When I first started talking about weird Marvel stories here on the site, there were certain famous stories that I figured I’d get to eventually. Because it’s no secret that over the course of their fifty-plus years the House of Ideas has had some really oddball comics, many of which have entered the public consciousness as quintessentially weird comics. And, it felt a little easy tackling some of these stories. One of which, is what we’ll be discussing today. A comic that I’ve been fascinated with ever since I first learned of its existence, and have been patiently awaiting a proper time to discuss. And, I figured that it would make the perfect closing statement for this month of insane Captain America stories. We’re talking about Capwolf, folks. Last July I shared with you all a story where Captain America and the Falcon encountered a strange woman who called herself Deadly Nightshade, and who turned Falcon into a werewolf. It’s a delightfully strange story, and introduced us to the idea of Captain America dealing with werewolves, something that comes up a surprising amount of times in the history of the character. But, it all builds up to this story, one of the most famously weird ones that Marvel has ever published. So, the question remains, does Capwolf live up to its incredibly strange pedigree? Folks. It surpasses it.
The story begins with Captain America hanging out in Avengers Mansion, doing his best to help rehabilitate D-Man, a delightfully strange superhero who has shown up at the mansion with pretty severe amnesia and brain damage, resulting in making him basically just a shuffling zombie. This story really isn’t going to involve D-Man a lot though, unfortunately, so Cap quickly moves on to another pressing concern. Because another of Cap’s friends has been missing, and he’s decided to throw himself full-force behind that investigation. And that friend is John Jameson, son of newspaper publisher and greatest fictional character of all time, J Jonah Jameson. John has been working as Cap’s private pilot, after an illustrious career as a famous astronaut and part-time werewolf. But, John has been missing for about three weeks, and as Cap begins investigating where to begin he finds something worrisome. During those same three weeks there have been a slew of strange murders happening in some woods in Massachusetts. And, since John has had a history of turning into a murderous monster called the Man-Wolf when he comes in contact with a magical gem he found on the moon (comics!) Cap becomes worried that he may be involved. So, Cap heads over to the laboratories of Dr. Kurt Conners, the Lizard, because Spider-Man and Conners were instrumental in removing the Moongem from John the last time he had a Man-Wolf incident. But, when Cap gets there he finds out that the Moongem ended up turning to dust after being removed from Jameson, and is currently missing.
So, there’s been a string of killings that seem to have been done by werewolves, a noted werewolf is missing, and the thing that turns him into said werewolf is also missing. This is troubling to Cap, and he decides it’s now imperative to track John down. And, after a brief visit to confer with J Jonah Jameson, Cap decides he needs to get some mystical help. He of course gives a call to Doctor Strange, but finds that the Sorcerer Supreme is already quite busy, meaning Cap’s going to need to go visit some second-stringers. That’s right, Cap’s going to go talk to Doctor Druid! Listen, I’m going to be real with you all. I couldn’t give less of a crap about Doctor Druid. He’s a magical superhero, which is really all we need to know for this story. Because now that magical space-rocks and werewolves are involved, Cap knows he needs someone to help explain all the mystical mumbo-jumbo going on.
Cap and Doctor Druid then hop onto Cap’s little skycycle, and zip out to the woods where all the murders have been going on. They disembark from the cycle, and quickly find an area full of dried blood where the last attack must have occurred. However, as they’re examining the crime scene an Druid is attempting to get some sort of read on the situation, they’re attacked be female werewolf. The werewolf pins Druid, and is about to kill him, until Cap is able to smash her with the shield, letting the two begin a fearsome battle. Cap holds his own against the werewolf, but she’s still able to land a few good hits on him, primarily while he’s trying to assess if she might be John Jameson. But, their little battle is cut short when a hilariously dressed man shows up to capture the werewolf.
Just bask in the 90’s weirdness of that look, ladies and gentlemen. This cat’s name is Moonhunter, and he’s something of a professional werewolf wrangler. Which means he has a special suit that’s reinforced to survive their claws, he’s loaded with silver, and for some reason he has what appear to be deadlocks made of silver barbed wire. This guy’s a trainwreck, and I love him. He captures the werewolf that Cap and Druid had been fighting, and starts to fly away with her, leaving Cap without a lead, so he gives chase, following Moonhunter with his own skycycle. Cap makes sure that Druid is okay, since he got raked pretty good by the wolf’s claws, and then gives chase, getting caught up pretty easily. However, when Moonhunter sees that Cap has caught up with him, he does some fancy flying and gets behind the superhero, before firing a rocket that blows his cycle up.
