The Schmooze

Captain America: Ironic Nostalgia or American Interventionism?

America Alone: Chris Evans as Captain America, surrounded by extra-evil Hydra soldiers. Image courtesy of Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios.

“Don’t win the war without me,” the scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) pleads to his pal, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), in the first sepia-toned reel of Joe Johnston’s excellent “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Anyone who has a passing familiarity with the 70-year publication history of the Captain America comics knows that Rogers, a runty kid from Brooklyn with a singular desire to serve his country, emerges from a secret military experiment as Captain America, the so-called “Sentinel of Liberty”: a bastion of American will, military might and do-goodery more formidable than Uncle Sam himself.

In 1940, when Captain America was brought to life in the pages of Timely Comics by two Jewish kids from Manhattan, writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby, he was deliberately crafted as an allegory for American interventionism. As if his red, white and blue getup wasn’t obvious enough, Cap carried a shield that bore a canny resemblance to the logo of the anti-war America First Committee, robbing the isolationists of their own iconography. The first issue of “Captain America,” released a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, featured the image of its hero socking Adolf Hitler on the jaw. It moved more than 1 million copies, outselling such news publications as Time magazine. The message was vital: The United States was a global super-soldier, and it was its duty to intervene. In short, “Don’t win the war without me.”

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Captain America: Ironic Nostalgia or American Interventionism?

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