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Steven Attewell: Steve Rogers Isn’t Just Any Hero

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At this point I don’t think Steven needs an introduction — or wouldn’t, were it not for the fact that he’s now Doctor Steven Attewell, and we all know how that title can change a man. — SEK

A while ago, I came across an argument on Tumblr over whether “modern approaches to writing steve rogers are politically correct revisionist history bc people write steve now as being super accepting of all races and sexualities and genders etc.”My initial thought was: ok, I have to chime in on this. There is a mistaken belief that cultural attitudes in the past were monolithic, that everyone and everywhere was “of their time.” This is not true; even in the past, there were people and places who saw past conventional wisdom and social pressure and looked to a better future.

But the real reason I had to chime in was that Steve Rogers is my favorite superhero. Why? Because unlike other patriotism-themed characters, Steve Rogers doesn’t represent a genericized America but rather a very specific time and place – 1930’s New York City. We know he was born July 4, 1920 (not kidding about the 4th of July) to a working-class family of Irish Catholic immigrants who lived in New York’s Lower East Side.[1] This biographical detail has political meaning: given the era he was born in and his class and religious/ethnic background, there is no way in hell Steve Rogers didn’t grow up as a Democrat, and a New Deal Democrat at that, complete with a picture of FDR on the wall.

Steve Rogers grew up poor in the Great Depression, the son of a single mother who insisted he stayed in school despite the trend of the time (his father died when he was a child; in some versions, his father is a brave WWI veteran, in others an alcoholic, either or both of which would be appropriate given what happened to WWI veterans in the Great Depression) and then orphaned in his late teens when his mother died of TB.[2] And he came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing, Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the American Labor Party was a major force in city politics, labor unions were on the move, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was organizing to fight fascism in Spain in the name of the Popular Front, and a militant anti-racist movement was growing that equated segregation at home with Nazism abroad that will eventually feed into the “Double V” campaign.

Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the “Cultural Front.” We’re talking the WPA Arts and Theater Projects, Diego Rivera painting socialist murals in Rockefeller Center, Orson Welles turning Julius Caesar into an anti-fascist play and running an all-black Macbeth and “The Cradle Will Rock,” Paul Robeson was a major star, and so on. You couldn’t really be an artist and have escaped left-wing politics. And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the “New York Intellectuals” were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.

And this Steve Rogers, who’s been exposed to all of what New York City has to offer, becomes an explicit anti-fascist. In the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, he first volunteers to join the army to fight the Nazis specifically. This isn’t an apolitical patriotism forged out of a sense that the U.S has been attacked; rather, Steve Rogers had come to believe that Nazism posed an existential threat to the America he believed in. New Deal America.

The original Captain American comics are awash with this New Deal/anti-fascist spirit: in his March 1941 premiere issue published by Timely Comics (prominently featuring the eponymous hero socking Hitler in the jaw), FDR comes up with the idea for Captain America as a solution to fascist fifth-columnists interfering with America’s war-readiness program. In a deliberate thumb in the eye to Hitler’s racial science, Steve Rogers is turned from a malnourished working-class intellectual into the very image of the Aryan Superman Hitler fetishized by a Jewish refugee scientist – alternately named Joseph Reinstein or Abraham Erskine – who is then gunned down by a Nazi agent.[3] Captain America takes up the shield presented to him by President Roosevelt, and then spends much of his early issues fighting sabotage and subversion on the home front.

The nature of this subversion is quite pointedly political (in addition to a surprising amount of occult and weird science to leaven the mixture) – it’s Nazi agents (the Red Skull appears in issue #1 as the chief of Hitler’s sabotage programme, despite the handicap of, you know, having a red skull instead of a face; in issue #5, Cap takes on the German-American Bund), and it’s the greedy bosses (in issue #2 where Captain America acquires his more iconic round shield, for example, Captain America fights a pair of corporate income tax evaders who for some reason are using Tibetan golems to cover up their crimes), but it’s not striking workers or Japanese-Americans (although the depictions of Japanese soldiers are up there with the worse of WWII propaganda as far as racism goes, it’s hard to find examples of the fifth-columnist fantasies of internal subversion from Japanese-Americans, which is noteworthy for a comic obsessed with sabotage on the home-front).[4] And of course, when he gets to Europe (occasionally in drag), he promptly goes to working, punching out Hitler, Goering, Himmler, and any number of other Nazis, and blowing up an astonishing amount of tanks.

Indeed, the politics of Captain America became a bit of a problem when the war ended and there weren’t any Nazis left to punch. For a while, there was an attempt to fill the void with weird science (Cap fights Martians more than once) and gangsters, but it didn’t really work. More pertinent, in 1953, there was a failed attempt to re-brand Captain America as the “Commie Smasher” and return to the war-time scripts of sabotage and fifth-columnists but with the swastika replaced with the hammer and sickle.[5] A funny thing happened though; even at the height of the McCarthy era, Americans didn’t want to buy an anti-Communist Captain America. The comic book folded and Captain America wasn’t seen until 1964 when he was suddenly revived from his Arctic prison by the Avengers. The anti-Communist Captain America was ret-conned into being a crazed history graduate student named William Burnside who had himself surgically altered and then dosed with a flawed version of the Super-Serum, which drove him insane to the point where he saw communist sympathizers everywhere.[6] The subtext isn’t particularly thick here: the “Commie-Smasher” was a paranoid wannabe, whereas the real Captain America is the “living legend of WWII” waiting in suspended animation during the Second Red Scare, who emerges back onto the scene with the arrival of the New Frontier and the Great Society.

When Marvel Comics brought Captain America back, they built on the rather crude work of the Timely Comics era to more fully flesh out Steve Rogers’ backstory at the same time that Captain America became one of the mainstays of the Avengers. Far from a mere homefront hero, Steve Rogers is reimagined on the front lines of the Allied war effort. As the leader of the Invaders (an international and multispecies supergroup primarily composed of the Human Torch, Namor, and Britain’s Union Jack and Spitfire), Captain America goes to war in Europe against Nazi super-villains like the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Colonel War-Hound, Master Man (“the personification of the lurid Nietzschean nightmare”), takes to the skies over London to fend off the Blitzkreig, save Winston Churchill from the U-Man, thwarts the vampiric Baron Blood, raids the Warsaw Ghetto and fight alongside the Jewish superhero the Golem against Colonel Eisen, parachutes into Berchtesgaden, hits the beaches at Normandy and fights in the Battle of the Bulge, culminating with a 1945 storming of Red Skull’s holdout bunker that eventually winds up with Captain America locked in the ice to be discovered when a new generation needs him.[7]

The larger point here is that unlike other patriotic superheroes (like Superman, for example), Captain America is meant to represent the America of the Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, and the Second Bill of Rights – a particular progressive ideal.[8]

Marvel hasn’t always been particularly comfortable with that ideal – it’s political, it’s lefty politics at that, and it’s just generally alien to a generation whose primary exposure to WWII is in the more depoliticized depictions of Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers than something like Casablanca. Notably, in Mark Millar’s “gritty reboot” of the Ultimates (which gave us the original Samuel L. Jackson-as-Nick-Fury), Captain America is reconceived as an unthinking nationalist, complete with Iraq War-era anti-French witticisms:[9]

Millar finds this idea so funny he spends a page congratulating himself about thinking up this joke in the following issue.[10] For a character who for decades embodied not a narrow xenophobic nationalism but an internationalist spirit in which New Deal and anti-fascist values went hand-in-hand with pro-Allied internationalism, this suggests a failure to get to grips with the material.

Marvel has done better with recent years, with the Joe Johnson-helmed “Captain America: First Avenger” borrowing directly from the original comic books to recreate Steve Rogers’ origin story and the sock-Hitler-in-the-jaw WWII iconography, and Joss Whedon’s continuation firmly placing Steve Rogers as a thoughtful soldier who looks askance at Nick Fury’s cooption of Hydra/Nazi weaponry and who explicitly compares Loki’s desire for domination to Hitler’s.

However, even in these versions, some of the political edge of the character is left out. Joe Johnson’s Captain America spends a lot of time punching Hitlers for the USO, but not so much hunting down corporate tax evaders or the German-American Bund, because that might raise uncomfortable questions. Likewise, when it came time to bring Steve Rogers into the Avengers, Joss Whedon describes that “One of the best scenes that I wrote [for the Avengers] was the beautiful and poignant scene between Steve and Peggy [Carter] that takes place in the present,” in which Captain America “talks about the loss of the social safety net that existed in his time, including the need for affordable healthcare for everyone.”[11] It’s good to know that Joss Whedon was thinking about “a sense of loss about what’s happening in our culture, loss of the idea of community, loss of health care and welfare and all sorts of things,” but it really is a shame that the element of Steve Rogers that most challenges modern America with the question of whether we’ve lived up to the ideals of the “Greatest Generation” was left on the cutting room floor.

So no, there’s nothing “revisionist” or “politically correct” about portraying Steve Rogers as an explicitly progressive superhero. Without that, he wouldn’t be Captain America.

[1] The digital comic book First Vengeance changes this slightly, shifting his birth to 1918 and moving the family to Brooklyn, but the details are the same. Captain America #283 tried to re-Americanize Steve by inventing a history of other Captain Americas, including a Native-American-magic-empowered Civil War Captain America (who, thank God, fought for the Union) and a Revolutionary War Captain America, but let’s be clear: the real Steve Rogers, the real Captain America, is a second-generation Irish Catholic from New York City.

[2] Captain America #255.

[3] Captain America #1.

[4] Ibid, Captain America #2, 5.

[5] Captain America #77.

[6] Captain America #155.

[7] Invaders, #1-21.

[8] Historically, Marvel writers have been very consistent on this point: When Rogers’ ideals are violated, such as when Nixon commits suicide over Marvel’s version of the Watergate affair, rather than accept a cover-up, Rogers resigns in protest, becoming a 70s-inspired Nomad (complete with open shirt (Captain America #180.) Likewise, when he’s replaced by the right-wing “Super-Patriot” (created explicitly by Mark Gruenwald to “embod[] patriotism in a way that Captain America didn’t – a patriotic villain”) in 1986, Steve Rogers is impelled to take him on (Captain America #323).

[9] Ultimates #11.

[10] Ultimates #12.

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  • Deptfordx

    “What can change the nature of a man?”

    “A doctorate”

    That would have been a very different and considerably shorter RPG.

    • Jordan

      Is that a Planescape joke???

      • Deptfordx

        Well if i can’t make jokes referencing cult pc games here, then this isn’t the blog i think it is.

        • Jordan

          Oh, by all means, go ahead! I come for the lengthy defense of Captain America’s progressive credentials, I stay for references to 15 year old, poorly selling (but great!) computer games!

          • junker

            Oh my God, Planescape is really 15 years old. Where the heck has the time gone?

            • njorl

              The pen and paper aspect of Planescape is nearly 20.

              • eliyes

                And I’m still playing it. :Dd

            • Jordan

              No kidding. I (truthfully!) had a conversation with my brother just last week about him doing another playthrough of it where he had glommed on to some detail of the game he hadn’t noticed before.

              That reminds me, it has been a few years …

              • Taylor Guest

                It’s on GOG.com for sale. And updated so it’ll play right even on newer computers.

            • firefall

              its under the couch

          • MikeJake

            There cannot be two skies.

