Two-Fisted Emancipator

2009 February 17
by Josh Brown

I only wish Marvel had gone the full nine yards with its “Presidents’ Day Special” online issue of Spider-Man comics. The cover (left) with its brawny Lincoln getting ready to rumble (“to save America”) promised at least a moment of surrealism if not much clarity about the identity of Lincoln’s adversary (the reader having adopted the latter’s point of view). One might have hoped for, as the cover announces, some sort of alliance with Captain America who could personify (in his primary red-white-and-blueness) the Union as the duo clobbered the Confederacy. But Marvel’s embrace of history is disappointing—a comment that, yes, I know, borders on the risible. But bear with me a moment.

I think it’s safe to surmise that this six-page tale is Marvel’s gesture to civics education. Sure, almost half of the pages of “Gettysburg Distress” is an inept set up for the Captain to reminisce about the time a “cosmic cube” thrust him back to the November 19, 1863 dedication ceremony, but after that the rest of the story encompasses Lincoln’s speech. It’s a rather dreary visual rendition of the event, lots of blank-faced, bearded men in dark suits and lots of close-ups of a curiously thick-necked Lincoln with a startlingly brief upper lip (I guess he left his dentures back in Washington). In short, it’s a rather flaccid effort to offer young readers some history while studiously avoiding any reference to slavery, the Confederacy, and secession.

The two-fisted Lincoln on the cover, spouting the address as he belted his way toward “a new birth of freedom” would have been an interesting and refreshingly bizarre alternative. But maybe I’m just not in tune with the spirit of this particular story, which, amid the civics lesson, offers a startling insight into the Marvel universe (one I thought I’d grasped long ago when I was a devoted reader and comics were ten cents). Marvel’s contribution to the super-hero genre was the introduction of characters who saw their powers as burdens, cutting them off from the rest of humanity. But in this tale, a Technicolor Captain America popping up amid the Gettysburg crowd doesn’t seem to provoke any comment or, for that matter, self-consciousness on the Captain’s part. Indeed, as Lincoln’s speech draws to a close . . .

It’s probably just an indication of how little effort went into writing this tale, but the normalization of the super hero seems to be in direct proportion to the strangeness of Lincoln.

By the way, if you’re looking for a truly surreal take on history, let me direct you to last Sunday’s installment of the comic strip “Gasoline Alley.”

Last 5 posts by Josh Brown

2009 February 24
Aaron Knoll permalink

It almost seems a shame- even while using a medium that is meant to convey excitement and tell stories in a visual way- it seems that the take on Lincoln rarely rises above the dry history book approach. It’s a shame that we still see issues like slavery as too contentious to even graphically represent in a way that might promote conversation. I mean, the issue is implicit in the art- the crowd seems to be pretty racially homogeneous.

2009 April 6

[…] of iconic events such as his November 19, 1863 Gettysburg Address. Having already waxed unrhapsodic about Marvel’s anemic, six-page attempt to impress its readers about the man and the event by presenting him in close proximity to […]


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