For Part One of this series click HERE.
CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #163 (July 1973)
Title: Beware of Serpents
Villains: The Serpent Squad
Synopsis: We pick up long after the end of our previous installment. Peggy Carter’s psychological recovery has been proceeding apace as Captain America alternates between the Carter Family’s Connecticut home and New York City where he and the Avengers have had a few recent missions. Cap’s secret identity – Steve Rogers – has officially resigned from the New York City Police Department.
NOTE: The writers apparently felt they had milked as much as they could out of Cap/ Steve’s double life as a cop and decided to put that chapter of his tales behind them.
At the Paranormal Criminal Detention Wing of Sing Sing Prison, Thor’s old foe the Cobra has paid off corrupt prison guards to sneak their costumes and weaponry into the cells of the imprisoned Eel and his brother the Viper. Donning their gear, Eel and Viper, old foes of Cap and Falc, break out, killing at least four guards as they do. Cobra picks them up in a waiting vehicle and christens their new gang of three the Serpent Squad as they drive off to Cobra’s hideout.
A few days later, Captain America, the Falcon, Sharon Carter, her much older sister Peggy Carter and their parents arrive at the mansion estate of the Carter Family in northern Virginia. Peggy’s new psychiatrists have declared her to have made sufficient progress that she can move to that home and try reestablishing her life.
Peggy is still fairly vulnerable, however, so Cap and Sharon have still not told her about their romance, which started during the years she was gone. Not helping the situation is the way that news reporters have smoked out enough of the facts of Cap and Peggy’s reunion to make a big story about the “miracle reunion of two lovers separated for decades” angle.
The media is filled with fawning over the “in” couple Captain America and Peggy Carter, so to avoid bluntly telling Peggy that he is Sharon’s man now, Cap reluctantly plays the role of Peggy’s boyfriend for the press. He and Sharon both fear that the longer this goes on it may just make it worse in the end when Peggy learns the truth. (MAY make it worse?)
Things are rough on Sharon, too, as she tries to remain in the background as much as possible while the man she loves and her older sister are played up as the biggest romantic couple of the moment. One day Peggy wants to take a nice long walk on the grounds of the Carter Estate with Cap.
Our hero walks off with her, exchanging tormented glances with Sharon about the temporary roles they’ve been forced to play in this horrible situation out of fear that Peggy might lapse back into comatose shock if she gets unpleasant news. The Falcon hangs out at the estate with Sharon and her parents, enjoying ritzy meals and butler service.
Back with Cap and Peggy, they once again share their feelings about the way each of them went through circumstances that found them “waking up” decades after their last memories – during World War Two. Peggy is still beautiful but in her fifties now and she tells Steve that it’s easier for him because he didn’t age while frozen in suspended animation. Every time she looks in the mirror her age reminds her of how many years she’s lost.
While out on this walk, Steve and Peggy encounter Dave Cox, a young man who says he lost his arm fighting in Vietnam and had been a P.O.W. He has now become an ardent pacifist. Dave’s war experience is obviously much different than what Peggy remembers of hers, and she is as puzzled by Dave’s attitudes as Cap himself was puzzled by changing societal attitudes when the Avengers first found him some years back and he woke up in the modern age.
Eventually, at Cobra’s laboratory hideout he has developed weapons that parallel the powers of Eel and Viper in order to make them even deadlier than ever. Viper, meanwhile, has been conspiring with some of his old colleagues in advertising to covertly run a reverse-PR campaign against Captain America. They plan to make it a nationwide campaign like the kind that J Jonah Jameson runs against Spider-Man in New York City.
NOTE: This anti-Cap ad campaign will become very important going forward.
The Eel is furious about all the media coverage of Cap and Peggy Carter’s rekindled relationship. Since the news reports have made it clear that Captain America and the Falcon are currently staying with Peggy’s wealthy parents in northern Virginia, the Serpent Squad decides to attack our heroes there. The villains reason that down in Virginia there will be no other superheroes nearby to possibly come to Cap and Falc’s aid like there would be in New York.
A few days later at the Carter Estate, Cap has been trying to update Peggy on the ways that the Vietnam War differed from World War Two and how he himself still feels conflicted after going on a few dangerous missions there in costume.
The Falcon meets with Steve and tells him he is planning on heading back to his secret identity Sam Wilson’s job as a social worker in Harlem and to the Falcon’s girlfriend Leila Taylor now that she has left Rafe Michel for good. (See the previous installment.)
Suddenly, the Serpent Squad attacks, bursting through the windows of the room Cap and Falc are talking in. A destructive battle is waged throughout several rooms of the mansion between our heroes and the three villains.
