Talking about Things that Happened
A few months back, before The Avengers movie came out, I had a pre-movie open thread in which I discussed why the Captain America movie made me a little bit uncomfortable.
Behind the cut, I’m going to explore a little bit of that discussion again and then recommend a Captain American comic to you all: Captain America: Truth. If you want to avoid spoilers beyond knowing that it’s a comic discussing the top secret attempts to recreate the Super Soldier Serum on African-American soldiers during WWII, just buy the comic as it’s one that is good enough to belong in your collection. If you don’t want to avoid (only minor) spoilers, see you after the cut.
Here’s an excerpt from that thread:
Setting *THAT* aside, there was the four-color treatment of other, smaller, ugly parts of the past. Captain America’s multicultural crack team of commandos would not have been in the same unit nor would they have been allowed to drink together. They had a Japanese guy come out and say “I’m from Fresno” which, immediately, made me think of the Japanese internment camps. Googling tells me that Fresno *HAD* a Japanese internment camp. This yanked me out of the movie once more.
(You should check out the comments in that post as well… as usual, you guys are a lot more interesting than I am.)
Well, I spoke about this with my friend Parker at work and he told me “Jaybird, there’s a comic I think you should read.” He got me a copy of Captain America: Truth. “What’s it about?”, I asked him. “They used black soldiers as guinea pigs for the Super Soldier Serum during WWII”, he told me.
This is one of those little retconny things that, when you hear about it, it immediately blows your mind and, even as you know that these stories are silly fake stories about silly fake heroes who live in a silly romantic world where violence is always the answer… you find yourself saying “of course they did.”
The art for the comic reminded me of the art for the old Sad Sack comics published by Harvey. Heavy caricatures of everybody, much more emphasis on facial expressions than on backgrounds… but there’s something terribly disconcerting about seeing these familiar caricatures discussing how they’d die before they’d accept a negro transfusion, or seeing them beating up a black NCO behind the latrine for being uppity… or testing failed recipes for the Super Soldier Serum on a handful of black soldiers that had their families told that they had died in combat.
The art, which put me off at first, actually brought me back in whenever I found myself wondering “is this a little heavy-handed?” because, hey, then I’d remember that, yes, the military was not integrated at this point. Yes, Tuskagee was going on at the same time as this comic… I mean, could you describe these things without coming across as heavy-handed? Well, the art helped me acknowledge how deft a touch the writers were actually employing.
Strangely, this comic helped me feel better about the white-washing (no pun intended, seriously) done in the Captain America movie because, while this is a tough topic, it’s not something that everyone has ignored. It’s not swept under the rug. Someone who felt bugged by the treatment in the movie of the various things winked at but never explored could, indeed, go out and find a book like this one to see how Marvel was, in fact, willing to sit down and seriously discuss a lot of the ugly things that don’t make for good summer action movie conversation.
It’s not a fun read, but it is a good read. If you were troubled by those things in the Captain America movie, you should pick this book up.