You may have heard by now, that Captain America was assassinated the other day. I guess a little surprising to me is all the hoopla that has been made of it. Is it symbolism for something bigger, like the death of some aspect of Americanism? Yeah, sure; but I couldn’t help but to be reminded of a Captain America series from back in the day. Yes, I read and collected Marvel Comics and I followed Captain America and this all took place during the early 1970′s. Let’s see now…what was going on at the time? Hmmm…let’s see; an unpopular war led by an unpopular president. It got me reflecting on that series, which I remember well. At the end the evil genius behind the whole big dastardly plot was none other than the President of the U.S. To be honest, it was a big ho-hum to me. But, of course, I was 15 years old when the last issue was published and, well, let’s just say that an evil president didn’t stack up in my view to the likes of the Red Skull.
But do these stories have any social value? Absolutely, they do. They are (or will be) like mini-history books; no different than the ads in the comic books that harken back to yesteryear. I ran across this commentary from the end of my Captain America from the guy who was writing it at the time, Steve Englehart:
CAPTAIN AMERICA was my third Marvel series. It was being considered for cancellation when I got it, because it had no reason for existence. Stan Lee had written it for years, and it was clearly his least favorite book; the stories had become not only lackluster but repetitive. Gary Friedrich had picked it up a year before and done some interesting stuff, but he hadn’t stayed long; then Gerry Conway did two issues as a stopgap; and then I got it. The problem across the board at Marvel was that this was the 70s – prime anti-war years – and here was a guy with a flag on his chest who was supposed to represent what most people distrusted. No one knew what to do with him.
Me, I had been honorably discharged from the Army two years earlier as a conscientious objector – but I was supposed to also be a writer. So I did something for the first time that marked everything I’ve written since. I said, “Okay, if this guy existed, who would he be?” Not “Who am I?”, but “Who is Captain America?”
Six months later, the wayward book slouching toward cancellation was Marvel’s Number One title, and I seemed to have found my career. I’d also found an artist, Sal Buscema, who could draw exactly what I envisioned, so it was all good.
So I had asked myself “Who is Captain America?”, and had found an answer for the man. Thing was, America was moving from the overarching Vietnam War toward the specific crimes of Watergate.
I was writing a man who believed in America’s highest ideals at a time when America’s President was a crook. I could not ignore that. And so, in the Marvel Universe, which so closely resembled our own, Cap followed a criminal conspiracy into the White House and saw the President commit suicide.
And that was the end of Captain America…
And, just for fun, here’s a scan of an ad from one of my Captain America comic books circa 1970..