            • El Guapo

              Stop rattlin’ your bone-boxes, you berks.

              • Jordan

                I’ll bet ye’ve got all sorts o’ barmy questions! [Mimics your heroic stance] Greetin’s, I have some questions… can ye tell me about this place? Who’s the Lady o’ Pain? I’m lookin’ fer the magic Girdle of Swank Iron, have ye seen it? Do ye know where a portal ta the 2,817th Plane o’ the Abyss might be? Do ye know where the Holy Flamin’ Frost-Brand Gronk-Slayin’ Vorpal Hammer o’ Woundin’ an’ Returnin’ an’ Shootin’-Lightnin’-Out-Yer-Bum is?

                • The Pale Scot

                  Gauntlets of Ali, you always got the first hit in, no matter who the opponent was,

                  Best battle magic item ever.

                • Wait . . .

                  There’s a vorpal hammer?!?

            • junker

              Endure. In enduring, grow strong.

              Dak’kon, or Ted Cruz during the shutdown?

              • Jordan

                Balance in All Things.

                NOT Ted Cruz.

    • nobodyparticular

      Depending on the doctoral program, not that much shorter…

      And I’ve met committee members who could give Ravel Puzzlewell a run for her money :)

    • Speaking of old games, I posted about this yesterday on my blog, but nobody actually looks at that. No Planescape though, unfortunately.

      • Jordan

        Holy crap, sweet!

      • firefall

        Jesus wept, Wolfenstein is 32 years old? time to hang up my walker

      • (the other) Davis

        No Planescape though, unfortunately.

        Probably because you can still buy Planescape. (No love for Mac users, though.)

  • KadeKo

    Oh, that Steve Rogers.

    I didn’t look and thought that this was Scott Lemieux going on about my Expos again.

    • njorl

      I’m waiting for Boots Day to comment. They were team mates for a couple of years.

      • Mike Adamson

        don’t forget JOHN BOCCCCABELLLLAAAAA.

  • snarkout

    Man, that Mark Millar France thing still angers up the blood. “HAW HAW HAW, THIS WORLD WAR II VETERAN THINKS ABOUT FRANCE THE WAY JONAH GOLDBERG DOES.”

      • JMP

        Ah, the Serpent Society; they were basically the KKK with laser rifles. Marvel wasn’t exactly subtle, but it was good that in the 60s they stood firmly behind the Civil Rights movement (and unsurprising, as most of the staff at the time were Jewish and had experienced discrimination themselves).

        • fraser

          The stupidest white supremacist organization ever. First time out, dupes of an Asian. Second time, dupes of black and white political schemers. Third time out, black businessman.
          As to Marvel tackling the issue though–yes, points for them.

          • JMP

            I think the fact that the white supremacists were always dupes was kind of the point.

      • David Hunt

        Wow! The Scooby Doo Ending! “I’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you snooping kids accursed Avengers.”

        • Walt

          Some things are classics for a reason.

    • Danny

      Can’t find it online, but during the phenomenal Winter Soldier storyline, written by Ed Brubaker, Cap visits France, and mentions how inspirational the resistance was to the Invaders, and how much he hates people who mock the French for surrendering. Felt like a shot at Mark Millar when I read it.

      • It was definitely a shot at Mark Millar – Brubaker is very much the anti-Millar in many ways, but especially in terms of finding ways to tell new stories that are faithful to the source material instead of saying “f*ck it, I’m going to do something out of character for shock value.”

      • Oh, and here’s the page in question.

        • Anonymous

          Exactly what I was thinking of, thanks!

      • Greg

        I’ve always hated Ultimate Captain America because of this panel. From his perspective he was fighting alongside the French Resistance only a few weeks ago. It’s ludcrious that he would think they’re a bunch of sissies.

    • Halloween Jack

      Millar is nothing but a canny provocateur whose work depends on an increasingly threadbare collection of exploitation tropes. He made the jump to movies, but the sequel to Wanted (which has almost nothing to do with the comic) is long overdue, and something tells me that Kick-Ass 2 will be reviewed as vastly inferior to the first movie, when it’s really just not different enough.

      • If he was honest about it, that would be one thing. One can respect if not admire P.T Barnum for at least being open about being a shameless huckster.

        But Millar pretends that he’s a progressive provocateur, and that’s infuriating.

      • heckblazer

        Exhibit A: his magazine with the typographic pun “CLiNT”

      • InnerPartisan

        MARK MILLAR LICKS GOATS!

        (I’m sorry ;) )

  • Josh G.

    Brad Hicks wrote an interesting blog post on the political aspects of Steve Rogers vs. Tony Stark.

    • Bytowner

      Just had a look at that. Intriguing in a big way that makes sense.

  • After visiting Verdun, I can understand why the French weren’t all that keen on having a second go at it.

    • LeeEsq

      Its not that the French weren’t so keen at having a second go at it but that they made the very fatal mistake that Germany would use the same strategy that they used to invade France during WWI.

      • rea

        Germany in fact planned to use the same strategy, until an officer carrying the war plans was involved in a plane crash in then-neutral Belgium . . .

    • ajay

      After visiting Verdun, I can understand why the French weren’t all that keen on having a second go at it.

      What’s baffling is that the Germans didn’t feel the same way.

      • Manny Kant

        The renewal of war in 1939 was actually wildly unpopular in Germany, as well. It’s just that, unlike in France, where the government more or less represented the opinions of the people, in Germany they’d decided several years before to give power to a bunch of insane racist gangsters who didn’t care.

        I think it’s also important that the French “won” the war, and were thus able to see that it was the war itself that was awful. Germany “lost,” so many Germans thought that the problem with World War I was not the war itself, but that Germany had lost it. They didn’t have the demonstration of the emptiness of victory that the French and British had.

        • Crunchy Frog

          WW1 wasn’t fought on German soil. This of course had to have some effect on public opinion.

          Today you can’t grow up anywhere in continental Europe and not be taught, through local experience, the horrors of the war. Not true in the UK – although they suffered a lot of bombings they didn’t deal with a ground war in their country. That might explain the UK’s tendency to be more keen than their European counterparts to join in with whatever war the US is currently selling.

          Then there is the US, which has not had war on its soil since 1865*, so the population generally sees war as a cool thing to wage in far away lands with their professional military.

          * = Yes, the Hawaiian territory did suffer severe bombing in 1941, but that doesn’t count on technical grounds (not in the US then), on remoteness grounds, and because – as shown by the London example – while horrible bombing by itself does not have the same impact on the collective long term psyche of a population like a localized ground war does.

          • Today you can’t grow up anywhere in continental Europe and not be taught, through local experience, the horrors of the war. Not true in the UK – although they suffered a lot of bombings they didn’t deal with a ground war in their country. That might explain the UK’s tendency to be more keen than their European counterparts to join in with whatever war the US is currently selling.

            Yet the UK (meaning, the UK’s policy elites) seem to be especially happy to join in with bombing campaigns, don’t they? I find that very puzzling.

            • Crunchy Frog

              I don’t know either. I’m just observing that somehow if an area gets the shit bombed out of it but doesn’t actually get occupied or suffer a land war it doesn’t seem to have anywhere near the same long-term effect on the population’s psychology. And by long-term I mean passed on for generations, like we see in Western Europe.

              I don’t claim this is a hard and fast rule or anything that is researched in detail, just an observation. I’m sure there are many exceptions.

          • ajay

            That might explain the UK’s tendency to be more keen than their European counterparts to join in with whatever war the US is currently selling.

            You might want to actually check the data on that one. Specifically, the most recent one, which is Syria. And also look up the opinion polls on Iraq. And if you go a bit further back you can find out how keen the UK was to join in with Vietnam. (Hint: not very.)
            And if you mean “the UK government” rather than “the UK population”, note that it’s not like the UK was the only European state to join the US in Iraq or Afghanistan.

            • Crunchy Frog

              “More keen” is a relative term. I was there, I know that Blair did not represent the majority of his populace when he led them blindly into Afghanistan and Iraq 2. But nevertheless the populace tolerated Britain’s active participation. Yes, other countries from western Europe “helped”, but only in very token and ostensibly “peaceful” ways.

            • Barry

              “And if you mean “the UK government” rather than “the UK population”, note that it’s not like the UK was the only European state to join the US in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

              IIRC, the UK sent several thousand troops; the other countries sent at best low triple digits – basically enoug people to raise a flag.

              • ajay

                IIRC, the UK sent several thousand troops; the other countries sent at best low triple digits – basically enoug people to raise a flag.

                You don’t RC. And I’d love to see you try to tell, say, a Danish or Polish or Dutch soldier that his army hadn’t really done any fighting in Afghanistan and were just there to raise a flag. Again, check the data.

              • Ronan

                The UK was definitely the major European partner in Afghan and Iraq. Thats unarguable

            • Ronan

              “And also look up the opinion polls on Iraq.”

              Which showed majority support, in 2003

          • LeeEsq

            Quibble, Hawaii wasn’t a state but it was considered to be a territory of the United States and the Constitution was deemed applicable to it like Alaska.

          • Ronan

            Europeans being aware of the horrors of war might be a thing, but more than likely its mostly a talking point

            Most European countries post WW2 werent very keen to give up their empires, and they havent been reluctant to fight wars outside of Europe. The reason for peace on the continent is a different matter altogether
            Most conviningly, most European countries have been able to ‘choose peace’ b/c the US became the dominant global power and has taken on all of the ‘system mainatenance’ roles that they used to do and given them spae to disarm a and free ride off US hegemony
            Except the US has done a better job

      • Hogan

        It’s all fun and games until somebody gets dolchgestossen.

        • +88

          • Barry Freed

            I see what you did there

        • Marek

          Win.

    • And yet, what people often forget is that France took 217,600 military casualties in WWII anyway. The reality is that no country, not the U.K, not the USSR, not the U.S initially knew how to deal with the Blitzkreig.

  • I enjoyed the Joss Whedon Avengers but it lacked much of the heart and soul that I usually find in Whedon, sacrificed for the huge/complex/machine/disaster porn that the movie seemed to demand. I assumed a bunch of stuff was left on the cutting room floor. Anyone else think that there was a glitch in what should have happened when Nick Fury bets Captain America that he will astound him and the astounding thing isn’t that Barack Obama is president but rather that the ship can fly? I thought that sequence was sadly typical of the lack of social consciousness in the movie. By definition no technology is really that shocking. What has to be shocking to Captain America as he is depicted is always going to be social change.

    • UserGoogol

      Some amount of time takes place between when Captain America got unfrozen and Avengers, so presumably he would’ve heard about Obama pretty quickly. And really, it would have been distracting for him to still be learning basic facts like who the President is. Social issues probably should have been addressed more, but doing it like that would’ve just been awkward. And more generally, it’s not Cap’s movie, they can only spend so much time on that sort of thing, and “hey, Jim Crow is over and now we have a black president” is a difficult thing to try to just do as a minor aside.

      Maybe they’ll address social change more in Winter Soldier.

      • Baby Needs-A-Nym

        Are they really calling the next movie “Winter Soldier?” Because, um… Winter Soldier

        • Jesse Ewiak

          Um, look at Bucky Barne’s Wikipedia. Spoilers for the new Captain Americam movie though.

        • Screw spoilers! Watch the trailer!

          Early press suggest it’s supposed to be more like a 70s spy conspiracy thriller.

