It has not been a good week for Captain America.
As I would imagine that the majority of readers here aren’t on tumblr, or even read comics at all, let me fill you in on the fiasco that’s been lighting up the Marvel universe lately.
Last week it was revealed in the latest Captain America comic, Steve Rogers #1, that thanks to some universe-rewriting shenanigans (both textual and metatextual) Captain America is now an informant for Hydra, and apparently always has been. Hydra, for the uninitiated, is a Nazi-affiliated group that are the villains in many Marvel titles. They’re bent on world domination, white supremacy, and all the usual things Nazis are about. And before I hear anyone leaping to point out Hydra’s pre-Nazi origins as an alien lizard cult, let me provide you with this panel from the comics to put that argument back in the ground where it belongs:
(Know what else wasn’t originally a Nazi thing? The swastika. Turns out, not originating from Nazism doesn’t make it any better)
The connections between Nazism and Hydra are not only extensive, they’re blatant. The recent Captain America films made the connection crystal clear, and that’s the version the general public is most familiar with. There is no question that Hydra and Nazism are synonymous.
So what is Marvel’s paragon of American values doing as a Nazi?
(To sell issues, mainly. And unfortunately)
It turns out Marvel does cheap attention-grabby stuff like this all the time–this is actually not the first time Cap has been a Nazi, either–but that’s not what this article is about, so we’ll put that one away for a rainy day.
I wanted to talk about this because Captain America as a Nazi isn’t just a giant middle finger to everything Cap stands for–everything his shield stands for–but because it’s also blatantly disrespectful to Captain America’s roots. Steve Rogers may not himself be Jewish, but his creators were.
Captain America was created in 1940 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (born Hymie Simon and Jacob Kurtzberg), two Jewish guys living in New York. From the very moment of his inception, Cap was a political statement. Simon and Kirby were fed up with the moral state of things in their country and abroad. In 1940–this was well before the bombing of Pearl Harbor–America wanted no part in World War II and took a very isolationist stance on the conflict. However, there was also a terrifying percentage of Americans who were pro-Axis. It was not a good time for Jews in America, either; the US had already turned down hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and many American Jews were changing their names and lying about their backgrounds to go about their lives in peace.
Kirby and Simon made a very deliberate political choice when they published their comic. “The opponents to the war were all quite well organized,” Simon recalled later, “We wanted to have our say too.”
On the very first Captain America cover, they depicted their star-spangled hero punching Adolf Hitler in the face.
As you can see, Simon and Kirby were not even in the vicinity of messing around.
Many people reacted favorably and the comic quickly became popular but, as with all things political and Jewish, there was some backlash. Simon recalled later that “when the first issue came out we got a lot of … threatening letters and hate mail. Some people really opposed what Cap stood for.” The threats got so bad that police were stationed outside the offices and the mayor of New York personally contacted the artists to offer his support.
And yet, Captain America endured. He has since become a symbol of righteousness, hope, and courage. He has spent his whole career standing in opposition to prejudice and tyranny no matter what form it takes. “I don’t like bullies,” Steve quips in Captain America: The First Avenger, “I don’t care where they’re from.”
Instead of laser eyesight, or guns, or swords, Captain America is equipped with two things: the strength of a super-soldier, and a shield that can deflect just about anything. Cap uses that shield to defend not only himself, but others, and he would never use it to kill in cold blood. He’s an accomplished fighter, but what’s most important is his heart of gold. Captain America is not a depiction of what America is, but what it should be. These two panels I think explain it better than I could:
There’s a reason a couple of Jewish guys from New York envisioned a hero who uses a shield with a star on it. And those two Jewish guys have most likely been rolling in their graves all week as people not only try to justify Hydra Cap, but to tell us that it doesn’t matter in the long run, because in 6 months it’ll be fixed anyway. This isn’t the first time this has happened; just the most visible.
And so we get to why I’m writing this article.
Just because this isn’t the first time it’s happened does not make it okay. It is never okay to so remove a hero from his roots and take a dump on everything he stands for. Not when that hero is immensely important to so many people.
