People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 18: The Social Worker and the COP
When we last left our heroes, Captain America and the Falcon had returned to New York City after liberating a Caribbean island from Nazis and once again foiling the Red Skull’s Cosmic Cube machinations. Upon their return in #120, the question became what the status quo would be for the new partnership in their new environment.
The new status quo would take a few issues to show up, but starting with #139, for almost two years – two years which saw Captain America and the Falcon handed off from Stan Lee to Steve Englehart (by way of Gary Friedrich and Gerry Conway) – Cap writers went back to one of the oldest scenarios in comics.
By night, Captain America and the Falcon would patrol New York City as vigilante superheroes. By day, they would adopt civilian identities that spoke to their ideas of civic engagement: Sam Wilson returned to his job as a social worker, Steve Rogers took up a new job as a cop. Both worked the Harlem beat.
Great writeup. About Stan Lee…I think the best way to characterize him is someone who was pragmatic and populist. He wanted to be, and he wanted Marvel to become, “All things to all people”. He was far sighted enough to be aware that readers were diversifying and as such the stories could no longer reflect an unblemished view of American hegemony. What that meant in practice is that Lee was a follower not a leader. EC Comics in the actual 50s printed anti-racist and anti-police comics (including the harrowing “A Kind of Justice”) and that was in the Eisenhower era. During the ’60s in the height of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War, Lee in letters pages advocated a middle ground view and only really pushed for diversity when that movement attained some kind of mainstream zeitgeist.
Stan Lee’s politics also came from all over the spectrum. As per Blake Bell’s biography of Ditko, it was Stan Lee who was a big Ayn Rand reader in the early years of their partnership and he was the one who introduced Ditko to Rand and so pushed him into that proverbial vat of acid. That explains why the most Randian Marvel character — Iron Man/Tony Stark — was created by Lee and his brother and not by Ditko during his time there. But as Lee became more famous and prominent in the college campus lecture circuit, he became more liberal since college culture was liberal.
Anyway, even aside from the Marvel Method stuff, Stan Lee was a good writer when he could be. And by himself he wrote great hard-hitting stories, like the one in Daredevil where Matt defend a blind African-American Vietnam Veteran, and in Amazing Spider-Man, where in #91-92, he made Marvel’s biggest character an explicit and permanent opponent to white supremacy.