          • redwoods

            Ohhhh, now it sounds interesting, Black Widow’s regrettable hair notwithstanding.

            • Yah, I don’t get that. Maybe she’d just finished a scuba mission?

      • ironic irony

        “and “hey, Jim Crow is over and now we have a black president” is a difficult thing to try to just do as a minor aside.”

        I dunno, Sleepy Hollow did it pretty well recently when Ichabod congratulated Abbey Mills on “the emancipation of her people.” I found the whole scene clever and funny, but that could just be me.

    • David Hunt

      By the time that the Avengers movie is taking place, Cap has been back for some unspecified amount of time. Weeks to months. I’m sure that he has been informed who the President is by then. Also, if the astounding thing had been some sort of social change, I suspect the joke of Steve walking up to Fury, handing him a $10 bill, and walking away would have fallen flat as I think it would have been tacky for them to be betting about that stuff…

    • How could he have had Astonishment over Obama but not had Capt. A absolutely gobsmacked by the fact that Nick Fury was now a black man? I think that was the joke.

      Also, am I the only one who views these forms of entertainment as occurring on a parallel Earth where there isn’t a 1-1 correlation between current real world events and whatever is going on in the comic/book/show? Is the president even mentioned in the movie?

      • No, i get that, but i still find the shock at the magic machine uninteresting.

        • [Teeny tiny voice]

          i thought the big flying fortress thingee was pretty gobsmack worthy.

          • Then don’t watch the Winter Soldier trailer.

        • David Hunt

          The SHIELD Helicarrier is a vehicle whose history goes all the way back to the organization’s introduction in the 60’s. They wanted to give it spiffy intro. I guess it’s a “your mileage may vary” thing.

    • I’d still defend the Avengers movie as a hell of an achievement given the inherent difficulties of doing an ensemble Marvel superhero movie, but yes, there was a lot left on the floor.

      And as the quote points out – Whedon was thinking in social terms, he just excised it.

      • They made a Marvel Avengers movie that felt a lot like a Marvel Avengers comic book. In a good way. An amazing effort.

    • Hob

      But the joke wasn’t that this was the only, or most significant, thing that surprised him– it was, as he explained to Fury, that after all the other crazy new things he’d already been surprised by he didn’t think there could be any more surprises left. As everyone over a certain age knows (not sure what that age is, but I’ve passed it), there’s always some damn thing. And the joke works better because it’s taking something that (as Rogers mentions) he thinks is still familiar, an aircraft carrier, and having it do a new thing that’s both awesome and totally ridiculous; as a techie child of the ’70s, this is basically how I feel whenever I realize that an absurdly high-capacity global digital network is making it possible for people to circulate pictures of ungrammatical cats.

    • Halloween Jack

      By definition no technology is really that shocking.

      I couldn’t disagree more; there are lots of things that science fiction of the 30s and 40s didn’t predict, such as that you could have access to (seemingly) all the information in the world through a device the size of a pack of cards. I do agree with the idea that Rogers wouldn’t have been that astonished by the helicarrier, particularly because his last memory before waking up in the 21st century was being aboard a giant flying wing.

    • DataShade

      Did it not, in that particular scene, both fly *and* turn invisible?

    • Bez

      I understand your point and I know the Obama thing was just an example, but in the MCU the president is a white man (Iron Man 3).

  • LeeEsq

    I’m going to take on the role of devil’s advocate and argue that your interpretation of Captain America has New Deal progressive and the interpretation of Captain America has hide-bound conservative are both equally right. Many people of Captain America’s generations were all for FDR, the New Deal, and all it represented but grew uncomfortable with the massive social changes of the 1960s and 1970s for various reasons. While this wasn’t true for everybody of Captain America’s generaiton, it was true for a lot of them.

    The thing that the conservative revisionist interpretation of Captain America gets wrong is they keep thinking that a person’s politics never changes, which to be fair is usually true, or that people aren’t overwhelmed by social change. You can have a conservative Captain America by having the New Dealer Captain America unable to get rid of some of the conservative aspects that a person of his generation would pick up by osmosis if anything else.

    • rea

      But Lee, most of the “New Dealers turned into 60’s and 70’s reactionaries” hadn’t spent the intervening 20 years frozen in ice.

      • LeeEsq

        That could either explain why Captain America kept his New Deal ideal or it would have led to a bigger culture shock.

      • Barry

        In addition, Cap wasn’t just a child of the New Deal, as the OP points out; has was on the far left wing of it.

        • Barry

          …the non-Stalinist wing, and who was not scarred by the Cold War, McCarthyism, etc.

        • precisely.

    • Bruce Baugh

      But then again plenty of New Dealer, like my parents, worked through their discomfort at continuing change to keep supporting the ideal of justice and opportunity for everybody. They never stopped being interested in learning, nor closed themselves off to the idea that their consistent principles could lead to surprising demands on them and others to implement. 43.7% of voters over 65 went for Obama, exit polls tell me – my parents aren’t unique special snowflakes or anything. Steve Rogers would have plenty of good company with peers who remember feeling the same passion for a better world…and still do.

    • I get that people could have both progressive and conservative traits, but Captain America wasn’t just any person of his generation, and I think you’d have to have a good deal of evidence to explain why a New York artist who volunteered a year before Pearl Harbor out of anti-fascist principles had them.

      And this was one of the things that I think the Joe Johnston movie got right – Steve Rogers is one of those rare cases of an underdog who doesn’t go sour but who generalizes his situation into an opposition to injustice. A man who throws himself in front of a grenade to save the life of soldiers who’ve been taunting him as a weakling will make the adaptation.

  • LeeEsq

    Also, didn’t a lot of early Superman stories involve Superman embracing the New Deal. There was one comic where he tore down a slum and replaced it with what amounted to social housing. I have book of WPA posters and a lot of the posters boast of planned housing as a way to fight juvenile deliquency.

    • And who can forget “So tear down the condemned, absentee-landlorded, tenement building. Your the goddamn Batman!”?

      • snarkout

        This has been addressed in the comic book, for what it’s worth (for instance, Bruce’s confidante Dr. Leslie Thompkins saying that a costumed crimefighter is vastly less helpful for dealing with health care issues among the urban poor than, say, buckets of cash from the Wayne Foundation might be), with the answer being pretty directly given that Bruce Wayne finds being a billionaire philanthropist significantly less emotionally fulfilling than dressing up as Batman and beating up evil clowns.

        • so Bruce Wayne’s vigilante predilections are really just about punching the clown?

        • N__B

          Wait…there are non-evil clowns?

          • LeeEsq

            Daniel Kaye in the Court Jester?

        • NonyNony

          with the answer being pretty directly given that Bruce Wayne finds being a billionaire philanthropist significantly less emotionally fulfilling than dressing up as Batman and beating up evil clowns.

          And this is why comic book Batman since the 1980s has been a pretty lousy character overall. Batman has been made into a small and petty figure who tries to self-medicate his emotional issues by beating the crap out of the mentally ill and the poor on a nightly basis instead of seeking help for his own issues.

          • Josh G.

            This interpretation of Batman can work in a stand-alone project, but in the comics, it isn’t even internally consistent. In our world, if someone puts on a weird costume and goes out at night to fight crime without official sanction, we would think it was crazy. But in the DC universe, that’s actually a perfectly normal career choice!

          • Hogan

            I tried to link to this earlier, but I guess it’s in moderation purgatory.

          • fraser

            While I didn’t much like Max Collins’ writing on Batman, I liked his take on this: Batman treats the symptoms, Bruce’s money can cure the disease.

        • Yeah, Batman’s always had an inherently reactionary tinge to him.

          • But it took Citizens United to unhinge him completely.

            • jim, some guy in iowa

              hes the goddam batman. he’ll jump off that building with or without koch bros $$

          • Tristan

            Counterpoint: Batman’s ‘villains’ are predominately mentally ill, often portrayed as not responsible for their actions as the direct result of childhood traumas, and get sent to an asylum for treatment. Superman, Spider-Man, anyone else I can think of, their villains are shown to be willfully criminal, typically out of sheer greed, and get sent to prison for punishment. The context of Batman, if not the character himself, is arguably one of the most socially progressive examples of the genre.

      • N__B

        The Batman cartoon that went on the air in the early 90s had an episode where the villain was a slumlord. One line of dialog, delivered in comics BOLD: They’re tearing down the tenement!

    • Sly

      And fighting the Klan, though that did come 10 years later with the radio serial.

    • It’s not that Superman couldn’t be political – it’s more that the politics aren’t there in the character concept. Action Comics #1 is Superman as general do-gooder: preventing an unjust execution, beating up a wife-beater, and taking down a corrupt senator. But there isn’t any politics to it.

      Hence, Superman can be everything from Reeve’s anti-nuclear activist to a Reagan-era patriot to the guy who arrests Hitler and Stalin and deposits them in the Hague.

      • I assume all you comics-teaching profs have not only read Eco’s “The Myth of Superman” but published articles critiquing it. Still, here it is (shitty PDF that I googled up). Politics at 939-41.

      • Halloween Jack

        I’m not sure what definition of “politics” that you’re using when one early Superman adventure had him taking a bunch of rich jerks down into an unsafe mine and staging a cave-in, to let them know how the other half lived with preventable unsafe conditions.

        • Ok, let me clarify my meaning.

          1. There’s no politics in the character concept in the same way that Captain America’s concept is that of an anti-fascist or Batman’s is that of a rich dude beating the crap out of poor people.

          2. While it’s true that Superman started out with muckraking heroics, that fell out of the character pretty quickly – the archetypal Superman heroics is more usually saving people from natural disasters, something that everyone can get on board with.

          3. I see a difference between a superhero acting politically (as an anti-fascist, or say like the X-Men fighting the Mutant Registration Act) vs. universal do-gooding. Superman exists to help everybody, which is rather different from say

          4. Inasmuch as Superman’s a symbol of America, it’s an apolitical America; yes, there’s the illegal immigrant thing, but that’s covered over by mid-Western rural values. Within the context of the D.C universe, Superman’s usually a status quo figure, as opposed to say Green Arrow’s limousine liberalism or Batman’s anti-institutional paranoia or Wonder Woman’s subversive image.

          • as opposed to say Green Arrow’s limousine liberalism

            Sheesh. Next you’ll be accusing Green Lantern of Green-Lanternism.

          • Greg

            As a journalist, Clark Kent has long been presented as kind of a bleeding heart “here’s the true face of the homelessness epidemic” type.

      • Overtly, you’d be right, but I would argue that the immigrant story inherent in the genesis of Superman (actual-alien-raised-in-the-heartland-of-America) speaks to second-generation immigrant experience that is (unfortunately) inherently political in America. In that Superman is the ultimate American, but the ultimate Alien at the same time, especially when created at a time where Jews (Superman’s creators)/immigrants were seen as political and social interlopers.

        • Sure, I get that. But it’s not necessarily progressive; at the time, it could equally be seen as a regressive fantasy whereby a Jew could be reborn as a WASP and thus accepted as truly American.

          Whereas Captain America is indisputably a 2nd-generation immigrant Catholic, born right in New York City. And at no point is it assumed that he has to be a cornfed Christian Republican to be the image of America.

          It’s a different era – more of the Cultural Front ethos of the 40s that saw the category of American becoming more universal through the war.

