Captain America #385-386
Issue(s): Captain America #385, Captain America #386
The most obvious answer is that the Watchdogs are indeed KKK analogues, based on the fact that their targets mostly wind up being non-white and that their methods include lynching (and we saw a racist skinhead that was a former member of the group in Web of Spider-Man #56). But then how does a guy like Mike Farrel, who even in these issues doesn't come across as particularly racist, wind up with them? Does the general public not know what they are about? These issues present them almost entirely as a censorship group, and it's certainly how Farrel thinks of them. There's probably a story to be told about how someone that is upset about the relaxed standards, so to speak, of the modern world can be led down a path to joining a violent racist group, but this story skips all that and takes it as a given. It's a weird and sudden thing to do to a minor supporting character who was always benign in his past appearances.
Anyway, the moral dilemma for Farrel comes when he realizes there is a live person in the studio, and Farrel fails that dilemma spectacularly.
Captain America's old girlfriend, Bernie Rosenthal figures out that something is wrong the next day, when Farrel is acting weird and has strange friends coming over. After the friend leaves, Mike explains to Bernie what he's done. Note his explanation for why he's in the group.
Bernie agrees to not go to the police but she does go to Cap.
One of the Watchdogs is listening in on Mike while he's talking to Bernie, and they decide to kidnap him. But Farrel is out trying to warn some artists that their exhibit is going to be attacked.
So Cap and the Watchdogs both wind up in Mike's apartment while he's not there.
Note that Cap recognizes them only as a "censorship group". Also note that he just kind of recognizes them. At a minimum i know that he saw them on a screen in Captain America #350, and in that issue the Red Skull told Cap that they were really part of his organization. He probably also saw a dead one on the floor in that issue but i can forgive him for not noticing that in the chaos of the final fight there. Also, Spider-Man should have told him about the Watchdogs he encountered among the Skull's goons in Amazing Spider-Man #325, but maybe not.
Anyway, Bernie stumbles into the room, and the Watchdogs take her hostage and threaten Cap with a clock that looks like a bomb or vice versa (which happens to be a topical subject at the time i'm writing this entry).
Cap has to surrender and let them take Bernie, but afterwards he's able to disable the bomb. Cap must then call in the police because when Mike returns to his apartment building he sees the cops swarming outside and thinks that Bernie called the cops on him after all.
Check out the deliberations that go on when the Watchdogs bring Bernie to their leader. He nearly lets her go.
I guess at the local chapters they have no idea that they are secretly agents of the Red Skull.
Also, let me just put it out there that one of the Watchdogs' administrators is black.
So yeah, i totally don't know how to peg this organization.
Meanwhile, Cap is unable to locate Bernie so he's taking out some frustration training at the Avengers Mansion. But USAgent suddenly busts in and joins him.
USAgent wants in on the Watchdog mission, but Cap won't let him. Cap tries to pull rank on USAgent, but it turns out that USAgent currently isn't a member of the Avengers anyway. Cap still refuses to let him come along, but a careful eye will notice something shiny going on with Cap's shield. That is USAgent planting a tracking device.
My favorite scene in these issues. John Jameson asks about USAgent after he leaves, and Cap tells him that it's classified, but then basically blabs everything.
Fabian Stankowicz comes in to move the plot forward, and eventually Captain America is on his way to the camp where Bernie and Mike Farrel (who is eventually caught by the Watchdogs) are being held. Prisoners in the camp go through a brainwashing process.
Cap takes a stealth approach.
But USAgent comes barreling in behind him.
USAgent does refrain from killing anyway, per his recent vow.
And that's basically it. The Watchdogs are beaten, and Bernie and Mike are rescued. Mike volunteers to turn himself in.
And it's over just like that. No examination about how Farrel got here, or what attracts people to the Watchdogs, or what they are really about, or anything that can be described as character development. Just a bunch of stuff that happened in order to set up an action story. Mike Farrel will next appear in Captain America #425.
Our back-up story has Diamondback, Black Mamba, and the Asp hanging out at the Paladin's Trump Plaza apartment, watching the news.
Note that the newscaster refers to the events of Captain America #382 as happening "earlier today". For reasons discussed in the Considerations below, i am assuming that Diamondback and friends are catching up with the news that was recorded on the Paladin's VCR (or Tivo, for you sliding timescale advocates).
It's said that in addition to them, three other Serpent Society members escaped arrest: Puff Adder, Rock Python, and Anaconda.
