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mygif

Sir, get on this. Even if it isn’t about the man with the Shield this is too good an idea to just toss aside on the Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda pile.

Stac

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NCallahan said on April 30th, 2010 at 8:30 am

I would vote for incorporating personages like Eugene V. Debs and Helen Keller into the narrative. Hardly anybody these days remembers that Keller grew up into a prolific essayist and spokeswoman for the Socialist Party.

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mygif

I concur. The ’30s are a fascinating time in world (and American) history; a fictional biography like that would shine all kinds of interesting lights on the period.

Especially if you include references to Red Emma. Yes.

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Tenken347 said on April 30th, 2010 at 9:15 am

We do know a few things about Steve’s life before he became Cap; we know that whatever his father did, he died when Steve was still pretty young, we know that Steve himself got a job as a commercial illustrator because it was one of the few blue-collar jobs that didn’t require a lot of manual labor, and we know that his mom died of an illness, probably pneumonia. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more tidbits like these scattered throughout the comics. It feels like something that various writers would have added to over the years without actually leaving a comprehensive written record. I mean, even the people who edit Wikipedia probably haven’t spent too much time thinking about Steve Rogers’ parents.

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mygif

Certainly there’s expansion here. All the tidbits of Steve’s history I’ve ever seen just paints it as Dickensian miserablism. Desperately poor, growing up as a social underclass in New York, mother dies of some wasting disease, and young Steve scraping by as a 98 lbs weakling.

Just one of the (many) problems with Millar’s Ultimates. Depending on the timeline you use he would have been old enough to see the end of the Roaring 20’s turn into the great depression, and see his mother die for lack of medical care. Steve wouldn’t have been a culture-warrior sytle reactionary conservative, he’d be a firebrand.

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mygif

It explains the Fake Cap of the 50’s, it tells us that his models for valor weren’t WWI vets but Spanish Civil War Volunteers. It is a Good Idea.

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Brad Reed said on April 30th, 2010 at 9:34 am

There was a story in the early eighties, in the DeMattis/Zeck era, when the Viper had Cap drugged up, trippin’ balls, and remembering his youth. From that, we got that Steve’s father was an inveterate dreamer and a loving man, who destroyed himself through boozing before Steve grew up. His mother scolded the father for filling Steve’s head up with such lofty and abstract ideals, but also showed sympathy for them.

Steve grew up on the Lower East Side, I think.

You don’t have to go as far as the Communists to find people like Steve or his parents in those days. Granted, for dramatic reasons, it’s a good idea, but the anti-fascist left of the Depression would mostly fit. Many of the labor unions of the day discouraged racism, denouncing it as a tool of the wealthy to fragment the working classes. (Not all did, but many.)

The closer you look to the past and see what the folks of the day actually thought, the more the present feels of a piece with it. The Great Depression was a time of backbiting, political extremism, and all around craziness too, goddammit. Don’t pull that “Greatest Generation” “everyone rallied around the flag” “we were better then” horseshit. People are people.

As a bonus, recognizing this makes for better historical dramas.

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K. McAleese said on April 30th, 2010 at 10:52 am

This version of Steve Rogers’ life makes my inner socialist all warm and fuzzy.

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You seriously have terrific ideas. Have you tried scripting them out and getting hired by Marvel? I think that you should, since letting these concepts just sit here on your webpage is a loss for us all.

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Dan Coyle said on April 30th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I believe it was Steve’s mother that also encouraged his appreciation of art.

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Re: Brad Reed:

I agree, not every leftist was a Communist; many were, though. Back in the day, it was considered a fairly innocuous thing for leftists to be, just one more way of showing your solidarity for the working man. And if Cap’s parents were activists and organizers, well…that’d make it a bit more likely. Plus, as you mention, it’s awesome for story purposes. “Captain America’s Parents Were Commies!” is a great hook to sell the series with.

(I might duck the DeMatteis/Zeck backstory by saying, “Hey, Cap was hallucinating at the time, and might not have remembered clearly.” Plus, if his dad died young enough, and died due to his activism, it might have disillusioned mom a little and colored her recollections to her young son.)