          • But I don’t think Superman encompasses that particular regressive fantasy? Superman is not accepted by the general public within the narrative but he is accepted by the narrative as embodying those values. Lois Lane/Lex Luthor, etc. are constantly questioning Clark’s bona fides as much as Clark is, if that makes any sense?

            And Cap is also a product of 2nd generation Jewish creators, and I think embodies much the same idea of unlikely American through subversion.

            • LeeEsq

              Superman’s creators lost control of him though and DC always had a more WASPy ethos than Marvel. Captain America’s creators pretty much never lost control and the Marvel team was basically staffed by the children of
              Jewish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants. This created a more liberal and cosmopolitan ethos in Marvel comics, where even if the characters had WASPy names like Peter Parker, they seemed to have more of a white ethnic working to lower-middle class vibe to them.

              • The key difference, I’ve always believed, was that Marvel decided that it was going to have their heroes exist in our world, and specifically New York City. This always gave them more of a sense of class, ethnicity, and connection to our culture: Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum is placed right at the heart of the Village where he fit right in with the counter-culture, Peter Parker is a working-class kid from Forest Hills who went to “Empire State University” (aka CUNY), the Baxter Building is in swanky midtown east but Ben Grimm still hangs out with the kids from Yancey Street on the LES, Steve Rogers still lives in South Brooklyn near Flatbush Ave, and the X-Men hide out in Westchester County.

                D.C cities are fantasy cities: as the great Dennis O’Neil put it, “Gotham is Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at 3 a.m., November 28 in a cold year. Metropolis is Manhattan between Fourteenth and One Hundred and Tenth Streets on the brightest, sunniest July day of the year.”

            • Superman absolutely is accepted by the general public – “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” etc.

              It’s the Batman who’s not commonly accepted. The hero we deserve, but not the hero we need, etc.

  • fraser

    Your argument requires ignoring that Cap spent the early 1960s spewing anti-Communist cliches as if he’d been McCarthy’s right-hand man. Instead, of course, he went into sleep when the Russians were our allies and passed right by the Red scare.
    I think it’s a strain to argue his attitudes are based on his left-wing (or right-wing or whatever) believes in the 1930s. Basically he’s whatever the writer thinks is America at its best: Anti-communist in the 1960s, but also open to women fighting on the front lines (Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Sharon Carter) and treating blacks as equals. More recently he’s also fine with gays.
    As for the Invaders, they didn’t show up until a decade after Cap’s revival. They’re two separate phenomena. Though that said, you have a point about him being on the front lines, as he was shown in regular action in England and Europe in Tales of Suspense in the Silver Age.
    I don’t see any reason to assume Cap would have worked better in the early 1950s if he hadn’t been a Commie Smasher. It was generally a lousy period for super-hero comics and Timely/Marvel back then was quick to cancel books that didn’t look like winners.

    • Walt

      Since he addresses this in the post, it’s hard to see how he could be ignoring it.

      • fraser

        He takes on the right-wing Cap of the 1950s, not the just-as-right-wing Cap of the 1960s.

        • fraser

          And I don’t recall that he actually took on Super-Patriot after the SP replaced Steve as Captain America. Steve accepted his demotion, started a new life as “the Captain” and got his old gig back after saving Super-Patriot-as-Cap from the Red Skull.

          • I seem to recall them fighting, then having to work together to fight Right-Winger and Left-Winger. It was a weird time.

            • fraser

              True that.

    • The ret-con is kind of important though; the anti-Communist Cap is a crazy person, the real Captain America doesn’t go in for McCarthyism, is untainted by the 1950s.

      And I don’t see the Invaders as a separate phenomena – as Roy Thomas writes, the idea of the Invaders was to recapture the spirit of the 1940s comics, and it was an idea they’d been kicking around since 1966.

  • David Hunt

    Steve…excuse me, Doctor Stevem,

    I had no idea that you were a comics fan. One of the things that reading this post has done is to help me realize that some of my political views were shaped by Cap to some degree. Cap looked after the little guy. Cap wasn’t prejudiced about people who didn’t look like him. He gave up his very identity rather that let himself be used further an agenda that he couldn’t support. He embodied the America that I wished I lived in and inspired people to try to make it.

    I’ve not read his comic in many years now, but I now I realize that I miss him.

    • Heh. You only need to call me Doctor if your philosophy is in need of mending.

      Yeah, I’m a huge comics fan from way back. If you’re interested in getting back into it, they’ve got some great collections of the old stuff – Essentials, Marvel Classic, etc.

      • JMP

        The Essentials are great, it’s a nice cheap legal way to read all the old classic books. There’s a lot of cheese in there, but a lot of the stories are still really fun to read.

        • Greg

          Marvel has an app for tablets that’s basically Netflix for comics. It’s called Marvel Unlimited and it’s great for reading older stuff. only $10/month too.

      • David Hunt

        Oh, I still read comics, but I went through a hiatus in the early 90s caused both by money problems and a disgust of what was going on at the time. I had been reading mostly Marvel comic at the time, but when I went back to them in 96ish I was mostly reading DC comics, due to the avenue that I came back in through. The last of Cap’s comics that I read were issues where he gave up the uniform and they put the Super Patriot in it.

  • Mark Millar licks goats.

    Also: this.

    • Hogan

      Oh, Warren, how I love you.

      • Hogan

        And congratulations from this surprisingly unbitter ABD, Dr. Steve.

    • Walt

      Everything I hear about Mark Miller makes him sound awful. And yet the first Kick Ass movie was really good. I guess sometimes Hollywood can improve on its source material.

      • Hogan

        SEK explains it all to you.

      • Mark Millar gets along by being “edgy.” Not actually edgy, just “I said a bad word!” edgy. He’s the Abercrombie and Fitch of comic book writers.

        I never read the comic or watched the movie, but I’ve heard plenty of people say the movie was far, far better than the comic.

        • NonyNony

          Mark Millar gets along by being “edgy.” Not actually edgy, just “I said a bad word!” edgy.

          I actually think it’s worse than that. It’s more like “this isn’t edgy enough – let’s throw a few rapes in here – that’ll shock them” than it is “this isn’t edgy enough – let’s throw some swear words in”. He also writes stuff that is brutally hyperviolent and thinks that counts as edgy for comic books in 2013.

          Basically his sense of what is “edgy” is stuck in or around 1993, and it’s what a 14 year old suburbanite boy would have considered “edgy” in 1993 on top of that.

          • JMP

            In his mature-readers work, Millar seems to constantly throw in rape scenes, just for shock value or even to try and be funny (particularly when male-on-male). It’s gross, and his all-ages work actually manages to be less juvenile than his supposedly mature books.

      • Justin Cognito

        Millar’s mainly writing for the movie buy-in, at this point. The material he writes is often high-concept, meaning it’s easy to draw the attention of Hollywood – and then it’s studded with standard plot turns, pop culture references, cursing, and a fair deal of rape, just to add that shock value. By the time it hits the screen, the insides are often changed entirely.

        Take Wanted, which went from “son of one of the great supervillains joins up with the Evil Illuminati so he can go on all the rape and murder sprees he likes” to “son of a veteran assassin joins up with a cabal of bullet-fu wizards who kill those destined to bring great suffering to the world.” Though I’ve heard a compelling theory that Wanted the movie isn’t so much an adaptation of the source material as it is a repudiation.

    • NBarnes

      My love for Warren Eliis surpasses even my disdain for Mark Millar.

  • Halcyon

    I have a question more then a comment I guess, didn’t Marvel at the same time as Miller did his ‘This A doesn’t stand for France’ have Steve Rogers in the regular Marvel Story Universe talk about how the French didn’t just roll over in WWII and how they fought even as they were occupied by the Nazi’s?

    • Hogan

      That was Ed Brubaker, yes.

      More than you probably want to know.

      • Justin Cognito

        I believe Millar’s “response” to that was to have a later issue of the Ultimates where a fugitive Cap is taken into custody by the French military, who of course give him all sorts of shit about the line. And then the second he breaks free, one of the first things the guards say is, “We surrender!”

        • Bytowner

          And yeah, that’s Millar digging in his heels in response to contrary evidence.

      • Halcyon

        Thank you, they had the panel I was thinking of there.

        http://transatlantica.revues.org/docannexe/image/4943/img-22-small480.jpg

    • Yep. I wouldn’t say it was Marvel as much as it was Ed Brubaker, since Marvel was employing both of them.

    • slightly_peeved

      in addition to everything else people have pointed out, it’s a pretty horrible joke.

      “Did you think this A stands for France?”

      “Well no. it’s an A. If it stood for France, It would be an F.”

      • DocAmazing

        “Partial credit for Alsace?”

  • Walt

    In a random coincidence, I was thinking about this a couple of days ago. (I just got around to seeing the Captain America movie.) The fact that people complained about the movie that they show an integrated unit is just weird. I would think that the fact that the main character took a super-soldier serum and had an impregnable shield made out of “vibranium”, and that the Nazis had a super-science division that built weapons based on occult tesseract energy to be a somewhat bigger deviation from the actual World War II.

    Likewise, I saw complaints about how Dejah Thoris was implausibly kick-ass in the John Carter movie. Since in the source material Mars is inhabited, and the Martians have flying ships powered by the “eighth ray” of sunlight, plausibility doesn’t like the most relevant criterion.

    • Hogan

      Everyone has a flying snowman.

      • Jordan

        Thats great, thanks for the link.

      • Well, in poor Smeagol’s case it’s not the viscosity of the lava as much as 1) the density, 2) his failure to be instantly toasted upon contact, like that guy walking out of the cave in Chronicles of Riddick, and 3) his ability to function and vocalize, however temporarily, while breathing 2000 degree air.

        But I’m not sure Scalzi’s point is well taken. [Though since he seems to be on both sides of the issue, I might not be getting his point.] A fantasy world is based on our world, but with differences defined in the context of world building. You suspend your disbelief until the author stubs his toe – or yours – on something that goes too far, doesn’t fit, or veers off in the wrong direction. Hell, it can even happen with a diction break. Imagine your reaction if Aragorn started spouting hipster slang.

        In the snowman example, for me it would have been the soup. But if you somehow let that slip by, a flying snowman is still taking it too far. The animated snow critter is a quasi-person, and persons can’t fly, is pretty much the point. And his ability to eat soup, if anything, reinforces his quasi-personhood. [As an aside, note that corporations also cannot fly. Nor eat soup.]

        Giant spiders are integral to the Tolkien Mythos, as is the disembodied villain, Tom Riddle Sauron. Sloshing around ring-bobbing in molten rock is not. Also note – Nothing like that happens in the book.

    • Adolphus

      Fans are always more troubled by race changes than anything else. And black race changes most of all. Remember the kerfuffle when Idris Elba played Heimdall in Thor? Notice no one was upset that Tadanobu Asano played Hogun. It’s okay to substitute someone of Japanese descent for a Norse god but not someone of African descent. (Of course as I understand these things, the Thor characters are not actually gods, but imagined to be gods by their Norse allies, but I think my point stands)

      • It made me think of the piece in a documentary about desegregation (probably Eyes on the Prize) in which the reporter asks a young lady who is virulently against desegregation if she’d object to Hispanics or Asians. She replies she’d be all right with that because they are “less different,” than blacks.

        I don’t recall anyone flipping out over Fury, but if memory serves there was an element of white supremacy wankery in the uproar over Thor.

        • Asatru.

