It’s time to get into our time machine that is the wonderful world of digital comics and travel back 39 years to check out another gem of an old comic. This time up it’s Captain America and The Falcon #175:
- Writer: Steve Englehart
- Penciller: Sal Buscema
- Colorist: Petra Goldberg
- Inker: Vince Colletta
- Letterer: Gaspar Saladino, Artie Simek
So this is a comic I’d read previously but decided to revisit, because I think it’s a comic well worth remembering and reading. It’s a little hard to get your hands on right now, but certainly not impossible. Near as I can tell, Comixology does not have it available, and the collected work Captain America by Steve Englehart, Vol. 1: Secret Empire is out of print. Still, you can pick up the collected edition through the Amazon marketplace. You can also read it through Marvel’s “Marvel Unlimited” service, as I did. Hopefully the entire run of issues that make up the Secret Empire storyline (#169-#176) will become available for purchase as single digital issues (or a digital collection) sooner rather than later.
So, it’s July, 1974. In the comic world it’s a few years into the Bronze Age of comics. In the broader landscape of the United States it’s coming to the end of the Vietnam War era and and President Nixon is mere weeks away from resigning. It’s not the happiest time in American history, to be certain. Luckily, comic fans can find solace in the four-colour world of comics, and what better solace than Captain America! The symbol of everything right about they mythologized American ideals of freedom and justice, right? Right? Sure. Well, then again maybe not.
Beginning in issue #169 of Captain America and The Falcon Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema began a fantastic run of Captain America comics with the story of the reappearance of the Secret Empire, a previously strictly C-list baddie organization, and their plan to discredit Captain America and take over the country! Using various nefarious tactics the Empire turns the public against Captain America and seeks to replace him as the top symbol of American heroism with a chap by the name of Moonstone.
This issue opens up with a full page panel of Number One, mysterious Leader of the Secret Empire, standing gloating over the supposed corpses of Captain America, The Falcon, Professor X and the original X-Men (in their ugly yellow and blue uniforms). Yeah, seems the X-men, somewhat distrusted outsiders themselves, had teamed with Cap to fight the Empire, who had technology for turning mutant brainwaves into energy they could use for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, one good blast from Number 68 of the Secret Empire wielding the ATOMIC ANNIHILATOR finished them off.
Fear not though, we soon learn that Number 68 was actually Gabe Jones, agent of shield, and while he had blasted our heroes he had done it on a non-lethal setting. After a little info-dumping on Gabe’s part to help catch us all up to speed on the history of the Secret Empire and Gabe’s history of infiltrating it we get to see the various players of the villainous conspiracy set-up the final stage of their plans to take over the country.
Added bonus: There is an interesting panel in-between these bouts of exposition where we learn than Captain America is apparently involved in a love triangle of sorts with Peggy Carter and her younger sister Susan, not that Gabe or Peggy know this.
Then we get a satisfying ten pages of classic good-guys foiling bad-guys. The mutant abusing machine is wrecked, The Falcon and The X-men fly off to stop the bombs threatening every major American city, Captain America finally kicks Moonstone’s ass and the baddies (well, except for Number 1) are forced to reveal the truth while the White House Press Corps’ cameras are rolling live.
The fight between Captain America and Moonstone is a particularly enjoyable one-sided drubbing with great giant action-sound lettering: CRUMP!, WAM!, TROK!, SLAM!, BAM!, KA-DAK!
Fantastic stuff, made all the better by the great classic look of the art team. Seriously, the art is great.
So, seems like a nice simple good guys beat bad guys sort of story of the good-old comics days, right? I mean, to quote the comic itself “No, you couldn’t ask for a neater wrap-up!”
Until the last page. Which, I personally feel is one of the most shocking, interesting and possibly brave pages of a comic book I’ve ever seen. Brave might be going too far, I’m not sure. I think someone who actually lived through 1974 would have to make the call on that. I do know that I never personally expected to read a comic with the sort of ending that comes in this one. I’m being deliberately vague because, even though it’s a 39 year old comic I still think I’d like to avoid spoilers. I’ll just point out that one of the reasons Gabe Jones was able to infiltrate the Secret Empire on more than one occasion was because they all wear hooded robes that hide their identity. So who is number 1? All I can say is the “reveal” hurt Captain America enough to lead to this:
Personally, I think this comic (and storyline) deserves a well-remembered place in comics’ history. If you’ve never read it before I strongly recommend tracking down the whole storyline and diving in. It’s well worth it, both for it’s own sake and to see how some comic creators responded to the America they found themselves in back in the early 70s. Good Stuff.