Captain America (1st series) #173

Issue Date: 
May 1974
Story Title: 
The Sins of the Secret Empire!

Steve Englehart (writer), Sal Buscema (artist), Vince Colletta (inker), Artie Simek (letterer), G. Russous (colorist), Roy Thomas (editor)

Brief Description: 

Captain America, the Falcon and the X-Men are surprised by SHIELD agents who are trying to take them in, but they nevertheless battle their way to freedom. Later, Xavier explains how, some time ago after a fight with Magneto, the Angel went missing and eventually more and more of the X-Men, their allies and enemies went missing. They believe the Secret Empire is behind this and one suspect they have is the Beast’s former lab assistant, Linda Donaldson. Donaldson indeed secretly works for the Secret Empire. Cyclops fakes an attack on her, and Cap and the Falcon – incognito as decent mutant-hating citizens fallen on hard times – rescue Linda. She promises them a job and later Agent 13 gives them the job to steal a device from the Brand Corporation. Cap and the Falcon do so in their costumes and succeed because the regional boss, Mr. Black, claims to still trust Captain America. In their disguises, Cap and Falcon hand the device to Agent 13 and are to be led to the Secret Empire lair. The X-Men secretly follow.

Full Summary: 

Captain America and the Falcon have just met what’s left of the X-Men – Professor X, Cyclops and Marvel Girl – who claim they may be able to help destroy the trumped up murder charge against Cap… However, before he can recover from that shock, he finds they are surrounded by SHIELD troops, led by Nick Fury himself.

Fury tells him they didn’t come for him but, once they saw him, they decided he would come along, too. Cap wonders what SHIELD is actually here for, if not him. Fury gives him a last warning.

The Falcon reminds Cap that he is innocent and suggests they fight. Cyclops announces the X-Men have their own reasons for wanting Captain America free. They stand with them. Cap thanks them, then gives the order. He throws his shield and Cyclops fires his optic blast. Xavier makes himself invisible telepathically and Marvel Girl levitates the Falcon. He glides down and takes out several SHIELD agents. However, there are too many agents. Xavier has a plan. He gives a telepathic command to Cyclops, who blasts the ground causing a wildfire effectively cutting the SHIELD agents off. The heroes flee.

Fury orders his people to douse the fire. Silently, he admits to himself this is a nasty job. He doesn’t like that cornball Avenger, but arresting him is something else. Still, even though he didn’t really buy what the Committee to Regain America’s Principles was selling, it is strange that Cap showed up here, right now…

The X-Men lead Cap and Falcon to a deserted mine tunnel. Once they feel safe, Xavier continues his story.

Xavier’s narration:
Xavier narrates how Magneto put the X-Men in hypnotic comas. He planned to do the same to the Scarlet Witch and therefore lured in the Avengers, but proved unequal to the task he had set himself. However, this raised another puzzle: During their confrontation with Magneto, the Angel had been missing and Magneto had not taken him. They tried to find him by making contact with former X-Man Beast. Yet they could not locate him either. Then, Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Iceman jetted to the southwest to check on Havok and Lorna Dane. Lorna had gone to find Havok months before and had not returned. They’d figured Lorna had stayed with Havok instead of bringing him back. However, Havok’s cabin was long deserted.

After that, Xavier sent his three remaining X-Men on separate missions, scouting for other mutants, even their enemies. Cyclops and Marvel Girl reported finding no one. Iceman never returned. Xavier fears a silent, subtle and sinister war has been declared on mutants.

Desperate for allies, they finally found the Banshee. But he was suspicious and fought both Cap and them.

Which brings them up to the present, Cap finishes. But how are their problems connected to his? Xavier replies that the few clues they have point toward their enemies being the Secret Empire. It is dedicated to domination without people being aware. They often use advertising or propaganda – produced by their agents on Madison Avenue, one of whom the underworld grapevine reveals is Quentin Harderman. The man who engineered his frame, Cap states. He promises his support.

Xavier reveals that he has some leads he could not follow until now, because their foe knows too much about them. The Beast, in his alter-ego, had a girlfriend whose actions aroused his suspicions. Her name is Linda Donaldson.

Dallas, Texas:
Linda Donaldson leaves the Brand Corporation building. As she drives away, she muses about the year she had. First she joined the Secret Empire and was ordered to string along that fool Hank McCoy. While doing that, the Beast appeared and she was eventually able to deliver him to the Empire’s mutant-hungry jaws. McCoy, undoubtedly petrified by all the strange occurrences at Brand, dropped his research and disappeared, so she managed to get reassigned to Dallas, where she spends her time playing up to the top three government analysts here. Not bad for a working girl.

She figures the road is secluded enough and takes out a comm. device to contact her masters. Identifying as Agent Nine, Linda explains that she is still unable to steal Brand’s new electron-gyro. Security is proving difficult to breach. However, she is told that two mutants – Banshee and Cyclops – were spotted downtown this morning. Her superior remarks that they already have that information. Do not attempt to divert them from her failure. They order her to get that gyro. Linda bristles and swears.

