Although this issue has a tremendous statement about Captain America’s position on law and order versus protest and dissent, on the whole it’s more a set-up for the next two installments, introducing a mysterious new villain and what I’m sure was a very shocking re-introduction of a beloved character in the next issue. In fact, the events of the next two issues make this one seem even crazier… but judging from the exposition on the opening page, Stan and Gene knew what they were doing (and were more than willing to let us in on the joke).
After Captain America and the Hulk battle each other for nearly three pages, we learn that it is all happening on the big screen, setting up a scene similar to Captain America #128 in which Cap confronts being irrelevant and out of touch. (It’s still amazing, though, to think that anyone in the Marvel Universe, at any time, could have doubted Cap’s heroism.)
The bottom two panels above also recall Cap’s musings in issue #122 about current society’s love of the rebel and dismissal of the older generation, where he also admits (as he does here) that his generation made some mistakes, and that maybe the rebels and protesters have a point after all.
But then he takes all of this a little too far, deciding that he’s done with duty—especially if no one appreciates him any more—and he’s throwing in with the selfish hedonists.
Clearly, this doesn’t sound like the Captain America we know and love. But consider all he’s been through lately: he feels betrayed by his love Sharon Carter, his pal Nick Fury, and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D., and at the same time he’s missing having a life outside being the Sentinel of Liberty—a role which itself is increasingly mocked and ridiculed. He’s a man with very little to cling to, and it’s understandable that he would be tempted to grab a little happiness for himself. For all his enhancements, Steve Rogers is, after all, just a man, and for all his virtues, he’s not perfect.
He’s so low, he even takes an insult from a police officer as a compliment!
Of course, as soon as there is danger to be investigated, Cap falls back into character (and costume), showing that even a little ennui cannot defeat his core instincts.
Up ahead, he encounters a campus protest, like in issue #120…
…and as then, he is sympathetic to the students’ concerns even as he is critical of the violence used by them and the police.
Frustrated (both by this incident and in general), Cap points out the difference between fighters for a cause and those who just want to stir up trouble (although he doesn’t know yet just how right he is).
He gets positively cynical with the dean he saves from the campus mob…
…and this cynicism (and his lack of funds) sets him up for a new scheme. Here, we get the first sight of the mystery villain behind the scenes, the Hood (not to be confused with Parker Robbins from the modern comics).
Happily, Cap turns the tables on his new employers, turning their planned speech about law and order into an inspired statement of support for protest and dissent.
This reflects what I take to be one of the most important and under-recognized aspects of Captain America’s character: his belief that principle is more important than politics, which I wrote about at length in chapter 6 of my book, and which is exemplified in his actions in opposition to the government in storylines such as the original “Secret Empire” and “Civil War.” Law and order are good only insofar as they serve justice, but if they are used for unjust ends, they must be resisted for the sake of justice itself. (See Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” for a seminal defense of civil disobedience along these lines.)
Below, Cap goes on to caution against the indiscriminate use of violence, but also criticizes authority figures whose silence and stubbornness drive others to violence.
To cut him off, the Hood takes out a contract on Cap with a familiar face to these pages—Batroc the Leaper—as well as Whirlwind and the Porcupine, both originally foes of the Wasp and Ant-Man/Giant-Man. (This is not the same Porcupine that featured in the most recent Spider-Woman series, which is fantastic—if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.)
Gee, Captain America is exactly like a red-white-and-blue Spider-Man, Mr. Parker, how did I never see that before?
The issue ends with Cap defeating the three villains and pledging to find out who put them up to attacking him—with the Hood shaking his fist and swearing revenge… in the next issue.
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #129 (September 1970)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #81 (October 1970)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #131 (November 1970)