After awhile, Cap and the Falcon have Cobra and Viper on the ropes, but when Cap closes in final battle with the Eel, that villain uses his electricity powers to horrifically burn Cap’s hands. Abruptly, Sharon and Peggy enter the room, drawn by the loud noises, and Peggy phones the cops.
The Eel, hearing that, rallies Viper and Cobra and the trio escape as Eel uses his electrical blasts to set the room on fire to cover their flight. The Falcon and Sharon put out the flames and Peggy treats Cap’s charred and blistered hands.
Falc wants to go after the Serpent Squad alone since Steve is so injured, but Cap insists on going with him. His hands are wrapped up under several layers of salved bandages. He won’t be able to punch anyone or throw his shield but he can kick and at least carry his shield.
After hours of scouring the forested countryside around the Carter Estate without finding the villains, Cap and Falc make the idiotic decision to split up and continue searching. Before too much longer, Cap encounters Peggy Carter who, longing for her old secret agent days, foolishly followed after our heroes in their pursuit of the Serpent Squad.
Soon, Cap and Peggy come across Dave Cox’s modest cabin home, where Dave invites them in to rest. Dave and Peggy are discussing gardening, when suddenly the Serpent Squad blasts their way into the place, now using the special electric-ray rifle that the Cobra made for the Eel.
Meanwhile, the Viper fires the venom bazooka that Cobra made for him. It is as deadly as Viper’s real venom and kills all the items in Dave Cox’s garden as collateral damage while the battle rages. While the wounded Cap, limited in what he can do, fights the trio of villains, Peggy tries to talk the youthful Dave Cox into helping Cap battle them.
Dave refuses, insisting that he won’t abandon his pacifist principles. Peggy calls him a coward, but when Cap and Peggy plan a stealthy sneak attack behind the Serpent Squad, the Eel tortures Dave with electricity to try forcing him to reveal where Cap and Peggy went. Dave refuses, willing to sacrifice his own life rather than betray our heroes to the Squad.
Captain America launches his sneak attack, catching Cobra off-guard and kicking him into unconsciousness. While Peggy tends to Dave’s wounds Cap also manages to knock out the Viper. Eel decides to flee on his own, but out in the woods he runs afoul of the Falcon, who, after a lengthy fight, takes out this third and final villain.
EPILOGUE: Later, after the authorities have carted off the Serpent Squad members, Captain America, the Falcon and Peggy Carter visit with the recovering Dave Cox for a time and Peggy apologizes for assuming that he was a coward just because he wouldn’t fight Eel, Cobra and Viper.
As Cap, Falc and Peggy walk back toward the Carter Estate, Peggy and Cap embrace as she again discusses her confusion and out of touch feelings toward the modern world. Our hero promises to help her as she adjusts. The Falcon watches the pair, worried that Steve and Peggy may actually wind up rekindling their romance and wondering how Sharon would deal with that.
NOTE: If you’re wondering where this issue fits in time-wise with the rest of the Marvel Universe, this issue came out the same month as the Spider-Man story The Green Goblin’s Last Stand, right after that villain had killed Gwen Stacy in the previous issue.
CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #164 (August 1973)
Title: Queen of the Werewolves
Villain: Nightshade (First Appearance)
Synopsis: We pick up an unknown number of weeks after the previous issue. In the labyrinthine hallways of the lower levels of Grimrock Prison in Maryland, a man in a Captain America costume and carrying a similar shield is in a panic as he is pursued through the dark, nighttime hallways by humanoid wolf-creatures spawned by science.
The werewolves rip the costumed man into bloody pieces, then are praised and rewarded by their scientist creator – the costumed black woman calling herself Nightshade, the Queen of the Werewolves. It becomes apparent that this deadly scenario has been enacted over and over again as Nightshade is clearly conditioning her animal-like creations to kill anyone in a Captain America costume.
We readers learn that the wolf-men return to normal men at daybreak and back into werewolves every night, not just the nights of the full moon. Nightshade has assumed covert control of Grimrock Prison, where poverty-stricken criminals doing life sentences are often shunted to and then virtually forgotten.
The wolf-men are all prisoners at Grimrock and are human guinea pigs for the evil scientist Nightshade. The men in Captain America costumes who get slashed up in all the practice runs are also prisoners, in this case prisoners who angered Nightshade in some way.
We cut to the next day. On a Maryland back road leading to Grimrock Prison, Cap and the Falcon are each on motorcycles headed for that prison as nightfall approaches. Nightshade had secretly arranged for whispered word to get out about horrible treatment of prisoners going on at Grimrock.
With Captain America, her target for death, still very publicly near Maryland in northern Virginia at the Carter Estate, it was easy to arrange for Cap and his partner the Falcon to rendezvous and come to the prison to investigate. While the Falcon goes in through the main entrance, demanding to see the warden, Cap lingers outside for a time, then covertly enters through a side door on a lower level to sneak around.
