For Part One of this series click HERE.
CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #174 (June 1974)
Title: It’s Always Darkest …
Villains: The Secret Empire
Synopsis: This story picks up right where the previous issue left off. The disguised Captain America and the Falcon, posing as drifting, mutant-hating goons for hire have been recruited into the Secret Empire. That villainous organization has been plotting to take over the United States and has also been hunting down and capturing mutants in furtherance of that goal.
The Empire’s operative Number 13 is escorting the disguised Cap and Falc via elevator into their secret headquarters far beneath the New Mexico desert. (Where the group has been lurking ever since their first battles with the Hulk in the 1960s.)
As our undercover heroes are led by Number 13 throughout the high-tech and armament-loaded lair, Captain America reflects to himself how this whole convoluted saga began with the public campaign against him by the Viper and his crooked colleagues on Madison Avenue.
With Cap disgraced and framed for murder, Moonstone, the villain posing as a hero, has been hyped as the “new” symbol of American heroism, replacing the “criminal” Captain America. Moonstone was hyped by the Committee to Regain America’s Principles, whom our heroes have since learned is a covert arm of the Secret Empire.
While Cap and Falc have been on the run from state to state, the few free X-Men – Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor X – have been on the run from mysterious forces capturing mutants for an unknown purpose. At last meeting up in Tennessee, our heroes learned from the fugitive X-Men that the mutant-hunters were part of the same organization behind Cap’s frame-up – the Secret Empire.
Cap’s flashback ends as Number 13 presents him and the disguised Falcon to Number 1, the masked and cowled leader of the Secret Empire. Number 13 turns over the electron gyro which our undercover heroes stole from Brand Corporation as their “initiation” into the Empire’s ranks.
Number 1 does a Villain Rant about how the electron gyro is the final component needed to launch their takeover of America. He also rants about how replacing Captain America with Moonstone as “America’s Hero” is also furthering their plans with help from the Committee to Regain America’s Principles. (Which I provided background on HERE.)
His rant done, Number 1 orders Number 13 to lead the two “new recruits” to their quarters in the barracks. He does so, and after being left alone in their room for awhile, Professor X, monitoring as many minds as he can from the surface, now contacts the Falcon telepathically. (The professor, Cyclops and Marvel Girl followed our heroes to the above-ground entrance to the Secret Empire’s HQ and have been staking it out.)
The Falcon tells Steve that they need to don their costumes and flee their quarters as quickly as possible. They’ve been set up for execution. Most ways out are blocked, so Cap uses his super-strength to pry open a steel panel riveted into the wall and our heroes escape into the vents and plumbing.
Their escape was just in time, as laser beams blanket their room in a web, beams that would have killed them had they remained. We readers see costumed Secret Empire operatives enter the room afterward, outraged to see that Cap and Falc somehow escaped.
We also see that one of their agents, Number 16, is really “Mr Black” the Brand Corporation executive that Cap thought he could trust with knowledge about why he and the Falcon stole the electron gyro in Texas last issue. Black is there with Linda Donaldson, the Secret Empire’s Number 9, an agent of theirs since the Beast’s long-canceled solo series.
Number 68 spots the way the heroes escaped, and the Empire sounds an alarm all throughout their subterranean headquarters. A manhunt is underway to find them. Steve and Sam emerge from the vent they entered at another location and are on the run, dodging the platoons of armed men looking for them through the labyrinthine hallways.
Back on the surface, Professor X discusses with Cyclops and Marvel Girl how he was able to telepathically warn the Falcon about Mr Black’s treachery just in time. He is continuing to monitor the minds in the underground lair, but there are so many people it is difficult.
Down below, Captain America and the Falcon are attacked by a giant humanoid robot (the one on this issue’s cover) trying to kill them. After a lengthy, destructive battle, teamwork between our two heroes succeeds in destroying the robot.
Right after that, Professor X telepathically asks the Falcon to open the doorway to one of the wide air shafts that feed the subterranean structure. In that air shaft, the Professor has had Marvel Girl telekinetically lower him, herself and Cyclops so that they can help Cap and Falc against the hundreds of armed operatives in the Secret Empire’s HQ.
Professor X explains why he chose the Falcon to communicate with both times and this sets up the revelation that Sam Wilson (Falcon) is a mutant, and that he is able to psychically communicate with his hawk sidekick Redwing and THAT is why Redwing can carry out the complex instructions that Falc often gives him.
