Captain America #310
Issue(s): Captain America #310
On the one hand, it's pretty corny. A whole group of people, bonded together only due to the fact that they all dress like snakes. Just seems very non-Marvel to me. And the theme seems deliberately self-limiting. Would you really exclude, say, the Rhino and Electro, but accept Princess Python, just to maintain a consistent theme?
On the other hand, especially accepting the fact that there have been iterations of a Serpent Squad for years and so i've got nothing legitimate to complain about, there's a very logical idea presented here. The Society's leader and founder, Sidewinder:
For years now, super-human mercenaries like ourselves have worked independently, at the mercy of the whims of our employers for our wages, work conditions, and fringe benefits... or worse still, forced to incur all the risks and operating expenses of working alone!
All that, and the fact that since Sidewinder himself is a teleporter, "no member of my organization need ever fear imprisonment again!".
The Constrictor is unimpressed and declines the invitation.
Sidewinder says that the Viper was also invited but she refused to attend. Of course! The Viper isn't a for-profit super-villain. She's a psycho terrorist that wants to tear down all systems of government. I'm surprised Sidewinder would even want her in the Society. Now granted, she did kill the original Viper and take his place on the Serpent Squad, but that was only to further her terrorist ends. I'm sure she doesn't even think of herself as a snake-themed villain. I'd love to have seen her response.
The Constrictor doesn't just decline to join, however. While the rest of the society are dutifully reviewing their membership booklet (distributed by their own version of Jarvis: Wilburn), the Constrictor leaves an anonymous tip with the Avengers.
Captain America responds to the tip, and finds himself up against Cobra, Anaconda, and Rattler.
Cap knocks out Anaconda...
...but Cobra and Rattler get away with whatever "apparatus" they were sent for. And Sidewinder makes good on his no-jail promise, because "several hours later", the Constrictor receives a little payback.
Earlier, Cap trains a bit with the Black Knight and an extra... frolicky Starfox. Watch your backside, Captain!
We learn that Starfox's powers are less likely to work on people who "find exercises like these exhilarating in themselves" and are only more effective on those "who fight out of rage or hate". That's Cap's theory, anyway.
Cap also gets the idea for a new career that will put his drawing skills to use, since he's quit the advertising business.
A word on the snake characters.
There's a new Asp; no relation to Richard Harper from the Living Mummy series. There's a new Bushmaster and Cottomouth. The previous Cottonmouth was a Power Man villain that was more of a crimelord type and had no relation to this one. Bushmaster, as Michael notes in the comments, is the brother of the original; although the original didn't actually have a snake theme. Also no relation between this new Diamondback and Willis 'Diamondback' Stryker, another Luke Cage character. For all these new snake villains, i've avoided using a II designator since they're not legacy characters, with the exception of Bushmaster.
There's also a new Rattler, the first and only with that name.
This Cottonmouth actually appears in Code of Honor #3 prior to his first published appearance here, and Rattler also has a pre-publication appearance in Iron Man Legacy #7-8.
I've always waited for the (clearly obvious!) revelation that Sidewinder is actually a Skrull, but it's never manifested.
Whatever my misgivings about it, the introduction to the Serpent Society was built up nicely in previous issues and pays off well here. It's a unique concept, and it's always cool to see the inner workings of a villain organization. Gruenwald's writing has its weak points, but this is one of the good ones.
Years later, on Gruenwald's final issue of Captain America, he writes a little retrospective and something about it struck me. Thinking about how he's added to Cap's rogues gallery, he says this:
My inspiration for Cap's foes came from Cap himself. Unlike most heroes, Cap represents something -- America's ideals.
It seems Gruenwald was careful in saying that these themes are just something to "play off against" America's ideals, but i'm pretty shocked to see unions included in that list. I guess i should have realized from the title of this issue ("serpents of the world unite!"); taken together it seems like unions are communism and that's an anti-American ideal that Cap needs to fight. Again, i'm oversimplifying a bit, and i don't know that Gruenwald was taking this super-seriously (i mean, "slacker youths"). It's just a springboard for ideas for villains. But i - and i think a lot of readers - saw nuance in the Serpent Society that we don't see in the other ideas listed, and it's possible that Gruenwald didn't see that nuance. Not that the Serpent Society were meant to be "good guys" but that their idea to have a union was cool and smart. And it never crossed my mind that their organization itself was a threat to Cap's ideals. (It's somewhat similar with Flag-Smasher, which is another case where readers may be have been more generous with nuance than was deserved, considering how the character was actually depicted.)
