Captain America (1st series) #175

Issue Date: 
July 1974
Story Title: 
…Before the Dawn!

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

Brief Description: 

The Secret Empire believe Captain America and his friends to be dead and prepare for their assault on the White House. However, the heroes are revived by their apparent executioner, who is actually SHIELD agent Gabe Jones. He and Peggy Carter infiltrated the Secret Empire and now smuggle the heroes aboard the Secret Empire’s ship that flies toward Washington. Once there, Number One shows the ship’s power (thanks to the mutant prisoners’ brainwaves) and demands power over the USA. Moonstone confronts them and has a show fight with a Secret Empire agent, which he loses. At that point, the heroes confront Moonstone and the Secret Empire. Cap beats Moonstone and has him publicly admit his crimes. He then chases Number One into the White House, where he is horrified to learn Number One’s true identity as a powerful politician. Before allowing Cap to arrest him, he shoots himself. Cap leaves but his ideals are shattered.

Full Summary: 

The mysterious Number One, leader of the Secret Empire, stands triumphantly over the fallen heroes – Captain America, the Falcon and the X-Men. He gloats that the power of the Atomic Annihilator has slain them all. He praises Number 68 for firing and killing their enemies. When he rules America, he shan’t forget him.

The bodies are carried away and dumped in the lower trenches like garbage. However, Cap is merely unconscious and, as he comes around, he hears voices. He sees two hooded members of the Secret Empire and wants to attack. However, they assure him they are his friends. Like Brutus to Caesar! Cap snarls, identifying one of them as Number 68. They take off their hoods to reveal their true identities: SHIELD agents Gabe Jones and Cap’s old friend and onetime lover, Peggy Carter.

Gabe quickly explains that he tricked Number One by setting the weapon at a non-lethal setting before firing at the heroes. He continues that SHIELD has had a file on the Secret Empire for a long time…

Flashback and Gabe Jones’ narration:
The Secret Empire like AIM were originally an arm of HYDRA and broke away from the big guys to try and conquer the world on their own. But they were third-stringers. Then their agent Boomerang had his mission aborted by the Hulk and that led to their downfall. The old Number One took control of the Sub-Mariner’s mind to have him attack the Hulk. Afraid of the Hulk’s revenge, he set a bomb for the monster and blew himself up by mistake.

In the meantime, the other members were getting by with one of their own: a power-hungry member named Number Nine, not the current one, Linda Donaldson. Another member of the inner council fought and beat him – Gabe. That’s when he learned to infiltrate them. That finished them off but, last year, when SHIELD heard they’d regrouped under a new Number One, Nick Fury sent Gabe against them.

Cap realizes that was why Fury was in Nashville. Gabe continues that they need to act fast, now that the Empire has the Electron gyro, but he will give Cap and Peggy a few minutes. Gabe isn’t aware he is not doing Cap a favor, as Peggy doesn’t know he is in love with her younger sister Sharon, not her. He has to tell her the truth if he survives the rest of the day, Cap silently decides.

A little later, not far away the recaptured, unconscious mutants are lowered into what looks like a flying saucer. Indeed, Number One refers to it as a saucer craft and asks Number Three if it will fly. He is told with the electron gyro for steering and with the X-waves their machines derive from the captured mutant brains for power, this ship shall serve them well.

It better had, Number One replies. The Secret Empire has worked hard for this moment. They’ve spent months plundering the minds of scientists for the necessary knowledge to construct this craft with attack capabilities. Quentin Hardermann, sparked by the Viper, discredited Captain America for them and convinced much of America to accept Moonstone in his place. Lastly, they captured nine mutants for their mental energies.

They watch as the mutants are carried aboard. He enters the ship. It rises into the air and Number One announces this is the day they conquer America!

In Washington DC, Moonstone has been to a Congressional hearing that went well for him. Thanks to Hardermann’s skill, his position as America’s Number-1 hero seems secure. Moonstone quotes him that lies are neat, the truth is messy. Maybe the truth got out on Watergate, but that’s the excep—

He is interrupted by a noise from outside. They look outside to see the saucer landing on the White House lawn. Journalists and military begin to show, then Number One exits and demands immediate and unconditional surrender.

