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When Heroes Take on Real World Enemies

When it's worked, when it hasn't and when it's been avoided.

 He's just socking Hitler, here. Imagine if he did what the Inglourious Basterds did.

If you’ve been paying attention to the CAPTAIN AMERICA movie, you’ll notice that his foes have gone through some tweaking. The Red Skull’s still the arch nemesis, and he's still a Nazi, but the synopsis is keen to stress that he’s in charge of his own outfit - - the advanced weaponry division Hydra - - and he has aims to usurp power for himself.  That might not seem like a big difference, but what it does is recast Hydra as an organization-within-an-organization; an independent splinter group perhaps. Thus, if you’ve been seeing any images of the tanks, subs and motorcycle-riding dreadnoughts that've been floating around, they’re all sporting Hydra’s serpentine insignia, not the familiar swastika.  If this is executed the way it looks like it will, it’s actually a clever way to further downplay politics in what's already likely to be a volatile movie when it's released  - - and it's a shrewd distinction to make early on if they're planning to bring Hydra back later.

G-Man and I were discussing this recently, and our talk brought up how the intersection of superheroes and realpolitik has been a give-and-take, really since the  very beginning. Cap, obviously, gave Hitler a famous right cross in the first issue of his own comic and Superman fought the “Ratzies’ too (it wasn't actually anything new for him, as he'd been fighting populist threats long before that.) That raises the question of why superheroes aren't regularly fighting al-Queda and the Taliban today, and the answer to that probably lies in the amount of controversy Frank Miller’s long-discussed FIXER/HOLY TERROR BATMAN! project has already courted without even a single issue published.  == TEASER ==

 Supes vs. Ratzies.

It's not like this kind of controversy is new. People forget that CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1 hit in March 1941, a full eight months before the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The cover got Timely Comics written threats from people accusing them of being war mongers who wanted to rope America in yet another European conflict. They kept publishing anyway and Cap proved to be a smash hit once the war went on. The fact that comics were a lot less PC back then had a lot to do with it, although I'm sure anybody championing that kind of artistic freedom that allowed it will be hesitant to endorse the way the Japanese were rendered  

Questions of taste aside, another issue with all of this is that creators always want to keep these heroes timelessly relevant, so inserting them into current events is something of a double-edged sword. It makes the character tres topical at the moment, sure, but that relevancy fades quite quickly and future writers are faced with the predicament of trying to retcon the plots into chronological coherence. Iron Man's been one of the trickiest in that respect, since he was basically a commie smasher in his early days. His first origin was in Vietnam and most of his classic villains were Soviet saboteurs - - and look at the number of retcons that all been needed. The Punisher, conversely, has been easier to keep close to Vietnam because it's actually been fairly believable that he's a fit and deadly, yet still garishly grizzled, sixty-year-old. 

 The stencil that got this discussion started.

The IRON MAN movie reached a solution by having Stark run in with the 10 Rings, a terrorist organization who can easily fill in for any current threat. That's basically what the Cap movie's doing and it's actually not that unusual, when you think about it. Western superheroes have been fighting veiled versions of the Nazis for the better part of this modern pop culture era. STAR WARS’ galactic empire is a probably the most well-known example (it even has stormtroopers!) and there's, of course,  GI: JOE’s dogged enemies, Cobra. The latter's fitting to this discussions as that cartoon was fashioned from an unused Marvel pitch about Nick Fury’s son facing a new outbreak of, you guessed it, Hydra. Substitute General Hawk, Duke, Destro, the Baroness and Cobra Commander for Fury, his son, Baron Strucker, Viper and some combination of the Red Skull and Baron Zemo, and the similarities become a lot more apparent. And I've never heard anybody have a problem with Cobra being a softer substitute - - in fact, it all probably fits the fantasy more totally.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of    HYBRID BASTARDS! &  UNIMAGINABLE   . Order them on Amazon   here  &   here .  Follow Tom on Twitter:   @tompinchuk

20 Comments
Posted by Danial79

In the Captain America episode of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, there are Hydra logos over everything that would normally have had a swastika in days gone by.

Posted by NightFang

This is pretty cool info.

Online
Posted by Sobe Cin

I have to say I like the change over from the Nazi to Hydra. It allows us as readers to finally get past that war. So to keep the politics down is a grand idea.  
 
This change over reminds of the events that happened almost ten years ago with 9/11. Marvel comics gave a tribute to those books with their 'Nuff Said issues. But it was also something very brutal, because it was an attack nobody was prepaired for, it would have ruined the mystique of comics had someone like Professor X or even the Martian Manhunter know a head of time about 9/11 and stop it. And I think it's that kind of real world event that Marvel and DC are trying to keep out of comics. It's always so fresh and it hurts when you read about. So to allow the comic worlds to become one more step in another direction is perfect. It allows for the fantasy to sink in.
Posted by Fantasgasmic

I'm kinda disappointed by this. The Nazis are the BEST villains ever. Think about movies with Nazis as enemies: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade come to mind. Both awesome movies. Saving Private Ryan, Inglourious Basterds, The Blues Brothers. all good movies. Nazis are great because they don't need to be nuanced or complicated, they're just evil and everyone accepts it. Plus, you don't need to explain their motivations or anything, they're NAZIS.  
 
Plus, the argument about keeping the hero timeless falls apart when his story is a period piece, like it is with Cap. 
 
On the whole I dislike when the real world is thrown into my comics specifically, I do like vague timeless allusions. Just the other day I was re-reading my trade version of World Without a Superman and watching Bill and Hillary Clinton eulogize the Man of Steel just kinda took me out of the moment, even though I'm old enough to remember both Clinton terms and bought the original run of that storyline.

