Captain America vs. Richard Nixon: The Secret Empire Saga. Part Two of Two.
Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Jacklordshair.com
Captain America arrives on the scene and confronts Moonstone. Moonstone accuses him of conspiring with the Secret Empire but Captain America is not there to talk. After a pitched battle (including a nice double page spread by Sal Buscema), Cap defeats him. Moonstone and Harderman turn on each other, revealing the conspiracy. Cap chases the masked leader of the Secret Empire into the White House. After a brief battle, the leader of the Secret Empire reveals his identity, telling Cap that political power wasn’t enough. He shoots himself, leaving Cap stunned.
On its surface, this could be seen as your typical superhero story. However even as a six- year old comics fan, it was obvious that there was something more going. The Secret Empire saga is an indictment of media manipulation and the Watergate scandal that was going on at the time. Englehart suggests that the public is easily duped, as seen by the ease with which Captain America is discredited and replaced in the public eye with the relatively unknown commodity of Moonstone. Of course the real bombshell is the last page of the story where the Secret Empire’s Number One is revealed.While his identity is never shown on-panel, it’s strongly suggested that he’s the President of the United States (later on, Marvel would retcon this as Number One being a “high-ranking U.S. official”).
This soul-shattering revelation causes Captain America to question everything he believes in, just as some Americans were questioning the country’s direction in light of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Captain America’s friends and allies plead with him to keep his mask but he decides that he can no longer serve as Captain America.
The story was not the first time that a Marvel hero grappled with whether or not he should drop his superhero identity. Peter Parker famously gave up his Spider-Man identity in The Amazing Spider-Man #50, albeit briefly. Here, however, Steve Rogers would abandon his Captain America persona for some time. However his heroic nature could not be suppressed and he would take on the identity of Nomad, a man without a country.
Marvel has collected the Secret Empire stories in its black and white Essentials format as well as in a softcover color edition (a second edition chronicles Cap’s transformation into Nomad). This February, Marvel will release its Marvel Masterworks edition of Captain America, reprinting issues 160-175. All of these Englehart issues are worth checking out, especially the Secret Empire stories.
While the writing is good, what of the artwork? John Buscema’s brother Sal drew the Secret Empire issues and while I wouldn’t count him as a premier Marvel talent, he does a fine job with the artwork. Sal Buscema was one of those reliable artists who could produce good (but not great) artwork at a fast pace and in a reliable manner.
During the early 1970’s, it was not uncommon for comic books to tackle social issues (such as the “relevant” stories in Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories and the famous trilogy in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98). Some of these still hold up well today, and then there are others such as the infamous “I am Curious, (Black!)” from Lois Lane #106 which do not. The Secret Empire saga (and Englehart’s run in general) stands up well and is worth checking out. It is a key storyline in Captain America’s history (as well as Marvel Comics) and anyone looking to revisit defining moments for the character should check it out.