The soldiers fire. However, a forcefield created by the mutants’ brainwaves prevents their shots from hitting true. One of the soldier asks where the president is. At his retreat, the White House says, a fellow soldier replies. He’s supposed to be flying in.

Number One shouts that their leader is far away. Their so called superheroes are in New York or some other distant place. No one is here to protect them. He is their fate!

That moment, Moonstone flies in. In front of the cameras, he shouts that, in the name of America, he challenges him.

Number One accepts and sends a masked strongman, Number Two, out of the saucer to confront Moonstone. Number Two warns Moonstone that his helmet grants him the same capabilities the ship demonstrated. Moonstone flies at him and attacks but then is hit hard. On the ground, Moonstone moans that somehow his foe neutralized the powers he got from the moon rock. Absorbed by his helmet, is the reply. Number Two orders Moonstone to rise and walk into the saucer, where Number One and he shall discuss the terms for the surrender of America.

Once they are out of sight, the two villains praise each other’s performance. Moonstone gloats that everybody saw the tin god they trusted brought down like a child.

A little later, Moonstone comes out of the saucer again and somberly informs the media that there is no hope. He has felt the power of the Secret Empire, seen the weaponry in the saucer and he has heard Number One’s shockingly perfect plan for the subjugation of America. They are already defeated.

Number One gets out behind him, claiming his agents are planting atomic explosives in public places all over America. The nation has thirty minutes to surrender or he’ll order the destruction of every major city. Do not force his hand!

Inside the ship, Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter now release the heroes they smuggled aboard: Captain America, the Falcon, Cyclops and Marvel Girl, all fully recovered. They attack the master control room and quickly take out every body inside. Cyclops begins destroying the machinery that leeches the captive mutants’ brain energy. Marvel Girl informs Cap they’ll back his play of course but the rest of the show is his.

Cap tells Falcon to clean out this rat nest and make someone tell him where those bombs are being planted. Where will he be? Falcon asks. Outside! Cap shouts grimly.

Outside, Number One still rants about his nightmare vision for America when Cap runs into him and smashes him down. The Falcon and the X-Men join him to inform him they got the bomb sites and will inform SHIELD.

Moonstone, in the meantime, confronts Cap, announcing the renegade vigilante shows up to join his Secret Empire friends. Cap shouts that this the last lie Moonstone will tell about him!

The two fight hard, and it is Cap’s determination that wins the day despite Moonstone’s powers. When Moonstone lies on the ground, Cap orders him to talk – without the lies!

Harderman joins them, claiming Moonstone duped the Committee. Moonstone refuses to take the rap and reveals the Committee was always a front for the Secret Empire. Harderman took his idea of ruining Captain America and sold both the Empire and Moonstone on it. With the cameras running, Moonstone reveals the whole story of how Cap was framed. He talks taking everyone down with him, even the Viper, whose hatred for Captain America indirectly began all this. In time, every living member of the Secret Empire will join the Viper in prison.

The heroes are relieved and Cap finally allows himself to smile. However Number One, who they still believe to be unconscious, makes a break for it and runs into the White House. Cap catches up to him in the Oval Office and brings him down. He tears off the hood and is horrified when he sees his foe’s face. But he’s… he’s… Cap stammers. Exactly! comes the villain’s reply. High political office didn’t satisfy him. His power was still too constrained by legalities. He gambled on a coup to get him the power he craved and it appears his gambit has failed. He’ll cash in his chips then.

Cap tries to stop him but is too late. Number One has shot himself.

Cap leaves grimly, not wanting to talk. He trusted the country of his birth despite its flaws. He trusted in its basic framework. Now he is crushed inside. Like millions of other Americans, each in his own way, he has seen his trust mocked. And this man is Captain America.

Characters Involved: 

Captain America
Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Professor X (all X-Men)
‘Dum-Dum’ Dugan, Gabe Jones, Peggy Carter (agents of SHIELD)

Moonstone I
Number One
Number Two and other agents of the Secret Empire
Quentin Hardermann

Story Notes: 

Gabe Jones story was told in Tales to Astonish (1st series) #81-84.

While officially the leader of the Secret Empire was an unnamed powerful politician, it was no secret at the time that Number One was actually meant to be disgraced President Richard Nixon.

Following the events of this story, Captain America gave up his superhero identity for some time, becoming instead Nomad, the man without a country.

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