This is the ninety-third in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous ninety-two. Click here for a similar archive, only arranged by subject.
This week, in honor of Captain America #25, we have a special themed edition, with all Captain America urban legends! The second time we have done this (click here for the previous time).
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Fiorello LaGuardia personally promised protection to Jack Kirby and Joe Simon from death threats.
When Captain America #1 came out in 1941, America was not yet at war with Nazi Germany.
The time period was an awkward one in American history, as there were many who felt that America should not get involved in the European conflict.
But Captain America #1 certainly showed a different side, with the new hero, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, punching out Hitler on the cover.
The success of #1 was followed up with a similar anti-Hitler cover for #2…
The book was a massive sales success, but it certainly rankled Nazi sympathizers, and resulted in the Captain America creative team getting into a bit of trouble.
Captain America co-creator, Joe Simon, detailed a particularly rough period in his great memoir, . The Comic Book Makers, which he wrote with his son, Jim Simon:
Hitler was a marvelous foil; a ranting maniac. It was difficult to place him in the standard story line of the cunning, reasoning villains who invariably outfoxed the heroes throughout the entire story before being ultimately defeated at the very end. No matter how hard we tried to make him a threatening force, Adolph invariably wound up as a buffoon – a clown. Evidently, this infuriated a lot of Nazi sympathizers.
There was a substantial population of anti-war activists in the country. “American Firsters” and other non-interventionist groups were well-organized. Then there was the German American Bund. They were all over the place, heavily financed and effective in spewing their propaganda of hate; a fifth column of Americans following the Third Reich party line. They organized pseudo-military training camps such as ‘Camp Siegried’ in Yaphank, Long Island and held huge rallies in such places as Madison Square Garden in New York. Our irreverent treatment of their Feuhrer infuriated them. We were inundated with a torrent of raging hate mail and vicious, obscene telephone calls. The theme was “death to the Jews.” At first we were inclined to laugh off their threats, but then, people in the office reported seeing menacing-looking groups of strange men in front of the building on Forty Second Street and some of the employees were fearful of leaving the office for lunch. Finally, we reported the threats to the police department. The result was a police guard on regular shifts patrolling the halls and office.
No sooner than the men in blue arrived than the woman at the telephone switchboard signaled me excitedly. ‘There’s a man on the phone says he’s Mayor LaGuardia,’ she stammered, ‘He wants to speak to the editor of Captain America Comics.’
I was incredulous as I picked up the phone, but there was no mistaking the shrill voice. ‘You boys over there are doing a good job, ‘ the voice squeaked, ‘The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you.’
I thanked him. Fiorello LaGuardia, ‘The Little Flower,’ was known as an avid reader of comics who dramatized the comic strips on radio during the newspaper strikes so that the kids could keep up-to-date on their favorite characters.
That’s a pretty darn neat story, no?
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Captain America #249 was not approved by the Comics Code Authority because it featured a suicide.
Marvel Comics have had a number of different cover designs over the years, but one of their wonkiest was for books cover-dated September 1980, as they were running a promotion that month that resulted in taking over the entire top end of the comic book, as seen on this Fantastic Four cover from that month.
What more than a few fans were intrigued by, though, was by something that appeared on the Fantastic Four cover above, but NOT on the cover of Captain America #249 – an “Approved by the Comics Code Authority” stamp!
Captain America #249 was not the only book to lack a stamp that month, as also X-Men #137 went stampless.
Well, a number of comic fans noticed that those two comics (Captain America #249 and X-Men #137) both had something in common. Both issues featured a suicide. In Captain America, the evil Machinesmith tricks Captain America into destroying the computer that held its consciousness, and in X-Men #137, some member of the X-Men sacrifices herself – I dunno, you might not have heard about her before – the Jean something or other.
Reader Aaraon Kashtan brought this urban legend up on the Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed Suggestion Thread on the Comics Should Be Good forum here at CBR.
I asked Roger Stern (who wrote the issue of Captain America in question) about it awhile back, and here is what he had to say:
I’ve heard that conspiracy-minded fans claim it was because the story deal with euthanasia.
But it was purely an accident. That month, Marvel started running a contest with a big honkin’ banner across the tops of all the covers…which necessitated some special paste-ups…and the code seal either fell off or was never added.
That explains that nicely, no?
COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Captain America once had a metal-laced skeleton.
STATUS: In a Manner of Speaking, True
In the late 60s, Marvel came out with their first prose books featuring their comic book characters.
The first one featured the Avengers, and was written by Otto Binder.
The second book, though, starred Captain America, and was written by Ted White.
Captain America: The Great Gold Steal featured a truly unique take on the character who, at the time, in 1968, had only been back in comics for about four years.
The excellent web resource, The Unofficial Appendix to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe, explains the changes in the character, including the bizarre forebear to Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton…
As Europe warred against Hitler, Steve [Rogers] went to the draft board to enlist, but was laughed away. However, his determination and intellect impressed the recruiters, and a few months later Steve was one of 20 men approached by FBI agents Richard W. Brown and Michael McInerney to participate in Operation: Rebirth. After a rigorous testing process, he met with Brigadier General Anderson who discussed Dr. Anton Erskine’s experiments and their risks, then took him to a secret laboratory in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Steve’s bones were strengthened via stainless steel-slotted tubes inserted into the marrow; his diet was heavily weighted with calcium as a series of chemical treatments made the bones themselves stronger and more durable; he gained three inches in height; for days he was fed large, high-protein meals while engaging in rigorous exercise; and over-time his physique became that of a veritable Greek god. He next received an injection that caused him to enter into a trance-like state while his body taught itself to increase its metabolism and reflexes; he also gained awareness and control over his autonomic nervous system and over the function of every part of his body.
At the conclusion of the experiments–a resounding success, Steve’s former trainer, Max, revealed himself to be a Nazi agent who slew Erskine before being stopped by Rogers. Having taken three gunshots in the process, Rogers swiftly stopped the bleeding, prevented any infection, and sped up the healing.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free to drop off any urban legends you’d like to see featured!