Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
The cover to Captain America #1 is one of my all-time favorite comic book covers. Released a few days before Christmas in 1940, the cover depicts the debut of our most patriotic hero. This image is a particularly fine example of the dynamic artwork of Cap’s co-creator, Jack Kirby. You can almost hear the savage blow that the good Captain delivered right to Hitler’s face, knocking the despot back and sending his red tie flying. His Nazi underlings look on, shocked and afraid, trying and failing to stop Captain America.
The cover is important because Captain America has gone on to be one of our most prominent superheroes. Although his costume is a bit different here—the abdominal stripes are a bit narrower, the head covering is more like a helmet than a mask, and the shield is more angular—visually this is pretty much the Cap we know today, athletic, action-oriented, and wearing his patriotism.
As I have gotten older, I have come to love this cover for other reasons. I am always impressed by how early Captain America is laying into the Nazis here. It was 1940. America would not formerly go to war until a year later. Cap was leading the way. Writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby were both Jewish. They knew what was going on in the world. They knew what this country should be doing and whom we should be fighting.
Kirby could back it up, by the way. There is a wonderful story about a time when some Nazi supporters phoned up the offices where Kirby worked. They bragged that they were going to show the creators of Captain America what Aryans could do in the real world. Kirby rolled up his sleeves and bounded downstairs to meet them in the lobby. When he got there, the cowards had fled. A wise decision because Kirby was by all accounts a scrapper.
Over the past few years, the rise of white supremacy here and around the world has troubled me. I simply cannot fathom how the diseased, fascist ideology of Nazism remains. And so I have come to appreciate the symbolic power of this cover even more. As this cover once showed America showed us what we should do, it can also remind us of what we need to do more of now.
I am not telling anyone to go punch Nazis. First, you might hurt your hand doing that. Secondly, it is dangerous. Third, it is illegal to just pop somebody even if they are a Nazi.
There are better ways to fight them. We should fight their ideas symbolically. We should punch their ideology with our own. We should remind them America knows what freedom is about.
April 20th is Adolf Hitler’s birthday. I say we flood this infamous anniversary and all the ones to follow with imagery of this marvelous Captain America cover. Let’s mark this day by sharing images of Cap punching Hitler in the mouth. Let’s include other examples. Back in the 1940s, many superheroes were super-patriots. The tradition continued. You can find many examples just by searching “superhero punch Hitler” or “superhero punch Nazi.” If you want an intense example, search “Black Panther punch Red Skull.” Wow did our friend T’Challa mess that Nazi creep up one time!
So spread those images around True Believers!