Secret Avengers (1st series) #11

Issue Date: 
May 2011
Story Title: 
The Trouble with John Steele part 1

Ed Brubaker (writer), Will Conrad (artist), Rain Beredo with Sotocolor (color art), Rain Beredo and Mike Deodato Jr. (cover artists), Dave Lanphear (letters), Damien Lucchese (production), Lauren Sankovitch (associate editor), Tom Brevoort (editor), Axel Alonso (editor in chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)

Brief Description: 

John Steele has been captured by Steve Rogers and the Secret Avengers. Hank McCoy uses an experimental machine to sift through Steele’s memories to try and discover more about his role in the Shadow Council. The machine takes Steele back to the American Civil War, runs through World War I and ends up in World War II, though the machine also shows him being experimented upon by strange-looking scientists. Looking at these images on the monitor, Steve asks Hank to try and pause the process as he recognizes a mission Steele is engaged in. He was there himself. Another scientist suggests that Steve enter the machine himself and links his memories to John Steele’s. Despite Hank’s reservations, Steve agrees and, moments later, he is on the mission set during World War II. The two men infiltrate a large building and take out several guards. Steele keeps mentioning that he has a bad feeling about the place, but can’t pinpoint why. After being attacked by a monster which Steele kills, they hide as several Shadow Council agents lead what appears to be an alien along a corridor. Steele then begins to freak out, as if being manipulated by an outside force. He believes it’s Captain America who is messing with him and he opens fire, shooting Cap in the chest. In the present, real world, Steve wakes and explains to Hank that this isn’t how the operation went. Hank reminds him that it’s not an exact science. Unfortunately, due to the linking of minds, Steele has now awakened and he grabs another scientist by the neck. This doesn’t look good.

Full Summary: 

John Steele is seated; hooked up to a machine, operated by Hank McCoy, which is able to reach inside his memories and exhibit them as visual images. They show some of the action John Steele has seen during his life. The first images to be shown are of John Steele during the Civil War, with Steele fighting on the Union side, smashing an enemy’s face in with the butt of his rifle. Next, Steele is riding a horse swiftly through what appears to be Arizona, probably several years later. A third image appears on screen. John is floating in some kind of energy beam as strange-looking scientists with hi-tech equipment experiment on him.

Steve asks Hank if they’re going chronologically. Hank explains that they should be, though it depends on a few important factors. But, it’s an image that keeps recurring so the chronology is uncertain. It’s possible that the subject experiences time differently than normal humans, though there’s no real evidence that this in the case.

Cap asks if the next image is of World War I. Hank says it is, and Steele looks fairly uncorrupted up to that point. He adds that it’s somewhere during World War II that they start running into trouble. A fresh image appears. Steele is an American soldier fighting the Nazis, using superhuman strength to wade through what should be overwhelming numbers. The next visual is open to interpretation. Steele has a weird look on his face as he leaves what appear to be several dead soldiers lying in a forest.

As Steele emerges into the open, Steve asks Hank to stop the process right there. On screen, Steele stands overlooking a large impressive building. It’s night time and he’s holding a pair of binoculars. Hank replies that it’s not how the machine works, but Steve asks him to do whatever he needs to do, because he knows the place. He remembers the mission. It’s exactly what he’s been looking for. It’s the last time John Steele saw action during World War II.

He asks Hank if they can unlock that moment and find out what happened. Hank taps on a computer keyboard and informs Steve that the chair was built so its subjects would experience virtual lives without realizing they were unconscious. He’s adapted it so they can examine memory, but as he said, it’s complicated. What they are seeing are the images Steele’s mind creates during recall. It’s not the exact truth and some of it makes no sense whatsoever. Like he said, there are pieces missing. Steve tells him that somewhere in that mission is the reason John disappeared… to what led him to the Shadow Council. He has to find a way to dig deeper.

A couple of scientists arrive and Gary informs Steve Rogers that there is one idea. Steve was with him on that mission, and they have another chair. They could isolate this incident in Steve’s memory and cross-reference to try and find the missing pieces. Hank interjects and says absolutely not. They’re not hooking Steve up to the machine. It’s only experimental. Steve reassures Hank that it’s okay. He’ll do it. Hank tells him he doesn’t understand. His mind will be linked with John Steele’s. Sharing a memory? They haven’t even tested that function yet. Steve points out that Steele has gaps and altered memories because of the Shadow Council. He needs him to remember what really happened so he can bring him back to the right side of the fight. If this will help, it’s a risk he’s willing to take. He drops into the chair. “Let’s get on with it.” As the process begins, Hank reminds Steve that what he’s experiencing isn’t real. It’s a recreation of a memory.