And this time, the public is hearing about it. That article I linked to up there? That’s Time Magazine. Not your cousin’s niche comic book news site. Marvel movies, especially the recent Captain America: Civil War, have put comic book heroes in the pop culture spotlight. Little kids everywhere idolize Cap, and with good reason. He’s strong, he’s cool, and he always does the right thing. Right?
Except when he does the wrong thing, and Marvel thinks they can get away with it.
This isn’t just me being angry about shock value to sell books–though I am angry about that, because it’s a cheap tactic to make weak sales stronger, but I digress.
I’m angry that Marvel felt that they could turn an American–a fundamentally Jewish–hero into a stone-cold Nazi. I’m angry that this development made it out of the cutting room and onto shelves. And thousands of other Cap fans, Jews and goys alike, have taken to the internet to express the same sentiment.
This is not our Captain America.
And when the whole world tells us to move, what’s our job, Cap?
Thus was born #JewishComicsDay in retaliation–a celebration of Jewish comics characters (there are surprisingly quite a few of them; Magneto is an example you may have heard of) as well as non-Jewish characters with Jewish roots. On June first, everyone would post art, writing, and kind messages to show their support for Judaism in comics. And it worked; there was a sizable turnout, and I was flooded with messages of support on my own post (We’ll get to that a little later).
As soon as I read the original Jewish Comics Day post, I started crying. This was a post from a non-Jewish person who was so angered by the news that she started a hashtag to fight back–not because she was angry about cheap tactics or Cap being out of character, but because she was angry about how offensive this was to Jews. And she has gotten plenty of backlash for it, from both non-Jews and, embarrassingly, Jews who are suspicious of her intentions. Having talked to her personally, I can attest that her core intent was to show solidarity. She told me that she started this project for her two little Jewish nieces who love Captain America.
Think about that for a minute. It’s not hard to imagine a time when Jews would have to do things like this ourselves–and be too afraid for our lives to do it. It wasn’t that long ago. For something like this to bring Jews and goys together under the same banner is, to me, nothing short of incredible.
We, like Simon and Kirby, are crying out against the injustices in our world. We are standing up to injustices against our people, no matter what form they take. We are planting ourselves beside the river of truth and saying resolutely to the whole world:
“No, you move.”
And so, I knew what I had to do.
Back in 2014 when I was just starting development on my upcoming novel, The Djinni, I designed my Jewish main character Naomi to be a sort of average girl, the kind you might see in your own life. I even gave her a tongue-in-cheek pop culture reference shirt to make her more relatable–not imagining that just a year and a half later, her shirt would take on a whole new meaning.
For my contribution to Jewish Comics Day, I decided to crack open adobe illustrator and make that shirt a reality–not just because I needed it, but because I’m sure countless others do also. While I was at it I made it available as stickers, as well as an iPhone case sporting the words “No, You Move.”
If you’re interested in buying one, you can check it out on Redbubble. There’s a wide range of clothing styles, and it’s even available in kids’ sizes. Every cent I make from the sales of this design will be donated to the American Jewish World Service, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “tikkun olam”; repairing the world. Their mission is to provide nonsectarian humanitarian assistance and emergency relief to disadvantaged people worldwide.
You’ll also be able to pick up a smaller sticker at the BJN booth at the Boulder Jewish Festival on June 19th. (I unfortunately won’t be there this year, but I’ll be there in spirit).
(By the way: non-Jews are invited–encouraged, even–to buy and wear the design if they want to show solidarity. No pressure if you’re worried about the risks of wearing a giant Jewish Star, or are uncomfortable wearing other religion’s symbols. But if you do want to wear this, by all means, I welcome you to do so. And if Jewish readers take issue with that allowance, they’re welcome to take it up with me.)
This fight is far from over. Anti-semitism is a prevalent problem all over the globe, and Marvel’s little snafu is just a tiny symptom of a festering infection. Even as we cry out to defend the Captain America we know to be a hero, let us cry out even more against the very real injustices our people face every day. Let us lead by example to the world we know could, and should, be.
To finish with another quote, this one perhaps more familiar to most of you:
“You are not obligated to complete the work [of repairing the world], but neither are you free to abandon it.”