In this column, I will dive into times comics, throughout superhero history, where they got political. There seems to be a constant debate as to if political discussion has a place in the medium. I hope to show you that politics and superhero comics go together like a fist and Hitler’s face.
We might as well start nearly at the beginning of superhero comics. Today we are going to look at Captain America #1 (March 1941), which was essentially a piece encouraging the American involvement in WW2. This issue was published before the direct involvement in the war, which would not happen until December of the same year (Pearl Harbor). It did seem like the tide was turning in favor of war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had successfully signed into law the ability to supply help to the allied powers. However, America was not united under the idea of going into war. The America First Committee was fairly active in convincing the American public that they should remain isolationists. This war going on in Europe and Asia were entire oceans away from them. Charles Lindbergh would address the American public through the radio supporting isolation policies. These were done to counter FDR’s pleas for the American public to support the war effort more directly. Future President Gerald Ford was also a key member of the American First Committee at his college campus (Yale). Needless to say the political split and turmoil was no different than the lines drawn by party members today, as there was no common consensus with the American public.
Two Creators and Their Little Comic That Made a Big Difference
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby stuck their necks out when creating this comic. Being two Jewish creators they understood the dangers that Nazi Germany presented. They knew much of the counter war protests were steeped in Anti-Semitic values. Not only did they create a pro-war comic, but they created a comic with the main character (wearing the American Flag as a costume) punching a fascist world leader in the face. Again, this was well before the American military was directly involved in any combat. This put the creators in direct line of fire with the public. There are stories of people at Timely Comics (publisher at the time) being afraid to leave the building under threats of people hanging around outside. Mayor of NYC, La Guardia, even had to send police protection to the building to make sure that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby remained safe. They were far from the first to use Nazis as the villains in comics, as it was popular with the large immigrant community in NYC. However, they were the first to make a bold statement on the cover and story about how America needed to become directly involved.
So when people get upset for Captain America making political statements, about the country he represents, remember that the origins of the character is intrinsically linked to protest.