authority figures and a seriously short fuse, quickly has enough of Cap’s attitude. Before you know it, sparks are literally flying, as Wolverine’s claws meet Cap’s impenetrable shield. The two spar for a couple of panels before they are interrupted by the arrival of Tess-One, now coated in adamantium. The already-formidable robot is now even more dangerous. Cap and Wolverine are unable to prevent Overrider from escaping with it.
Realizing they are working on the same case, Cap apologizes for his earlier attitude and asks Wolverine to work with him. Wolverine isn’t thrilled at the idea, but he wants another shot at Tess-One, so he grudgingly agrees.
Cap heads to Washington DC to search government records on Daniel Schumann, the now-deceased owner of the property underneath which Tess-One had been hidden. Cap discovers that back in 1939 Schumann proposed the creation of an army of robots as a failsafe in case the super-soldiers created by Project: Rebirth ever revolted. The subsequent murder of Professor Erskine meant that Steve Rogers would be the only successful super-soldier to be created, and so Project Tess (Total Elimination of Super-Soldiers) was shut down. Tess-One was the only robot ever produced.
Wolverine meanwhile utilizes the mutant-detecting Cerebro device to learn that Overrider is Richard Rennselaer, a former SHIELD with the ability to control machinery. Rennselaer’s son Johnny suffers from “nuclear psychosis,” a fear of the nuclear bomb so overwhelming that he has withdrawn into a catatonic state. Overrider, desperate to cure his son, wants to destroy America’s entire nuclear arsenal, believing this will end the international arms race.
The next day another member of Cap’s emergency hotline spots Overrider transporting Tess-One to the nuclear command base at Offut Air Base. Tess-One attacks base security, enabling Overrider to sneak in. Cap and Wolverine arrive via Avengers Quinjet, but are immediately at each other’s throats again, with Logan balking at taking orders from Cap. Despite this they manage to finally defeat Tess-One, as Cap uses his shield to hammer Wolverine’s claws into the robot’s neck. Cap, in spite of his dislike for Wolverine, has to admit that the X-Man is one tough cookie to have endured the excruciating pain required by this plan.
The pair head inside the base to confront Overrider. Neither of them is able to talk Overrider down, and finally Cap uses his shield to knock him off his hover platform, hoping he will be too stunned to trigger the nukes. Cap orders Wolverine to catch the falling Overrider; Logan, however, has other ideas, and pops his claws, ready to skewer the plummeting foe. At the last second he decides to split the difference; he doesn’t kill Overrider, but neither does he catch him, letting him hit the ground hard. Overrider is seriously injured but still alive.
Cap, disgusted both by this particular act, and by Wolverine’s general attitude, goes off on him…
“As for you, mister, you’d better hope the X-Men never get tired of putting up with you, because I guarantee you the Avengers would never have you.”
Captain America Annual #8 is interesting if you look at it as part of Mark Gruenwald’s decade-long stint as writer on the series. During his time on the book, Gruenwald would often contrast Cap to the violent anti-heroes who were becoming more and more popular in superhero comic books. Gruenwald obviously favored the more traditional heroes of the Silver Age, and he sometimes overcompensated by making Cap too much of a humorless, overly-moral boy scout.
Keeping this in mind, it’s surprising that when Cap meets Wolverine, Gruenwald offers a rather nuanced depiction of the later. Yes, he shows that Wolverine is a very different type of person from Cap, someone who is unpleasant and quick to anger and who regards killing as a perfectly reasonable solution. But Gruenwald also depicts Logan as a very competent individual who will endure hardship & pain to achieve his goal. He shows Wolverine risking his life to rescue Bob Frank from Tess-One. On the last page of the story, after gets chewed out by Cap, we see Logan visiting Bob at the hospital to make sure he’s okay, demonstrating that there’s more to the man than just attitude and berserker rages.
I am not a fan of creators who have guest stars show up in books they write just so they can be completely humiliated by the title character. Garth Ennis writing the Punisher teaming up with pretty much anyone is a perfect example of that sort of thing. In contrast, you have this annual. Gruenwald has Cap remaining very much in-character and expressing grave reservations about Wolverine. But at the same time Gruenwald also writes Logan in a manner that was respectful of the work Chris Claremont had done with the character. It’s a delicate balancing act, and I appreciate that Gruenwald made the effort.
One of the reasons why this annual is so well remembered, in addition to the Wolverine appearance, is that it is penciled by former Captain America artist Mike Zeck, who does an amazing job. His pencils are ably embellished by John Beatty and Josef Rubinstein, two of the best inkers in the biz. Certainly the action-packed cover of Cap and Wolverine fighting is one of the most iconic images that Zeck has ever penciled.
This annual was a really expensive back issue for a long time. I missed getting it when it came out, and I had to read someone else’s copy at summer camp. For years afterward every time I saw copies of this annual for sale at a comic shop or convention it was $20 or more. In the late 1990s I was at last able to buy it for a mere three bucks.
“Tess-One” would not be the last time we would see Captain America and Wolverine side-by-side. Four years later, in 1990, we would finally see that first time Cap and Logan met during World War II, although it would be recounted by Chris Claremont, Jim Lee & Scott Williams in Uncanny X-Men #268.
Adamantium claws would collide with unbreakable shield several more times throughout the years as Cap and Logan would find themselves at odds with one another. One of the more unusual of these was courtesy of Gruenwald himself in the 1992 storyline “Man and Wolf” with artwork by Rik Levins, Danny Bulanadi & Steve Alexandrov. This time Cap and Wolverine ended up fighting each other because Logan was hypnotized. Oh, yes, and Cap got turned into a werewolf. Yep, that’s right, this was the epic introduction of Capwolf!
Truthfully, Capwolf looked less like a werewolf and more like a Long-Haired Collie. “What’s that, Capwolf? Timmy fell down a well? I tell ya, that’s always happening to that darn kid!”
Despite Cap’s promise on the final page of Annual #8, years later Wolverine did indeed become an Avenger. To be fair, it was Iron Man’s idea to have Logan join the team, and at first Cap was dead-set against it. Not surprisingly, as teammates Cap and Wolverine would continue to clash over tactics and methodologies.
Eventually, after they had to team up with Deadpool to prevent North Korea from using the technology of Weapon Plus to create an army of super-soldiers, Cap and Wolverine would grow to respect one another. Later, when Wolverine died — he’s not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead… at least for now — Cap was genuinely saddened.
In the special Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America by writer Gerry Duggan and artist Scott Kollins (December 2014), Steve Rogers and Wade Wilson get together to mourn Logan, as well as prevent AIM from creating a clone of him. Thinking back on their tumultuous relationship, Cap briefly recounts the time he and Wolverine fought Tess-One. When Cap gets to the “I guarantee you the Avengers would never have you” part, naturally enough Deadpool bursts out in hysterical laughter.
Y’know, I really would like to see a live action face-off between Captain America and Wolverine, with Chris Evans and Hugh Jackman reprising their respective roles. Unfortunately at this point in time it doesn’t seem like Disney and Fox are able to iron out their differences enough to enable that. Well, in the meantime at least we have the actual comic books where more often than not Cap and Logan will inevitably end up butting heads over one thing or another.
Thanks for reading my entry in Super Blog Team-Up 8. Be sure to check out the pieces written by the other fine contributors…