But, this is Captain America we’re talking about, so he uses a blown up skycycle to his advantage, and rides the concussive blast in order to launch himself onto Moonhunter’s cycle. The two then begin battling in mid-air, while Cap becomes increasingly frustrated with just how fortified Moonhunter’s costume is, making it so that none of his blows are able to stop the villain. And, when he’s had enough fun, Moonhunter just pull out a large revolver that fires silver bullets, and fires two point-blank into Cap’s chest. His battlesuit is strong enough to stop the bullets, but their force is enough to knock him off the cycle, leading him to come crashing down to the ground.
With Captain America taken care of, Moonhunter then returns to his hideout with the captured werewolf. He’s stationed in the nearby small town of Stakesboro, which has apparently been completely taken over by werewolves. He lands his skycycle in the middle of town, and walking past several lycanthropic townsfolk, he heads to a secret laboratory to drop the escaped werewolf of at. And, who is running that laboratory? Why Nightshade of course! And, as an added bonus, she’s experimenting on another famous Marvel werewolf, a man named Jack Russel (such a dumb gag) who goes by the name Werewolf By Night. Moonhunter chats with the werewolves inside the lab, and is ordered to bring the captured one down to a large pen of werewolves that are being experimented upon.
Meanwhile, Cap has caught back up with Doctor Druid, who is resting and recuperating after the fight with the werewold. And, now that they’re reunited, they decide to press on in the direction that Moonhunter left, figuring that they need to follow him before sun rises and the werewolf will presumably return to humanity, thus making it impossible to recognize them. And, they eventually are able to come across Starkesboro.
But, while Cap and Druid are entering the town, there’s nefarious deeds happening inside the laboratory. Nightshade has finished whatever experiments she was running when we saw her talk to Moonhunter, and she’s now meeting with the brains of the operation, a man called Dredmund Druid, a magic-themed supervillain who also has a Druid fixation. He’s acquired the dust of the Moongem, and is showing it off to Nightshade, fully reformed, when a commotion begins outside. Because it turns out that someone else has been on the werewolf hunt and has found themselves in Stakesboro.
That’s right everyone, we’re tossing in another Marvel hero. Wolverine has showed up, and he’s happily fighting this weird town full of werewolves. He had no idea what he’d be coming up against, but relies on his killer instincts to just start slicing and dicing the wolves, unaware that Moonhunter is sneaking up on him. Moonhunter is worried by the sudden appearance of a third superhero, and decides that he needs to capture Wolverine to see if there’s some sort of concerted effort to bring down their evil plot. So, he pulls out a high-powered shotgun and just starts blasting Wolverine in the head, over and over again until Wolverine is knocked unconscious. He then drags Wolverine into the laboratory so that Nightshade and Dredmund can decide what to do with him.
And, while Wolverine is being brought down into the depths of the laboratory, Captain America and Doctor Druid come strutting into the town, only to find themselves immediately jumped by a whole mob of angry werewolves. The two start fighting against them, but it quickly becomes apparent that they’re going to need to come up with a better plan. Cap just starts punching the hell out of the werewolves, just doing his best to stay alive, while Doctor Druid comes up with a more efficient plan. He starts levitating out of the reach of the werewolves, and begins using his abilities to hypnotize a portion of the werewolves, turning them onto their side. The newly turned werewolves then start attacking the other group, causing a massive brawl that Cap finds himself trapped in between. But, before Cap is torn to shreds he’s saved, albeit a tad unceremoniously, by Doctor Druid.
Cap ends up materializing atop of a building in Stakesboro, where Doctor Druid himself has floated up to. The duo then hide for bit while Druid covers both of them in a series of spells that will keep them invisible, and un-smellable, from the werewolves. And, while those spells are taking effect, we check back in on the laboratories of Nightshade, where she’s experimenting on Wolverine. And, things aren’t going well. Apparently part of his mutant healing factor keeps him from being affected by mutagenic agents, which means the strange chemicals they’ve devised that turn people into werewolves won’t take affect. They pump some into Wolverine, but it just won’t turn him. Which means they’re going to need to take a different route, and they begin the process of hypnotizing him, which Dredmund is quite adept at.
