Soundtrack: Le Tigre (Self-Titled), which features the immortally-titled tune, “What’s Your Take on Cassavettes?”(which is not as interesting as it sounds though… How could it be?) and “My My Metrocard”, one of my favourite songs of all time.

Captain America & The Popular Front

This post takes its’ cue from Jim Henley’s recent statement that he’d like to see Cap portrayed as a New Deal Liberal. It makes a lot of sense, because, as far as I know, Steve Rogers still came of age in the late thirties (thank goodness for naturally occurring spontaneous cryogenic stasis, hunh?), and, unfortunately, all most writers ever do with that juicy tidbit is make him an “old-fashioned guy” who doesn’t understand the “crazy kids”.

But, umm, there were crazy kids back in the thirties too… In fact, there were some really crazy upstarts over in Europe, called “Nazis”, I believe–and their challenge to Bourgeois Liberalism was far more extreme than any pink-haired, polymorphously perverse “lifestyle radical” of today ever thought of mounting. So! Cap knows (or ought to know) more about the foundations of Liberal Democracy than any Marvel super-hero. Now, good ol’ American liberalism can plainly co-exist with lots of things that set themselves up in opposition to it, like, oh, the toothless Foucaultian “critiques of power” that, even as we speak, are dominating an “American Studies” conference near you; and the equally ineffectual yearning for the old days of “republican virtue” as practiced by J.G.A. Pocock and younger people who should know better like my friend Mark Proudman. What Liberalism Cannot deal with, obviously, is naked force… Something like Nazism. Or militant Islam…

Now, here’s the fascinating thing: in the thirties, when Americans saw a monstrous atavistic storm brewing in the Old World, and turned to each other to figure out what they valued–what you got was the Popular Front, which was (somehow) populistic, individualistic, skeptical, creatively energized (rather than blandly propagandistic, except in cases like Steinbeck’s lame-assed “contributions” to the cause) and very rationally grounded, all at once! And what do we have to compare with that in today’s crisis? Well, we’ve got the idiotic blithering of Dubya, and the equally idiotic blathering of Michael Moore–both of whom clearly lack the requisite faculties to carry on an adult conversation. The result of this moronic dyad?–a screaming match that can’t do anything but hurt people’s ears and make them stick their teary, sensitive little noses ever further into their “Life Strategies Workbooks” for solace…

What’s the answer? Why, a popular front icon like Captain America, of course! (That and the films of Frank Capra) And has anyone ever written a Cap with the above-mentioned political instincts? Why, yes, of course, Mark Gruenwald!!! Actually, I think the entire Silver Age at Marvel was powered by a core of (vestigial) Popular Front Liberalism–but it took Gruenwald to bring it out into the open. Tomorrow, I’ll get more into how he (and Grant Morrison), developed the political potential of the old Lee/Ditko/Kirby creations, with the help/hindrance of a detour through Englehart, and maybe some discussion of Stephen Vincent Benet. (perhaps I needn’t even add that this is why I hate Frank Miller. The broken-telephone line of influence that runs from Hammett through Kurasawa to Miller resulted in anything but comics the “Marvel Way”, as I define it, and F.M.’s work is the poorer for that… Now Dashiell himself, I’m certain, could’ve written a brilliant DD!)

Good Night Friends


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