Posted by Jake Fury

I loved the old All Star Squadron issues where they took on the Nazis. Hitler possessing the Spear of Destiny was an awesome plot device to prevent Superman, Alan Scott & Wonder Woman from just kicking his doors down.  
  
 
Hitler possesed the Spear of Destiny. Any hero with a weakness to magic or magic based power fell under his control if they entered German territory during WWII.
   
Posted by staceydillon

The cover where Cap is punching Hitler in the face is priceless.

Posted by turoksonofstone
@Sobe Cin said:
" I have to say I like the change over from the Nazi to Hydra. It allows us as readers to finally get past that war. So to keep the politics down is a grand idea.   This change over reminds of the events that happened almost ten years ago with 9/11. Marvel comics gave a tribute to those books with their 'Nuff Said issues. But it was also something very brutal, because it was an attack nobody was prepaired for, it would have ruined the mystique of comics had someone like Professor X or even the Martian Manhunter know a head of time about 9/11 and stop it. And I think it's that kind of real world event that Marvel and DC are trying to keep out of comics. It's always so fresh and it hurts when you read about. So to allow the comic worlds to become one more step in another direction is perfect. It allows for the fantasy to sink in. "
I disagree, If we ignore where "WE" came from or sugarcoat the past we are destined to repeat it. In THIS Sundays NY times there was a huge article about the many Nazis the USA gave safe harbor to. The Civil War, WWI, WWII, 9-11, we must NEVER FORGET! We do REAL HEROES a disservice by ignoring real-world Villains. PAST or PRESENT.
Posted by etragedy

This is disappointing. I would have liked them hewing closer to Cap's/Skull's real origins for this movie - dealing with Nazi's (hey, it worked for Indiana Jones) and then if they wanted to introduce Hydra as a group within the Nazi's that survives the end of the war as a set up for the Avengers movie, that would be fine.

Edited by dr.x

because  it 's not  PC and we don't want  Offend anyone ,  Puke  I hate writting  that  stuff  , but I would  love to see superman kick some  Al Quaida butt
Posted by The Hunter

Well Heaven forbid if any Nazis should get offended, right?  Seriously, it was World War II.  Captain America was made to aid American forces during the war by umm..... oh, that's right.... fighting Nazis.
 
I think they're making a mistake by making it about HYDRA.  It's almost as if they're turning the Nazis into the "enemy of my enemy," and we all know what words come after that phrase.... think about it.  Keep the Nazis.  It's history - it happened.  Besides, it's against a political party, not a nation of people.

Posted by asmus

THIS is why comics should be hesitant to get into a contemporary political 'villainy': 
 

The emotions are running high enough that the creators don't always have the emotional distance from the topic to best use their artistic skills and judgement.  I can tell you from teaching writing classes that when someone tries to write about something that's still too rawly emotional - it almost always flames out one way or another, because the author's judgement is clouded.  
 
In this case (above), Superman goes from hating Nazis (people who have CHOSEN to ally with a violent socio-political movement) to promoting violence and derision against an ENTIRE RACE of people - no matter their political or personal beliefs.   
 
I'm sure after Pearl Harbor - not too many people would have minded.  But as the wound heals, I think most people can acknowledge that this particular cover misses the mark - and taints Superman with heavy tones of racism and political myopia. 
Posted by Aetheldod

What? Why would they do such a dumb thing? And I hardly doubt that having Nazis as bad guys would cause controversy at all .... silly , silly people

Posted by greenenvy

The more real life the villain inspires the better which makes superheroes comics/movies  better and smarter. I hope the Nazism element is for  red skull and we see Hitler in the movie too. 

Posted by The_TARDIS

ALL HAIL HYDRA

Posted by sarahsdad

This sort of discussion always reminds me of an old issue of Superman I found in my then step-dad's attic. It would have been from some time in the 60's, but I don't remember the exact date. 
In it, Supes gets knocked unconscious by some alien spore, which turns out to have been a setup by the Guardians on OA. 
When he wakes up, they take him on a tour, and let him "accidentally" see video showing people not trying to save themselves, because they assume Superman will do it for them, as well as overhearing a "secret" meeting where the guardians are talking about how worried they are over Earth culture stagnating because everyone assumes Superman will always be there to fix everything. 
He goes back to Earth, and helps some farm workers rebuild their homes, but then gives them all a talking to when they assume that he's going to go beat up the farm owner sort of 'just because'. I don't remember the exact wording of it, but he tells them that they need to stand up for, and help themselves instead of assuming he's going to do it for them.  

Since then I've always assumed that, or some version of that, was why they didn't have him scouring the globe with the rest of the JSA looking for terrorists; if he (or other heroes) solved all our problems, we'd never grow up.

Posted by Eyz
@Jake Fury said:
"
I loved the old All Star Squadron issues where they took on the Nazis. Hitler possessing the Spear of Destiny was an awesome plot device to prevent Superman, Alan Scott & Wonder Woman from just kicking his doors down.  
  
Hitler possesed the Spear of Destiny. Any hero with a weakness to magic or magic based power fell under his control if they entered German territory during WWII.     "
That's quite an awesome cover! XD
Posted by Jake Fury
@Eyz:
Isn't it? I got this comic in the 4th grade. It's in fair to decent condition but I don't think I could ever part with it.
Posted by dewboy01
 
Go Samson!!
Posted by cbishop

Nice read, Tom.

Posted by midnightmare

It's just childish, if they don't want to offend the germans, they don't see that they offend the jewish arround the world as much as the people from france, polland and the other countries that were occuped by the nazis.