Later in the afternoon, she returns home missing Hank McCoy. At least he was good for some laughs. A moment later, she is captured by Cyclops who tells her the X-Men want to talk with her.

The Falcon and Captain America, in civilian disguises, appear that moment, shouting anti-mutant slurs at Cyclops and attacking him. Cyclops fires his eyeblast but deliberately misses. Linda uses the opportunity to free herself with a judo throw. Cap saves Linda from Cyclops’ eyeblast and Cyclops then flees.

The Falcon introduces them as Will Samuels and Roger Stevens and makes it clear that they are down on their luck and looking for jobs. Linda becomes intrigued.

Dusk, and Cap and Falcon are waiting in a cheap motel. Cap feels pangs of the conscience, wondering if maybe the girl isn’t involved at all. Sam points out for someone with a guilty conscience he sure laid it on pretty thick. 

A moment later, there is a knock on the door. They open to a hooded character, the number 13 stamped on his hood. He introduces himself as representative of the Secret Empire. He offers them ten thousand dollars cash for a night’s work. Five thousand now, five thousand on completion.

What is he talking about? Who is he? Sam asks. Number 13 warns him questions can be dangerous. Ask only, if they need money and steady work. They do, Sam presses. They are told that the Brand Corporation has an electro gyro. The Secret Empire wish it stolen but are unable to do it themselves, due to the risk of capture and exposure. Under no circumstances must the American people learn of their existence yet. But if the men succeed, they will be well rewarded. Here is the plan…

Once he is gone, Sam happily exclaims they took the bait. Less enthusiastic, Steve points out the gun in 13’s pocket, in case they’d have turned the offer down. Make no mistake, they are just now getting to the tough part.

At midnight, they enter the Brand Corporation building in uniform. Cap explains they have to get the gyro if they want the Empire to trust them and, since they are fugitives, they can’t just ask Brand to loan it to them. But not everyone thinks they are murderous vigilantes yet, so if they are caught tonight, he can only pray it is by someone who still believes in Captain America.

They sneak inside, past the guard and reach the room with the gyro. As they are about to grab it, two guards stop them having been alerted by an electronic alarm. The two heroes jump over the guards and flee. More guards arrive firing their guns.

Cap throws his shield upwards, slicing through the sprinklers, thus keeping the guards busy as even more guards arrive. Falcon grabs Cap’s hand and jumps through a window with him.

They are still in firing range and the guards prepare to fire, but suddenly Mr. Black, the factory boss, forbids it. He explains that he found a note by Captain America in the gyro room, saying he needs the gyro desperately and will return it unharmed. Black believes him. A guard protests Cap is a killer, so why not a thief? Mr. Black refuses to hear any more about this. And neither will the police and the newspapers. In his book, Cap’s no criminal. Period.

Left alone, the guards think their boss is crazy. A newscast on the radio by the Committee to Regain Americas Principles reminds everyone that Captain America and the Falcon are criminals and to be reported immediately.

Three a.m.:
In their disguises, Cap and the Falcon have brought Number 13 the gyro. He is pleased and decides that men like them are needed in the Secret Empire and orders them to follow him outside. He fires a device at a boulder to reveal his carefully disguised scoutcraft. They fly into the desert. There, Number 13 touches a certain cactus and reveals the hidden entrance to the Secret Empire’s ultimate lair. Through here, pass the future leaders of the world and he invites them to become two of them. They follow him down.

As the tunnel mouth closes over them, Cap worries if they can deceive a crew capable of all this for much longer.

Soon, a second jet lands nearby and the X-Men disembark, having followed Cap’s secret tracing signal. Now they need only wait. Wait, Xavier announces darkly, that two mortal men deceive an Empire on its home territory, risking exposure and annihilation. They wait, perhaps forever, because Captain America and the Falcon may never come out of this alive...

Characters Involved: 

Captain America
Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Professor X (all X-Men)

Nick Fury, ‘Dum-Dum’ Dugan, Gabe Jones, other SHIELD agents

Agent 13, Linda Donaldson (agents of the Secret Empire)

Mr. Black
Guards at the Brand Corporation

In Xavier’s narration
Cyclops, Iceman, Marvel Girl, Professor X (X-Men)
Beast (former X-Man)
Captain America, Iron Man, Thor (Avengers)


Story Notes: 

Cyclops’s optic blast causing fire is a mistake. His power doesn’t work that way.

Magneto overpowered the X-Men in Avengers (1st series) #110-111.

Fury not liking Cap is a new one.

Havok’s name is misspelled ‘Havoc’ throughout the issue.

Lorna Dane went chasing Havok in Incredible Hulk (2nd series) #150

Linda Donaldson was Beast’s assistant in Amazing Adventures #11-15.

The “Committee to Regain Americas Principles” is almost certainly a stab at Nixon’s famous Committee to Re-Elect the President, which had the unfortunate abbreviation of CREEP. Just like that’s real-world’s unfortunate abbreviation, the abbreviation for the Committee to Regain Americas Principles is CRAP.

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