As to Millar…fuck his version of Captain America sideways with a chainsaw. That’s half the reason I want to do this project, is to make it brutally clear to the guy who doesn’t even freaking live in America that not everyone who lived through the Great Depression and World War II is going to talk like a racist, sexist, prudish, xenophobic senior citizen. (One line I’ve always wanted to do with Cap, but it could never get through the editors: Someone accidentally lets slip that they spent the night with another character. They blush furiously, and Cap says, “Oh, I know what you mean. Back in my day, we called that ‘fucking’.” Beat. “I was a soldier back in World War II, you know. We did swear sometimes.”)

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mygif

You know, you could get away with Cap as a liberal, have the union organizer father, all of that stuff and probably not get anyone to blink an eye except a few conservatives that would gripe. But under no circumstances does Captain America get labeled a communist. That’s just not American. People would throw fits who don’t even read the comic. Joe Quesada is about as likely to approve that as he is a story where Spidey has teenage children.

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mygif

No, Quesada would approve a story in which Spidey has teenage children long before he’d approve of Cap being a Commie. There are some things that are still far outside of the Overton window in this country, and Communism is one of them. Teenage parenting, even for role models, is not.

That said, I’d love to read this story. :)

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Katherine Farmar said on April 30th, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I would absolutely love to see this done, if only because it would piss off all the right people.

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Kid Kyoto said on April 30th, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Cap is certainly a New Deal big government liberal, I mean he got his powers from a government hand out! Superman however is a hard-working immigrant hero who achieves great things in America he could never accomplish in the old world.

I think one reason we don’t hear much about Cap’s early days is because he’s supposed to be a symbol for all Americans, tying him to a party or political outlook humanizes him but also makes him less iconic and universal. Sounds like a good idea but I know I would not approve it if I was an editor.

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mygif

This almost sounds like something better suited for a novel than a comic.

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As I recall, he signed up in response to Pearl Harbor, but was anti-war prior to that.

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P.S. I still think someone should write J Jonah Jameson: Action Journalist.

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Andrew Bayer said on April 30th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Batman’s parents were killed by a criminal, so he swore to fight crime. Steve Rogers’ parents were killed by an oppressive capitalist system, so he swore to fight for freedom. I like it.

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mygif

The Nicizea/Maguire Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty fleshed out Steve Rogers’s young adulthood just a bit, establishing him as an artist working for the WPA, which makes perfect sense and jibes with your very persuasive proposal here. As does the story (apocryphal?) about Simon and Kirby getting death threats from American Nazi sympathizers after they published Captain America #1.

On a related note, one of the reasons I really loved Howard Chaykin’s 1950’s-Cap one-shot (America First!) was that it took the politics of the 1950s seriously. That is, the Englehart-and-after depictions of 50s Cap render him as cartoonishly bigoted, wheras Chaykin’s version managed to capture his intense right-wingness but make it believable and maybe even a little sympathetic (which is not to say that Chaykin agreed with it!) by placing it in the context of the politics of the day.

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Tim O'Neil said on April 30th, 2010 at 1:43 pm

“(America has a disturbing tendency to mythologize its own past, and then unfavorably compare it to the realities of the present.)”

Right on, except replace “America” with every country in the history of the world, right back to Rome and the Greek city-states. Hell, this is half of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality.

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mygif

Yeah, Marvel these days is way too scared of reactionaries to do anything like this. I mean, they took an incredibly gentle poke at the Teabaggers and then frantically backpedalled from the resulting outrage.

The mainstream superhero publishers are not the place to look to for edgy, interesting stories.

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Willie Everstop said on April 30th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Captain America wouldn’t share modern attitudes about communism. He slept through the McCarthy years and the Russians were his allies when he was frozen. Cap probably shook Stalin’s hand more than once.

Wasn’t FDR the one who presented Cap with his shield?

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mygif

While I’d suggest anarchists or general working-class left, this is an awesome idea and really quite plausible.

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Lister Sage said on April 30th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

This is all Wikipedia has to say about Steve in his childhood years.

Steve Rogers was born on July 4, 1917 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City, to Irish immigrants Sarah and Joseph Rogers. Joseph Rogers died when Steve was only a child and his mother, Sarah, died of pneumonia while Steve was a teen.