        • LeeEsq

          There was. I heard that the producers cast Idris Elba has Thor in order to avoid having Aryan Nation types flock the theatre.

          Fandom contains a lot of self-stylized libertarians and has a lot of the expected problems as a result.

          • Truly? I hope Elba was paid extra for his role as knuckle-dragging Viking wannabe choad repellent.

            • LeeEsq

              I heard this on the internet so it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

              OT but the difference between how modern Scanadinavian nations treat the Vikings and how the Japanese treat the Samurai is really illuminating. The Vikings and Samurai are both popular with the fannish set for their bad-assery. Japan decided to roll with this and has no problem boasting the warrior qualities of the Samurai while basically ignoring how they became a bunch of cultured civil servants during the Tokugawa Era. The Scandinavian countries really de-emphasize the warrior aspects of Viking culture and focus on them more as traders and explorers.

              • njorl

                I think the term “viking” gets used loosely. It should mean something akin to a pirate or brigand, but it is used to describe the equivalent of a warrior caste in Scandinavia in the 7th to 11th centuries.

                There was a lot of overlap between merchants explorers, warriors and vikings, but there was nothing intrinsic about it.

                • LeeEsq

                  What I basically meant was that its interesting that the Japanese people are going along with the popular image of Samurai and are cashing in on it. The Scandinavians seem less inclined to attempt to profit by the idea of Vikings as badass warriors and really deemphasize that part of the Viking heritage. At least thats what I observed in museum exhibits about them in Sweden and Denmark.

                • Hogan

                  “Warriors” and “invaders with the rape and the pillage and the looting” are not really the same thing.

          • Walt

            I read somewhere that in the old days TV stations in the South would edit out minor black characters, and if an episode had a major black character they would just skip it. The people who made Hogan’s Heroes deliberately made it impossible to edit. This would be so awesome that I never want to find out if it’s not true.

            I wondered if the black language expert in Captain America was supposed to be a nod to Kinch in Hogan’s Heroes.

            • David Hunt

              He’s Gabriel Jones. All of those guys are members of Marvel’s Howling Commandos. Who were the co-stars of Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos which had its first issue in 1963 as a 60s WWII comic.

              And yes, the Sgt Fury is Nick Fury. Marvel has had to jump through some hoops to explain why a WWII character is still in great shape in the current era as he’s got an established WWII history. I won’t going into the boring detail of the Infinity Formula…

              • Now there’s a storyline.

                “Sgt. Fury, we do have something that will virtually halt the aging process, but you’re going to look a leeetle bit different after you take it. No, you’ll still be human. But the changes may … impact the way some people interact with you.”

                • ajay

                  That would be 100% awesome. That’s why they never managed to make any more super-soldiers. They tried it on Steve Rogers and it turned him white. And that completely fouled up the US Army’s scheme of racial characterisation because they couldn’t figure out what bathroom to let Captain America use. So they thought “hmm, OK, but if we try it on someone who’s already white, no change, right?” And they give it to Sgt Fury and it turns him black. And at that point they’re so overwhelmed by the sheer racial panic of the situation that they just give up.

                • Ever read Truth: Red, White, and Black?

                  Basically ret-conning the super-soldier experiments as the Tuskegee Experiments.

                • LeeEsq

                  If they apply this to cookie dough we could get a bunch of super black and white cookies. No need to add the frosting.

                • dn

                  So basically “The Sneetches” with super-powers?

                • Greg

                  The black Nick Fury is from a different comic universe than the white Nick Fury. (though the white Nick Fury has a black son name Nick Fury Jr.)

          • Bytowner

            If that’s true, sane movie-goers of most political stripes may owe Marvel and Elba a debt of gratitude for keeping bad people from spoiling the fun.

      • ironic irony

        I can’t remember where I read it, but there was some gossip that Idris Elba was going to be the next James Bond after Daniel Craig turns the role over, and there were some Bond fans unhappy with that idea.

        For the record, I think Elba would be great in that role. People need to get over themselves.

        • LeeEsq

          I thought the main objection to Elba as Bond was Elba’s age. Bond should be somebody in his thirties or early forties at oldest.

          • Craig is older than Elba.

            Hollywood is not known for casting male actors based on their actual age (or even the age they look) and I don’t think it is about to start.

        • I’ve heard Bond and I’ve also seen something about him being the new Dr. Who.

          I was recently thinking that Elba is becoming the new [Fill in the blank African-American actor who winds up in everything], which is great for him, but frustrating because there isn’t exactly a shortage of talented African-American actors out there.

          Ever read Truth: Red, White, and Black?

          Egads, no.

          • Hogan

            You must!

          • njorl

            Someone can do a remake of “The Five Doctors” with Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Idris Elba and Will Smith

          • It’s really quite good. A genuine radical challenge to the status quo that still honors the best in the original.

          • Walt

            This is true, but he would make a great Bond. I’m skeptical he would make a good Doctor.

          • Eleanor

            “Elba is becoming the new [Fill in the blank African-American actor who winds up in everything]”

            What with Elba being English, I don’t think “African-American” is quite accurate.

        • Anonymous

          Craig is pretty damn good but Elba would be an awesome Bond. This must happen.

          • Barry Freed

            That was me.

        • NBarnes

          That’s because Idra Elba is awesome and great in almost any role.

      • Halloween Jack

        Nerdquibble: Hogun isn’t a god, he’s a warrior on loan from Valhalla. Basically, he’s Jack Kirby’s acknowledgement that Valhalla should contain warriors from all cultures, so you have Hogun (a Mongol), Fandral (an Errol Flynn-type swashbuckler), and Volstagg (basically, Falstaff).

        Also, WRT Heimdall: as one acquaintance of mine put it, white nerds complained that he wasn’t black in the comic, while black nerds complained that they made the one black character the doorman.

        • Egmont Scurley

          The Warriors Three are also a variation on the Three Musketeers. Hogun: Athos. Fandral: Aramis. Volstagg: Porthos.

      • fraser

        Hogun wasn’t Norse. He came to Asgard from some vaguely Mongolian/Arabian Nights realm after it was conquered by the Mogul of the Mystic Mountain (eventually he and Thor went and fixed things). So you can make a case that having him nonwhite is canonical.
        And I’m absolutely sure that’s the only reason Elba disturbed people more. No. Honest. What else could it be?

      • Darth_Meow

        Hogun isn’t a Norse God. He’s an original Jack Kirby creation for the comics, who fights beside a clearly English Errol Flynn swashbuckler type and is himself very obviously Mongolian. Why those two are kicking around in Asgard is really hard to say, but they’re not Norse gods and they’re not from the original mythology.

        Heimdall IS a Norse god from the original mythology, and should have been a Scandinavian like the rest of them. Which is why I’ve said many times it would have made more sense to add Elba’s character to the Warriors Three (plus Sif, who makes them more like the Warriors Four in the film) since they’re already made up of clearly non-Viking people.

    • ajay

      The fact that people complained about the movie that they show an integrated unit is just weird. I would think that the fact that the main character took a super-soldier serum and had an impregnable shield made out of “vibranium”, and that the Nazis had a super-science division that built weapons based on occult tesseract energy to be a somewhat bigger deviation from the actual World War II.

      They’re deviations of a different kind, though. It’s like the difference between an improbable-possible and an impossible-probable, and we know that the impossible-probable is always artistically better. (Or, as Dirk Gently put it: “One of them suggests merely that there is something out there we don’t know about, and god knows there are enough of those. The other goes contrary to something that we do know about.”)

      Occult tesseract energy is impossible. But if it existed, having the Nazis build superweapons using it is highly probable. Integrated units in the WW2 US army were possible – physically possible – but improbable, because the WW2 US army was run by a bunch of massive racists.

      Also, there’s something a bit off about the film deliberately denying one of the less admirable aspects of the US army of the time.

      • Kitty

        You have to remember that while the Marvel Cinematic Universe is close to our own, it’s not exactly the same. The movie also shows Howard Stark’s flying car prototype and a glimpse of the original Human Torch in 1943, and we certainly didn’t have that in real life. Integrated units were not a thing in the actual WWII, but why not in this universe? Besides, Cap picks his own team, and who’s going to say no to a guy who just liberated hundreds of American POWs?

        • Bytowner

          Could the Helicarrier be assumed to be derived from Stark’s flying-car tech for Cinema’Verse purposes? Just scale it up, and there you go…

          • Maybe? In part? The Helicarrier seems to be powered by rotors, whereas the StarkCar and Tony’s suit are powered by Stark repulsor technology.

            • DocAmazing

              Getting boring and real-world, rotors alone wouldn’t lift something that massive unless they were huge. Rotors plus repulsor, though…

              • More likely. Although that confuses my understanding of Hawkeye’s attack on the Helicarrier.

            • Invented by the Lannisters.

      • Egmont Scurley

        Please remember: Gabriel Jones is introduced while in a Hydra prison. There is never anything said about how he got there. He may well have been the only survivor of an all-black unit.

        When he joins the Howling Commandos, it is at Captain America’s express invitation. By this point, it is clear that Cap has the authority to invite anyone he wants.

        In other words, the movie says nothing about the U.S. military’s actual racial policies at the time. One might regret the omission, but there is not any overt alteration of the facts.

    • junker

      My general policy is that I’m willing to give a pass in fiction on things that are obviously impossible in real life (like a super serum, or Gandalf having magic powers) but I hope that the media I consume is at least marginally accurate when it comes to “real” stuff.

      So, to use Hogan’s linked example, giant spiders and orcs and wizards don’t bother me, but unrealistic lava physics does. At the end of ROTK when Frodo and Sam are sitting on the rock near the lava, that drove me crazy; but being able to ride giant eagles out doesn’t.

      • Jordan

        I still find it weird to say that the lava emanating from a mystical mountain in which the most powerful artifact created has just been destroyed MUST behave just like “real world” lava, while eagles and trees and elephants don’t have to behave like “real world” eagles or trees or elephants.

        • Well, real world or not that lava was supposed to be hot.

          • Jordan

            Conection Schmonection

            But yeah. I guess I was reacting to the original Hogan link, which was about fanwank over the viscosity the lava. But junker was talking about the heat part, which is definitely dumber.

            • Jordan

              crap. *Convection Schmonvection*. Sigh.

      • Yes, they should have died from something while they were sitting on that rock (heat, smoke inhalation, gnarly fumes). And the eagles shouldn’t have been able to get near them without being roasted.

        But I can’t see how Jackson could have cut that particular scene from the movie. It was suspenseful in the book (where if I recall, Tolkein cuts it even finer or more unrealistically) and it was suspenseful in the movie.

    • I didn’t know that people had complained about that, but given their reaction to Heimdall, I’m not surprised.

      The Howling Commandos were an integrated unit in the comics, so anyone who’s got a problem is clearly a Fake Geek.

      The weird science is par for the course of 30s and 40s era pulp, and given that the Nazis were into the whole occult thing in a big way, I find it very appropriate.

      • Walt

        Ugh, that makes it even worse. But it does remind me of the greatest Fake Geek pwnership ever.

