Summer has ended, and Marvel’s “Secret Wars” has too. Yeah, I know they’re still putting out new “Secret Wars” issues, but with the All-New, All-Different lineup in stores, we’re able to think of the event in the past tense, at least as far as Marvel’s twisty timeline goes.
After a brief introduction in the spring, Sam Wilson now takes up Captain America’s shield and prepares to live up to the title in his own right. Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 is available now, and hoo boy, people are mad. All the people who generally get mad when anything good happens in the world are mad. It’s a blast.
Under chyrons like “Target: Conservatives” and “Captain America now fighting for illegals”, Fox News has decided to cast its lot in with HYDRA, Red Skull, Adolf Hitler, and the other opponents of the Star-Spangled Man. It joins a number of other right-wing publications denouncing the new Cap, in a near-perfect echo of the comic’s text.
The American Right has always had a contentious relationship with comic heroes in general, and Cap in particular. I can’t pass up an opportunity to tell the story of Captain America and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
When Captain America debuted in 1941, the United States had not yet declared war on Nazi Germany, but Cap wouldn’t wait for Pearl Harbor before slugging Hitler across the jaw. The American wing of the Nazi Party, called the German-American Bund, didn’t care for this new humiliation to their Fuhrer, and started protesting the publishers, matching demonstrations with death threats and anti-Semitic screeds. While the writers nervously watched Nazis march against them along 42nd Street, the phone rang. The switchboard operator picked up, listened, and said, “There’s a man on the phone says he’s Mayor LaGuardia. He wants to speak to the editor of Captain America Comics.” Creator Joe Simon picked up, and heard the mayor proclaim: “You boys over there are doing a good job. The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you.”
It seems Bill deBlasio will have the same opportunity as his predecessor. Captain America: Sam Wilson launched last Wednesday, and by Thursday, the conservative McIver Institute had prepared a response to the comic. McIver is a small Wisconsin think tank funded in large part by the Bradley Foundation, which has a more or less openly racist history, backing Islamophobic fearmongering and racist pseudoscience with equal enthusiasm. During Cap’s earlier days, Bradley was backing the John Birch Society, opposing desegregation, and fantasizing about communist threats. You get the picture.
The McIver video was picked up by the Daily Caller, which saw ideological compatriots in the series’ villains, the Sons of the Serpent. There are no explicit links between the Sons and the Republican Party in the comic, but if the Daily Caller saw themselves in a gang of white supremacists, well, they said it, not me.
By the way, this is the face of the people calling for Captain America’s help:
In the comic, the Sons of the Serpent aim their venom at immigrants and refugees crossing the border, believing that their firearms and ammunition will be enough to push back desperate people. They accuse the immigrants of defying “the laws of god, nature, and the United States Constitution” while infecting America with disease and crime. Declaring immigrants to be “enemy combatants”, the Sons arrogate to themselves the ability to use lethal force on unarmed women and children. Until, of course, they’re met by an Avenger.
I wouldn’t be eager to see these guys as members of my own political party, but then, I don’t work for Fox News. It’d be easy to call out Captain America for hyperbole, generating a cartoonish parody of the American right wing to give Cap an easy enemy. But Fox doesn’t see it that way.
Instead, they describe the Sons of the Serpent as “conservatives” without qualification, and identify their warlord leader as an “American” with “misgivings” about the stakes of illegal immigration. He’s one of them, and the problem is that Sam Wilson opposes him, not that he’s an inaccurate reflection of their side. It fits: after all, Fox goes out of its way to promote a paramilitary gang planning extralegal violence against innocent civilians.
Pivoting swiftly to their own brand of white racial-identity politics, Fox is quick to note that Sam Wilson isn’t a white dude, and they urge their audience to see themselves as insulted and under attack from coastal elites in “Malibu and Georgetown”. Never mind that writer Nick Spencer is from Ohio. They also suggest that superheroes should side with the heavily-armed border police, rather than starving immigrants. But of course, politics should stay “out of comics”.
Fox News doesn’t muster an argument worthy of any kind of substantive rebuttal. What’s more remarkable is how easily Marvel was able to anticipate this kind of reaction, incorporating it into the comic itself:
While parodies of their hatred are fun, more poignant is the fact that our basic conceptions of justice are no longer universal, and the just are subject to these constant attacks. Sam himself observes:
And so, while “everybody’s okay with beating up HYDRA,” at the same time, “the good guys—SHIELD, the NSA—are getting caught doing things we never dreamed the bad guys would do, even in our worst nightmares.”
Which means, to be a hero:
But only one of them stands on that side.