Next, the professor mentions that his telepathic probing has revealed where they can locate the captured mutants that the Empire abducted. He and the heroes set off to reach that room.
Meanwhile, Moonstone is making another public appearance, this one on a talk show. As he sits next to an airheaded blonde actress who is also a guest on the show, he humble-brags once again about his “life of danger” and how getting to arrest Captain America after his “murderous frenzy” positioned him to take Cap’s place in the public’s heart.
The airheaded blonde tells Moonstone “Just sitting next to you gives me red, white and blue goosebumps all over.” Moonstone makes a schmaltzy remark about how he’s just a regular American doing all he can to keep the battered country together.
As the mindless audience applauds (think of a Colbert audience), Quentin Harderman, the head of the Committee to Regain America’s Principles reflects on how well Moonstone plays his role and relishes the power all of them will wield in a few days when the Secret Empire’s plans reach fruition.
Back out west, in the Empire’s HQ, Professor X, Captain America, the Falcon, Cyclops and Marvel Girl enter the massive chamber where the captured mutants are imprisoned. They are shocked to see the high-tech devices imprisoning the mutants on a huge circular table.
The captives are all kept comatose by headgear which also uses them as a power source by leeching their “X-Waves”. Those are waves emanating from the brains of all mutants and were, a few years earlier, used by the Super-Skrull during the Kree-Skrull War. (He leeched X-Waves from his captives the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Krakoa the mutant colony creature would later do the same to the entire original team of X-Men.)
The abducted X-Men – Iceman, Angel, Beast, Polaris and Havok – are among the victims, as are the mutant supervillains Unus the Untouchable, Mastermind, the Blob and Mesmero. Professor X tells Cap and Cyclops to free all nine captives from the machine and they do so.
The abductees are so weak from the draining of their X-Waves that they will not be fully awake for several minutes. Suddenly, Number 1, Number 9 and dozens of armed Secret Empire operatives enter the room and attack Cap, Falc, Cyclops and Marvel Girl.
The heroes fight back and in some quality writing, we readers are treated to the foursome feeling relief at FINALLY being able to strike back face to face with the real culprits behind all the anxiety and suffering they’ve gone through. The narration conveys the frustration they have felt as their elusive foes always remained one step ahead of them, just out of reach.
The Secret Empire’s legions continue to fall to Cap and the others, and just as it seems that this battle may at last bring this saga to a close, Number 1 orders Number 68 to unleash the Atomic Annihilator on the heroes.
Number 68 charges forward, wielding the more-than-bazooka-sized weapon in question. He adjusts its controls and mows down Captain America, the Falcon, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Professor X. As he falls, Cap’s last words are “No … it can’t … end like th- …”
Number 1 exalts over his fallen foes and rants “Dead! All of them dead! Nothing survives the Atomic Annihilator! And with them gone … America will soon follow!”
CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON Vol 1 #175 (July 1974)
Title: … Before the Dawn
Villains: The Secret Empire and Moonstone
Synopsis: As Number 1 continues gloating, he congratulates Number 68 about his skillful use of the Atomic Annihilator to kill the Secret Empire’s enemies. Number 1 orders some of his operatives to re-attach the nine abducted mutants to the device draining their X-Waves.
He also orders Number 68 and others to haul away the bodies of Captain America, the Falcon, Professor X, Marvel Girl and Cyclops to the lowest sub-basement of the Empire’s HQ, where they leave the bodies of anyone slain to be fed upon by rats and such.
About an hour later, long after the Secret Empire troops have returned to their normal duties, Captain America actually begins to breathe. Since we are in the 1973-1978 period when he had Spider-Man level strength, he is the first to recover from what Number 1 thought was a fatal blast of energy.
When Steve Rogers (Cap) fully awakes, he bolts upright and is greeted by Number 68, who pulls off his cowl to reveal that he is really Gabe Jones, a long-time black S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent. Gabe’s association with Nick Fury goes all the way back to World War Two, when they both served in the Howling Commandos.
NOTE: This was back when it was still realistic that people active in World War Two might still be alive and active. Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan and Contessa Valentina are other examples. They would be in their fifties or early sixties in 1974.