    • Halloween Jack

      In this case, I think that the relative profusion of recent WWII movies and shows, in showing the historical truth of non-integrated units, had made some viewers nostalgic for a so-called “simpler” time, i.e. one in which they could imagine themselves in an all-white unit without guilt, because That Was Just The Way Things Were. The Howling Commandos, on the other hand, were made integrated by Lee and Kirby (both of whom served in WWII, and therefore knew the reality of the situation that they were depicting), because they knew that that was the way that it should have been. (Much in the same way that Dejah Thoris was given something to do in the movie, rather than being just another nudie cutie for the unreconstructed Confederate John Carter to ogle over, as in the books.)

      • ajay

        Hmm, maybe. I still think it’s avoiding the issue that things were really pretty racist back then.

        Let me put it this way. Imagine if there was a British WW2 superhero, and he’s leading a commando unit that happen to have some Indian members. But the issue of independence for India never comes up, because all the Indian characters are entirely convinced that British rule is the best possible thing for India, Gandhi’s a fraud, the INC is a bunch of troublemakers and independence would be a disaster.

        See the problem?

        And, in fact, that’s a lot more justifiable. Because a lot of Indians (not a majority, obviously, but still), in particular those in the Indian Army, did believe that.

        • Halloween Jack

          Well, yes, if a) you were writing that comic today and b) that were stated in the comic. The comic in question was progressive for a war comic in the sixties, and AFAIK Gabe Jones never said that he was OK with Jim Crow. (Ditto for Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company, which the Howling Commandos were an imitation of, although Easy Company had Little Sure Shot, a Native American who actually stuck feathers in his helmet, FFS.)

  • kindness

    And here I thought I was a supreme nerd. Reading here however has shown me I am not worthy of such a description as many put my knowledge to shame.

    Where do you find the time? Where do you find 1st & 2nd edition comic books from the early 20th century?

    • Well, a week ago Monday, my schedule cleared up remarkably…

      As for the comics, Marvel’s putting out some good collections of re-prints and you can find digital collections of the very-out-of-print Timely comics.

      • kindness

        Thank the FSM for the Intertubes.

  • LittlePig

    Wow, that was refreshing. Thank you, Doctor Steven.

    Excelsior!

    /make mine marvel

  • Murc

    Ultimate Cap actually gets progressively worse and worse as the Ultimate Universe goes on and on. He not only has contempt for the French, but the Germans and a bunch of other countries as well.

    I forget who wrote it, I think maybe it was Loeb, but there’s a mini-series where Ultimate Cap goes to Vietnam on the hunt for his Vietnam-era super-soldier counterpart who went rogue, and after killing damn near everyone in a jungle village, he stands there covered in blood and explicitly tells the survivors, including women and children, “This is the consequence of fucking with the US of A. LEARN THIS LESSON.”

    Ultimate Cap is basically not a good dude.

    • N__B

      I never read Ultimate Cap, but isn’t this issue the central theme of the Watchmen?

    • DocAmazing

      Sounds like the Unknown Soldier mini-series done in the early 1990s.

    • junker

      This is why I have a strong dislike for the Ultimate Universe. My experience with it was that it was intentionally designed to be as dark and dickish as possible, but without any kind of nuance to it. It just wasn’t much fun to read.

      • Which is pretty much the attitude that’s seeped into Marvel in general these days. One of the worst examples of learning the wrong lessons from the Dark Ages of the ’90s.

        • JMP

          It’s not as bad at Marvel as at DC, where they seem to think that it’s perpetually the mid-90s and all their audience wants are “edgy” books filled with dismemberment and death, and all the female heroes should wear the skimpiest outfits possible.

          And Ultimate Spider-Man was pretty consistently decent, but the rest of the Ultimate Universe went downhill pretty quickly, and Ultimatum was just horrible. Here’s how we can be shocking – kill off the Wasp by having the Blob eat her!

          • That and the weirdness of the Wasp at one point dressing down Cap for his old-fashioned objection to the Red Witch and Quicksilver being sexually involved despite being brother and sister, which made me think…hang on, I’m a 21st century resident, and I don’t remember the incest taboo being jettisoned.

            • JMP

              Edgy! As bad as Millar’s Ultimates was – it’s only worth reading for Bryan Hitch’s art, which is awesome – it got many times worse once Loeb took over.

            • And yet later in the same issue, she treats the revelation of a Tony Stark sex tape as a barely conceivable, nigh-unforgivable transgression.

              • Yep. Not great on consistent characterization, are they?

          • Halloween Jack

            I’ve never quite understood how the Brian Michael Bendis who wrote Ultimate Spider-Man is the same BMB who wrote Avengers: Disassembled and many other vastly inferior books.

            • JMP

              Bendis seems to be very good at writing low-key, street-level, character-driven talky stories, like his work on Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil and early Powers. But he’s just bad for big, action-packed stories, which he writes in the same slow-paced, dialogue-heavy manner which really doesn’t suit books like Avengers or X-Men, so I really wish Marvel wouldn’t keep giving him titles like that.

              But then, they sell, so someone must like them.

              • Halloween Jack

                Yeah, I forgot about his Daredevil run, which I have only read in part (mostly the dribs and drabs posted in the scans_daily Dreamwidth community), but which seem to be well-regarded. I also liked the earlier Powers arcs, but started to sour on it around The Sellouts (which seemed to be Bendis’ attempt to write his own Watchmen and, like many such attempts by otherwise-decent writers, fell way short of the original in just about every way). I started getting tired of the heavy-handed superpower-as-addiction metaphor that Deena Pilgrim was forced to carry.

            • Murc

              What’s always been weird for me is, I’ve read literally everything Bendis has ever worked on except for his long-ass Avengers run.

              So I got used to thinking of the ten-years ago Bendis, the multiple-Eisner, USM and Powers writing, beloved by all Bendis as the default. And for a very long time I couldn’t understand why slowly more and more people started referring to him with terminology like “that bald hack”.

              • Hogan

                I’m so glad I missed that. Time to dig out my Powers issues.

              • Yeah, that’s the weird thing. Powers is amazing, and I have much respect for Bendis.

                But no creator is perfect, and he definitely hit a rough patch there. I mean, I love Warren Ellis’ work deeply, but I can also recognize that Crooked Little Vein was not his best work.

                • Murc

                  But no creator is perfect, and he definitely hit a rough patch there.

                  The weird part is it only seemed to affect his writing in Marvel-616. I went along happily reading USM for years and years, and it only got better, as more and more people seemed to be very very angry at him about Daredevil and the Avengers and I had no idea, because I wasn’t reading those books. Usually when a writer turns bad, its on everything he touches during that period of badness.

                  Geoff Johns had a similar thing going on for me before they gave him the keys to the house. Give him a minor character or a new original character or something weird and quirky and off to the side to work on, and he’d produce excellent work. Stars and STRIPE was great, for example, as was his work on Young Justice. He contributed some great materiel to Robot Chicken and co-wrote a little-regarded but very excellent ten-episode Voltron parody called Titan Maximum, which I still find hilarious.

                  Hand him any character he loved when he was ten years old and it would turn to shit. Weird.

        • junker

          Didn’t Ultimate Magneto eat human flesh because he thought of humans as being below mutants in the same way that cows were below humans?

          There is nothing “edgy” about that. It’s take a much beloved, multi-faceted villain and turning him into a caricature.

          • Halloween Jack

            I dunno about U-Magneto, but U-Blob was shown kneeling over the disemboweled U-Wasp and eating her intestines, grinning through the gore and mumbling, “Tastes like chicken.” Jeph Loeb, ladies and gentlemen.

        • Murc

          Which is pretty much the attitude that’s seeped into Marvel in general these days.

          Ir recently occurred to me that, once Kieron Gillen’s run on Journey into Mystery ended, the only Marvel books I was reading were ones written by Matt Fraction, who actually seems to know what the hell he’s doing.

    • NonyNony

      Ultimate Cap is basically not a good dude.

      This is very true. He’s an asshole.

      Also he’s apparently been elected president in the comics.

      Sigh.

      • LeeEsq

        Lots of politicians are assholes though.

  • nobodyparticular

    Also, I wonder if some of the “oh noes revisionist political correctness” not only stems from unfamiliarity with Cap’s actual history, but is also the natural result of post-Reagan popular culture equating “fundamentally decent” with “apolitical” (read “conservative/real-american”).

    And I want my Truth: Red White and Black movie, dammit!

    (now there’s a revisionist take done properly)

    • I finally got to read that a month or two back, after years and years of trying to track it down. Just a brilliant series.

    • Pretty much!

      And yes, Truth: Red, White, and Black would be pretty mind-blowing for U.S audiences.

    • JMP

      It also comes from the right-wing assumption they own patriotism; they think, of course Captain America must be a conservative, he’s a patriot in a flag suit and patriot equals right-wing. Never mind the fact that this assumption is total bullshit, or Steve Rogers’ actual history as a liberal.

  • N__B

    I’m in an airport in deepest canuckistan on an ipad, but has anyone linked to the Liefeld Cap yet?

    • Hogan

      This should always be accompanied by SEK’s warning: ” Just remember those are the only eyes God gave you and some images can’t be stabbed out of them no matter how hard you try.”

      • N__B

        I said “Liefeld.” How much warning do you need?

        • Hogan

          Fair enough.

          • Deptfordx

            …. and i’ll throw in the famous quote about it.

            “My god it looks like his lungs are pregnant”.

  • Hob

    In some alternate universe, there’s an alternate Mark Millar who’s an interesting writer. Alternate Millar is aware of all the background mentioned in Steven’s post, so when he chooses to portray Captain America as a jingoistic meathead, it’s with a subtext: Cap was an idealistic left-leaning bohemian who adopted a right-wing persona in order to get work (and for the fun of acting like a dick), and then became unable to put the mask down— like Rheinhardt in A Hall of Mirrors, or Michael “Savage” Weiner in real life. That could be neat, but I suspect that’s not what our Millar was going for.

    • Another Holocene Human

      Millar actually has flashes of brilliance that get buried beneath his contempt for and resentment of the source material and genre. (Remember, KICK ASS was a scathing critique of the genre. Its commercial success seems to have made Millar no less bitter… the audience didn’t “get” it, or if they did they still took it the wrong way.) I’ve read Ultimates… had one very clever fight scene, otherwise it’s a Sorkinesque attempt at political commentary that fails due to being hackney, overworked, and under subtle. His characters are never characters, they’re just mouthpieces for whatever’s bothering him.

      I also hate how Millar acts like he’s so clever and above it all but he himself indulges in idiotic conspiracy theorizing; eg, he always attributes to malice what might be best assigned to incompetence. Everything is planned, you see…. Idiot.

      Millar shit all over my favorite series, which is/was AUTHORITY. In the course of doing so he did do one brilliant piece of writing, which is the combat (?) between MIDNIGHTER and Delgado (don’t remember his code name). He also took HAWKSMOOR in an interesting, even logical direction. That piece of his transformation of the team actually worked. But then he goes through his boring routine of raping all the female/feminine team members because that’s really edgy and insightful social commentary.

      I’m really not impressed by the liberal or lefty-tude of a guy whose first instinct is to set up the violent public rape of an out gay character, followed by brainwashing, rape, and humiliation of two strong, intelligent, capable and–lest we forget–super powered female characters.

      Fuck that guy.

      • Murc

        Remember, KICK ASS was a scathing critique of the genre.

        If Millar has actually been saying this, I believe it is a lie. Taken in context with his other works, Kick-Ass has to have been written completely straight. Mark Millar is not Paul Verhoeven.

        • And even if we take him at his word (which we shouldn’t), it’s not a particularly novel or successful critique.

