This is “Just a Reminder,” a feature that reminds people about the past.
In this week’s Line it is Drawn, the topic was to “have Luke Cage replace a character on a famous comic book cover”. Artist Gene Guilmette drew a suggestion by a reader to have Luke Cage in place of Captain America on the cover of “Captain America Comics” #1 and Donald Trump in place of Adolf Hitler.
While clearly, the cover has taken on a whole other meaning in the years since World War II, it should not be forgotten about what the context of the cover meant at the time that Jack Kirby drew it.
Because they came out in roughly the same time period, people often associate the cover to “Captain America Comics” #1 with other propaganda pieces of the time, like Superman, Batman and Robin throwing stuff at the leaders of the Axis on “World’s Finest Comics” #9.
However, at the time, it was a full year before the United States of America would enter World War II. Captain America was not punching out the leader of a country that the United States was at war with. Captain America was punching out the leader of another country that 75% of the country did not want to go to war with…and those numbers came from nearly a year after this cover came out (November 1941)! And those were the best polls! Most polls were closer to 80% against going to war.
This is not to say that the Nazis and Hitler were popular in the United States in December 1940. They were not. The vast majority of Americans hoped that Great Britain would manage to defeat Germany. That is why President Roosevelt was able to get so much support for his programs where the United States would supply England with weapons.
But there was still some vocal support for Germany in the States, or at least support for leaving things alone for now (most Americans figured that the Nazis would eventually try to attack the United States or its interests, but didn’t want to do anything until that actually happened). When Jack Kirby and Joe Simon came out with their comic featuring Hitler being mocked, Joe Simon recalled (as I related in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed):
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.
With the cover to “Captain America Comics” #1, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were expressing their political feelings. Not as a piece of facile propaganda accepted by the masses, but in a dangerous fashion that pissed off a lot of people who didn’t think such a cover was appropriate.
Before he was a comic book artist, Simon worked for a time as an editorial cartoonist, as well, so his beliefs were well known…
He had an anti-isolationist position and it showed in his work, as did it show in his “Captain America” stories with Kirby. These early stories were blatantly pushing for the United States to join the fight against the Nazis.
Gene Guilmette is clearly against the idea of Donald Trump becoming President of the United States, and so, presumably, is the person who made the suggestion to him. Him placing Trump onto the cover of “Captain America Comics” #1 is very much in keeping with the spirit of what Jack Kirby and Joe Simon did back in 1940. It’s political expression through artistic expression. You don’t have to agree with it, of course, just as plenty of people felt it was crass to have a superhero punching out the leader of a country that the United States wasn’t even at war with, but it follows in the footsteps of Simon and Kirby perfectly.