I love this idea. And while Kid Kyoto has a point about Cap being a “symbol for all Americans”, that doesn’t change the fact that Cap has always been left leaning, at least by modern day understanding. That’s something most people forget about nowadays, that Democrats and Republicans used to hold different values to the ones we do today. I remember an interesting HBO documentary about Barry Goldwater, Republican Presidential running man in 1964. There were a number of people in that doc that said that Goldwater would actually be a Democrat nowadays given his political beliefs. Or take John Paul Stevens, the recently retiring Supreme Cort judge, he’s considered the “lion of the left”, but was a Republican appointee in 1975. So, while saying “Steve Rogers was a Communist” is bold and reactionary, its probably too reactionary, but its not a bad thing, I feel, to say he’s a leftest.

John Seavey: I think your absolutely right about Cap being allowed to swear. I’ve heard my grandparents swear, he was a soldier, he grew up in New York for fuck sake, I’m sure Steve could teach Luke Cage a thing or two about swearing.

Finally, fuck Ultimate Cap.

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mygif

Would love to see this not just because it sounds fascinating as all get out, but to see Rush Limbaugh’s head explode.

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mygif

Wow.

Just, wow. I’m sold. I would read this in a heartbeat. The basis is solid, all the pieces fit, and darn it, it just makes sense.

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As long as we’re making requests I would I would like to write the autobiography of Wolverine.

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Captain America has always leaned left. Shortpacked knows the score:
http://shortpacked.com/comic/book-10/08-toy-fair-2010-sketches/teaparty/

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I would love this. One of the few Captain America stories that has to be Captain America — though maybe a novel with a different name for the hero, with father called Roger Stevens, or something, could work.

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“Oh, I know what you mean. Back in my day, we called that ‘fucking’.”

For obvious reasons, all this reminds me of Warren Beatty’s Reds. The movie included these interviews with folks who had actually been involved in the WWI-era events of the film. Saw the movie in 1981 and I still remember the shock of hearing this 80+ year-old woman describing how her memories differed from popular conceptions of the era: “There was a lot more fucking going on!”

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mygif

..all fine ideas.. but who is he going to punch ? What you need is some time travel element that lets Captain America hit someone and still have this background.

Maybe something to do with Kang and then, as a twist, have some “chronal energy”/similar hidden inside those wacky wings over his ears in his classic costume, which — eventually and without him knowing of course — saves him/everyone/the universe.

Of course then Kang can turn out to be Cap’s father… but, of course, it will be a future of the future Kang- Kang who has travelled back because… err…. I dunno… Universal Healthcare, on a quantum level, causes the Darkhold to split its confines and then swallow everything.

Of Course Cap. saves everything, as he always does, by throwing a disc of metal at it and then making some 4 or 5 panel speech about how freedom of speech is kinda dumb but hey ! The kooky liberals need to keep talking so we can work out their nefarious plots !

…. being a Marvel comic this will, of course, only mean that the next issue features Count Nefaritu (sp ?) looking cool whilst having a beard and whupping ass.

Shouts out to Mr. Kid Kyoto btw… if this is my fault, then I am sorry.

…a nd you owe me $30 too for the introduction !

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mygif

1) Just a point re: Spidey having teenage children – “Sins Past” anyone?

2) the Stern/Byrne run on Cap is pretty much the definitive take on Rogers’ early childhood as we’ve seen. Poor parents, Lower East Side (Brooklyn, I think). Left-leaning I would agree with. I think he just got exposed to a lot of the rough times and he (and his mother and family) survived the way a lot of families did by pulling together as communities? Did that make them communists? Who can say for sure?

3) I’m not even American and I say fuck Millar too. Millar likes to think “well, Cap would be more like the typical WWII vets we know today” – no, because the typical WWII vet would never have stood in front of the draft board BEGGING TO ENLIST before the war even came to the States. Steven Rogers was never the everyman. Also, Jack Kirby was a scout in World War II, you know, the guy who helped create and define Cap? Might have known a bit more than someone like Mark Millar. Just saying.

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Jason Barnett said on April 30th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

I don’t really recall Americans claiming to be ready to fight Hitler in the 30’s. In fact it seems to me the isolationism back then is something of an Old Shame.

