Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Kirby and Unions: Captain America Comics #4, 1941


Here's an interesting sequence from a very early issue of Captain America where Jack Kirby posits a union leader as a bastion of democracy. I've noted before some of Kirby's post-War quotes on unions and the idea of a comics creator Guild, where he seems lukewarm on the subject, to say the least. But here we have an instance of the pre-War Kirby pointing to unionized labor as an important pillar of the anti-fascist fight against Nazis. The story is a great one, wherein Cap and Bucky uncover a Nazi spy and saboteur ring that disguise themselves as beggars. The very atmospheric discovery scene, where the two heroes witness a legless beggar on a dark street suddenly get up and walk in answer to a bell ringing inside the old city hall where the spies gather to unveil themselves in a secret ceremony, is brilliantly grotesque. I wonder if the politics here are entirely Kirby's or influenced partly by Joe Simon? 1941 was a record year for strikes in the U.S. and the left was divided on Roosevelt's efforts to keep a lid on labour troubles. We can see here that not only were the early Caps advocating for what Howard Chaykin's Blackhawk referred to as "premature antifascism" in reference to advocating for American intervention or aid in the war against Germany, but in this instance at least we see Simon and Kirby creating propaganda of a sort for the idea of a post-Depression "labour truce" in the name of the soon-to-come war effort.

The image up top is Kirby's reimagining of the Unholy Legion for the 1960s Captain America #112, a quarter century later.

"In a nearby state tragedy strikes John L. Green, nationally known labor leader. 'And I say again, Labor must unite to advance our defense program.'"

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