This blog is dedicated to the political relevancy of comic books. From their humble beginnings comic books had a tinge of political allegory reflecting on social class and acting as a refuge for writers that couldn’t find work due to their ethnicity. The political relevancy continued with Senate hearings in the 1950’s discussed here, and eventually entered the modern age of issue advocacy focusing on such issues as civil rights, AIDs, civil liberties, and the War on Terror.
Marvel comic’s Captain America is an icon of the discussion of politics in the comic book medium. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America debuted in December 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor advocating the United States’ entry into World War II. The first issue (image above) depicts the hero punching out Hitler in a clear signal of it’s creators encouragement and hope for the United States to enter the war raging on European shores. Joe Simon even said,
The opponents to the war were all quite well organized. We wanted to have our say too.
Throughout the years though this character was a man out his time with his main opponents consisting of remnants of the Nazi’s of World War II. Flash forward through the years and Marvel’s numerous failures to modernize the character. A man out of time, representing the American ideals couldn’t fit in such a gray modern world, or could he?
Enter writer Ed Brubaker, who’s run on the series is clearly not just one of the best for the character but can be heralded as one of the best runs of all time. Brubaker’s ability has been to write a character in a post 9/11 world, where terrorism exists and intrigue is everywhere, all on top of a backdrop of politics and social commentary. His vision, in it’s 38th issue this month, weaves a modern day fable reflecting on Al Qaeda’s looming threat, the housing crisis, corporate intrigue, a Presidential election, and the death of an icon. In the interview “The Man Who Killed Captain America” found in Marvel’s Captain America Omnibus, Ed Brubaker is quoted as saying,
I really wanted to ground the book in the real world. Of course, it’s not gonna be Al Qaeda, it’s gonna be Hydra of AIM…”
But, the best way to show the brilliant tale Brubaker has weaved is to lay out the complicated plot of his in process epic. SPOILERS AHEAD
The Red Skull is in control of an object called the Cosmic Cube which can grant it’s owner the power to do anything. Aleksander Lukin, a Russian hardliner wants the Cube to expand his corporation Kronos and make a play for the United States. Lukin gives the order to assassinate the Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube falls into his hands. Now, a deranged person could just wish the world to be what they want but the cube is weak and it’s abilities limited. Lukin instead lures some of the top corporate executives to the Kronos’ headquarters and using the Cube’s power forces them to sign over their companies and become subsidiaries of Kronos (issue #12).
Marvel’s Civil War occurs forcing super heroes to register with the government and leading them to split into two camps on either side of the issue eventually leading to the tragic assassination of Captain America (issue #25). In the comic Captain America defends his position and his leading the resistance to government registration,
Sharon Carter: …And the rule of law is what this country is founded on.
Captain America: No…it was founded on breaking the law. Because the law was wrong.
SC: That’s semantics Steve, you know what I mean…
CA: It’s not semantics, Sharon. It’s the heart of the issue. The Registration Act is another step toward Government control. And, while I love my country, I don’t trust many politicians. Not when they’re having their strings pulled by corporate donors. And not when they’re willing to trade freedom for security.
SC: Now you’re going to quote Ben Franklin at me? Give me a break.
CP: How about Thomas Paine? “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Captain America surrenders when he notices the destruction of this battle between heroes and on his way to trial is assassinated on the footsteps of the courthouse. This act was a moment that gained national attention, such as this article from CNN.
Ed Brubaker on the moment,
(I) instinctively thought Captain America is such an icon and the way American icons are killed is that they get assassinated. They don’t die the way they’re supposed to die; they die tragically. That was what I was going for – making sure it played like an American tragedy.
As reported by the Associated Press, one of Captain America’s creators Joe Simon had this to say,
It’s a hell of a time for him to go. We really need him now.
In the modern age of comics no event has directly reflected the state of the world as Brubaker’s iconic political statement of the death of liberty on the steps of that courthouse. But, his brilliant writing proved a comic book series could continue, even without it’s main character.
Lukin’s plan was continuing. His move was to control the United States by destabilizing it and entering the Presidential election with his own backed candidate. Kronos Corporation did it’s part by driving the people to the streets. In issue #34, which came out in January of 2008, a mortgage crisis rocked the Marvel world as much as it has our own real one. In a part of the story playing right out of the headlines of MSNBC, Kronos Corporation foreclosed some homes due in part of a sub-prime lending scandal putting the economy in crisis (ed – who says comics are just for kids?). People took to the streets to protest where a security force owned by Kronos (aka Blackwater) was hired by the Government to keep the peace. We also learn that Lukin has at least one politician in his pocket, Senator Gordon Wright.
The third act of Brubaker’s epic is in it’s infant stages as all of this instability has led to Senator Wright forming the Third Wing party and running for President of the United States.
As you can see by the summary, comics have come a long way over the years. They sport a reality too close to home mixed in with the traditional escapism and fantasy. They reflect our current events, and pose philosophical questions and problems for ourselves to answer. In Brubaker’s epic a new man bears the uniform, shield and name of Captain America, in the comics, and the real world there has never been a greater time when we’ve needed him than now.