Event Title

Jack Kirby’s (Captain) Americans

Location

Panel 02: Basil 119

Start Date

26-10-2012 3:30 PM

End Date

26-10-2012 5:00 PM

Description

We propose a paper looking at the treatment of Captain America across several decades. Many superheroes generally stand for good that can be summarized in a cliché (Truth, Justice and the American Way or with great power comes great responsibility) while combating villains who lack (overt) political identities or agendas beyond a desire with wealth or world domination. In contrast, Captain America’s stories have sometimes been overtly political and often contain political subtext and intrigue. By examining three incarnations of the character over three decades, 1940s – 1960s, we will look at the themes of patriotism and loyalty focusing on the work of Jack Kirby and his most famous partners, Joe Simon and Stan Lee. In all the iterations of the character Kirby and others will explore the idea of personal transformation and patriotic duty. The exercise will be made more interesting because of the continuity of the creative talent working on the character. Arguing that Captain America should be viewed as much as a political cartoon as a masked adventurer his stories have combined, sometimes awkwardly, a tension between criticism of the status quo with unabashed patriotism. Kirby and others used Captain America to instruct Americans as to what America should be rather than entertain the America that was returning to their theme of patriotism as a reflective and transformational act.

Famously, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby launched Captain America Comics with a cover showing the Sentinel of Liberty slugging Adolf Hitler. Captain America Comics, primarily by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby through the end of 1942, featured Captain America taking the fight to the Nazis. While in retrospect punching Hitler in the face would not seem controversial, in 1940 for Jewish creators to argue for the United States to intervene in the war was to take an unpopular stance. This may explain why Captain America succeeded while other similar characters such as The Shield, Minute-Man, and Captain Battle failed. The America First Committee led a large number of Americans against intervention and Franklin Roosevelt promised in the 1940 presidential election not to send American boys to fight in Europe. Isolationism was the order of the day until Pearl Harbor. Although initially successful, Captain America Comics sales dropped after the war and the book met with cancellation.

In the mid-1950s Stan Lee (who first wrote Captain America in issue 3 in 1941) at Atlas Comics attempted to revive the character as a commie smashing cold warrior [Young Men #24–28 (Dec. 1953 – May 1954) and Captain America 76-78 (May-Sept. 1954) by Stan Lee (ed), Bill Everett, Mort Lawrence, and John Romita]. Irked that Atlas would bring back their most famous creation without them, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Fighting American to show how Captain America should be done. Fighting American was a blatant copy of Captain America featuring a weakling who volunteers for an experiment that allows him to embody American values. Although it again seems obvious that Captain America should fight the Cold War, as it turned out, the character as an aggressive conservative red hunter had limited appeal. Interestingly, unlike the earlier version of Captain America that urged American intervention in the war the Cold War Captain America was a voice for the establishment and a commercial failure. Simon and Kirby also had trouble finding their patriotic voices in Fighting American. Troubled by the excesses of the McCarthyism, they transformed the Fighting America into a Cold War parody introducing the theme of questioning the wisdom of the establishment. However, Kirby and his partners were clearly interested in the theme of transformation and patriotism as Simon and Kirby revisited the concept in The Double Life of Private Strong (1959), which would prove to be their last work together.

Finally, in the 1960s Lee and Kirby teamed up for the rebirth of Captain America in Avengers 4. Lee ignored the 1950s Cold War stories that he had a hand in creating. In this version of Captain America, the character became less overtly political but more a representation of nostalgia for the moral clarity of the Good War. Captain America did not fight communist. Rather his villains were left over Nazis such as the Red Skull or generic secret organizations such as HYDRA and AIM bent on world domination. Lee and Kirby avoided the potential commercial pitfalls of taking a direct political stance on the topics of the day, but still used the nostalgic themes of the character to critique the United States of the 1960s.

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Oct 26th, 3:30 PM Oct 26th, 5:00 PM

Jack Kirby’s (Captain) Americans

Panel 02: Basil 119

We propose a paper looking at the treatment of Captain America across several decades. Many superheroes generally stand for good that can be summarized in a cliché (Truth, Justice and the American Way or with great power comes great responsibility) while combating villains who lack (overt) political identities or agendas beyond a desire with wealth or world domination. In contrast, Captain America’s stories have sometimes been overtly political and often contain political subtext and intrigue. By examining three incarnations of the character over three decades, 1940s – 1960s, we will look at the themes of patriotism and loyalty focusing on the work of Jack Kirby and his most famous partners, Joe Simon and Stan Lee. In all the iterations of the character Kirby and others will explore the idea of personal transformation and patriotic duty. The exercise will be made more interesting because of the continuity of the creative talent working on the character. Arguing that Captain America should be viewed as much as a political cartoon as a masked adventurer his stories have combined, sometimes awkwardly, a tension between criticism of the status quo with unabashed patriotism. Kirby and others used Captain America to instruct Americans as to what America should be rather than entertain the America that was returning to their theme of patriotism as a reflective and transformational act.

Famously, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby launched Captain America Comics with a cover showing the Sentinel of Liberty slugging Adolf Hitler. Captain America Comics, primarily by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby through the end of 1942, featured Captain America taking the fight to the Nazis. While in retrospect punching Hitler in the face would not seem controversial, in 1940 for Jewish creators to argue for the United States to intervene in the war was to take an unpopular stance. This may explain why Captain America succeeded while other similar characters such as The Shield, Minute-Man, and Captain Battle failed. The America First Committee led a large number of Americans against intervention and Franklin Roosevelt promised in the 1940 presidential election not to send American boys to fight in Europe. Isolationism was the order of the day until Pearl Harbor. Although initially successful, Captain America Comics sales dropped after the war and the book met with cancellation.

In the mid-1950s Stan Lee (who first wrote Captain America in issue 3 in 1941) at Atlas Comics attempted to revive the character as a commie smashing cold warrior [Young Men #24–28 (Dec. 1953 – May 1954) and Captain America 76-78 (May-Sept. 1954) by Stan Lee (ed), Bill Everett, Mort Lawrence, and John Romita]. Irked that Atlas would bring back their most famous creation without them, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Fighting American to show how Captain America should be done. Fighting American was a blatant copy of Captain America featuring a weakling who volunteers for an experiment that allows him to embody American values. Although it again seems obvious that Captain America should fight the Cold War, as it turned out, the character as an aggressive conservative red hunter had limited appeal. Interestingly, unlike the earlier version of Captain America that urged American intervention in the war the Cold War Captain America was a voice for the establishment and a commercial failure. Simon and Kirby also had trouble finding their patriotic voices in Fighting American. Troubled by the excesses of the McCarthyism, they transformed the Fighting America into a Cold War parody introducing the theme of questioning the wisdom of the establishment. However, Kirby and his partners were clearly interested in the theme of transformation and patriotism as Simon and Kirby revisited the concept in The Double Life of Private Strong (1959), which would prove to be their last work together.

Finally, in the 1960s Lee and Kirby teamed up for the rebirth of Captain America in Avengers 4. Lee ignored the 1950s Cold War stories that he had a hand in creating. In this version of Captain America, the character became less overtly political but more a representation of nostalgia for the moral clarity of the Good War. Captain America did not fight communist. Rather his villains were left over Nazis such as the Red Skull or generic secret organizations such as HYDRA and AIM bent on world domination. Lee and Kirby avoided the potential commercial pitfalls of taking a direct political stance on the topics of the day, but still used the nostalgic themes of the character to critique the United States of the 1960s.