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Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero

Metaphors, Narratives, and Geopolitics

Jason Dittmer

Publication Year: 2012

Nationalist superheroes—such as Captain America, Captain Canuck, and Union Jack—often signify the “nation-state” for readers, but how do these characters and comic books address issues of multiculturalism and geopolitical order? In his engaging book Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero, geographer Jason Dittmer traces the evolution of the comic book genre as it adapted to new national audiences. He argues that these iconic superheroes contribute to our contemporary understandings of national identity, the righteous use of power, and the role of the United States, Canada, and Britain in the world.

Tracing the nationalist superhero genre from its World War II origins to contemporary manifestations throughout the world, Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero analyzes nearly one thousand comic books and audience responses to those books. Dittmer also interviews key comic book writers from Stan Lee and J. M. DeMatteis to Steve Englehart and Paul Cornell.

At a time when popular culture is saturated with superheroes and their exploits, Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero highlights the unique relationship between popular culture and international relations.

Published by: Temple University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I owe special thanks to Paul Adams, Caroline Bressey, Michael Brown, Sean Carter, Simon Dalby, Klaus Dodds, Dan Hassler-Forest, James Kneale, and Alec Murphy for providing feedback on draft chapters. Many of the insights about Canada and Canadian superheroes belong to my friend and collaborator Soren Larsen, ...

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1. Introducing Nationalist Superheroes

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pp. 1-23

The painting in this book’s frontispiece (and on the cover of the paperback edition), Massacre in Haditha, by British Jordanian artist Tanya Tier, is a revisioning of Pablo Picasso’s Massacre in Korea (1951—see Figure 1.1). In this painting Picasso expressed his horror at the American machine-gunning of civilian refugees during the Korean War ...

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2. Gendered Nation-state, Gendered Hero

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pp. 24-45

Captain America’s body was failing. The super-soldier serum that gave him his superpowers was breaking down after many decades of service. He had followed the supervillains Cobra and Mr. Hyde into the deserts of the American Southwest, but there his muscles gave out for the final time. ...

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3. Embodying Multiculturalism

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pp. 46-62

Chapter 2 shows the metonymic relationship between the nationalist superhero’s body and the body politic to be problematic via its embodiment of the nation in a single sex (which can be sexed either male or female, but tends to be gendered as masculine regardless). However, as this chapter’s opening quotation shows, ...

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4. Origins

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pp. 63-82

This chapter’s opening quotation works both intratextually, as an explanation of the relative popularity of these two nationalist superheroes within their own countries, and extratextually, as a commentary on the struggle to transpose the American generic conventions of the nationalist superhero into new countries, ...

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5. Narratives of Continuity and Change

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pp. 83-101

This narrated exposition, concluding a two-issue story arc in which Captain America travels to England to team up with Union Jack against the Nazi vampire Baron Blood, illustrates how national narratives and superhero narratives intertwine. In particular, Union Jack is portrayed as the embodiment of a national spirit that is essential to British identity: ...

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6. Grounding the Nation-state

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pp. 102-122

This quotation (from Juggernaut, member of New Excalibur) provides a taste of the emphasis given to territory and borders within the nationalist superhero subgenre. This emphasis has existed since the beginning of the subgenre, given that the original purpose of Captain America was to catch spies and saboteurs sent into the United States from Nazi Germany. ...

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7. Geopolitical Orders

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pp. 123-141

This postcrisis exchange between the quintessentially American superhero and the Japanese media takes on a slightly different meaning than when Captain America is routinely feted by domestic news media. While some may find the reliance of the United States on an unelected patriotic vigilante named Captain America ...

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8. Alternate Worlds

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pp. 142-159

What if Captain America had objected to the atomic bomb? This is the premise of a 1997 story line that reimagines the history of the hero along these lines. His principled objection to the atomic bomb led to his brainwashing by the American government, which had an interest in keeping him in action: ...

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9. Parody and Subversion

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pp. 160-180

This dialogue, in the opening scene of Captain Confederacy, shows how easily the nationalist superhero subgenre can be parodied and turned upside down. Suddenly the generic conventions are exposed in a new way: the patriotism of Captain America morphs into ethnic hierarchy, the vigilantism of Captain Britain becomes indistinguishable ...

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pp. 181-188

To close this book, this afterword begins by recapitulating the empirical findings of this study, considering the chapters as pairs that together take up a particular facet of the nationalist superhero. Subsequently, two themes that cut across all the chapters are considered in some depth: hegemony and authorship. ...


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pp. 189-206


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pp. 207-224


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pp. 225-229

E-ISBN-13: 9781439909782
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439909775

Page Count: 246
Illustrations: 25
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 825170257
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Comic books, strips, etc. -- History and criticism.
  • Superheroes in literature.
  • Nationalism and literature.
  • Geopolitics -- Social aspects.
  • Popular culture -- Political aspects.
  • America, Captain (Fictitious character).
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  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access