Inside the machine, Captain America and John Steele approach the imposing structure. Cap tells him that his intel was right. It looks like the Germans have a major operation there. John explains that the area used to be Prussia. He’s not sure what that means but he recalls some strange rumors about Prussia from a long time back. As they use stealth to approach the walls, Steele reckons it looks like they’ve found the safest way into the lion’s den. The Nazis must think that they’re pretty safe there. There are only two guards at the rear entrance. John readies his rifle and thinks he can get both of them from there. Cap moves his rife away and asks him to hold his horses. He’s got this. He hurls his shield which smacks the first soldier in the neck before rebounding into the neck of the second.

As they rush towards the door, John asks if he’s ever gonna let him toss that thing. Cap replies he won’t let him throw it even once. He’s dangerous enough as it is. They reach a solid metal gate which blocks their access and Cap reckons it’s centuries old. It won’t bend or pry out so easily. John grabs the gate and says he’s got this. With some effort, he yanks the gate clean off the wall, breaking the masonry that held it in place. Cap says it’s good to see Fury wasn’t lying about him. Steele hopes not, because he has a bad feeling about this place.

The two men soon discover an access hole and climb up inside. They emerge in the dungeons and creep along the corridors until they come across some more soldiers. Cap wraps his fingers around one of their mouths and forces him unconscious. Steele is a little more ruthless, snapping the neck of his victim. As they continue, John asks Cap if he knows his favorite part of the mission. Steve says no. What? Steele replies that it’s that he decided not to bring his Invaders pals along. Who needs a Human Torch or two, right? Cap informs him that Bucky’s on leave and Fury said this was a clandestine thing. He enters a room where they see rows of specimen jars and a body lying on a slab.

As he speaks, they both hear a growl and they turn to see a very large, muscular, semi-naked guy approaching with his arms outstretched. He’s clearly no longer human in appearance. “Oh, God,” exclaims Cap as he looks up. “What the hell is that thing?” Steele thinks he knows. He shoots the creature several times, but it smashes Cap against some specimen jars. He continues shooting but the creature grabs his throat with its massive fingers and crunches him against a wall. Fortunately, Cap has recovered and he uses his shield to smash the monster in the back, forcing it to release its grip. Once it’s down, Steele finishes it off with more ammo. “And stay down,” he cries.

Cap reminds John that he said he knew what it was. Steele replies that his intel came from local villages. They said the Nazis were taking away their men in the dead of night. They thought they were taking them there to work, but now he’s thinking they’ve been experimenting instead. They continue through the building. Cap reckons it doesn’t look like those monsters would be so easy to control, but John isn’t too sure. He then says, “Damn it…” and Cap asks what the problem is. Steele thinks there’s just something about this place; it’s like he can feel the evil in the air. And it feels familiar. He’s not sure why, but it reminds him of something, or someplace. “Think you cold be a bit more vague?” quips Cap. Steele apologizes, but he’s got some empty spots in his memory. He then asks Cap to hold on and take cover.

They two men hide, and look down to see four robed men in Shadow Council garb, leading what appears to be an alien in chains. John whispers that he knows what’s happening there. Even in this godforsaken war zone, they still work in the shadows. Cap asks who, but Steele ignores him and asks Cap to take the corridor. Cap asks what the hell he’s talking about, but John tells him that there’s no time. You don’t waste any time with these people. “What people?” asks Cap, slightly exasperated. Suddenly, John Steele turns and asks, “Wait. What is this…? What are you doing to me? Cap doesn’t know what’s going on and tells him he’s not doing anything.

“This isn’t right,” Steele says as he doubles over slightly. Cap asks him to get it together, but Steele believes that Cap is doing something. He stands upright and opens fire. Cap falls backwards as blood spurts from his chest. He lands on the ground, and his eyes open in surprise.

Gahhh!” screams Steve as he wakes from the dream. Hank thanks God. He thought that might harm him. Steve informs Hank that this isn’t how he remembers the incident. That’s not what happened. Hank says he knows, but he told him it was experimental. He informs him that Steele became aware of Steve’s presence in his mind. Before he can continue, Gary calls his name. “Professor McCoy. We’ve got t-t-troub… troub…” Hank turns to see John Steele, now out of the machine, with one arm around the other scientist’s neck. He grins insanely. “I think he’s trying to say ‘Trouble.”

Characters Involved: 

Beast, Steve Rogers (both Avengers)

John Steele

Gary and his colleague

(in flashback)
Captain America
John Steele

Allied and enemy soldiers

Story Notes: 

The title, “The Trouble with John Steele” appears to be based on the 1955 Hitchcock movie, The Trouble with Harry.

The Invaders were a superteam that operated during World War II. Members included Captain America, Prince Namor, Toro and Bucky.

In Secret Avengers #10, Zheng Zu prepared to sacrifice his son, Shang-Chi, but the Secret Avengers intervened and attacked on Moon Knight’s signal. Steve Rogers and Valkyrie took down John Steele and had him taken into custody whilst the Prince of Orphans killed Zheng Zu. Max Fury escaped captivity but the Shadow Council lives on.

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