This issue of Captain America revisits a number of recent storylines as well as an important topic raised in issue #269, one that remains all too relevant in the real world of today. (Cap also had a short story in the anthology title Marvel Fanfare this month that makes a valuable point, but very simply, so the coverage of that will be brief.)
But before we get to the weighty topic in Captain America #275, our hero has an apology to make upon arriving at S.H.I.E.L.D., namely for rude behavior to Agent Gail Runciter in issue #268 that we pointed out at the time. His apology walks the fine line between explaining his behavior and excusing it, and Runciter graciously accepts it, offering him an excuse of her own followed by an invitation to informality…
…that she hopes could be the beginning of something new.
Sandy and the Doc—a perfect title for a 1982 buddy movie—are keeping their eyes on Vermin, whom Cap fought in issue #272. Meanwhile, Cap pays a visit to his childhood friend Arnie Roth and his boyfriend Michael Bech, who were both involved in a different fight in issue #270.
Cap reassures Michael that everything will be fine, and when Michael pays him a compliment…
…Cap predictably deflects it back to Arnie, who refuses to let it rest there.
That may seem corny, but I find it very sweet—if someone you look up to has ever made it clear they consider you as an equal, seeing more in you than you see in yourself, you know how Arnie feels.
Below, as the exposition makes clear, Steve enjoys some downtime with his girlfriend Bernie and their landlord Anna, who is momentarily happy for them…
…until she sees the swastika painted on the doors of Temple Beth-Ohr, and then learns of other crimes committed there.
For some reason, Steve doesn’t believe this is the work of Nazis—perhaps he’s been too busy fighting Nazi supervillains like the Red Skull to be aware of the rise of anti-Semitism on the streets, as the rabbi points out below.
As he did in issue #269, Steve condemns the neo-Nazis’ beliefs but defends their right to express them, this time making an argument based on the threat posed by granting the power to decide who can and can’t speak, implicitly endorsing open debate as the preferable way to defeat noxious views.
The counterargument to this, embodied in Karl Popper’s “paradox of tolerance” (as discussed in the earlier post), is that a tolerant liberal society may nonetheless prohibit speech that violates its core principles, including equality. This would appear to answer Steve’s question of “who decides,” because the answer would presumably be based on those core principles regardless of who made the decision. But things are not this simple: We still face the question of who decides what a society’s core principles are, determines how to interpret them, and judges their importance relative to free speech itself—all questions with no clear answer, much less a universally agreed-upon one.
But here’s a fella who might be in a position soon to influence the debate, announcing the political intentions he began forming in issue #272.
I’m not sure when Sam’s dual identity as the Falcon was made public, but it seems that is not the identity the Daily Bugle reporter is most interested in.
As we’ll soon see, the issue of Sam’s criminal past as “Snap” Wilson will be explored and explained in back-up stories in the next three issues (and posts).
Now back to Steve, who encounters anti-Semitism in his own work life…
…and reacts in the only way a decent person could (no super-soldier serum required).
This incident also has the effect of helping Steve realize the importance of resisting hatred, in the same way that he saw racism and sexism more evidently after waking up in the modern world and then revisiting the 1940s, as shown in the Captain America: Man Out of Time miniseries. This realization inspires Steve to join Bernie and their neighbors to protest the neo-Nazi rally…
…where he meets someone from Bernie’s past.
When Steve notes the small number of neo-Nazis at their own rally, he mentions what will come to be known (at least in our world) as the Streisand effect, and reacts similarly to Bernie’s ex-husband as he did to Anna earlier…
…but this time, the threats are realized, and both Steve and Bernie are shocked.
Clark makes an excuse to Lois before he leaves to find a phone booth, while silently decrying the spreading violence.
He makes his way to the platform, confronting the leaders of the two sides…
…and then makes a speech similar to the one he made earlier, this time focusing on the value to society of free expression itself.
Of course, Bernie, it’s basically John Stuart Mill… oh wait, that’s not what you meant, is it?
Then Cap dresses down Sammy and the neo-Nazi in turn, starting with the former. He suggests more than a hint of moral equivalence, arguing that violence in resistance to fascism is to engage in it… which is difficult to reconcile with a certain someone socking a certain someone else in the jaw. (OK, that Nazi was doing more than simply expressing his views, but still.)
For the record, when “punching Nazis” became a topic of discussion in early 2017, Bleeding Cool‘s Rich Johnston asked J.M. DeMatteis for his thoughts on how he wrote Cap in this issue, to which DeMatteis replied:
Keep in mind that, thirty-something years later, I think I’d approach that story with more subtlety and nuance. But the essential idea about not physically attacking someone who espouses viewpoints we find despicable? I feel exactly the same way now as I did then. I think this past weekend’s marches illustrate the right way to respond: with passion, with political action, but not with violence.
(Thanks to regular reader and blogger Ben Herman for pointing me to this quote!)
When Cap turns to the neo-Nazi, he focuses on the real-world implications of the younger man’s twisted ideology.
Bernie’s epiphany continues while Cap continues to draw a false equivalence between the neo-Nazis and their critics…
…going as far as to accuse both men of indulging “self-consuming hate” and calling them “two of a kind.”
One can certainly criticize the protestors’ use of violence, but one should not conflate their righteous anger at the Nazis’ racial hatred with that hatred itself.
I’m sure Bernie would have some strong thoughts on this issue as well, but she’s a bit preoccupied at the moment.
What? No way!
This revelation will obviously play out in coming issues of Captain America, but before we wrap up this post, we need to touch on Cap’s tale in Marvel Fanfare #5. It begins with some footage of him and Bucky in World War II, fighting some Nazis—gee, what’re the odds?—while delivering some now-standard lines about strength without skill and the indefatigable drive of fighting for liberty.
Their main opponent, Stryker, confirms the ideology that Sammy and his friends would later resist in 1982…
…while that same year, Stryker’s son swears vengeance of Captain America, planning to defeat him by getting to the man beneath the legend.
Stryker lures Cap to a war pavillion, to which Cap has a reaction that would make Tony Stark’s heart sing with joy.
“Hey!” Tony says, thinking ahead ten years to one of his epic debates with Cap in Captain America #401 (June 1992), until we remind him that “the ends justify the means” is only considered a bad thing when the means are inherently wrong—not just slightly troubling, such as this case, when Cap simply balanced two comparable concerns. (Nice try, Tony.)
Back to Stryker, who switches outfits with Cap and tries in vain to defeat him, only to be skewered by the same statue he surprised Cap with at the beginning. In the end, Cap confirms that the costume and shield do not make the man—the mission does.
Collected in Captain America Epic Collection: Monsters and Men.
Marvel Fanfare (vol. 1) #5, November 1982, “Shall Freedom Endure…”: Roger McKensie (writer), Luke McDonnell (pencils), John Beatty (inks), Glynis Wein (colors), Diana Albers (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Collected in Marvel Fanfare Volume 1: Strange Tales.
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Captain America #273-274 (September-October 1982)
NEXT ISSUES: Captain America #276 (December 1982)