People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 1

Face front, true believers!

My name is Steven Attewell and I like to write about the intersection of history, politics, and pop culture. You may know my blog, Race for the Iron Throne, where I write about Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. In my day job, though, I have a PhD in the history of public policy and I teach public policy at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Labor Studies.

In A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, I’ll be exploring how real-world politics (and weird bits of pop culture) was presented in some of my favorite bits of classic Marvel comics, starting with Claremont’s run on X-Men and Captain America from the Timely Comics through the 80s.

Captain America #2 Cover

Today, I’ll be talking about the politics of Captain America, something I’ve discussed before. Political nerds and Marvel fans are probably aware that the original Captain America comics from the 1940s were explicitly political, as Joe Simon and Jack Kirby took an explicitly anti-fascist and anti-Nazi position in March 1941, ten months before the U.S was attacked at Pearl Harbor.

What they might not know is that that Captain America was also explicitly political – and progressive – on domestic politics as well. As proof, I present this panel from the very first page of Captain America #2:

Captain America #2 Panel

Meet the villains of the very first story to feature Captain America’s now-iconic round shield – two corrupt bankers trying to evade Federal corporate income taxes. Now, yes, Benson the corrupt banker on the right happens to use “Oriental giants” he discovered in Tibet who are impervious to everything but sonic weapons to “raise havoc with the city – the nation! I want money-money!” but at the end of the day, he’s still a corrupt banker who kills people to hide his income tax evasion.

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s point couldn’t be clearer – wealthy businessmen who avoid paying corporate income taxes (and these would be FDR’s “Soak the Rich” taxes, specifically) damage America’s ability to wage war on fascism and require the same two-fisted justice that Captain America deals out to “Ratzi” spies, storm troopers guarding a concentration camp in the Black Forest, Adolph Hitler himself, and the evil Wax Man (who kills people with wax masks of themselves for some reason).

Then again, it’s also the issue where Captain America cross-dresses…to fight fascism.

Captain America dress