On this day, 80 years ago, Captain America introduced himself, punching Adolf Hitler in the face on his premiere comic book first issue on newsstands everywhere!
With a publication date of March 1941, Captain America #1 hit newsstands earlier on December 20th, 1940, by Timely Comics (later reborn as Marvel Comics). The book sold nearly a million copies, as part of the remarkable Golden Age era of comic books hitting its prime for the decade to come.
Two Jewish New Yorker cartoonists, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America. Joe Simon originally sketched the concept for the character as “Super American” but then felt there were enough Supers already on the newsstand and not enough Captains. So, he thought it sounded cool and catchy, and so Captain America was born. From there, he gave the pitch to his editor Martin Goodman at Timely Comics, who approved. Then, Joe wrote the initial story and gave concepts, sketches, cover art to Jack Kirby to take over as the sequential artist for the breakout issue. Jack Kirby fully brought out the character in full comic book form, with the help of Al Lieberman as the inker and Howard Ferguson as the letterer.
And so, Captain America was released a year into World War II, in a difficult time for the U.S still recovering from the Great Depression and dealing with its racist attitudes. Captain America was viewed by many as Jewish propaganda as many Americans were sadly not yet on board against Hitler’s rising fascism and attempted takeover of Europe.
Joe Simon later noted “When the first issue came out we got a lot of … threatening letters and hate mail. Some people really opposed what Cap stood for.” The threats, which included menacing groups of people loitering out on the street outside of the offices, proved so serious that police protection was posted with New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia personally contacting Simon and Kirby to give his support.”
Captain America arrived as a fictional champion against Hitler and his Nazi Third Reich. He fitted America’s rising position and eventually entry into World War II, with the Pearl Harbor bombing pushing the U.S. forward to act a year later after the comic book release. Captain America would continue to punch Nazis in comics and other symbols of its fascism and ideology for the rest of the war through Timely Comics. Soon, Stanley Lieber, A fresh 19-year old editor, would contribute with editing and writing under the pseudonym and later legal name, Stan Lee.
The character of Captain America became a significant pop-culture icon, mostly from Stan Lee’s revival (with the help of Cap co-creator Jack Kirby) of Marvel Comics much later. His new look and updated origin of the 1940’s release would become iconic, appearing further in cartoons, live TV, toys, and movies. The later MCU produced movies featuring Cap portrayed by Chris Evans would boost the iconic fighter of Nazis and other evils to an inspirational status further beyond the failed visions of Hitler’s Third Reich.
After 80 years, Captain America remains a symbol for what’s supposed to be right with America, standing up to evil and fighting for good and preservation of better ideals. Now, Captain America is currently owned by Disney and used to support a monopolistic entity that many consider part of a bigger problem with modern America. Yet, there remains something wholesome and wonderful about the Star-Spangled First Avenger’s humble roots through his comic book introduction, as a colorful champion boldly leads against evil in dark times.
Captain America inspired real life people to dress-up and take on issues of the real world (while some sadly misuse him as a patriotic symbol). A personal favorite is Sikh Captain America, a bearded turban-wearing version cosplayed by cartoonist Vishavjit Singh. He promotes, educates on what he feels Captain America should be about in the modern era, going beyond the super hero theatrics and melodrama of the Marvel Comic and MCU stories. Many challenge him and his appearance going against the white male American ideal. But he fights on, with the ballsy spirit of Captain America’s Jewish creators.
So, Captain America didn’t just punch Hitler in the face 80 years ago. Along with many other comic book super-heroes, he led the fight for generations to come and stand up (perhaps punch if that’s what it takes) evil in all forms. And the fight will continue, often holding on to what we want the righteous symbols to press on to and keep on representing as better patriotism.