This issue sees the “Secret Empire” storyline continue at full speed as Quentin Harderman and the Committee to Regain America’s Principles (aka CRAP) pursue their plot, seen at the end of the last issue, to set Captain America up for murder. We also meet the true murderer, Moonstone (see on the cover to the right), as well as the Falcon’s new Wakandan upgrades.
The page below catches us up on Cap’s current state of woe, resulting from the Tumbler’s sudden death during a fight with Cap, actually the result of an invisible laser blast from Moonstone. And as Harderman planned… it worked.
Not only does this deepen the public’s growing distrust and suspicion of Captain America, but it also begins a thread of conflict within the man himself regarding his responsibility to obey the law in such adverse circumstances.
This situation demands that Cap exercise moral judgment to choose between conflicting principles, both related to justice: obey the law (the default position) and resist the wrong being done against him (which put him into conflict with the authorities). Although it’s easy to say “always obey the law,” this example shows that there can be other principles at stake that make one consider setting this principle aside (although reasonable people can disagree with whether any particular case rises to that level). We see here that Cap realizes the police may be in on the set-up, which may tip him to the side of resistance.
Below, we see him consider also the ramifications of his status as a hero and a moral exemplar, who has now been seen evading the police, recognizing too that this is on top of the damage Harderman has already done to his reputation. But he also considers his own peace of mind considering his own moral self-image, when he says he might not be able to sleep if he doesn’t turn himself in (showing the weight he puts on the default principle to obey the law).
Jefferson Pierce? No, not that Black Lightning. (Unfortunately.) Instead, we get this fella, the first Moonstone, soon to replaced by the more familiar (and more interesting) Karla Sofen, who will be introduced in Captain America #192 and, after becoming Moonstone, joins the Masters of Evil and then the Thunderbolts.
After he defeats our hero, Moonstone makes sure we remember who really killed the Tumbler. (That’s Tumbler with an ‘e’; on the death of Tumblr, see here.)
And yet another part of Harderman’s plan takes shape: replacing Captain America in the public’s esteem with… Moonstone?
And if resisting the police weren’t bad enough, look where Cap ends up when he wakes from his defeat… as well as what he sees there.
Soon, Moonstone explains his origin, his words to the press telling one tale while the panels below tell the true story (a very clever bit of parallel storytelling from Messrs Englehart, Friedrich, and Buscema). I’ll just show you the end, when Moonstone meets Harderman and Viper (who launched the publicity campaign in the first place, back in issue #163), providing a little more background to the extent of Harderman’s scheme.
As Harderman and Moonstone continue to sell their line to the press, Cap finally realizes the extent of his dilemma.
While the officer at the jail tries to reassure Cap that some people are still on his side, Cap seems resigned to remaining in jail and waiting for justice through official means…
…but others have different plans, setting up another moral dilemma for Cap regarding his position vis-a-vis the law, taking into account the ramifications of each choice for his mission and his reputation (which, to some extent, are one and the same).
“The country polarized into two camps”… gee, what’s that like?
By the way, in the middle of Cap’s travails, we also saw the Falcon get his upgrades from the Black Panther, enhancing his abilities significantly, as we’ll see soon. (And here he isn’t to save Cap but rather his lady friend Leila, who was abducted by Stoneface and his thugs in nearby Nigeria.)
Captain America (vol. 1) #170, February 1974: Steve Englehart and Mike Friedrich (writers), Sal Buscema (pencils), Vince Colletta (inks), Petra Goldberg (colors), Artie Simek (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
PREVIOUS ISSUE: Captain America #169 (January 1974)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #171 and Avengers #119 (March 1974)