Back on the rooftops Cap and Doctor Druid are finally cloaked from the werewolves, and they begin spying on the hairy interlopers. They watch as the wolves hunt around the small town, looking for the two superheroes, until finally giving up and all flooding into their homes. And, with the wolves having failed, they watch as Moonhunter starts flying around the town, hunting them. But Doctor Druid’s spells still manage to keep them hidden, and Moonhunter is forced to return to Dredmund and admit failure. Dawn then arrives, and Cap and Doctor Druid head into Starkesboro, invisible among the now human townspeople. They all seem quite preoccupied, and several of them come running from town-hall, in apparent terror. So, Cap decides to check that building out first. Unfortunately, when they get inside they find Nightshade waiting for them, with a hypnotized Wolverine in tow. She then commands Wolverine to attack, leading to another super-brawl.
Cap’s pretty stunned by the sudden appearance of a fellow superhero, but does his best to bounce back. He starts trying to talk to Logan, to get him to come to his senses, but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s not going to be able to accomplish this. So, instead, he just starts trying to put Wolverine down as quickly as possible. The two start to brawl, spilling into the street, which creates an odd experience for the people of Stakesboro, since Cap is invisible. Cap nails Wolverine with a couple of his most powerful punches, but all it does is make the little Canadian more furious. The two end up grappling on the street, until Moonhunter shows up and tranquilizes Cap.
When Captain America regains consciousness he finds himself inside Nightshade’s laboratory, strapped down and about to be injected with her newest werewolf serum. And it’s a smashing success. Before he knows what hit him Captain America is turned into a massive werewolf, ripping through most of his costume, but still keeping enough of it to look wonderfully ridiculous. He has very little control over himself, and his inner monologue has become very bestial, but he knows that he’s in a bad situation, and he manages to escape. He rips past both Nightshade and Dredmund, and ends up running into the streets of Starkesboro, causing quite a stir. Especially because it’s daylight, and he remains a werewolf.
Dredmund is pretty furious about Capwolf escaping, she he decides some extra muscle is needed. He then uses his powers to turn all the lingering townspeople of Stakesboro into werewolves, ignoring the fact that it’s daylight, and orders them to give chase. They begin steaming into the woods, chasing after Cap, while he desperately tries to find somewhere to be safe and figure out what’s going on.
Meanwhile, Doctor Druid has been snooping around Starkesboro, still invisible, trying to figure out what Dredmund is up to. And, he hits paydirt. Because it just so happens that they’ve converted the small church in the town into a druidic altar. It’s full of mystical totems and scientific equipment, pointing out to him that these people are combining science and magic to pull of this werewolf feat. But, the druidic influences is what really catches his attention, obviously. Well, that and the Moongem, which is floating in a special glass container. Doctor Druid begins investigating the Moongem, just as Dredmond shows up to confront him. The two then have a strange duel of concentration, both hoping to take over the others mind.
And, while all of that is going on, Cap has found himself surrounded in the woods by the hypnotized werewolves. He realizes he can’t defeat them all, and figures that there’s only one course of action. He needs to give them one of this trademark inspirational speeches, something that will convince them to join him in overthrowing the tyranny of Nightshade and Dredmund! Unfortunately, he has wolf vocal chords now, and it doesn’t work out very well.
Cap’s little werewolf revolution is over before it even began, so he continues to flee into the woods, when he’s pounced upon by Wolverine. Capwolf struggles to remember who Wolverine is, and that he’s a friend rather than a foe, and the two start to fight. Capwolf tries to handle things peacefully at first, but quickly finds that it’s impossible to keep the new, bestial side of him at bay. So, he gives into the wolf, and starts beating the hell out of Wolverine. He even manages to pick the X-Man up, and throw him into a crowd of other werewolves, knocking them all out. And, with that taken care of, he starts fleeing back toward Starkesboro to try and bring the villains to justice.
While Cap is heading back to Starkesboro, Dredmund is still engaged in a wizard duel with Doctor Druid, and things aren’t going well. Doctor Druid is able to realize that Dredmund’s enhanced magical abilities are stemming from the Moongem, and attempts to use his own powers to shatter the Gem, but it doesn’t work out. Because as soon as Dredmund realizes that Doctor Druid’s attention has been split, he’s able to press the attack and knock out his heroic counterpart, taking him hostage.