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Cap says it's been "two weeks" since he quit his advertising job last issue. Takes place before Starfox leaves for space. Cap is "unemployed" in this issue; see Cap #311's Considerations section for more on the implications of that.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (4): showAnaconda, Asp, Bernie Rosenthal, Black Knight (Dane Whitman), Black Mamba, Bushmaster II, Captain America, Cobra, Constrictor, Cottonmouth, Death Adder, Diamondback, Jarvis, Princess Python, Rattler, Sidewinder, Starfox
Iron Man Legacy 6-11 drove us crazy at the MCP. It features the Pride vs. Tony Stark, and later, the Illuminati, and at one point the Pride hire the Serpent Society to kill a bearded Tony Stark who has recently stopped drinking. The problem, of course, is that Tony shaved his beard in Iron Man 196, before Secret Wars II and this issue takes place after Secret Wars II. We considered the possibility that this issue isn't really the first meeting of the Serpent Society- maybe Sidewinder got a few of them together, it didn't work out and he decided to try again.
Posted by: Michael | July 3, 2012 4:24 PM
Added the II back to Bushmaster.
Regarding your decision on Legacy, it does make sense that the Serpents that appear here for the first time would have some prior experience somewhere; i didn't get the impression Sidewinder was recruiting complete newbies. But yeah, every time you mention that book it sounds like a mess. It's kinda like i want to see the train wreck. Plus i generally like Van Lente's writing.
Posted by: fnord12 | July 3, 2012 5:22 PM
I always liked the Serpent Society although in the few appearances outside Captain America the writers often made them out to be disposable villains. Given Sidewinder's businesslike approach, I don't find the "theme" angle weak - he just knows about branding! Plus it's not like Sidewinder intended the Society to go after heroes, it's consciously a business enterprise, not a revenge society, so they don't need to recruit powerful villains. A mix of powers (even something as "lame" as snake handling) might be good depending on the job.
Something else I liked was the rather unique approach to some of the villains. Diamondback, with her pink punk haircut and diamond weapons, was a very original play on the name. Too bad Gruenwald mishandled her in the not very believable Cap-Diamondback romance of later issues.
Posted by: Chris | July 3, 2012 9:49 PM
And of course, there's all those Golden Age Timely villains named after snakes that are showing up in the Marvel Masterworks and that Golden Age Marvel Index. There's at least one Python, probably a Rattler, and I think two Cobras...
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 14, 2012 5:49 PM
"Sidewinder says that the Viper was also invited but she refused to attend. Of course! The Viper isn't a for-profit super-villain. She's a psycho terrorist that wants to tear down all systems of government. I'm surprised Sidewinder would even want her in the Society."
The irony, of course being that Viper eventually DID become a member of the Serpent Society. Then Sidewinder found out why inviting her to join was such a bad idea.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | September 13, 2013 5:01 PM
When this story was first announced, it was stated that this Rattler was the one that appeared in the Spider-Man newspaper strip.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | February 16, 2014 5:56 PM
Gruenwald later stated that the Serpent Society was his take on trade unions.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 31, 2014 6:00 PM
That's one of the things I loved about Gru's CAP run, creating villains based on basically every ideology imaginable.
Posted by: Thanos6 | April 29, 2015 5:10 AM
I kinda wish the old Luke Cage foe (he's still alive) would have shown up as a member of the Serpent society (with a better costume).
Posted by: kveto | August 15, 2015 5:38 AM
I love Diamondback, and this is her first appearance. She is my favorite Captain America girlfriend.
Posted by: Steven | April 18, 2017 7:40 AM
I also enjoyed the whole logical “let’s make a criminal organization... now you need to show me your aptitude” approach. Kinda fun. And being a bunch of villains, of course one of the candidates immediately tries to stab them all in the back!
One other interesting factor was the whole idea of Steve Rogers examining himself as Cap in Marvel comics and wanting to illustrate them himself. Seems like one of the more meta examples of Marvel inserting itself as an entity into the Universe. I’m curious if they did that much in other places.
Posted by: Paul Peterson | April 13, 2018 7:31 PM
And I’m with Steven, I always kinda dug Diamondback as well. I guess every superhero needs a love interest of dubious morals at some point (e.g. Spider-Man/Black Cat; Daredevil/Elektra; Batman/Catwoman; the list goes on and on...)
Posted by: Paul Peterson | April 13, 2018 7:34 PM
One of the the fun things about about the Serpent Society is idea of a solo hero going up against a whole team of villains. They’re a recurring Sinister Six. They’re also a business-oriented villain team, which is cool but doesn’t really hold up on examination. (Surely with all they can do money should be way to come by, without having to assassinate MODOK.)
Posted by: Walter Lawson | May 15, 2018 12:09 AM
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