Thursday, July 21, 2011

A People's History of Captain America:

 Years before Alan Moore wrote Watchmen, one of my favorite things to talk about with my fellow geeks as kids were the “dirty secrets” of various superheroes. After all, if in the Marvel and DC universes the history of superheroes stretched back many decades, surely the heroes would have all the skeletons in their closets that real historical figures did. Battered wives, histories of racism, acts which oppressed the common man, etc. Or maybe people would just be extremely misinformed about the heroes and have all kinds of silly theories and accusations to make, like J. Jonah Jameson. Many years later, in college, when reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, me and a friend were delighted at how much our silly fannish speculations sounded a lot like what a real historian would write, even though we didn’t care much for that book otherwise. We also got a huge kick out of Zinn’s mention of Captain America in his chapter about the McCarthy era, even if Zinn erroneously described Cap as a comic-strip hero.
Not to make it sound like we were all a bunch of of fan boy sophisticates, far from it, but rarely did any of our youthful speculation revolve around the sex lives of characters or crude jokes. Even at that age all the standard superhero jokes were pretty worn out and dull to us. Yes, it’s illogical that the Hulk’s pants don’t rip, yeah Clark Kent’s co-workers must be dumbasses to not recognize him as Superman, and yeah Batman’s relationship with Robin makes him seem like a pedophile. Yeah, yeah, we get it. Those jokes are so stale they make even the lamest of knock-knock jokes look like Monty Python and the Holy Grail in comparison. Way back in the early days of Mad, Harvey Kurtzman really did get it right the first time. It’s pretty depressing that people still find such tired material funny even today and act like it’s ”edgy” and “clever” and think that it “really puts all those dumb geeks who take these things too seriously in their place hyuck hyuck”. Whatever. Even then I wanted something more from my superhero parodies. I mean, if these parodies were supposed to cast an adult, sophisticated eye on supposedly childish and ignorant superhero comics, shouldn’t those parodies themselves be, well, adult and sophisticated? Jokes about the Flash getting a speeding ticket are hardly at a Jonathan Swift-level of satire. (*heh* Flash-Swift. See? I can do it too) Would it also be too much to ask for the writers to know something about the characters beyond just general information they learned through cultural osmosis?
Many years later, when I was hunting down the hard-to-find Golden Age of Marvel Volume Two TPB, I came across info that showed that one of the Simon & Kirby Captain America stories reprinted therein had already been reprinted before in a 1994/5 “Collectors Preview” magazine. I hunted the mag down, and among various other articles about Cap (as well as that Simon & Kirby story I was looking for), found this hilarious Zinn-style “expose” by Mike Kanterovic. Not only does this do a spot-on job mimicking Zinn and other, less-trustworthy real world “truth-seekers”, but also really does come off as something a person in the Marvel Universe would write. There are also lots of great in-jokes for Cap fans, especially the references to the various Cap impostors, here mistaken for the real Cap. Best of all? It’s actually funny. Enjoy.

  Heh Heh. And in a few hours, I'll be there at the midnight screening.

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