Insects, Nazis and Sivana! Oh My!!

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John Byrne once produced a comic where Batman and Captain America teamed up to fight some insane scheme or other concocted by The Joker and Red Skull. At one point, it looked bad for the heroes until the Clown Prince of Crime discovered the Skull’s true motivations …

See, Nazis are such scumbags that even a homicidal maniac like The Joker can’t stand the rotters.

Thaddeus Bodog Sivana has a similar epiphany in the following Captain Marvel Jr. adventure, but in keeping with the mad scientist’s evil nature his main gripe with the Germans is that they’re interfering with his own plans to conquer America.

Throw in an army of monstrous insects and you have another Otto Binder classic!

“Captain Marvel Jr. Battles The Insect Giants” originally appeared in Captain Marvel Junior #12 (Fawcett, October 1943). Although Binder is credited with the story, I couldn’t find any information about the artist.

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Red, White & Yeller!

It’s been awhile since any signs of life were detected at this site, huh? Maybe the blog should have been entitled “The Ghost Bullet.”

I knew the days of timely, 24-hour updates were far, far behind me. Burn-out was the primary reason for boarding up my beloved Fortress of Fortitude, after all. But two, whole fershlugginer months without a single peep? What’s up with that?!?

Well, it isn’t easy to write much of anything – let alone an article of substance – when one has nothing to say. I lost my taste for modern Big Two comics long ago, and although your humble host pondered the reasons why this long-standing relationship finally went sour it seemed a trifle self-indulgent to make such reasons public.

(Honestly, who really cares why I no longer spend $30 a week on funny books? If somebody out there truly loves “Siege” and “Blackest Night,” more power to ‘em. In the meantime, I’ll be just fine catching up on old, ragged issues of Police Comics.)

Inspiration is a funny thing, however. After 60 days of bupkis, yours truly was finally moved to plug in the ol’ keyboard by – of all things – Tea Party protestors.

(I’m not going to use the term “Teabaggers” because … well, you know.)

Proponents of the movement – who receive reams of publicity on Fox News by doggedly opposing the president’s stimulus plan, health care proposals and other signs of big government, hit the headlines once again by expressing outrage over a recent issue of Captain America that portrayed the Tea Partiers as racist super-villains.

(One especially sharp criticism was offered by comic-book writer James Hudnall, FYI.)

Joe Quesada, long a proponent of making the Marvel Universe appear as realistic as possible, leapt into the fray to point out the group does not represent Tea Party supporters. They are just a generic group of  anti-tax protestors that writer Ed Brubaker put into “his story to show one of the moods that currently exists in America. There was no thought that it represented a particular group.”

The sign that states “Tea Bag The Libs?” A production error caused by pressing deadlines and a letterer who didn’t put much thought into the slogans he picked up off the ‘Net.

Demonstrating the same dexterity shown daily by politicians at both ends of the spectrum, Quesada apologizes to those offended by the panel, promises that the “Tea Bag” sign will be excised from future printings and defends Brubaker’s story by advising readers wait until the conclusion of the four-issue arc.

(Geez, it’s like the guy’s talking about “Civil War” all over again.)

He also re-emphasized that “our books are no one’s soapbox. I have always made it a point never to publicly talk about my own political beliefs as I don’t feel it’s my place to do so and use Marvel as a bully pulpit. Our readers come in many shapes and sizes, and we need to be respectful of that.”

(Unless, it seems, the company decides to garner cheap publicity by showing Spider-Man rapping knuckles with President Obama. Hey, even a life-long liberal Democrat like myself found that particular move crass.)

If we’re being honest fellow Time Bulleteers, I have to call bull-hockey on both Quesada and Brubaker’s insistence that the scene no way, no how depicted Tea Partiers. Just how many protest groups out there tap into that particular mood that “currently exists in America?”

As one of my favorite Internet fellows, Svengali Lad, wrote on Twitter: “I’ve lived in downtown Seattle for 5 years & have yet to see a “generic” protest. Protest = specific group of people behind a specific idea.”

And now that I think about it, why is it so friggin’ wrong that a Captain America comic referenced a political act or philosophy found in modern society? Aren’t comic books supposed to be sophisticated  graphic literature these days?? The last time I looked, stories for grown-ups included such topics as politics.

(Or is the term “adult” simply an excuse for comics publishers to indulge in juvenile levels of angst  and violence?)

Yes, I understand Marvel is a billion dollar corporation that makes more money off of super-hero movies and merchandise than comic books, but if the publisher is really interested in all-ages material it would address several other pressing issues – i.e. super-villains ripping open and devouring dead women – before toning down what little political content exists in Marvel publication.

It’s especially unfortunate to see such back-sliding associated with Captain America, a character that was created as a strong political statement.

If you recall, Cap’s first appearance on the pages of a comic book showed the Star-Spangled Avenger clocking Adolph Hitler.

Remember, dear reader, that Captain America Comics #1 appeared on newsstands a full year before Pearl Harbor. America was not involved in the war overseas, and many citizens and pundits within the nation thought we should stay out of the conflict altogether.

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby knew exactly what they were doing when they allowed Cap to wade in, fists a flying, against the Great Dictator. As Simon himself later stated, “The opponents to the war were all quite well organized. We wanted to have our say too.”

Simon added that Cap’s comic attracted its share of hate mail at the time. “Some people really opposed what Cap stood for.”

Even after the Comics Code removed much of what made funny books controversial – and compelling –  for a generation of readers, Captain America still found himself embroiled in the popular political sentiments of the times.

In the 1950s, he was a Cold Warrior who fought the Red Menace. In the ’60s, he wrestled – as many of Steve Rogers’ generation – with the tumultuous changes within society and considered himself a “man out of time.”

The 1970s brought Watergate and the classic moment where Cap discovered the leader of a secret conspiracy against America was a man who sounded a heck of a lot like a certain disgraced president of the United States …

Cap’s disillusionment mirrored the emotions felt by many at the time. I was about 10 years old back then, but I remember full well how my parents reacted to the Watergate conspiracy as the details became public.

To see a similar scenario play out in a comic book was quite powerful, and to this very day I can exactly how I felt after seeing one of my favorite super-heroes walk away in abject defeat.
I can say with all confidence that it was a scene that sealed my lifelong interest in comic books, for better and worse.

In the 1980s Cap again found himself opposing his government and briefly abandoned his heroic identity to a character who more closely exemplified the gung-ho Rambo sentiments of the Reagan era, a character some fans preferred to the “clean-cut Indiana Jones garbage”  heroism  offered by Steve Rogers.

(The Indiana Jones cut, by the way, appeared in a letter’s page published around that time. “Let’s Rap With Cap,” indeed.)

And, of course, there was this classic cover …

It may be a fact of life in modern corporate culture, but it’s a crying shame that Marvel’s current regime isn’t willing or able to accept its medicine without casting blame elsewhere or backsliding. Captain America himself would certainly never do such a thing, and I’m fairly certain his creators would stand up for their convictions as well.

After all, if Simon and Kirby weren’t willing to stand up against popular opinion there never would have even been a Captain America.

Joe Quesada, Ed Brubaker and the publishers corporate overloads would do well to remember that fact …