      • DocAmazing

        If you haven’t read The Boys yet, do. It takes a leak all over those Millarisms. And everything else.

        • Murc

          I have issues with The Boys (I feel it falls down hard at the end) but god damn, Garth Ennis has so far written four self-contained 70-issue plus comic epics and shows no sign of slowing down. Plus you had a pretty legendary run on Hellblazer on top of that.

    • Halloween Jack

      That alternate universe was ours up until around the turn of the millenium. Millar wrote Red Son, an Elseworlds (DC’s What If?) in which Kal-El lands in Siberia, which was pretty decent. But then he took over The Authority from Warren Ellis and started putting in scenes that he knew would be censored by DC, which both gave him the rep of being An Edgey Writer On the Edge and also an excuse for turning in scripts late, and eventually jumped ship to Marvel. He figured out which approach would get him a bigger payday, and has basically followed that approach ever since.

  • DocAmazing

    Steve Rogers an orphan? I’m a couple of retcons behind. Back in the early 1980s (if I recall correctly), there were a few issues where Cap underwent some kind of memory-recovery treatment, recalled his bohemian New York past, his right-wing dad, his affectionate mother, and his brother’s death at Pearl Harbor. His recollections briefly caused him to lose the effects of the super-soldier serum, if memory serves.

    • N__B

      Did he detumesce shrink?

      • DocAmazing

        Yeah, his costume was swimming on him. All bulges vanished.

        • N__B

          All? My eyebrows are waggling.

    • Yeah, Cap’s family story changes a lot. His dad sometimes is a right-winger, sometimes an alcoholic who abandoned the family, sometimes a doughboy who died in WWI, etc.

      Then again, at one point in the 80s, Cap turned into a werewolf. So there’s that.

      • LeeEsq

        If Captain Ameriaca’s dad died during WWI than there is no way that Rogers could be born in 1920 unless his mom had a very long pregnancy.

  • The Pale Scot

    Not sure this is allowed;

    The http://thepiratebay.sx/torrent/8970471/Captain_America_(UPDATED) collection on the bit.

    • The Pale Scot

      Delete if so, tagging the link didn’t work

  • Another Holocene Human

    Thank you, thank you, thank you SEK for your defense of Steve Rogers.

    Steve Rogers means a lot to me. I hate that milquetoast shit sandwich of a movie and how they watered down the character like that.

    Steve Rogers to me will always represent that 1940s, open, progressive, New Deal, anti-fascist (extremely anti-fascist!) attitude that was so brutally repressed in the 1950s. It was a brief window of time in which a lot of people in a lot of countries thought real change was not only possible, but immanent.

    No, history doesn’t travel in a straight line and anti-racism is not anything new. It’s much, much too easy to stick to textbook history and certain privileged sources and just excuse anybody who was a homophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Black pustule because “it was the times”.

    You could be Rush Limbaugh now and “it’s the times”, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.

    • Another Holocene Human

      I meant to say I was literally tearing up reading your post. My father is an Irish Catholic and fighting segregation was something my grandmother, my father, and his siblings believed in strongly. Sometimes at great personal cost.

      I am outraged at the way people like my grandmother, and great-grandmother, who fought segregation and quotas in the state university system of Illinois, are wiped clean from history to favor and excuse people like Paula Deen.

    • Glad you liked it! And the history of the progressive streak in the 40s is actually really hot now in the academy, so it’s at least being studied by us history geeks.

  • ironic irony

    I loved this. Thank you.

  • Jason

    I loved Cap. I remember in 1974 when he was disillusioned with the federal govt (I know, hard to believe) and he temporarily gave up his threads to be “Nomad” – and that didn’t last long, especially trying to wear a cape. I liked how Cap was always a man of the people, and yet had progressive patriotic tendancies.

    Excelsior!

    • Another Holocene Human

      I like where he defeats the evil Uncle Sam avatar, who stands for a jingoistic, nativist, and white supremacist (particularly vis a vis Native American peoples) notion of American identity.

      I also love the whole storyline about the Black Captain America and his nephew in the YOUNG AVENGERS.

      I wish they would make a (n unbowdlerized) YOUNG AVENGERS movie.

    • Speaking of Uncle Sam, I always loved this comic.

      • DocAmazing

        Yeah, that was brilliant.

        I’m still looking for a new copy of Alan Moore’s Brought to Light.

        • Interesting…never heard of that one. It’s available used on Amazon for a decent price, although $75 for a new copy is insane!

          • DocAmazing

            It’s two books in one. One side is the story of the Christic Institute and the La Penca bombing; flip it over and an old CIA hand who looks like an alcoholic bald eagle is sitting at a bar, reminiscing about the CIA’s greatest hits measured in swimming pools of blood.

            • the CIA’s greatest hits measured in swimming pools of blood.

              Given that it’s Moore, am I right in assuming this is supposed to be a perverse twist on Dante?

    • JMP

      The 70s Englehart/Buscema Captain America run was really good, and it definitely cemented Steve Rogers’ liberalism, so anyone wingnuts complaining about his progressivism today prove that they don’t know Cap’s history at all.

  • Another Holocene Human

    The anti-Communist Captain America was ret-conned into being a crazed history graduate student named William Burnside who had himself surgically altered and then dosed with a flawed version of the Super-Serum, which drove him insane to the point where he saw communist sympathizers everywhere.[6] The subtext isn’t particularly thick here: the “Commie-Smasher” was a paranoid wannabe, whereas the real Captain America is the “living legend of WWII” waiting in suspended animation during the Second Red Scare, who emerges back onto the scene with the arrival of the New Frontier and the Great Society.

    I didn’t know this bit but it’s awesome.

    Marvel is kinda awesome in general, and not just for employing a bunch of extremely creative Jewish kids who snuck a Nazi-hunting Jewish Holocaust survivor in as a super-villain. I mean, look at the old Black Panther comics. There are some fail-y aspects but taking the whole picture… wow. And look at how belatedly and pathetic the DC response was. Adding token cartoon characters in the 1970s because they just looked stupid now.

    What I really don’t get is how DC had at least tried to get more diverse in the 1980s but then Dan Didio was allowed to tear that all down. Fucking idiots. Go Marvel.

    • DocAmazing

      In terms of their adjunct labels, though, Vertigo generally produces better stuff than Marvel Max.

      • God yes. Vertigo did amazing cutting-edge stuff, very much in tune with new trends in music, fashion, culture, politics, etc.

        Marvel Max is just an excuse for deeply crude wallowing in the destruction of human bodies. Supreme Power had some interesting ideas, but that’s it.

  • So…one thing I forgot to add vis-a-vis Marvel not always being comfortable with Cap’s politics (and I may edit this back into the piece) – Marvel Civil War, or why I stopped reading Marvel comics.

    So back in 2006-7, to respond to the national divisions over the Iraq War, the Patriot Act, etc. Marvel gave Mark Millar control over a major crossover event, centered around a conflict over the “Superhuman Registration Act,” a bill that required superhumans to register with the government, enabled the government to surveil said persons, and in some comics (it was never very consistent) allowed the government to draft superheroes into indefinite military service without their consent.

    So this starts off a war between pro- and anti-Registration superheroes, with Iron Man on the pro-side and Cap on the anti-side, who explicitly argued that the Act violated the Bill of Rights. And Word of God from the creators was that Iron Man was supposed to be right (even after Iron Man starts indefinitely detaining people in alternate dimensions and creating government strike forces made up of super-villains), and lo and behold, he won.

    This peaked with the infamous scene in Civil War: Frontline #9, where Sally Floyd, a journalist covering the conflict gets an interview with Captain America, where she says the following:
    Sally: Let me ask you something sir: Do you know what MySpace is?
    Captain A: I’m not sure I understand the relevance of that question, Sally.
    Sally: No, you just don’t understand the question, Sir. I’m trying to illustrate a point here, so bear with me. Do you know who won the last World Series, or who was the last American Idol? When was the last time you attended a Nascar race Watched the Simpsons or logged onto YouTube to watch a stupid video? Answer?
    Captain A: [befuddled silence]
    Sally: Exactly. Never. You hold America up as some shining beacon of perfection but you know next to nothing about it.

    This is in response to Captain America citing upholding the ideals of the Bill of Rights over an unjust law. And this is supposed to be the winning argument. That pop culture and the will of the American people during a national panic should trump the civil rights of the minority.

    That’s when I ragequit Marvel.

    • Another Holocene Human

      Wow, glad I avoided CIVIL WAR. I quit buying comic books from them pretty much at the same time or maybe it was around the second big event crossover they did after that because the giant events completely torpedoed their ability to write a s-t-o-r-y with character development in a single comic book line. I dumped MS MARVEL and SHE-HULK because (the former especially) they were just too incoherent, pointless, and choppy with all the events going on.

      (If you want to know where my bar is set, I was reading WITCHBLADE the entire time. It wasn’t perfect but there were $character(0,1,2…,N) and a $story and more-than-decent $art. And no women in refrigerators.)

      CIVIL WAR was guaranteed to piss me off from the start (I hated the Bush admin and the PATRIOT ACT anyway) so I’ve only read the Mighty God-King parody of it.

      Although–I’ve heard what the editors did with Spiderman and Mary Jane caused a lot more ragequitting than anything else.

      Though it doesn’t even touch the madness than DC has been. I’m surprised they even ran the only comic I would read by them, MANHUNTER. I had #ragequit all the other titles. Then they got rid of Milestone AND WildStorm and I was done. (And MANHUNTER ended and the writer went to Dark Horse or Image or something.) I don’t even peek at their stuff on gossip/scanning communities. DC can go to hell.

    • JMP

      Civil War was interesting, as while Millar thought Iron Man was in the right, it was pretty clear most of the other writers working on the tie-ins disagreed, and began writing Stark as an outright villain. Thus the whole crossover suffered from extreme tonal dissonance.

      • Very true. And given that when Captain America came back from the dead, he got Congress to repeal the act, you get the sense that the writers’ rebellion worked.

        But both for itself, and for the stupidity of Dark Reign, etc. that followed it, it was just an awful wrong turn.

        • JMP

          The American public in the Marvel Universe really is stupid sometime; sure, we’ll all demand the Registration Act after the death of 600 in Connecticut even though much greater tragedies are common in the MU USA, and let’s demand that the Green Goblin be put in command of the nation’s superhumans even though he proven himself to be both completely evil and completely crazy time and time again.

    • junker

      The game based on Civil War was much more agreeable – the villain ended up being mind-controlling nanobots and everybody agreed to stop their stupid fight and work together.

    • Halloween Jack

      A couple of things about the post that you link to: the Frontline issue was written by Paul Jenkins, not Millar, and he doesn’t give the sublime mightygodking credit for the remix of the scene.

      And, of course, Millar did fuck up the story quite a bit, everything from the premise of what would bring about registration in the first place to who would be on the pro-registration side. But then, he’d already fallen into his pattern of using cheap shock tactics in place of any semblance of narrative cohesion and consideration of the universe that he was working in.

      • Both of those points are true, but Millar was running the show and the buck stops on his watch.

    • Murc

      So this starts off a war between pro- and anti-Registration superheroes, with Iron Man on the pro-side and Cap on the anti-side, who explicitly argued that the Act violated the Bill of Rights.

