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 ==
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 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.