Monday 26 February 2018

Panel No.37: #CaptainAmerica In London Part 1

Adam writes…

Having spent more than two years curating this blog, I am delighted to open this post with an announcement: The Cartoon & Comic Book Tour Of London Blog is all set to become a real life London Walks tour! Pow! A Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – Superheroes & Satire In The West End joins the London Walks repertoire on Saturday 15th September at 10:45am (meeting at Westminster tube exit 4)

To celebrate, here's a two-part post on Captain America in London!

Looking For Captain America In London – Part One

(You can buy digital versions of all the Marvel comics covered in this post here:

How do you solve a problem like Captain America?

Me personally? I don't have a problem with the all-American, bullet-headed, Saxon mother's son type of a superhero.

I would have a problem if ALL comics featured such leading characters, not least on grounds that it would be ever-so-slightly boring.

But in this age of Graphic Storytelling Is the New Lit, there is a pressure on comic book writers and artists to do something radical with the old characters. So back to the question…

How do you solve a problem like Captain America?

First let's address the great contradiction at the heart of outwardly the most conventional, most squeaky clean, most pro-establishment of all Marvel characters (surely only Superman over at DC comes close to Cap for sheer, dull wholesomeness): for one of the good guys, Captain America sure gets up a lotta people's noses.

All political figures do. And if you're going to drape a fictional character in a flag, then he's going to become a political figure whether you want him to be or not.

His first deed on the public stage was political:

He punched Hitler in the mush.

The diminutive Austrian painter and decorator did, after all, have it coming.

So what's not to like?


The year is 1941, a full year before the attack on Pearl Harbor with the isolationist movement in the US a powerful force. As such, the comic came in for severe criticism and, legend has it, police protection was arranged for writer Joe Simon the comic's creator after serious threats. Grant Morrison's seminal Supergods: Our World In The Age Of the Superhero tells us that Cap artist Jack Kirby confronted American Nazi sympathisers in person with sleeves rolled-up. That's the spirit. 

Built for WWII, he immediately went stale in the early days of the cold war and lumbered along until the early 60s as Captain America – Commie Smasher.

In 1964 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby restored him to his former glory as head of super hero team The Avengers. Thus Cap rode out the so-called Silver Age of Comics.

It was during the following Bronze Age period that Cap returned to London.

The Bronze Age (roughly 1970 – 1985) is typified by a return to the darker, weightier subject matter of the Golden Age comics (1938 - 1950) – such themes as prejudice in all forms (see above) and social injustice.

And here’s Cap’s problem: how does a superhero draped in the livery of the ultimate Establishment go about representing the little guy? The trick  to take him back to the context when the villains were more clear cut, back to his heyday… the war years. Enter the mono-testicular house painter once more. Cap is always much more believable punching Hitler than socking, say climate change.

Tellingly, all three visits to London listed here in this two-part post reference his wartime backstory. 

Even the subtext of his London adventures – in support of two British Marvel superheroes, Union Jack and Captain Britain – calls to mind America's entry into WWII.

(I’ll come back to Captain Britain later in this series – and he’ll feature in the walking tour this September.)

Invaders #8 by Roy Thomas (words) and Frank Robbins (art) September 1976

Union Jack – James Montgomery Falsworth, a peer of the realm, no less, was a hero of WWI. Captain America (as part of WWII superhero team The Invaders with Sub Mariner and The Human Torch) comes to his family’s aid when Union Jack’s arch enemy Baron Blood – a vampire (yup, it’s rip roaring stuff!) – raises his ugly head once more.

The Tower of London features briefly as does the inevitable Big Ben*. But my favourite panel features all of The Invaders above the Thames…

(You can buy digital versions of all the Marvel comics covered in this post here:

… note the bridge in the background? Westminster Bridge. Check out the street lamps. Lovely, detailed touch this, greatly at odds with the often broad brush strokes that Marvel so often apply to non-American cities.

(*Yup. Big Ben. Just like Scooby Doo. And Spiderman. And Deadpool. And Disney. And Danger Mouse. This why I've chosen Westminster tube as the starting point for my Pow! A Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London in September.)

Find Westminster Bridge here…

Part two will follow…