Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
What iconic picture represents America the most to you? Grant Woods American Gothic? Emmanuel Gottlieb Luetez’s painting of Washington crossing the Delaware? Or maybe or Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks? For me it is the drawing of Captain America punching the lights out of Hitler.
Sure you say, that is because I am a comic book geek. Well that is true but I was also a history major, and to me that one picture represents everything that is good in America.
If you have been following Dave’s Corner of the Universe then you know I am generally not a fan of the “Big Two” (Marvel & DC). But there has always been a soft spot in my heart for Cap. Maybe it was my memories of my family in the ’70’s sitting around a crappy nine inch black and white TV watching the utterly crapptastic Reb Brown Captain America series. But more than likely it is for what the dude represents. There is a reason why my Graviotar is a picture of me in a Captain America shirt (besides the fact that it is the only photo of me that doesn’t make me look like a big fat pig.)
So let’s dissect this picture. First of all it is FRIGGIN’ Captain America punching a Nazi! Not just any Nazi, but Hitler the king Nazi. Yesterday I was working on a writing project and I told someone, let’s make the bad guys Nazis, because you can kill them off in horrible ways and people will stand up and yell “Way to go, killing off that Nazi scum!” As demonstrated in The Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don’t mean to be flippant about a regime that killed over six million people, but in fiction, you can embody everything bad in the world with Nazis, egotism, racism, anti-Semitism, sadism, greed and oppression. And if you call your hero Captain America and you have him punch out the Fuhrer you are in effect saying America isn’t going to stand for any of that BS.
Another thing that is important is when the picture was published, March 1941, it was a full nine months before Pearl Harbor. In real life you have American icons like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh trying to keep America out of the war. So a fictitious American has to stand up and say, we aren’t standing for your real evil any more real Hitler. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created a wish fulfillment that embodied the beliefs that many Americans had, but had no way to voice.
The fact that this is a contemporary drawing, and that it has a real dictator getting the smack down is very important. It not like Marvel decided to do an arc where Professor X, Magneto, Kitty Pride and the other Jewish heroes decided to build a time machine and kick Hitler’s Butt. That would just be a story. This is History. It is as valid a gauge of the feelings of some Americans as an op-ed piece written at that time. Superman, the big hero back in those days, did do an issue where he captured two warring generals one that looked a lot like Hitler and forced them to either fight it out just the two of them or create a peace treaty. But since it was just a Hitler expy, it lacks the strength of Cap hitting the real Hitler.
So what values dose the picture of cap and Hitler embody? First of all get your dirty grubby hands of Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia Hitler. We stand for freedom, for us and others. Creativity, sure we are not at war yet, but we Americans can use our art to get our point across. Courage, notice cap doesn’t have a gun in a room full of Nazis. And a desire to do the right thing.
In the movie captain America: First Avenger the scene is reduced to Steve Rogers hitting an actor while entertaining the troops. I get why it was done that way. It sets better in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and maybe the whole concept is a bit hokey now. But still I think that it is watered down compared to what the original picture stood for.
Speaking of standing for things Captain America has always stood for America. Not the politicians who run it. When a politico goes outside the bounds of what America is supposed to be cap calls him on it. When Tony Stark started the initiative Captain America stood strong for what he believed in. n the end of The Civil War arc, Steve Rogers was willing to die for what he believed in.
The Captain’s powers are important also. He isn’t a mutant, or an alien, he is a guy who wanted to serve his country. The super solider serum only gave him the strength and dexterity at the maximum human limits. Sure he may be above us physically but he’s not beyond human ability. Because of that he never loses sight of what it is to be a human. He understand the struggle we mortals go through. He may be the best of us, but he is still one of us. In the end that is what being an American should be about, being the best we can be, but still part of the greater group.
So today on the Fourth of July, think of the picture of Hitler getting his clock cleaned and smile. The Captain would want it that way.