I’ve seen some of Brubaker’s run on SD, they did some stuff on Communists. Cap was cool with them. As I recall they claimed that local members would actually move evicted people’s furniture back into their apartments. And Cap felt the Russian soldiers were brave men who had to endure terrible things for their homes.

On the subject of 50’s Cap, let’s not forget that by the time he became a villain, he was supposed to be insane. He wasn’t a guy gone to far or anything like that. The faulty super soldier serum had left him unbalanced.

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mhacdebhandia said on April 30th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I agree with the commenter upthread who suggested it would make a good novel – along the lines of Tom De Haven’s IT’S SUPERMAN!

Give it a solid historical grounding in the way people lived back then.

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mygif

To be fair to Millar, Ultimate Cap needed to be notably different from the 616 version. This was a good way to do it. Thor takes his place as the far left of the Avengers.

Fuck Jeph Loeb, instead, who can’t write his way out of a paper bag (people say he can, but nothing of his I’ve read would indicate that).

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Re: Oort:

Someone might have tried to retcon Cap after the fact as a pacifist who changed his mind after Pearl Harbor, but it’s literally not possible for that to be his actual origin story; the first issue of Captain America was written before Pearl Harbor happened. Unless Steve Rogers was a precognitive, he signed up to go punch Hitler on the snoot. :)

And Re: Jason Barnett:

Some Americans were isolationist in the ’30s, but it was nowhere near a consensus. The political Left tended to be anti-Hitler for the same reasons they were anti-Franco; the Jewish community was strongly anti-Hitler because they were already sheltering refugees who were saying, “It’s bad and getting worse;” the Communists were anti-Hitler because they’d always been anti-Hitler; most minorities wanted to shove Hitler’s “Aryan supremacy” down his throat…it was actually a pretty hot-button political issue of its day, sort of like Vietnam was in the ’50s. (Not the ’60s and ’70s, when we were already there, but in the ’50s, when everyone had an opinion about whether or not to get involved.)

Interestingly enough, Doctor Seuss, before he did kids’ books, was a political cartoonist who did a lot of editorial cartoons advocating action against Germany. There’s a collection of his political cartoons, in fact, called “Dr. Seuss Goes To War”, which is an absolutely fascinating glimpse at the whole discussion as it was happening…with pictures by Doctor Seuss, no less. :)

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mygif

Wouldn’t it be simpler to assume that Sarah Rogers was actually Jewish? That would provide plenty of motivation too.

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I would read the fuck out of this.

That is all.

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@mhacdebhandia

Seconded. In fact, I’m really surprised that it took nearly forty posts for someone to mention “It’s Superman!” which is far and away the finest prose Superman story ever told, and which is a perfect example of how this type of idea can work.

So yeah. This isn’t a comics pitch for a limited series; this is a novel. If you approach it from that perspective, suddenly everything clicks into place.

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mygif

You have made me want to read a superhero comic book.

And I hate superhero comics.

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Mary Warner said on May 1st, 2010 at 1:09 am

I have mixed feelings here. This sounds like a pretty good story as you describe it here. However, if you were to establish Steve’s family as Communists or Radical-Leftists of some sort, a lot of later writers are going to build stories around that, and are likely to really screw it up.

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LazyCustomizer said on May 1st, 2010 at 3:55 am

This kind of story is totally unprecendented. When i was reading your pitch, I saw echoes of the “Spider-Man: Noir” mini-series, set in the 30s where Uncle Ben had been murdered for his union organizing activities and Aunt May was an anti-corruption firebrand. It certainly gave us a different take on Peter. It would be interesting to see what would happen if HE got the Super Soldier serum…

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LazyCustomizer said on May 1st, 2010 at 4:16 am

Sorry, I meant “not” totally unprecedented. Whoops.

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mygif

So many good comments on a BRILLIANT post — this is just going to have to be a “me too” reply.

Miles has it down. MGK, you need to package this and your Dr. Strange entries into a formal submission to Marvel, and your Legion series into a submission for DC. STOP TEASING US!

And Andrew Bayer summed up your version perfectly, contrasting Batman (rich boy whose parents were killed by a lower-class mugger) with the idea of Steve as the poor boy whose parents were killed by the rich man’s oppression.