Meanwhile, Capwolf has reached Starkesboro, and after brief and one-sided fight with Moonhunter, he continues his trek toward Nightshade. Capwolf leaps onto the balcony of the laboratory, where Nightshade is watching in startled confusion, and prepares to attack her. But, thinking fast on her feet, Nightshade is able to convince Capwolf that he shouldn’t attack her, because otherwise he won’t be able to help everyone else.
The now docile Capwolf then follows Nightshade into the laboratory, and into the large pit of uncooperative werewolves that they keep there. The confused Capwolf is then lowered down into the pit, where the other werewolves begin surrounding him, curious about the newcomer. Capwolf struggles to remember what’s going on, and who he is, but definitely understands his animal instincts. Because there certainly seems to be an alpha down here in the wolf pit, a large white werewolf. The alpha come strutting up to Capwolf, clearly intending to beat him up and continue his established dominance. So, with no other alternative, Capwolf has to beat the hell out of the Alpha, tossing him into the air and into the roof of the pit so hard it knocks the wolf out. And, when his unconscious body comes flopping back down to the ground, he’s earned himself the respect of the entire pack.
And, not only that, he finds a friendly face. Because there’s yet another superhero involved in this plot. Rahne Sinclair, the New Mutant called Wolfsbane whose mutant power is basically just to turn into a werewolf. She apparently had been feeling a preternatural urge to come to Starkesboro, more than likely caused by Dredmund’s experiments with the Moongem, and has been captured for quite some time. She obviously recognizes the uniform of Captain America, and puts it together what’s going on. And, most importantly, she teaches him how to speak with his new wolf vocal chords. Which means Captain America can finally give an inspirational speech, and lead the werewolf revolution!
Capwolf then uses his acute leadership abilities to convince the werewolves to form a human pyramid so that he can climb up them and use his strength to free themselves from the pit. And, this goes off without a hitch. They get out of the pit, and he’s able to pull each and every one of the werewolves out of the pit. And, complete with a werewolf army, Cap starts marching toward Nightshade and Dredmund, who are now setting up shop inside the Druidic temple from earlier where Dredmund plans to sacrifice Doctor Druid. The wolves do come across Wolverine, who is now locked up, but they decide they won’t be able to control him in his hypnotized state, and just march past him and into the laboratory of Nightshade, where she and Moonhunter are getting ready to head over to Dredmund’s sacrifice.
The wolves attack Moonhunter first, and rip his armor apart, scattering his weapons and rendering him powerless. Capwolf briefly hopes that this is somehow John Jameson, but it turns out to just be some random dude that Dredmund hypnotized into becoming his werewolf wrangler. So, they toss him down into the pit, and leave him behind. Once that’s taken care of, they bring Nightshade into the laboratory, have her free Jack Russel, and demand that she cook up an antidote that will turn them all back into humans. She refuses to though, and ends up distracting Capwolf by telling him about Dredmund’s plans with Doctor Druid. So, Cap leaves the rest of the wolves behind with Nightshade, and he bursts into the temple just in time for the sacrifice.
Capwolf comes bursting into the temple right as Dredmund was about to slit Doctor Druid’s throat, and he is not pleased. Luckily for him though, he forced all of his loyal werewolves to be in attendance, and orders them to subdue Cap. And, while that’s being taken care of, he slits Doctor Druid’s throat, and uses the blood to submerge the Moongem, thus removing some of the harmful spells surrounding it. Apparently the Moongem will just turn someone into a werewolf if they hold it, unless it’s bathed in the blood of a sorcerer, in which case it’ll transform a person into some sort of celestial god. And, thanks to Doctor Druid, the Moongem is now fully powerful. So, Dredmund places it on his throat, and begins his transformation into the Starwolf, a being of cosmic dread!
The Starwolf is then able to make quick work of Capwolf, beating the hell out of him, and taking every punch that Cap has in him. Cap quickly realizes that he’s outmatched, and decides to focus his efforts on trying to save Doctor Druid. So, he grabs a hold of his shield and uses it to break Doctor Druid’s binds, noticing that the sorcerer still appears to be alive, despite the slit throat. And, just as the battle seems like it’s about to fall apart, the other wolves show up, led by Jack Russel. They left behind the big white alpha wolf, who has turned Nightshade into a werewolf to inspire her to come up with an antidote, but otherwise they’re all there. The group begin fighting against Starwolf and his wolf army, when something unexpected happens.
