I’m in the middle of reading an interesting book called Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books & The Unmasking Of Cold War America. Ok, it’s interesting to me. And for the Marvel Zombies and comic book historians out there, Matthew J. Costello’s look at how the events of 40+ years of American politics shaped the Marvel comics of the time gives us a way of looking at stories we may not have considered before. But this isn’t a review of Secret Identity Crisis. I’m only halfway through it so that will come later.
Instead this is about what the book inspired me to do. During the chapter titled The Enemy Within: 1969-1976, Costello writes about a particular Captain America storyline involving a clandestine organization called the Secret Empire and how, through the various issues of that particular story arc, Cap’s name and reputation is damaged until finally the big bad is put down and his identity revealed.
The implication is that the leader of the Secret Empire was the Commander In Chief of the United States. As a result of this shocking revelation, Captain America, the man who is supposed to be the ultimate symbol of the USA, feels lost and unsure of his place as someone who is expected to uphold the belief system of the country which created him. This disillusionment actually results in Steve Rogers taking off the Captain America uniform for a time.
Here was a story that I’d been previously unaware of and it sounded extremely cool to me. So I went over to my shelf and pulled out something I’d purchased about a year or so ago now.
Captain America – The Complete Collection. A single DVD-ROM containing over 500 comic books. It’s like a little mini-library of comic history, where you can comb through decades of stories. It comes complete with Adobe 7, which means no annoying downloads. So with my interest peaked I put the disc into my trusty laptop and within seconds I was reading Captain America Issues 174-176.
Written by Steve Engelhart and illustrated by Sal Buscema, the arc was more complex than I think a lot of comic books fans may realize. Here was Captain America, the character that every other hero in the Marvel Universe looked to for direction and inspiration, suddenly filled with doubt and uncertainty.
Reading this historical document, I realized how much of a…historical document the storyline was. It’s also indicative of how much things don’t change. With Nixon and Watergate and the lies of the government fresh in their minds, Americans didn’t know who to trust anymore. Sound familiar? Delve a little deeper and it’s easy to see how timeless the disillusionment that Captain America expresses throughout the issue is. But we can take Cap’s feelings and make them even broader. People across North America are losing their jobs. Some are in worse situations than others. Many feel a sense of betrayal by the companies and employers that they put their faith and trust in. Just like Captain America felt when he discovered the people he was supposed to be working for weren’t who they appeared to be.
Steve Engelhart and Sal Buscema really captured a moment back in 1974 with their run on Captain America. It’s especially cool for me having the DVD-ROM handy so I could go back and read the story for myself. I’ve actually got a shelf full of Marvel DVD-ROM’s produced by Graphic Imaging Technology Inc, everything from X-Men and Spider-Man to Iron Man and The Fantastic Four. All of them feature hundreds of issues each. These were on the market for a few years, but with Marvel going the digital route with their own website, the collections are now out of print. You can track them down on ebay or at Amazon if you’re interested. It beats having to shell out premium dollars for back issues.
And you won’t have to negotiate with your wife for shelf space.