The three snake ladies decide that they need to form a team to watch each other's backs in case the other Serpents come after them, and Diamondback suggests the truly awful name of BAD Girls, Inc. (because the first initials of their names spell BAD).
They get new costumes for themselves and Diamondback gets some traps from the Tinkerer which she intends to use to protect her old apartment.
Funny that Asp doesn't have grey skin in her new costume. I'm assuming that's just a coloring error.
Coming back to Diamondback's apartment was an obviously bad idea, and the other three Serpents surprise and capture them.
And then the Serpents are surprised and attacked by MODAM.
This will be continued in the main story for next issue, but we're pausing here.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Captain America is training Rage and Sandman in this story, which means either this takes place before Amazing Spider-Man #348 or after the Sandman's back-up stories in this year's Spider-Man annuals. USAgent appears here while he has been kicked off the West Coast Avengers, after Avengers West Coast #69 and before his appearance in Avengers West Coast #71 (which is an arc that begins with issue #70 and ends with USAgent back on the team). The back-up story for these issues becomes the main story beginning in Captain America #387, which starts with Captain America surveying the fresh damage at Diamondback's apartment (he's allowed to enter before the police). So the back-up here can't take place the same day as Captain America #382, since at a minimum Captain America #383-384 need to take place in between.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAnaconda, Asp, Bernie Rosenthal, Black Mamba, Captain America, Diamondback, Fabian Stankowicz, Jarvis, Man-Wolf (John Jameson), Mike Farrel, MODAM, Peggy Carter, Rage, Rock Python, Sandman, USAgent
I wonder if these little back-up stories Bagley did for Cap were completed before he got the ASM gig? Seems like Marvel would want the artist on their best selling (non-X) title devoting all his attention to that, not stuff like this which is usually given to up-and-comers or has-beens.
Posted by: Robert | September 30, 2015 3:33 PM
And I just realized Bagley hadn't officially taken over on ASM yet. D'oh!
Posted by: Robert | September 30, 2015 3:35 PM
Hey, female Watchdogs! I didn't know they existed...
Posted by: Piotr W | September 30, 2015 4:02 PM
I figure that the Watchdogs' main mission is the whole "morality police" thing. Some local chapters go racist with this, others don't.
Posted by: Thanos6 | September 30, 2015 4:12 PM
Oh god. It's the Superia Strategem next...
Posted by: Berend | September 30, 2015 6:26 PM
There's a couple (potentially overlapping) theories about the Watchdogs:
1. This is a revamped version of the Watchdogs, as the old one was basically smashed. This new version is less about race and more about cleaning up society.
2. The Watchdogs, as Thanos6 suggested, are a very localized group. Some, particularly the Southern ones, are more focused on race (and even the group in the Walker story were portrayed as hating pornography); the Northern ones less so.
3. This is like an entry tier Watchdog group to sucker guys like Mike Farrel and others into joining; once they are shown to not really care about human lives, they are screened and filtered to the more explicitly vile/racist upper tier.
Anyway, I think it makes perfect sense that local chapters of the Watchdogs would be unfamiliar with the Red Skull's backing (if he still is) and the Skull wouldn't want them to know; he wouldn't want to be traced back to funding it, and he doesn't really care what the groups do as long as they're causing trouble and bothering heroes like Captain America. Remember not even Flag Smasher was aware that ULTIMATUM was getting Skull funding.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | September 30, 2015 8:38 PM
I would stick with this title in real time for another 7 to 8 issues. The problem for me was when Ron Lim left. It really hurt Gruenwald's stories because the new artists sucked. I would have continued to enjoy Cap if Lim had stayed. I cannot say the same for Silver Surfer though. I just did not like Ron Marz's run and Lim's art could not save it for me.
Posted by: Grom | September 30, 2015 9:09 PM
I think the Watchdogs have always been about "cleaning up society" as MikeCheyne put it. I don't remember them ever attacking anyone purely because they were non-white. For racism, you'd need to look to the Sons of the Serpent.
Posted by: mikrolik | September 30, 2015 9:39 PM
Farrel's joining the Watchdogs makes no sense. Farrel claims that he had no idea the Watchdogs were murderers but the whole country thinks the Watchdogs killed John Walker in Cap 351. Even if Farrel didn't keep up with the news, you'd think he'd check out the Watchdogs before joining.
