King Kirby, Captain America and American History

Friday, February 22, AD 2013

A guest post by commenter Fabio Paolo Barbieri on one of the legendary comic book artists, Jack “King” Kirby, his greatest comic book creation, Captain America, and Kirby’s trip through American history with the Captain:

With Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles we at last reach a masterpiece within the meaning of the act.  The Marvel Treasury Edition format in which it was published, though suffering from the same bad production values as the regular titles, tried for a more upmarket and collectable air: instead of slim pamphlets with floppy covers, padded out with cheapo ads, they had 80 large pages, no ads, and more durable hard(ish) covers. On the whole, it was an unhappy compromise without future, but Kirby, who had seen formats and production values decline throughout his career, grasped the opportunity of more elaborate work than the regular format allowed.  (Artists of Kirby’s generation are often heard commenting on the quality of paper and colouring available to today’s cartoonists, even when they don’t read the stories; bad printing had been such a fundamental reality to their period that improved paper stock and technology are the one thing that stands out when they see a new comic.)
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That is not to say that it is flawless everywhere; few details of title, packaging and secondary material could be worse.  That anyone could come up with such a title as Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles would be incredible had it not happened; its clanging, flat verbosity belongs more to the kitsch of 1876 than of 1976 – “Doctor Helzheimer’s Anti-Gas Pills”.  The pin-ups that pad out the awkwardly-sized story (77 pages), with Captain America in various pseudo-historical costumes, are positively infantile, the front cover is dull and the back one ridiculous.  Nothing shows more absurdly the dichotomy between Kirby’s mature, thoughtful, even philosophical genius and the bad habits of a lifetime at the lowest end of commercial publishing coming on top of a lower-end education; the nemesis, you might say, of uneducated self-made genius.  The Kirby who did this sort of thing was the Kirby who filled otherwise good covers with verbose and boastful blurbs, who defaced the English language with “you matted masterpiece of murderous malignancy!” and the like, who cared nothing for precision and good taste – in short, the man whose lack of education lingered in his system all his life. Kirby went into his work with less inherited “baggage” than any other cartoonist, and was correspondingly radical and revolutionary, but he also had little share in common taste and standards.

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2 Responses to King Kirby, Captain America and American History

  • Man, I just never know what to expect when I click on The American Catholic. I suspect I might appreciate this entry a bit more than most. I’m 61 years old and have been reading/collecting comics since I was about 10. I am very familiar with Jack Kirby’s work and have the Bicentennial edition discussed at length here. This is a very detailed analysis; the kind I am usually reading on comic sites. Here this was a pleasant surprise.

    Most readers of this site are probably familiar with Captain America from the recent movies, his own and the Avengers. Most of Marvel Comics movies exude an obvious conservative tone, which I believe has resulted in their success.

  • “Man, I just never know what to expect when I click on The American Catholic”

    Precisely our intention George!

Captain America

Monday, June 27, AD 2011

A trailer for the Captain America movie coming out in July.  Two superheroes have managed to become symbols of the nation:  Superman and Captain America.  One of the first of the comic book heroes, Superman first appeared in 1938  and helped establish the whole concept of a superhero.  “A strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of a mortal man”, Superman was a hit from his first publication and rapidly achieved fame around the globe, as World War 2 GIs carried Superman comics with them throughout World War II.

Captain America was another favorite comic of American GIs.  He first appeared in Captain America Comics #1 dated March 1941, which was actually on sale in December 1940.  It told the story of Steve Rogers, a classic 98 pound weakling, but with the heart of a lion.  A student of fine arts, he desperately wanted to fight for America in the war he saw coming against Nazi Germany, but was rejected by the Army due to his physical weakness.  He was offered an opportunity to serve his country by volunteering to be a  human guinea pig in an experiment by Dr. Josef Reinstein.  Reinstein injected him with a formula that transformed him into a perfect human specimen:  muscular, quick and agile.  He was to be the first of many volunteers who would be injected with this “super-soldier” formula, but a Nazi agent who had infiltrated the project shot Reinstein to death, before being subdued by Rogers, and therefore he would be the one and only “super-soldier”.  The first issue sold an astounding one million copies, an indication of just how popular Captain America would be with the American public.  However, not all of the public.  Writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby also received hate mail and death threats from isolationists and Nazi sympathizers in the country.  I guess Captain America punching out Hitler on the cover of  issue # 1 was a clear indication of where Simon and Kirby stood as to the Third Reich.

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3 Responses to Captain America

  • I really want to go see this, but I’m worried that the American patriotism will be toned down to make it palatable to an international audience.

    The only other “summer movie” that I’m looking forward to – with some reservations – is Cowboys & Aliens. If it takes itself too seriously, I don’t think it will be good. It needs to be slightly tongue-in-cheek.

    So far, I’d say this summer was a bust, with the exception of X-Men: First Class.

