To help sell their magazines, comic books publishers of the Golden Age often played on the concerns and fears of the public – and Americans had a lot to be concerned about in the 1930′s and 1940′s. On the eve of the U.S. entry into World War 2 in 1941 the comic book industry increasingly turned their attention to the war in Europe and the dangers of fascism. This isn’t at all surprising; many of the men in the fledgling comic business were Jewish immigrants (or the sons of same), who still had ties to friends and relatives who remained behind. The U.S. knew of Hitler’s concentration camps even before our entry into the war, although it wasn’t clear what was happening in the camps; it was widely believed that they were work camps for political dissidents (much like the later Soviet gulags). Many in the comic business knew that Jews were being rounded up across Europe, and that whatever was happening in Hitler’s camps wasn’t good.
As a result comics began to depict Hitler as an enemy. There was the now-famous Jack Kirby comic cover depicting Captain America giving Hitler a roundhouse to the jaw. Lev Gleason’s company released a whole issue consisting of comics in which their various series characters fought against major figures of the Third Reich. Numerous other companies published countless stories in which costumed heroes fought against an assortment of German saboteurs, spies, and fifth columnists, and when Germany wasn’t specifically identified the nefarious evildoers often had obviously Teutonic names.
One of the most successful comic publishers was Fawcett Publications, the company which produced the adventures of the best-selling comic character of the Golden Age: Captain Marvel. We’ll examine the Captain’s (ultimately sad) story a bit later; for right now I’ll just mention that at the height of Captain Marvel’s popularity more than a million comic books containing his adventures were sold each month. As a means of comparison, any comic book today which sells over 100,000 copies in a month is considered a smash hit; a million copies today is essentially an unobtainable goal without the benefit of multiple printings and re-releases. So when Captain Marvel got the chance to fight a full-fledged Nazi, it was a pretty big deal to the reading public.
Captain Nazi wasn’t a particularly well developed character; he’s pretty much just a gruff, burly, murderous thug who just happens to be super-strong, invulnerable, and who sports a swastika. But he’s visually striking (which helps a lot considering the medium in which he appeared), he plays on the fears and concerns of the reading public, and he’s powerful enough to be a real test for not just one Fawcett superhero, but for several of them. Captain Nazi isn’t one of the all-time great comic book supervillains, but he worked well enough to allow him to continue to pop up in comics well into the twenty-first century, appearing in an alternate history story arc late in Justice Society of America’s last run before the DC Comics “reboot” in 2011.
Marvel Comics sometimes claims that in the 1960′s they “invented” the ideas of a “shared universe” (in which characters from multiple comics live and interact), the multi-issue story arc, and stories which cross over between different comic titles. One need look no further than Fawcett’s introduction of Captain Nazi to see Marvel’s claims as the steaming crock they are. In Captain Nazi’s first story we see the villain confronted by several Fawcett heroes, the full tale takes three issues to tell, and it crosses between magazines from Master Comics to Whiz Comics, then back again.
Part One of the tale appeared in the autumn of 1941 in the pages of Master Comics #21. By the time the lengthy three part tale ended, Captain Nazi would face two of Fawcett’s existing heroes and be indirectly responsible for the addition of a brand-new hero to the publisher’s ranks.
Don’t forget to stop by this Tuesday for the final installment of Bonus Battle October!
Have fun! — Steve
Copyright 2012, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.