Review: Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

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[This review from Bob Hodges of the To the Black Rose ... blog:]

So why does a flaming libertarian and leftist read Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire, when said flaming radical has never read a Captain America story and always dismissed Cap as a jingoistic propaganda tool of fascistic American governments? Well four reasons really:

1) Said trade paperback was on a clearance rack for half off (only $10!).
2) Frank Miller's and David Mazzucchelli's amazing Daredevil: Born Again storyline made me reconsider the Star-Spangled Avenger. Especially when in issue #233 Cap explains to the Reaganite general who praises his loyalty that he is "loyal to nothing, General-- except the Dream."
3) Secret Empire features two black co-stars on its black cover: the Falcon and the Black Panther.
4) The first full sentence on the back cover is the brilliant "the Secret Empire was rarely more secretive or empirical than in this classic arc . . ."

So how does Secret Empire measure up to such a brilliant advertising line? Passably, so that the scorn that Captain America and Professor X heap on "Madison Avenue" ad agents who have manipulated the people against the good captain becomes quite ironic. The trade collects eight issues (Captain America and the Falcon 169-176 with full covers) plotted by Steve Englehart, occasionally scripted by Mike Friedrich, and drawn by Sal Buscema. These comics date back to the heady days of 1974, and feature tons of expository dialogue, asterisks and captions referring you to previous Marvel comics, and two-fisted action against D-grade and up villains in every chapter rendered competently by Buscema.

The creepy Committee to Regain America's Principles starts off the story by running an ad campaign slandering the Sentinel of Liberty as a dangerous extralegal vigilante picking on private citizens, then framing Cap for the murder of the already lame Tumbler, using their new hero Moonstone to capture Cap, and having thinly disguised Watergate plumbers, the Sanitation Squad, break Cap out of jail to further incriminate him. What exactly America's Principles are, when they were lost, and how a stupid-looking hero who gained his powers from a moonrock better embodies America are left mysteries.

Nevertheless, the identity of the Secret Empire trying to ruin Cap's reputation does not remain a mystery for long as Cap and his partner, the Falcon (with new glider wings built by the Black Panther) hit the road as fugitives. They travel from New York to Nashville, Dallas, some anonymous desert, and later Washington D.C. to foil the Secret Empire and meet up with a bevy of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and almost every extant Marvel mutant along the way.

Much in Secret Empire does not make sense. The clue that leads Cap and Falc to Nashville is ridiculous, Falc's new wings requiring him to jump off a lamp post to glide is hilarious, the romance melodrama between Cap and the sisters Peggy and Sharon Carter are downright creepy, the Secret Empire is unsecret enough to recruit Cap and Falc posing as hobos, and Englehart's compulsive references to the Secret Empire's history actually make the plot harder to understand.

But for all Secret Empire's flaws, it is a fun and compulsively readable comic which I finished far faster than intended. Nostalgia for seventies comics would heighten appreciation, but is not necessary to enjoy it as long as one is prepared for seventies comic book style. The identity of the villain at the end is a hilarious for our time and a daring move for the comic's time (even though they never show him unmasked on panel and we get just a profile shot of him on the cover). It is almost impossible to imagine a mainstream comic company today pulling a comparable stunt.

Secret Empire is a true time capsule for the seventies, both in its style and its functions as a metaphor for Watergate and help in gagging the cultural attitudes of the times. I recommend it to any comic book fan or social historian of the period, but with the proviso that the full cover price of twenty dollars is too much to pay for it.

[Rating: 3.5 out of 5 star-spangled shields]

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Comments ( 1 )

  1. If you liked this, you'd love CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON: MADBOMB. That one's by KING KIRBY himself !


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