  • I saw X-Men First Class which surprised me as I enjoyed it and I have hated the other X-Men movies. I am looking forward to Cowboys and Aliens also ( What a natural combination!). In regard to Captain America, it is always a mistake to predict a movie on the trailers, but I am willing to risk paying for movie tickets based on the good impression that the trailers left me with. If I am disappointed, I will make sure that TAC readers hear about it! 🙂

  • Haha. I will see both of these movies. It is wise to note that the recent Marvel movies are setting up the eventual Avengers Movie(s). That should be fun.

Captain America vs. The Tea Partiers!

Thursday, February 11, AD 2010

In my mispent youth back in the Sixties I read a lot of comics.  My parents would give me and my brother a dollar each as our weekly allowance and at 12 cents a comic we could buy quite a few, even more if we purchased them for a nickel each used  at an antiques\junk store in downtown Paris, Illinois.  The most sacrificial Lent I have ever made was in 1965 at the age of 8 when I gave up my beloved comic books for Lent!  Back then comics were quite safe for kids.  On the whole I’d say they were beneficial for me, extending my vocabulary, introducing me to literary genres such as westerns and science fiction and the writing sometimes was of an unexpectedly high level.  Some of the artists who drew the comics were of high calibre.  Steve Ditko for example, the original artist who drew Spider-Man, had a very effective and memorable style of drawing.  I stopped reading comics back around 1972, although I do buy silver age comic compilations for nostalgia and I keep half an eye on the industry as an aspect of popular culture.

I was not surprised to learn that a current story arc in Captain America has the Captain taking on the tea party movement.  Comic book artists and writers have skewed heavily to the Left since the Sixties.  My first protest letter, my first pre-computer attempt at a blog post, was a letter I wrote to Marvel Comics in pencil in 1969 protesting a story line in which Captain America was turning against US involvement in Vietnam. 

In issue 602 of Captain America, the Captain and the Falcon, a black super-hero, see a tea party rally and decide that it poses a danger to, well that is not precisely clear, although I assume it is dangerous to the government.  Captain America hits upon the brilliant plan to have the Falcon pose as a black IRS agent and go to a red neck bar and stir things up.  (Hmmm, apparently plots and story lines have gone into steep decline since my day!)  The hoot about this is that as long as the Republicans had the White House, the comics were filled with paranoid story lines involving evil government plots.  With Obama in the White House, it is now evil to protest the government.

This of course has caused a huge amount of controversy.  When controversy rears its head the comic book industry has a traditional response: back down faster than a man who has forgotten his wife’s birthday. 

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9 Responses to Captain America vs. The Tea Partiers!

  • I always loved Catch Me Now I’m Falling by the Kinks. British rockers empathizing with the plight of America in the Carter years. After 911 it seemed all the more poignant.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBzasGRUk98&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

  • When I started collecting comics they were already expensive and this was the Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller’s) and Watchmen era. So things were edgy. At that age (high school) I was offended by the Leftist-lean and not so much by the libertine representations. Comics, especially superhero comics can be a very good influence in the culture but too many artists are indoctrinated into a leftist mentality. Comics should be apolitical, virtuous and entertaining. I don’t know what they are like these days.

    One of my favorite has always been Spiderman (Ditko did a good job, I especially enjoyed McFarlane). The motto of Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” That is awesome. If you notice in the recent Toby McGuire movies the depiction of Spiderman is of a brash youth, who learns the above lesson and sacrifices so much in his life to help people. At one point he is beaten to a pulp and the people of New York carry him, his arms are extended as if he is on a cross. When he gets invaded by a dark, alien symbiot he turns to a Catholic Church for help. He is also forgiving and empathetic to his nemeses.

    Superheros are based on the ultimate Superhero archetype – Jesus the Christ. A good superhero story always has miraculous powers or human enhancements, a vulnerability, a sacrificial attitude and stands for good as in Truth, Justice and the American Way.

    Excelsior!

  • When I collected comics, I didn’t read them. Comics belong in plastic sleeves.

  • One cannot be “Captain America” without being “pro- Tea Party”. Stan Lee has tripped off the line.

  • Ironically, not long ago Cap was literally fighting the Feds in the Civil War storyline.. but again.. that was based on leftist reaction to the GWB regime & the Patriot Act, so.. I dunno.

    Ugh.

  • Sarah Palin’s Nashville speech was the most significant oration of the 21st century.

    See:

    http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/tennessee-tea-party-sarahs-sassy-speech/

  • I can’t recall any leftist sympathies in my mile-high stack of Richie Rich comic books circa-1977.

  • I am sure Cadbury, the perfect butler, was a closet socialist!

  • On one hand, Marvel has a Catholic hero, Nightcrawler, who is one of the mutant “extra men” also known as “X-Men”. Nightcrawler looks like a demon but grew up in a monastery and carries a rosary. On the other hand, Marvel hosted students from the Harvey Milk School in observation of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Day, so it would be prudent to carefully screen materials from Marvel before placing them in the hands of young readers.