Memorial Day has me thinking. First, and most importantly, about the many lives that have been lost in this country’s pursuit of freedom. Brave men and women have gone into situations that I know that I personally wouldn’t be able to navigate and, tragically, some have given their all. It’s for them that we, as a country, take a day to pause and give our thanks for their ultimate sacrifice.
Today also has me thinking about war and superheroes. Specifically, Captain America.
One of the most well-known Avengers, it’s unlikely that Captain America would’ve shot to popularity the way that he did had it not been for World War II. Famously created in 1940 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America/Steve Rogers was a direct byproduct of their disgust and repulsion by what Nazi Germany represented. They wanted their opinion on the matter known and, as such, Simon sketched the first rough draft of what would become Captain America.
“I wrote the name 'Super American' at the bottom of the page,” Simon wrote in his autobiography, Joe Simon: My Life in Comics. “No, it didn't work. There were too many "Supers" around. "Captain America" had a good sound to it. There weren't a lot of captains in comics. It was as easy as that.”
And so, Captain America was born. Published by Marvel’s precursor, Timely Comics, and with an obvious supervillain in Adolf Hitler, Cap was given his own title (which was pretty unheard of at the time for a new character). The cover of the first issue, which was cover-dated March 1941 but went on sale December 20th, 1940, featured the now infamous Jack Kirby image of our favorite star-spangled hero punching Hitler square in the jaw and sold over a million copies.
Although the most popular, Cap wasn’t the first patriotic superhero to arise during World War II. MLJ’s The Shield predated him by a few months on the cover of “Pep Comics #1”, which was cover-dated January 1940. Created by writer Harry Shorten and artist Irv Novick, The Shield’s costume featured a triangular red, white, and blue design on his chest that was remarkably similar to the shield that Captain America wielded in issue 1 of his own series. As such, MLJ complained that was too similar, causing Simon and Kirby to create the iconic round shield for issue two. In issue three, Stan Lee (then known as Stanley Lieber) would be the first to portray Cap’s shield as the throwing weapon we are accustomed to today.
World War II would give rise to dozens of other red, white, and blue superheroes, including Minute-Man in February of 1941 and Captain Battle in May 1941. These heroes were designed to help raise moral and patriotism during a really ugly and deadly time in our history. Although Cap’s popularity would wane after the war ended, he would endure to eventually become one of Marvel’s most well-known and well-liked superheroes. He is a true icon that represents the best aspects of America.
As such, Marvel is set to release new series The United States of Captain America in June, a five-issue release that will band together Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, and several new Captains – everyday people from different background and different walks of life who have been inspired by that historic Captain America who’s been around since 1941.
A comic book and a fictional superhero can never replace the lives lost in the many wars and battles that this country has been a part of, and I would never insinuate otherwise. However, it is a little comforting when something as pure and good as Captain America can be created from something so dark and tragic. Beyond all the crazy superhero tactics or the potential for making a profit off of a collectible book, comics at their core are a unique amalgamation of art and stories created by people for other people to enjoy. So, this weekend, I hope you were able to relax and enjoy yourself, but I hope you also took a moment to reflect upon the people who made a character like Captain America necessary and important in the first place.
And maybe that you read a comic book, too. 😉
Angela “LaLa” Rairden is an avid fan of comic books, Star Wars, and most things nerdy. A cosplayer, she loves to attend comic cons dressed as her favorite fictional characters, particularly Harley Quinn. Although her day job is at a grocery store, writing has always been her true calling. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is currently writing her first novel.