Gabe reveals to Cap that he has been undercover with the Secret Empire for a while now. He then has the Empire operative with him remove her cowl to reveal that she is Peggy Carter, who very recently joined him in infiltrating the organization after she completed her S.H.I.E.L.D. training.
NOTE: Remember how Peggy left her family, including her sister Sharon Carter, to join S.H.I.E.L.D. several issues back.
Next Gabe tells the recovering Captain America that he set the Atomic Annihilator on a non-lethal suspended animation setting before he fired on Cap and the others last issue. He recaps the early history of the Secret Empire in 1960s Marvel Comics when they clashed with the Hulk and Sub-Mariner.
Like A.I.M. the Secret Empire had been a sub-section of Hydra long ago. Just as A.I.M. represented the tech and corporate arms of Hydra, the Secret Empire were the political and military arm, infiltrating all levels of the government and armed forces. Cap’s old foes called THEM coordinated activities between the two outfits.
After A.I.M. broke away from Hydra to act on their own, so did the Secret Empire. Gabe was able to infiltrate the group and become head of their chief weapons battallion. Very recently Nick Fury sent Peggy to back him up in the assignment. Nick was investigating Moonstone’s past in Tennessee when he and his men clashed with Cap, Falc, Cyclops and Marvel Girl a few issues back.
Gabe closes by telling Cap that they will have to act swiftly. Now that the Secret Empire has the electron gyro, they are ready to make their big move to take over the country. Gabe then gives Steve and Peggy a few minutes to cuddle since, like most of the country, he thinks Cap and Peggy are still a romantic couple.
As Cap and Peggy embrace, Steve uneasily reflects to himself that neither Gabe nor Peggy realize that he is really romantically involved with Peggy’s younger sister Sharon, not her. He feels his usual guilt but knows that now is not the moment to finally come clean with Peggy.
The next day, Gabe and Peggy covertly let Captain America, the Falcon, Cyclops and Marvel Girl slip into the Secret Empire’s huge, flying saucer shaped aircraft. The X-Waves drawn from the captive mutants power the Empire’s high tech vessel and weapons. The electron gyro was the final component needed to make their large aircraft work.
Professor X is left behind in hiding in the sub-basements of the New Mexico HQ of the Secret Empire while the circular aircraft launches and flies off for Washington DC.
Meanwhile, in Washington itself, Moonstone and Quentin Harderman have just left a Congressional hearing regarding the way he has been granted Top Secret clearance and such just like the kind Avengers have.
Moonstone and Harderman gleefully watch as their Secret Empire allies arrive in their circular airship. They land right by the White House, prompting a media and public panic. As tanks and other artillery units pour into the area to surround the saucer-like aircraft, a huge telescreen appears from inside the ship.
The screen is broadcasting the cowled Number 1 as he addresses the assembled crowd and the nation via the media outlets on hand. He demands immediate and unconditional surrender. The military unleashes their weaponry on the Secret Empire airship.
The craft is able to block all artillery by way of a force-field powered by the X-Waves of the nine captured on-board mutants. Washington officials note that the president is out of town at his presidential retreat and was due back in town that afternoon.
Number 1 resumes addressing the nation, explaining that their president is out of town and America’s superheroes are all in New York or San Francisco or other far-off locations. None of them can get to Washington in time to stop the Secret Empire from taking over.
Suddenly, Moonstone flies onto the scene, prepared to play in the climax of his part of the deception. He is hailed by the media, who assume that “America’s Hero” will save the country from the Secret Empire.
Moonstone pretends to defy Number 1 with a cornball, Captain America-style speech. Number 1 unleashes Number 2 (hey, grow up), a costumed operative whose armor has the same powers supplied by X-Waves to the Secret Empire’s airship.
Before the cameras, Moonstone and Number 2 pretend to fight brutally. At length, Number 2 seems to defeat Moonstone and drain all his super-powers from him via his armor’s helmet. The seemingly defeated Moonstone is herded inside the aircraft by Number 2.
Once inside, the pair joke with each other about the show they just put on for the ignorant public. Moonstone mentions how America just saw the Tin God they were made to trust brought to his knees. After a suitable time he emerges from the ship, pretending to be defeated and slump shouldered.
Addressing the media, he uses all his new authority to advise “his fellow Americans” to surrender, that the weaponry on board the Secret Empire’s aircraft can defeat any army and drain all the power out of any superheroes. He says he has also heard Number 1’s “shockingly perfect plan for our subjugation.”