Lister Sage’s observation that Goldwater would be a Democrat today ties in with a recent conversation I had: holding views that lie between G.W. Bush and Clinton/Obama doesn’t make you a “moderate”. It drops you between the Extreme Right and Right-leaning Pro-Business Centrists, and that makes you RIGHT WING.

This?

This is MY Cap. This is, I dare say, JOE and JACK’S Cap.

Especially Jack, who was still siding with Youthful Idealists and framing Mind-Controlling Fascists as his Big Bads well into the 1970s. (Man, nobody realizes that the real key to the Fourth World series is THE FOREVER PEOPLE.)

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mygif

Oop, sorry, John. It just clicked that you and MGK are two different contributors.

That doesn’t change the consensus, though: you BOTH need to make formal submission portfolios for Marvel and DC.

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Oop, sorry, John. It just clicked that you and MGK are two different contributors.

For what it’s worth, though, I was totally jealous of John for having this idea!

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Catchy Alias said on May 1st, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Good stuff, but that’s been said. I just want to reply to the ‘Captain America swearing’ comments. Sorry to be blunt, but: no, Cap shouldn’t swear. For the same reason Superman say anything worse than a ‘darn’ or a ‘hell’. These are heroes, inspirational figures that are both human and so much more. Icons. Examples.

Yes, people swear. I swear, although I wish I wouldn’t do it so much. But the Captain shouldn’t. He can be human without that.

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SomeGuy said on May 1st, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Catchy: More importantly, like Superman, Captain America is a role model and knows it.

Heck, Marvel’s even gone on to state that Cap’s bright blue flag suit was mostly a PR move, and when you are doing newsreels once a week or so in the 30s and 40s, you are going to be encouraged NOT TO SWEAR.

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mygif

Interestingly enough, Doctor Seuss, before he did kids’ books, was a political cartoonist who did a lot of editorial cartoons advocating action against Germany. There’s a collection of his political cartoons, in fact, called “Dr. Seuss Goes To War”, which is an absolutely fascinating glimpse at the whole discussion as it was happening…with pictures by Doctor Seuss, no less.

Said cartoons are also collected on-line.

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mygif

jackd–The guy interviewed in Reds you were talking about (the one who discussed the enormous amount of “fucking” going on back in the 1930s) was the novelist Henry Miller, filmed about a year before he died.

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The tea partiers would spork themselves over this, I am praying right now to Social Justice Jesus for it to happen.

Re: Captain America swearing, speaking as someone who sincerely loves swearing, Captain America doesn’t need to start swearing.

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LightlyFrosted said on May 2nd, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I think the desire to have a Cap with a bit of salt in him is more of a ‘Captain America isn’t some ultra-conservative prude’. He’s familiar with what one might call the common parlance, and I could still see the scene described happening because.. well, while Cap doesn’t need to swear all the time, it’s good to remind people every now and again that he’s not incapable of doing so, nor probably all that shocked or offended when others do so, unless of course they’re using expletives to address something which he would prefer they not use expletives to address.

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neuronin said on May 2nd, 2010 at 8:29 pm

First, It’s Superman! was a huge disappointment. Second, this is a good idea. I’d call it “Constitution: The Life of Captain America.”

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Christian said on May 2nd, 2010 at 10:08 pm

This would rock, and I would read it.
Moving to Australia I’ve found that some Labour politicians were Communists, and nobody makes a huge deal out of it… weird

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fsherman said on May 3rd, 2010 at 7:53 pm

One of the reasons Brubaker’s Cap gave for Bucky being so dangerous was that he snuck around doing the dirty stuff Cap, the Symbol of America, couldn’t be seen doing.

David Brinkley’s Washington Goes To War gives a long list of the reasons various isolationists opposed the war: They liked Hitler; they liked Hitler’s pro-business policies; they hated Jews; they hated FDR (he wanted war, therefore they opposed it); they hated England (some American Irish were quite open that Hitler bombing England to bits suited them fine); plus the reason usually given that they were burned out and cynical after WWI failed to end all wars.

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Evil Abraham Lincoln said on May 3rd, 2010 at 8:33 pm

I don’t see anything wrong with the idea of Cap swearing. I swear like a sailor, but I don’t do it at work or when I’m around impressionable minds. Cap should work the same way, but slightly more muted.

