This Magazine Kills Fascists: The Man Who Bought America
This Magazine Kills Fascists looks at times that comic books and superheroes have dealt with tyrannical, corrupt and outright fascist world leaders — not because we think we can find a solution, but because art can provide inspiration in the face of oppression.
While we launched the feature not long ago with a Captain America story, current events dictate that we return to the Star-Spangled Avenger for our fourth installment. This week we’re looking at a more recent story that serves up corporate corruption, Russian meddling in US elections, and out-and-out Nazis, in one unsavory package.
The Captain America run by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting has influenced much of the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe, most notably Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While a lot has been said about the creators' bold and controversial decision to bring back Bucky Barnes as a Russian super-assassin, many of the nuances and core themes of their stories aren’t given as much attention.
The arc we’re looking at today took place in Captain America #37-42; here’s a quick rundown of what led up to it. A former KGB agent/corporate CEO named Aleksander Lukin sent The Winter Soldier to assassinate The Red Skull for the Cosmic Cube, but later found out the Skull used the cube to transfer his mind into Lukin’s body. Working together, they engineered the brainwashing of Sharon Carter and the assassination of Steve Rogers, forcing Bucky Barnes to become the new Captain America.
In the background while all of this is happening --- and about to get really important --- is a senator named Gordon Wright, who was recently attacked by the Serpent Squad and bravely fought them off. As we start the new arc, Wright has split from his (unnamed) party to form one of his own called The Third Wing, and has very high approval ratings after negotiating with the Kronas Corporation to lower the price of oil and halt the foreclosure of thousands of homes across the country.
The problem being, Senator Wright is in the Red Skull’s pocket, and the Red Skull essentially runs Kronas Corp via Lukin. Thanks to the attack by the Serpent Squad, no-one would ever accuse Wright of being associated with Nazis, and as the most popular politician in the country, with a message about shaking up the system and breaking down the barriers of entry, he’s got a clear shot at the White House.
So, there’s a popular presidential candidate secretly backed by corporate interests and Russian interests, and aligned with actual Nazis. The only way this could get worse was if they planned to corrupt the very meaning of what it is to be an American. Well, that’s where The Grand Director comes in.
The Grand Director is William Burnside, the Captain America of the ‘50s, who was driven mad by super-soldier serum to the point that he got surgery to look just like Steve Rogers. He was put on ice for decades, but returned as an outright white supremacist in a costume that looks like a KKK Wolverine variant. He was thought dead long-ago, but this story reveals that he's still alive and has been brainwashed by The Red Skull to believe that he actually is Steve Rogers. Thanks to a series of false flag attacks on Wright, Burnside is positioned to be presented as the real Captain America in opposition to Bucky Barnes.
This plan is stopped in part thanks to daring superhero action from Captain America, but ultimately it's the actions of three villains that bring down the plan to appoint a puppet president. The evil hypnotist Doctor Faustus betrays everyone and goes AWOL; the Red Skull’s daughter Sin proves to be too reckless to be trusted; and the Grand Director has a moment of heroism and saves Sharon Carter from Arnim Zola.
In the real world, waiting for the villains to save us --- either by messing up or having a change of heart --- is not a good strategy. We can’t wait around for those in power to stand up against the rising tide of nationalism, populism and outright fascism. All great social changes have come from people rising up and being heard, and the crisis we face in the world today is no different. We can use comics and other fiction to analyse and comment on the world around us, but it’s no good just pointing out that Star Wars is a bit like modern life; we’ve got to get up and do something.
Although this series of articles was launched in response to the US election, and the same story is playing out all over the world, with bigots like Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall in the UK, Marine Le Pen in France, and Kellie Leitch in Canada; the list goes on. Unfortunately there are no superheroes to save us, so we have to do it ourselves.
There are a number of worthy causes already leading the charge in the fight back. If you can, please consider donating to any of the following institutions:
For more post-election resources, Holy F— The Election is a great starting point. As you might guess, the website uses some strong language!