That’s right! This story was convoluted enough, so why not toss in the epitome of 90’s weirdness, Cable! I am not a Cable fan. He’s complicated, brooding, and just generally uninteresting. But, he’s an added wrinkle in this already bizarre story, so that’s fun. He’s here to find Wolfsbane, and has now found himself in what appears to be a werewolf gang war, observed by a large wolf made of space. But, Cable is an X-Man, so he’s seen weirder shit. He then stops asking questions, and starts firing his massive machine gun into the crowd, indiscriminately.
Which pisses off Capwolf, since half of these werewolves are on his side, and all of them are actually innocent humans. So, Capwolf attacks Cable, destroying his guns while trying to convince him to stop attacking the werewolves. And, while the two are occupied fighting each other, Starwolf uses his vast and unexplained powers to cause a giant rug to wrap around Cap and Cable, squeezing them until they pass out. Not exaclty dignified. So, things aren’t going very well. And, they potentially are going to get worse. Because Moonhunter has escaped from the pit, and freed Wolverine to act as his muscle. The two were planning on escaping, until the miraculously revived Doctor Druid used his abilities to remove the hypnosis that was keeping them on Dredmund’s side. So, with his wits his own again, Wolverine enters the druidic chapel, and manages to free both Capwolf and Cable. He explains to them what’s going on, and they come up with a plan. And the first step is to throw Capwolf at the Starwolf.
Capwolf then lands on top of the Starwolf, and gets to work. They figure that all of the powers come from the Moongem, so if they rip it out of his throat things will go back to normal. The Gem doesn’t seem to want to be removed from its champion, and it causes Capwolf a lot of pain, but he’s eventually able to do it. He rips the Gem from Dredmund’s throat, and throws it to the ground, where Cable is able to smash the gem to bits under his boot. Dredmund then returns to his human form, and the threat has been destroyed.
But, oddly enough, there’s one more issue of the story, that really didn’t need to be there. It’s apparently a tie-in to the Infinity War story-line, and featured a strange appearance from an evil doppelganger of Captain America, but none of that’s important. What is important is that Nightshade, having been turned into a werewolf herself, cooked up an antidote, and has been passing it around. Everyone has reverted to their human forms, including the white alpha wolf, who has been revealed to be John Jameson. And, that’s kind of it. Dredmund and Nightshade are arrested, the citizens of Starkesboro return to normal, the un-hypnotized Moonhunter leaves, the X-Folks return to their mansion, Jack Russel heads out to do whatever it is he does, Doctor Druid heals himself and returns home, and Captain America is able to say goodbye to his friend John.
This story is intense. It’s easily the longest story that I’ve ever featured in one of these Marvel Madness posts, and it’s probably the most convoluted. I mean, it’s absolutely stuffed with twists, surprise cameos, and as much insanity as writer Mark Gruenwald could fit into it. I know that his run on Captain America is famously strange, but I have to assume that this is the pinnacle of that weirdness. I mean, I have no idea why the idea of Captain America dealing with werewolves caught on as well as it did, and this storyline really is the culmination of that strange lineage. By sticking Nighsthade into these stories they can add all sorts of werewolf shenanigans, but by including Man-Wolf, Werewolf By Night, and Wolfsbane Gruenwald seemed to set out to tell the ultimate Marvel tale of werewolves. And he succeeded! This story almost defies explanation. Every issue was new treasure trove of insanity, going in the strangest places at every turn. This storyline is peak 90’s Marvel, throwing all of the toys in the toybox together, and seeing what sticks. And I love it. It’s goofy, it’s campy, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But it’s so completely earnest. Gruenwald really seems to get what makes Captain America tick, his unquestionable optimism and his undeniable leadership, and he manages to put all of that first and forefront in this insane maelstrom of ideas. You would think that a story this complicated and stuffed with characters would stop feeling like a Captain America story at a certain point. That he’d be swallowed up in the circus around him. But, against all odds, Captain America remains himself. He’s still the great character he always is, even though he’s a semi-sentient werewolf. And that’s frankly impressive.
Captain America #402 – 408 were written by Mark Gruenwald, penciled by Rik Levins, inked by Danny Bulandi and Steve Alexandrov, lettered by Joe Rosen, and colored by Gina Going and George Roussos, 1992.
Categories: Marvel Madness