Number 1 now emerges from the doorway of the airship behind Moonstone and addresses the crowd. He tells the country how his troops have also planted atomic explosives in major cities across America. If the country does not unconditionally surrender in 30 minutes he will start detonating those A-Bombs.
Inside the ship, Gabe Jones/ Number 68 had to wait until Number 1 left the ship to make his move. He and Peggy let out from hiding Captain America, Falcon and the two X-Men. With Gabe and Peggy fighting alongside them, they take out the bridge crew of the airship. Cyclops destroys the control device draining the X-Waves of the captive mutants, saying “This one is for Professor X!”
Now that the ship and Number 2’s armor have been cut off from their power source, Cap tells Falcon, Gabe, Peggy, Cyclops and Marvel Girl to mop up the rest of the Secret Empire crew on the ship and force someone to tell them where the A-Bombs are located. (To make that simpler, Marvel Girl could just read the minds of the Empire’s agents to get the locations of the bombs.)
Cap himself heads for the airship’s doorway. In that doorway, Number 1 is gloating to the cameras and saying “Mark this day, America! Today the Secret Empire, the invisible government, becomes visib-AAAAH.” Cap taking him out from behind ended that boast.
Standing over the fallen Number 1, Cap is approached by Moonstone. Still trying to play a role for the cameras, Moonstone accuses Cap of showing up “to join his Secret Empire friends.”
Our hero attacks Moonstone, forcing him to fight back, proving to the nation that he was lying when he claimed to have been drained of his superpowers by Number 2. As the comic book’s narration plays up the drama of this final battle between Captain America and Moonstone, the Falcon flies out of the airship, yelling that he has the locations of the bombs and he is getting the info to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Ultimately, after having lost his two previous fights with Moonstone, Cap wins this time. As our hero stands over the defeated but still conscious Moonstone, Quentin Harderman rushes before the cameras, trying to save his own skin by lying “God bless you, Captain America! I’ve just learned that my Committee was duped by that man, and I -”
Moonstone cuts that attempt short by addressing the cameras himself, saying “You slimy creep! I’M not takin’ the rap for this! You and your committee were never anything but a front for the Secret Empire! You took your idea of ruining Cap and sold both ME and THEM on it!”
And Moonstone talks on and on, incriminating everyone else in the conspiracy in a coast-to-coast broadcast. He even implicates the already imprisoned Viper, calling out his role in the campaign against Captain America.
Cut to just a bit later. Cap, Falc, Cyclops and Marvel Girl are gathered, relieved and triumphant, on the White House lawn. Word comes in that S.H.I.E.L.D. has seized the bombs, while the New Mexico HQ of the Secret Empire has been taken by General “Thunderbolt” Ross and his troops.
Now, of course, comes one of the most famous endings in Marvel Comics history. Number 1 has been playing possum, pretending to still be unconscious. He decides to take a chance and flees into the White House, hoping to escape.
Captain America pursues him inside and immediately tackles him. He pulls off Number 1’s cowl and is shocked to see that it is really – the President of the United States, at that time Richard Nixon. His face is not shown but it’s clear that’s who it is.
In a not-subtle reference to Watergate and its revelations, the defeated president/ Number 1 even says “High political office didn’t satisfy me. My power was still too constrained by legalities. I gambled on a coup to gain me the power I craved, and it appears my gambit has failed. I’ll cash in my chips, then.”
And so saying, he puts a pistol to his head and kills himself before Cap can stop him.
Stunned, sickened and disillusioned, Captain America leaves the scene, refusing to talk to the media as various governmental powers begin a coverup of the fact that the president was leading the Secret Empire. We will get more on the coverup and on Cap’s disillusionment with the government next time around.
NOTE: Awhile back I covered the political context of this story HERE. In the years ahead, Marvel Comics sometimes retconned this ending back and forth. Sometimes they claimed it really was supposed to be the president, other times that it was really an alien Skrull agent impersonating the president.
In either case, their canon was that a Life Model Decoy of the president delivered a resignation speech over Watergate as Cap, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the others went along with the coverup of the president having been Number 1 of the Secret Empire.
I’LL COVER THE NEXT CHAPTERS SOON.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO MY REVIEW OF SPIDER-MAN 1970s CLASSICS CLICK HERE.
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.