When the Falcon is taken to meet the warden, he is shocked to see it is the costumed villainess Nightshade, who renders him unconscious and chains him up in a lower level cell to experiment on him with her wolf-man chemicals.
Meanwhile, night has fallen and Nightshade unleashes her now transformed wolf-men prisoners on the REAL Captain America as he explores the maze of hallways down below. The roughly twenty “werewolves” attack Cap, but with the increased strength he has had for the last several stories he is able to withstand the stronger than human creatures and eventually defeat them despite their numbers.
Nightshade then reveals herself at the end of the corridor and taunts Cap about how she lured him and the Falcon there and tells him she is holding Falc prisoner in a cell down the hall. With no choice, our hero follows her there, where he sees the Falcon chained up and surrounded by even more of Nightshade’s wolf-men.
Cap sees that the villainess has complete control over her beasts, and none of them do anything except on her command. Before Captain America can stop her, Nightshade administers twice the normal amount of werewolf chemicals to the Falcon and he begins transforming into the largest and most muscular wolf-man of all her creations.
She and her other wolf-men fight their way past Cap and then leave him locked in the cell with the now mindless and lupine Falcon, whose wolf-form has enough strength to break free of his chains. Cap and Falc fight, with Steve trying to avoid seriously harming the crazed Sam.
Eventually their battle results in them bashing through the closed steel door of the cell and their fight spills out into the prison’s lower halls.
We see Nightshade watching the battle go on, and she is upset that obviously not even all her werewolves together will be enough to kill the stronger than ever Captain America. She is not alone, however, as her secret superior, the supervillain called the Yellow Claw is with her.
NOTE: The Yellow Claw (later called the Golden Claw) was the star of his own stories in Marvel Comics during the 1950s, when they were known as Atlas Comics. This Chinese villain was their imitation of the iconic Fu Manchu. In the October of 1967 issue of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel integrated the Claw into their modern-day continuity along with his 1950s nemesis Jimmy Woo, now a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent himself. I will go into greater detail about the Yellow Claw next time around, since he will be the main villain then.
The Yellow Claw tersely informs Nightshade that he shares her assessment that her creations will not be able to kill Captain America, whose frequent alliance with S.H.I.E.L.D. makes him especially dangerous to his (the Claw’s) plans.
The Yellow Claw further informs her that he is withdrawing all the funds and expensive chemicals he was providing her with in the hopes that her creations would make an effective army against the many superheroes who have emerged since the 1950s. She has failed him, and despite Nightshade’s many, many arguments to change his mind, he tells her his decision is final.
Furious, she draws and fires her gun at him several times, but, anticipating trouble from her, the Claw outmaneuvers her and leaves the premises. Nightshade sees on her viewscreen that Cap and the transformed Falcon are still fighting it out.
Suddenly, one of her wolf-men gets her attention and points to another viewscreen which shows that several S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopters have landed in the prison yard. An armed party led by Nick Fury himself pours from the copters as Nick announces to anyone in the prison to surrender, and that he is there to apprehend the Yellow Claw. (He doesn’t realize the villain already left.)
Nightshade, a diva and drama queen, orders all of her wolf-men to her side, declaring that S.H.I.E.L.D. will never take them alive. All of them begin following her as she heads for the highest guard tower of the old prison, even the ones who are just now regaining consciousness after being defeated by Cap earlier that night.
The Falcon-wolf obeys as well, and tears away from Steve to follow Nightshade and all her other wolf-men as she leads them in a spectacular dive off the tower and to their deaths in the stony valley far below.
Not wanting to let the Falcon die that way, Cap continues struggling with the Falcon-wolf, who frenziedly tries to join his fellows in following their queen in suicide. After nearly an hour, the sun rises and the Falcon returns to normal, dressed only in the tatters of his costume.
Nick Fury and his agents, having searched the entire prison during that hour, join our two exhausted heroes on top of the wall and inform them that the Yellow Claw has returned and that he was the power behind Nightshade. He escaped but Nick tells Cap and Falc he knows his latest plan for world conquest.
NOTE: Nightshade – secret identity Tilda Johnson – faked her death in this story and would return to battle Captain America & the Falcon in the future. She later became a foe of Power Man & Iron Fist and was a character on the short-lived Luke Cage television series.
THE YELLOW CLAW’S PLAN WILL BE EXPLAINED IN THE NEXT ISSUE, WHICH I WILL COVER SOON.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ MANTIS/ KANG/ CELESTIAL MADONNA STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ KREE-SKRULL WAR STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s ADAM WARLOCK/ GAMORA/ THANOS/ MAGUS STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s BLACK PANTHER VS KILLMONGER STORY CLICK HERE.