      What always amused the hell out of me is the way that the editorial staff at the time thought they could put Captain America on one side of an issue, Tony Stark on the other, and somehow assume most people wouldn’t side with Captain Goddamn America.

      They only eventually dug Tony out of the hole of him becoming a straight-up supervillain by 1) giving his book to Matt Fraction, and 2) killing him and then uploading his brain from a pre-evil backup, both of which were pretty cool. Invincible Iron-Man has gone on to be an astoundingly good series.

      To be a bit fair to the writers, I at least understand what they were trying to do with that scene with Sally. If someone who I felt didn’t know the least bit about my country or culture started lecturing me on what was right or not, my back would go up to even if they were right. Hell, if Zombie Thomas Jefferson were to start lecturing me about the Constitution, I would regard the words of a two centuries dead slaveholder who believed in idealized rural existence and would regard a majority-urban America with horror, I would take THAT with a grain of salt, because his America stopped existing a long time ago.

      • I get that. But it wouldn’t mean you’d be right. After all, both in our lifetimes and Cap’s, we’ve done some awful stuff because we were afraid and stupid during a crisis.

        But the fact that it’s us doing it doesn’t make it right.

        • Murc

          I get that. But it wouldn’t mean you’d be right.

          Yeah, but there’d be legitimate ambiguity. I might be right. Basically, the thrust of my point is that what they were trying to do, executed properly, was not without literary merit and made sense.

          It just completely fucking failed.

    • Justin Cognito

      Oh, Christ, Sally Floyd. You forgot to mention the bit where the upstanding, moral journalists turn over to Iron Man all evidence that one of his proxies engineered a brief diplomatic incident for the sake of good publicity. Because the ends justify the means.

      Also, someone noted that the other writers on Civil War seemed to paint the Registration Act as grand dickery, even though Millar was in favor of it. Well, Millar SAID he was in favor, but if his writing’s any indicator, he really doesn’t know how to make an argument.

      Iron Man: “Hey, everyone! I’m going to deputize the unbalanced psychotic who killed Spider-Man’s girlfriend to lead the hunt for unregistered superhumans! That’s cool, right?”

  • Gareth Wilson

    I’ve read a theory that goes further, saying that Steve’s parents were actual Communists, and he might have been a Communist himself. Although he’s not a very obedient Communist, if he’s interested in fighting Nazis between August 1939 and June 1941… Seriously, even with the political backstory there’s going to be something disturbing to us about the opinions of a man frozen in the 1940s. In the trailer for Winter Soldier, he’s shown turning down a chance to date “Kristen from Statistics”. My guess is that he knows Kristen has had premarital sex with multiple partners, so she’s a whore. That’s entirely consistent with being a 1940s lefty.

    • Gareth, in the film version at least, it’s pretty evident Cap is a virgin.

      • Gareth Wilson

        Huh. I missed that, and it’s not made explicit in the films. But you’re right. So it’s the same issue but from the other end. Post-transformation Steve is a young, attractive war hero. Even if he spends most his time fighting he must have had some free time to socialise. So why did he never have sex? Because that would be morally wrong. Again, that’s consistent with being a 1940s lefty.

        • Buster

          He doesn’t seem to have much trouble with Bucky being a bit of playboy. He also doesn’t seem to have an issue with the idea of Peggy and Howard hooking up; it’s played as if it’s more about her being therefore unavailable rather than moral revulsion. Given their camaraderie in the trailer, one can also assume that he’s not bothered by Black Widow’s presumed sexual background, which would probably have included using sex as part of her job.

          The films seem to present a Cap who wasn’t attractive to women pre-transformation and never learned how to deal with them on any kind of romantic or sexual level and the cut scenes from THE AVENGERS suggests he still doesn’t get when women are clearly showing interest. In addition, he’s presented as something of a romantic, in that he’s presented as being uninterested in casual relationships (the whole waiting for the right dance partner thing in CA:TFA). So just dating Kristin from Statistics just to have something to do Saturday night wouldn’t interest him on that level.

          I’m not arguing that Cap’s not a virgin; I don’t know one way or the other, YMMV. I just don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that the MCU Cap is a prude.

          • +1.

            Pretty much what I was going to say. Steve Rogers was a pretty shy *teenager* who fell in love and never got a chance to consummate his first real relationship. I don’t think he’s gotten further than a kiss.

            • Gareth Wilson

              I suppose it’s more likely that Steve is just still pining over Peggy and isn’t interested in anyone else.

              • Buster

                I think we’re pretty clearly meant to think that’s the case in THE AVENGERS.

    • LeeEsq

      Or even in the 1960s. Its like that seen in Divorce Italian Style where a bunch of Marxists denounce the Baron’s wife.

    • ajay

      I’ve read a theory that goes further, saying that Steve’s parents were actual Communists, and he might have been a Communist himself. Although he’s not a very obedient Communist, if he’s interested in fighting Nazis between August 1939 and June 1941

      Quite. If he were a good loyal Communist he’d have been sinking ships full of Lend-Lease supplies and trying to provoke strikes at the Lockheed plant to stop them building planes for the RAF.

      Maybe he’s secretly British? Has anyone actually seen his birth certificate?

  • Patrick

    It’s a good piece but the collapse of Captain America in the 1950s might not be so much about Jingoism, as the fact that the Superhero genre of comics collapsed post-war in general. (With the exception of the trinity: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman)

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  • Peggy Carter? Alive in 2012?

    That would have ruined the film for me.

    • Well, she was a young woman during the war. She’d be in her eighties at the youngest, but it could work.

      • Buster

        I think there was a narrative logic to it in terms of giving Steve Rogers someone he could open up to. He doesn’t really have that in the film and the bits showing him going about his lonely days got cut. So, even though he has the most screentime (barely edging out Stark) and it falls at a pivotal point in the character’s storyline, there’s not a tremendous amount of character-building for Cap as compared to Stark or Banner or Romanov.

  • The Pale Scot

    Getting lotsa flashbacks from this thread, the Howling commandos shooting down attacking Stukas from the side port of a B-17 with tommy guns (could a Stuka even catch a B-17?) to Prez: First Teen President

    • That list of abilities is fantastic.

      • David Haasl

        I seem to recall from childhood, a “Howling Commandos” comic where, while the Howling Commandos were bailing out of a B-17 over occupied Poland, Dum Dum Dugan took out a Bf-109 fighter with a grenade while falling through the air. No wonder we won the war!

  • I have to make this argument all the time. I get that people in their 80s skew conservative, but that’s just not who Captain America is. If you had to assign a political leaning to him it would be left. Not left-of-center, not “understanding for a Republican,” but left. If you look at Steve Rogers’ track record during Republican presidencies, he’s usually dead, missing, or disowning the Captain America moniker (Nomad, The Captain etc). He’s a personification of Marvel’s artists’ and writers’ political views, and those are bound to be fairly progressive. They are artists, overwhelmingly living in New York City – there’s not a lot of political diversity there.

    Likewise, USAgent is used to represent the straw-man conservative (sorry, I hate that word, but I couldn’t think of a better one to use here). It’s a real shame, too, because unlike Rogers, who is portrayed as a very consistent and well-rounded character, John Walker is wheeled out from time-to-time to remind readers that conservatives are usually wrong, overly aggressive and generally lacking in empathy. It’s irritating if you follow that character at all, because a lot of his decisions (his stance on Registration in Civil War comes immediately to mind) contradict his character, and instead reflect the decisions that the author would like to attribute to a Republican superhero. John Walker’s family was murdered as a direct result of his identity being exposed to the masses, but he aligns with the Superhero Registration Act, even though it would put others in that same predicament, simply because it was the opposite of what Captain America was doing.

    Anyway, I love articles like this. It’s a great critical thinking exercise. Keep up the great work.

    • Glad you liked it, and it’s a good point about John Walker.

      And yeah, I have plenty to say about politics and comic books.

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  • Captain America #283 tried to re-Americanize Steve by inventing a history of other Captain Americas, including a Native-American-magic-empowered Civil War Captain America (who, thank God, fought for the Union) and a Revolutionary War Captain America,

    This was actually a reference to the 1976 book “Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles” by Jack Kirby, bringing the characters from that long form story into the Marvel Universe proper.

    Captain America’s creator, Jack Kirby, was very much a New Deal Democrat, and much like the creators of Superman, used the character to go after who he felt were the enemies of America at the time: Greedy Businessmen, Nazis and the like. Remember, the first issue of Cap came out before Pearl Harbor, when many US businesses still worked with Nazi Germany. In fact, Kirby received death threats soon after the first issue came out due to making Hitler a villain.

  • NorthLeft12

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned Captain America’s appearances in Frank Miller’s Daredevil run [Born Again] in 1986. This was the series that got me back into comics after a five year hiatus.

    One of the best remembered scenes in that series was Cap’s confrontation of a corrupt General who thanks him for his loyalty to the department and Cap answers while gripping a US flag, “I’m loyal to nothing, General…….except the dream.” He goes on to aid Daredevil when they were first opponents.
    https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSarfCuTKddP3rVHvv0CEMuIWiIMIdgqvE9-qDCvmc9UiepJbgLCHlsVnCD2A

    • Halloween Jack

      That was a good book; unfortunately, Miller himself has long since gone over the moral event horizon.

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  • I don’t know the neighborhoods of NYC well enough, but I wonder if Steve Rogers might have bumped into Noam Chomsky in the 1930s and talked politics at Chomsky’s uncle’s newsstand on 72nd and Broadway.
    http://www.egs.edu/library/noam-chomsky/biography/

  • Anonymous

    There is a mistaken belief that cultural attitudes in the past were monolithic, that everyone and everywhere was “of their time.” This is not true; even in the past, there were people and places who saw past conventional wisdom and social pressure and looked to a better future.

    Let’s also bear in mind that a huge percentage of the creators of the early superheroes were not of the cultural mainstream, i.e. not WASPS. Many–many many many–were Jewish, some were gay, and they brought that non-mainstream point of view into their work.

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  • Xiao Zhang

    Still better than the Captain China comic, I guess…

  • denelian

    blame tor.com for me being here…

    but THANK YOU. i’ve been having this argument with people for a couple of YEARS now. it got BAD when the first Captain America movie came out; people i knew were bitching and bitching and BITCHING because it was, essentially, a WAR movie.

    and i was like — um, yes, of course it was. and?

    people just… don’t understand. they don’t study history at ALL. it drives me absolutely batshit. everything you said is *SO* spot-on, i’ve bookmarked the page and will just be referring people to it in the future, rather than wasting my breath to say what you’ve said so much more succinctly!

    [i really want to know what happened to our schools? why do they not TEACH anymore? just… sigh]

  • I don’t know if anyone will see anything on this comment thread after so many months but I have to thank you, as others have, for this. As a reader of Cap since the early 70s I have a very strong sense of who he is. I thought I was alone. You all have shown me I am not. He was my childhood hero and I learned many of my values from him (well from Stan, Jack, Steve, Roger, J.M. and Mark actually). Now someone needs to right the definitive essay on why Captain America refuses to kill, doesn’t work for the government and is not, and never has been, a soldier (I know- Steve Rogers was an army private and is now an ex-soldier, but Captain America was never a soldier).

  • Whoops, typo correction: “write” not “right”

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  • My college repersenting here

    I am just fangirling over the fact that Captain America went to my college!!!

    (Also, your article is quite informative and was fun to read) XD

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