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mygif

A bit late to the conversation, but I would definitely read this, as a comic or as a novel. It reminds me vaguely of something I can’t quite recall — maybe something Walter Jon Williams wrote in the Wild Cards series of stories? It has always struck me that in the era of pre-WWII “mystery men” there must have been some with decidedly leftist leanings. If not actual Communist Party members, then union organizers, Catholic workers movement activists, something!

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Sunflare2k5 said on May 10th, 2010 at 4:52 pm

You mean you’d do a story where Captain America was treated as a real three-dimensional person, instead of an old guard-dog that needs to be put to sleep cause it doesn’t like the same things as the young pups?

Marvel would never buy it. :(

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Chris Durnell said on May 10th, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Completely wrong. Offensively so, in fact (which I think was what MGK intended to provoke as a reaction). A strong case can be made that Steve Rogers and his family were New Deal liberals, but almost certainly they were not Communists.

MGK is conveniently getting his timeline wrong as well as Steve Rogers’ motivation. The important fact is that from August 24, 1939 to June 21, 1941 being Communist meant you were pro-Hitler because Stalin and Hitler were de facto allies through the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

During the period of the Pact, Communists were very much against the US entering any war. They claimed Churchill was an imperialist warmonger. Dalton Trumbo published Johnny Get Your Gun (which he quickly pulled once the Nazis invaded the USSR). And all the Communist front organizations were pacifist because that’s what their master, Stalin, wanted.

There is no evidence that Steve Rogers was a red diaper baby who towed Stalin’s line and denounced Churchill. Instead, we see quite clearly a long standing principled opposition to Nazism.

The US began expanding its armed forces after the Fall of France in May 1940. The most likely back story is that sometime between that and Hitler’s invasion of the Balkans (In Spring 1941) is when Steve Rogers attempted to enlist. During that time, no Communist or Communist sympathizer would have wanted to fight the Nazis. Instead, Communists were more likely to have been protesting people attempting to enlist.

The earliest a Communist inspired person would enlist in the Soviet Union would be June 22, 1941. That leaves only 5 months for Rogers to try to enlist, be rejected, be recruited for Project: Rebirth, pass any tests required, be subjected to the experiment, extensively trained during Project: Super Soldier, be given the code name and costume of Captain America, and have his first adventures. That is a lot to happen in 5 months.

The simple fact that Steve Rogers was a 1940s liberal does not mean he had to be Communist or inspired by Communists. There were plenty of people opposed to racism in the US that were not Communists. In fact, if you were very opposed to racism, you were more likely to be Republican in 1940 than a Democrat. Of course, if Steve Rogers were a Republican, he’d more likely to have been an isolationist so it makes more sense he was a New Deal liberal (but who knows, maybe he voted for Wilkie instead of Taft).

Furthermore, his background in previous stories clearly put Cap into the general mode of Americanism of the times. His inspirations were Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln not Marx, Engles, and Lenin. If anything, the obvious lack of principles by Communists (having changed their position on Nazis based exclusively on the instructions given by Moscow) would likely offend such a principled person as Steve. Does anyone honestly see Steve Rogers supporting the USSR’s invasions of the Baltic States and Finland in 1939-40?

So what would Cap’s position be on Communists? Well, while I have no doubt he’d admire the bravery of the Ivans of the Red Army, I’m pretty sure he would hate Stalin’s tyranny and not be fooled by their propaganda. He’d probably hope that things would change after WWII, but not be a fool about it. So I’ think he’d be more likely to vote for Truman than Wallace in 1948.

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Jason Barnett said on May 14th, 2010 at 10:25 pm

Chris- MGK and Seavy are different people. It’s possible to agree with a philosophy somewhat without approving of what people do in the name of that. And they’re talking about Cap’s early years. Say the mid-20’s when his father likely died through the great depression.

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[…] the most compelling literary characters I’ve ever read – it sure would be interesting to learn what kind of life creates a person of such conviction – and it was like having a wish half-granted to learn that Ed Brubaker would be writing more […]

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This is beyond awesome. I love you.

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[…] the Captain America movie opens, the Mighty God King blog speculates on Steve Rogers’ Depression-era communist upbringing. Underneath that jingoistic […]

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