WW2 Captain America Was Racist In Unexpected Ways

A Cap story from 1942 takes some nasty racial potshots.

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Cap # 14As is his wont in 1942, Captain America is vigilantly protecting the home front from fifth columnists and other threats. Unfortunately, in this particular case, those threats show up in the form of Native American traitors. It’s time for Cap to flex his racist muscles against someone other than the Japanese for a change!

 

 

 

About the comic:

Captain America Comics (1941) # 14

Date: May 01, 1942

Read on MU

 

Stories in this issue:

“Captain America Battles the Horde of the Vulture!”

Steve Rogers and some of the other boys from Camp Lehigh run afoul of Indian bandits when they try to truck explosives into Camp Mojave. Cap and Bucky are hot on the trail of the Vulture, leader of the Black Hawk bandits. (Or Black Hawk, leader of the Vultures – the book’s not very clear on this.) Cap more or less assumes that anybody doing such dastardly work must be a Japanese agent; this being a 1942 comic from Timely, he’s absolutely right.

The invincible Captain America is knocked unconscious twice in two pages during the initial fight. In the tango that follows, Cap wins free but his sidekick Bucky is captured. Cap saves the lad and the day with a small assist from a few Native Americans who prove more loyal than the Vultures/Black Hawks. Note that when it comes to the lead bad guys we’re talking full-on Japanese troops on the US mainland here. Realistic!

“Captain America and the Petals of Doom!”

According to the papers, the fiendish Yellow Claw is loose in America. Cap and Bucky are on the job, but for the moment Steve Rogers is more concerned with the swank new intelligence officer dancing with Betty Ross. After a few false starts, our heroes finally get  a line on some funny-smelling flowers that are getting delivered to officers who turn up dead.

They track this floral funny business to the Yellow Claw himself! Bucky and Cap beat up everyone they find at the hideout, but then Bucky – who is clearly not destined for intelligence work – takes a big whiff of the flowers. Cap has to race him into surgery, allowing the Claw to escape. A few more twists and turns reveal that Captain Eliot, the intelligence officer, is actually the Yellow Claw and a card-carrying Nazi spy. That’s the only real surprise here – that a villainous spy named “Yellow Claw” isn’t  working for the Japanese.

“The Imp”

This is something dramatically different. It’s a funny little rhyming story drawn in 40s cartoon style. The hero is a little magical imp who lives in Jeff Vandermeer’s ear; in this episode, he gets kidnapped by Gruesome Gus and forced to help him run a con game.

Filler Material

As I may have mentioned previously, the standard page count on these 40s Timely books is 65+ pages. Besides the three stories detailed above, you also get a few ads for other Timely comics; a page of brain teasers; a two-page short story; three pages of Elmer, a generic newspaper cartoon; and seven pages of “The Secret Stamp,” a brave young lad who battles spies and sells defense stamps.

 

Discuss!

You sure do get a lot for your dime in 1942! It’s a pity that most of it’s appalling or dull or appallingly dull. The racism of the first Cap story is breathtaking to behold; just check out the sample faces appearing below. Of course, part of this is due to sensational styling and some of it is plain ole artistic neglect; scroll down further to see how poor Cap and Bucky were (mis)treated by this artist.

Unfriendly Native
Fangs were par for the course for villains.
Friendly Native
This is your noble and trustworthy Indian.

Most folks who know comics are probably aware that WW2 comics were a) propaganda tools and b) pretty racist, especially towards the Japanese. What’s disturbing about a story like this comic’s first one is that it peels the onion and shows you that 40s American racism goes a lot deeper than animosity towards a wartime enemy. Native Americans exist outside the very narrowly-defined community of “people” recognized by the creators and readers of this comic in 1942. Native Americans that are useful and subservient, like Cap’s pal Little Moose, can be awarded honorary person status; those that are anti-American can be written off as subhuman. It’s always startling to confront this fundamental contradiction in the heart of the “Greatest Generation” – they beat fascism and they did it while being blissfully ignorant of their own prejudices. Thankfully, things would slowly but surely start to change.

Cap and Bucky
Not that the heroes come off that great!

By 1942 Jack Kirby and Joe Simon were long gone from the creative duties on Captain America; our penciller here is Al Avison. I am trying hard to be charitable to Mr. Avison; the best I can come up with is the observation that he was probably rushed to churn out comics as quickly as possible during the war years. The anonymous writer (not even the mighty comicbookdb.com can identify him) wasn’t performing much better. The plots in these stories are nothing special, the twists are predictable, and even the raw grammatical nuts and bolts leave plenty to be desired. The writer does not seem to understand the concept of the question mark, for example. And there’s that confusion over the name of the Native gang in the first story…

The imp story is a nice relief; the art by Chad Grothkopf is memorable and cute. Stan Lee’s verse stylings will sound awfully weird to modern ears. Like many amateur 40s poets, he doesn’t believe there’s any point to holding his words to a consistent meter as long as each pair of lines rhyme. Once you get over the fact that one couplet may have nothing to do with the preceding couplet, it’s not bad at all.

Curiously, I’m composing this post just after reading Strange Tales # 161, where the Yellow Claw reappears 25 years later. Or at least the name does; the Silver Age Claw is Asian and possibly related to the one who appeared with Jimmy Woo in the 50s. I believe Captain America, Bucky, and Namor are the exceptions rather than the rules when it comes to Golden Age names and characters reappearing in the next generation. Unless we’re explicitly shown a link, it’s best to assume that the characters are all new.

 

Time To Ask …

Who Will Love Captain America Comics # 14?

This is a new feature I’m trying out where I try to predict who will consider this issue to be essential reading. Captain America Comics # 14 is, frankly, not going into anybody’s top 10 favorites list. I suppose it’s a useful example of how shoddy and/or racist wartime Golden Age comics could get. Beyond that, though, I think this issue will only be interesting to folks who insist on reading every last word of Captain America they can get their hands on.


Cover image taken from comicbookdb. Faces snipped out of Marvel Unlimited by yours truly.

Author: CMMIV

Reader of comic books. Semi-professional writer.