Movies

D-Man Mania: Remembering The Time Captain America Had An ’80s Pro Wrestler As A Sidekick

Captain America: Civil War finally arrives in theaters today, and once again the relationship between Cap and his former sidekick Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier will be front and center. Bucky will always be Captain America’s most important partner, but Steve Rogers is no one-sidekick man. Over the years, Cap has teamed with numerous other partners including Falcon, Black Widow, Nomad, and a superpowered pro wrestler who dressed like a combination of Wolverine and Daredevil. No, really. That last one actually happened.

The wrestler in question was Dennis Dunphy, a former master of the squared-circle who became a derivatively-dressed superhero named Demolition Man (or D-Man for short).

Dunphy originally appeared in the pages of Thing’s solo series, before jumping to the Mark Gruenwald-scripted Captain America in 1987. Dunphy originally wanted to be a pro football player, but couldn’t cut the mustard, so he took a shortcut, buying super strength from a shady customer called the Power Broker.

Of course, just being super strong doesn’t make you good at football, so Dunphy soon found himself slumming it for the UCWF (Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, naturally) and addicted to the pills needed to regulate his super powers. In other words, Dunphy’s story is an only slightly comic booked-up version of what a lot of real-life pro wrestlers go through. Of course, the scuzzy inner-workings of the wrestling business weren’t really public knowledge in 1987, so I’m not sure where Mark Gruenwald got all this stuff. If he just guessed, kudos to his imagination, because he pretty much nailed it.

Anyway, the Power Broker is giving powers to folks Captain America isn’t crazy about, so he shows up at Dunphy’s gym asking questions. Dunphy is all too happy to provide answers, and in fact asks Cap if he’d like to hop in the shower with him within five minutes of them meeting. This is what the founding of a beautiful new superhero-sidekick relationship looks like.

Cap manages to track down one of the Power Broker’s cronies, and Dunphy is like, “Okay, we’ve worked together for 10 minutes now. Let’s be partners.” Cap is okay with that, as long as they keep it casual, so Dunphy whips out a full superhero suit he just happened to have with him. Apparently Dunphy doesn’t understand copyright law (or the artists were just feeling lazy) because the costume is just Daredevil’s original outfit combined with a Wolverine mask.

Cap is unfazed by this baldfaced intellectual property theft. Surprisingly chill dude, that Steve Rogers.

Captain America and the newly-born D-Man take on the Power Broker and his henchmen, which goes fairly well for about an issue-and-a-half, but then D-Man is captured, and pumped full of experimental levels of the Power Broker’s strength serum. Eventually Cap is forced to fight D-Man, and tires the former wrestler out so much he has a heart attack. Should have focused on that cardio, buddy.

Now, that probably should have been the end of D-Man, but no! Shortly after the Power Broker adventure, the stuffed shirts at the Commission on Superhero Activities force Steve Rogers to turn in his shield, because the most clean-cut guy in the Marvel Universe is too rebellious for them. Rogers’ rival in the patriotic hero game, Super-Patriot (a.k.a. John Walker) is installed as Captain America, and Steve Rogers grows a beard, buys a van and heads off to get back in touch with The Real America.

Perhaps worried that Rogers might be becoming a hippie, D-Man enlists the help of fellow Captain America sidekicks Falcon and Nomad to track down the former Cap. They eventually find Rogers, and convince him to return to punching bad guys under the name The Captain. Rogers even lets D-Man design his new costume, which is just Captain America’s outfit with the blue parts switched to black. What else would you expect from a guy who thinks just slapping a Wolverine mask on Daredevil’s duds is okay? Rogers seems totally cool with D-Man’s new design, by the way. Honestly, I think Cap kind of tuned out a bit towards the late ’80s. Don’t worry, Steve. You weren’t the only one.

For the next year or so, Cap Classic, Falcon, Nomad and D-Man team up to take on the snake-themed Serpent Society and Horseman of the Apocalypse, Famine. There’s even an interesting precursor to the Civil War storyline, where Tony Stark decides (possibly after a few shots) to destroy all other superpowered armor in the world. This includes the armor of the guards protecting supervillain prison, The Vault. This leads to a showdown between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, and a breakout at the prison.

While trying to contain the prison breakout, D-Man gets thrown off a cliff by the villainous Titania. He survives, but the poor lug’s confidence is shattered. D-Man also gets in trouble when he decides to tutor Nomad’s girlfriend Vagabond in the fine art of pro grappling.

Hey, come on, a flying head-scissors is a perfectly legitimate self-defense technique. Check yourself, Nomad. Things would soon get even worse for poor D-Man.

Eventually the replacement Cap loses his marbles, starts killing people, then gets captured by the terrorist organization ULTIMATUM (Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army To Unite Mankind, naturally). Steve Rogers decides this is a job for The Avengers, but it turns out they disbanded when he was off finding himself, so, because D-Man happens to be hanging around, he makes him a member of the newly reformed Avengers. Yes, technically D-Man was a member of the Avengers. It wouldn’t last long.

It turns out ULTIMATUM has a pesky doomsday device set to go off at the North Pole, and in the end, the only way to stop it is to crash The Avengers’ Quinjet into it. D-Man sets a kamikaze course, but before he can parachute to safety, he notices a bad guy is tangled to the jet by a cable. D-Man, upstanding citizen that he is, takes a second to free him… and is caught in the explosion. The ballad of D-Man comes to a tragic end, as Cap loses yet another sidekick to an exploding plane.

Of course, nobody really dies in comics, and years later it’s revealed D-Man survived and took up with an Inuit community. Since then, D-Man has served as one of the Marvel Universe’s punching bags – a guy to be trotted out when one of Captain America’s allies needs to be beaten up, led astray or “killed.” Sadly, this is the fate of a lot of minor characters in modern comics, but nobody can take away that brief, glorious period when D-Man truly was da man.

Images via Marvel Unlimited.

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