In this issue, as the cover indicates, we meet the Serpent Squad, who are actually more imposing than their name suggests (and who become a fixture in the title for many years). More important for our purposes, we also meet a conscientious objector, who butts heads with… well, you may be surprised who.
After a brief scene of the Serpent Squad in action, we see the folks we left at the end of the last issue—Captain America, the Falcon, Sharon and Peggy Carter, and their parents—as they bring Peggy home to the Carters’ mansion in Virginia… and their faithful butler
Alfred Jarvis Jeeves Smithers.
Oh sure, he’s adjusted perfectly. She could always read the previous entries on this blog, or Cap could just be upfront with his troubles being a “man out of time,” as he is below. But Peggy notices a certain… wrinkle in how similar their circumstances are.
Haaaaave you met Dave?
In his introduction to Marvel Masterworks: Captain America Volume Eight, writer Steve Englehart explains how his army experience, which ended with an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector, led him to include Dave Cox into the title in an effort to diversify its points of view, especially concerning war. (We’ll see more of Dave later in this issue, as well as later in the series.)
Remember the Serpent Squad? (I know, they’re easy to forget.) Below we see them laying plans that will become important to the “Secret Empire” storyline starting in issue #169, plans that are disturbingly timely today in light of the impact that social media and fake news has on current politics.
When we return to our titular heroes, Cap is still thinking about Dave—interestingly, not his attitude toward war, but rather his injuries, about which Cap feels remorse, not being able to do more—and unfortunately his most provocative thought is cut off when Sam tells him, yet again, that he’s going his own way.
Of course Cap digs, but the point is moot, thanks to… the Serpent Squad!
In the course of their battle, Cap burns his hands on the (electric) Eel; he tries to keep his agony from Peggy, presumably for her own sake, but can’t hide the injury itself.
Peggy bandages Cap’s hands and Sam agrees to stay on, but Cap refuses to stay out of the game—and finds himself having to assure Sam of his confidence in him, as well as his gratitude for his friendship. (Not that Sam would fess up to his concern.)
But Cap can’t stay out of action for long, because he has to defend himself from… elderly veterans?
You just can’t keep a good war hero down, which Cap of all people should know.
Cap and Peggy soon find themselves at Dave Cox’s cottage in the woods… and the Serpent Squad finds them there too. On the bright side, this gives Dave a chance to elaborate on his pacifism.
Even though Cap loves a good philosophical debate—who doesn’t?—this is not the time Dave!
When the Squad bursts in, they find only Dave, who proves he’s no coward.
Cap is fighting injured, of course, and below we see him having to remind himself of this, which is a useful lesson for everyone with all-too-human limits.
After Cap manages to defeat the Serpents regardless—with more than a little help from Sam and Redwing—he and Peggy have a talk about Dave.
Cap explains that courage doesn’t just mean physical courage in combat, but also the moral courage to stand by your beliefs in the face of danger, including physical threat. And despite Peggy’s comments, conscientious objection has a long history that predates the United States; see here for a brief legal history. (For a more philosophical discussion, see section 6 of the entry of conscience in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #163, July 1973: Steve Englehart (writer), Sal Buscema (pencils), John Verpoorten and Tony Mortellaro (inks), Petra Goldberg (colors), Charlotte Jetter (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in: Marvel Masterworks: Captain America Volume Eight
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #160-162 (April-June 1973)
ALSO THIS MONTH: Avengers #113 and Captain Marvel #27 (July 1973)
NEXT ISSUE: Captain America #164 (August 1973)