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Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero

Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero: Metaphors, Narratives, and Geopolitics

Jason Dittmer
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero
    Book Description:

    Nationalist superheroes-such as Captain America, Captain Canuck, and Union Jack-often signify the "nation-state" for readers, but how do these characters and comic books address issues of multiculturalism and geopolitical order? In his engaging bookCaptain America and the Nationalist Superhero, geographer Jason Dittmer traces the evolution of the comic book genre as it adapted to new national audiences. He argues that these iconic superheroes contribute to our contemporary understandings of national identity, the righteous use of power, and the role of the United States, Canada, and Britain in the world.

    Tracing the nationalist superhero genre from its World War II origins to contemporary manifestations throughout the world,Captain America and the Nationalist Superheroanalyzes nearly one thousand comic books and audience responses to those books. Dittmer also interviews key comic book writers from Stan Lee and J. M. DeMatteis to Steve Englehart and Paul Cornell.

    At a time when popular culture is saturated with superheroes and their exploits,Captain America and the Nationalist Superherohighlights the unique relationship between popular culture and international relations.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0978-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature, Population Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introducing Nationalist Superheroes
    (pp. 1-23)

    The painting in this book’s frontispiece (and on the cover of the paperback edition),Massacre in Haditha, by British Jordanian artist Tanya Tier, is a revisioning of Pablo Picasso’sMassacre in Korea(1951—see Figure 1.1). In this painting Picasso expressed his horror at the American machine-gunning of civilian refugees during the Korean War (at No Gun Ri, 1950).¹ These refugees had been trying to get behind American lines during the early stages of the war to avoid being caught between the two armies; however, the Americans, concerned about North Korean infiltrators, massacred the whole group. Picasso’s painting can be...

  5. 2 Gendered Nation-state, Gendered Hero
    (pp. 24-45)

    Captain America’s body was failing. The super-soldier serum that gave him his superpowers was breaking down after many decades of service. He had followed the supervillains Cobra and Mr. Hyde into the deserts of the American Southwest, but there his muscles gave out for the final time. He considered the impact of his muscular deterioration on his sense of self:

    What a complete and total waste I am. Anyone who ever admired or looked up to me is a fool. They backed the wrong man. They thought they were backing a guy who could win against anything life threw at...

  6. 3 Embodying Multiculturalism
    (pp. 46-62)

    Chapter 2 shows the metonymic relationship between the nationalist superhero’s body and the body politic to be problematic via its embodiment of the nation in a single sex (which can be sexed either male or female, but tends to be gendered as masculine regardless). However, as this chapter’s opening quotation shows, similar problems are attributable to the racialized body of the nationalist superhero, with Captain America (in this case) trying to reject his association with whiteness in favor of a body politic lacking in racial attributes. However, whereas there are only two genders to be reconciled to the singular heroic...

  7. 4 Origins
    (pp. 63-82)

    This chapter’s opening quotation works both intratextually, as an explanation of the relative popularity of these two nationalist superheroes within their own countries, and extratextually, as a commentary on the struggle to transpose the American generic conventions of the nationalist superhero into new countries, each with unique national narratives already extant and with varying relationships to nationalism itself.

    Connecting narratives of identity in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom with the specific origins of their nationalist superheroes has been uniquely challenging for creative staff. In the United States the relative publishing success of Captain America has meant that...

  8. 5 Narratives of Continuity and Change
    (pp. 83-101)

    This narrated exposition, concluding a two-issue story arc in which Captain America travels to England to team up with Union Jack against the Nazi vampire Baron Blood, illustrates how national narratives and superhero narratives intertwine. In particular, Union Jack is portrayed as the embodiment of a national spirit that is essential to British identity: a good people of strength, might, and will. However, even as the narrator asserts this timelessness, the decline of British geopolitical fortunes is also foregrounded. This chapter continues the thread of Chapter 4 by showing the paradoxical centrality of change in nationalist superhero narratives to the...

  9. 6 Grounding the Nation-state
    (pp. 102-122)

    This quotation (from Juggernaut, member of New Excalibur) provides a taste of the emphasis given to territory and borders within the nationalist superhero subgenre. This emphasis has existed since the beginning of the subgenre, given that the original purpose of Captain America was to catch spies and saboteurs sent into the United States from Nazi Germany. However, nationalist superheroes do more than defend their countries from attack. More significantly, the subgenre reifies the connection of particular polities to specific territories through a variety of narrative and visual strategies. This chapter analyzes these strategies, widening the methodological approach of previous chapters...

  10. 7 Geopolitical Orders
    (pp. 123-141)

    This postcrisis exchange between the quintessentially American superhero and the Japanese media takes on a slightly different meaning than when Captain America is routinely feted by domestic news media. While some may find the reliance of the United States on an unelected patriotic vigilante named Captain America to maintain public order vaguely discomfiting, the reliance by Japan on Captain America for the same thing raises many different questions. As Neil Smith puts it:

    Put geographically, there is a trenchant contradiction between on the one hand the global promise of a certain kind of Americanism, to which people around the world...

  11. 8 Alternate Worlds
    (pp. 142-159)

    What if Captain America had objected to the atomic bomb? This is the premise of a 1997 story line that reimagines the history of the hero along these lines. His principled objection to the atomic bomb led to his brainwashing by the American government, which had an interest in keeping him in action:

    President Clinton: What did he rebel against? A mission? Some dirty job you wanted him to do?

    Nick Fury: No. The bomb. He thought it wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t . . .

    President Clinton: American?

    Nick Fury: He said that a war fought with...

  12. 9 Parody and Subversion
    (pp. 160-180)

    This dialogue, in the opening scene ofCaptain Confederacy, shows how easily the nationalist superhero subgenre can be parodied and turned upside down. Suddenly the generic conventions are exposed in a new way: the patriotism of Captain America morphs into ethnic hierarchy, the vigilantism of Captain Britain becomes indistinguishable from that of the Ku Klux Klan, and Captain Canuck’s preservation of Canadian sovereignty turns out to be the imposition of a political order on those who want no part of it.Captain Americaanti-fan Andrew Aldridge wrote to the editor to complain about the politics built into the nationalist superhero...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 181-188)

    To close this book, this afterword begins by recapitulating the empirical findings of this study, considering the chapters as pairs that together take up a particular facet of the nationalist superhero. Subsequently, two themes that cut across all the chapters are considered in some depth: hegemony and authorship.

    Throughout this book, and in previous papers I have written, I have referred to the superheroes discussed in this book as “nationalist” rather than the slightly more popular descriptor of heroes like Captain America as “national” superheroes. The latter is, admittedly, a slightly less awkward construction. However, the awkwardness of its construction...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 189-206)
  15. References
    (pp. 207-224)
  16. Index
    (pp. 225-229)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 230-230)