Posted by: Michael | September 30, 2015 10:06 PM
The best analogue to the Watchdogs is not the KKK, but the militia movement which eventually spawned Timothy McVeigh. Although these groups were not well known at the time, and I think they would have been under the radar of even Mark Gruenwald. There is definitely an undercurrent of racism and anti-semitism in the militia movement, but it wasn't a defining trait - radical libertarians, strict constitutional constructionists, and survivalist groups were also factors.
I don't think any of these really apply to someone like Mike Farrell. There is obviously some kind of unrevealed story of why and how he got drawn into an obviously illegal group. Likely, Gruenwald did not give this any thought - he needed a hook for Cap's involvement and involved some random member of his old supporting cast.
I completely hated BAD Girls as a concept. It is a terrible and mediocore attempt at redeeming more member of the Serpent Society. Black Mamba was involved in the plot to kill Hercules by the Masters of Evil! Splitting up the Serpent Society was a bad idea. Sidewinder retiring is OK, but with Viper gone and everyone realizing she was nuts, it would have been good for all these criminals to put things aside and resume their obviously successful enterprise.
Posted by: Chris | September 30, 2015 10:16 PM
Uh, whisky tango foxtrot, Cap? USAgent is indeed "without his admirable traits". Also, he is a murderer (and you admit to knowing that), which was reason enough to chastise Wolverine a couple of Annuals ago (1986's Captain America #8, just a few months before you met Walker).
Mark Gruenwald sometimes seems not to know how to make up his mind on how morally and mentally sound USAgent and the Watchdogs are supposed to be. I sure gave up attempting to follow his leads. I don't know that he did not.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | September 30, 2015 10:28 PM
The fast decline of this book keeps going with this completely pointless storyline.
Cap should know the watchdogs. He saw the fake one killed by Scourge in 351.
With Lim's stint ending, this is probably the last remotely readable issue of Gru's run.
Bad art and "I'm going to turn them into women" are up next, sending the title irreversibly into the gutter.
Also, Bagley's costume designs for Asp and Mamba are hideous. And Diomondback should never be out of her classic outfit and pink hair.
Posted by: Bob | September 30, 2015 11:57 PM
I also think that the Watchdogs aren't a KKK eqivalent. Although there is an undercurrent of racism (like the militant groups)I see them having more in common with conservative american christan groups, with their emphasis on enforcing their own brand of morals on people.
In truth, the Watchdogs are better moral foes for John Walker, as his morals co-inside. Steve Rogers recognises them for what they are. Jerks using any means to enforce their own will on others.
More annoying redemption arc for Walker. "Did you notice they way he didn't break the spine of that helpless Watchdog over his knee. What a good guy!"
Farrel had no real personality before, so I have no problem with him exhibting these characteristics. We get insight to his motivations in his argument with the porn artist. To me, this is good use of a secondary character, one of guenwald's strengths.
Posted by: kveto | October 2, 2015 8:13 AM
@kveto- but we still have the problem of him not knowing the Watchdogs are murderers despite it being public knowledge.
Posted by: Michael | October 2, 2015 8:18 AM
that could easily be explained away by Farrel's Watchdog recruiters "collateral damage" and all that. Plus, I imagine that the Watchdogs organizational scheme into chapters would help. "That wasn't our chapter, that was a different chapter. Completely different Watchdogs from us, etc"
And the Watchdogs themselves probably know Cap 351 was a govenment conspiracy to blacken their names. No doubt that helps feed into their "persecuted by the government" narrative (completely true in this case. Conspiracy theorists unite!). He could have been told all other deaths attibuted to Watchdogs were further government propaganda.
lots of explanations. Pick any of them.
Posted by: kveto | October 2, 2015 8:54 AM
I think Asp's "gray skin" is not really supposed to be gray, but just a shade of dark skin they use for Egyptians (I think they used it for the Sphinx in Nova and New Warriors). Since they did not use a lot of colors to print comics back then, this was the best they could come up with.
I like how Gru shows different political views, usually giving pros and cons for both sides, and mainly sides with Cap's "let everyone be free to choose their own way". Bernie and the artist make good points about the side opposing Mike and the Watchdogs. And while Cap may not personally care much for the more porn-styled nudes of that gallery, he knows they have a right to create and show that art, and he also knows the Watchdogs are wrong to force their views on others.
It is a nice way to do it, I think. Usually, I tend to try to force my views on others, although less violently than the dogs. But I try to think about Cap's teachings to change my behavior a little.
Posted by: Cesar Hernandez-Meraz | December 28, 2017 4:12 AM
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