Captain America vs. Tea Party
Earlier this week, Warner Todd Huston called attention to a sequence in the current issue of Captain America in which the title hero and his on-again, off-again sidekick, The Falcon, lament the racist yahoos of the Tea Party movement. Here’s the strip in question:
In issue number 602 of Captain America, a new story line has begun called “Two Americas.” In it the current Captain (there have been a few of them, apparently) is on the trail of a faux Captain America that is mentally deranged and getting chummy with some white supremacist, anti-government, survivalists types going by the name of “the Watchdogs.” While investigating this subversive group, Captain America and his partner The Falcon — a black super hero — have decided to try and infiltrate the secretive organization.
In preparation for the infiltration, Marvel Comics depicts the two super heroes out of costume and observing from a rooftop a street filled with what can only be described as a Tea Party protest. The scene shows crowds of people in city streets carrying signs that say, “stop the socialists,” “tea bag libs before they tea bag you,” and “no to new taxes.” Naturally, the people in these crowds are depicted as being filled with nothing but white folks.
The black character asks the out of costume Captain, “What the hell is this?” And follows that with, “looks like some kind of anti-tax protest.” The Falcon character then snidely tells his partner the Captain, “So I guess this whole ‘hate the government’ vibe around here isn’t limited to the Watchdogs.”
The two then discuss their plan to infiltrate the subversive group that Marvel comics seems to be linking to the Tea Party movement. This discussion culminates in The Falcon wondering how a black man would do such a thing. “I don’t exactly see a black man from Harlem fitting in with a bunch of angry white folks,” he tells the incognito Captain America.
The Captain tells him, “no it’s perfect… this all fits right into my plan.” After this we find that the Captain’s plan is to send the black man into a redneck bar to pretend to be a black man working for the IRS and to get everyone all mad… because… well, you know that every white person is a racist that hates black civil servants, right?
So, there you have it, America. Tea Party protesters just “hate the government,” they are racists, they are all white folks, they are angry, and they associate with secretive white supremacist groups that want to over throw the U.S. government.
Yesterday afternoon, presumably after a significant backlash, Marvel issued an apology:
When a minor uproar ensued, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada spoke to Comic Book Resources and defended the issue while apologizing for the panel that seemed to tie real-life Tea Party protesters to the fictional group depicted in the book.
Saying that he could “absolutely see how some people are upset about this,” Quesada said that there was “zero discussion to include a group that looked like a Tea Party demonstration,” adding, “There was no thought that it represented a particular group.”
Quesada then went on to say that Marvel would “apologize for and own up to” a series of “stupid mistakes” that led to them “accidentally identifying” one of the members of the protest group “as being a part of the Tea Party instead of a generic protest group.” He explained that they were on deadline to get the issue to the printer for publication, and in the course of sending it off it was noticed that the signs in the scene contained no words or phrases. He said the editor then asked the letterer to “fudge in some quick signs” and that in the “rush to get the book out of the door,” the letterer “looked on the net and started pulling slogans” from signs captured in photographs at Tea Party protests in order to make them appear “believable.”
Ed Brubaker, the writer of the controversial Captain America story, told Fox News that any and all references to “tea bag” will be removed from all future editions of Marvel Comics.
At least back in the days when I was reading the books, Marvel was pretty careful to avoid using the names of political parties and mainstream movements — and Quesada insists this is still the policy. So, I take him at his word when he says the use of the “tea bag” sign and the insinuation that Cap was talking about that movement was unintentional. Then again, Brubaker was rather clearly making a statement against the Tea Party movement — albeit not intending to use their name — and using his hero to do so. While any resemblance to political movements, living or dead, may be coincidental, this one wasn’t.
Adam Serwer is right that Captain America and most of the other mainstream Marvel heroes were always vaguely liberal, a function of their creation by liberal New Yorkers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. As one of his commenters reminds me, “The original Captain America also set down his shield in the mid-70s after the turmoil of Watergate, but eventually concluded that he could fight for American ideals and not necessarily the government; in fact, the tensions between Captain America and his government contacts became a major theme of the comic afterward.” I remember the Nomad storyline (which began in issue 180) well, as is took place near the beginning of my comic book collecting days.
Both Marvel and DC were vaguely liberal during the days I read them and had been since at least the 1960s, as I eventually obtained and read thousands of back issues of the books I collected. I recall, for instance, a quaint pro-Vietnam issue of the Mighty Thor from the early-to-mid 1960s — before the Left turned against the war — and the evolving storyline over the years that became more anti-war. Recall that Iron Man’s origin was after being double crossed in Vietnam and coming to realize that there were no good guys. The books contained all manner of mainstream Left thoughts on dealing with poverty, race relations, the war on drugs, and other issues of the day. They were never hard core radicals — the publishers were New Deal liberals, not Counterculture types — but there was no doubt that they had a particular vision of what “justice” meant and what America stood for.
The current controversy is especially thorny. Even many of us on the Right are concerned about the excesses of the Tea Party movement and related populist outrage. There are no doubt plenty of fringe kooks in these movements and, as is usually the case, they have an outsized voice. At the same time, however, the vast majority of the protesters are decent folks frustrated with the direction they see their country headed and feeling powerless to do anything about it.
Certainly, having Captain America denounce the movement as a whole as motivated by racism, then, is incredibly insulting. Marvel is right to apologize for that insinuation — however unintended — while defending itself for tackling the larger storyline of the angry mob.