Racism and Captain America

From their arrival into the United States in the mid-1800s, Japanese Americans faced rejection from their new white neighbors.

The accusations were often typical of new groups of immigrants, accusations we still see against immigrant groups today — they stole jobs, they were dirty and brought disease with them, they would never assimilate into American culture and force their culture upon Americans.

These attitudes persisted even as the Japanese proved their loyalty to the States and ability to assimilate. Laws were put in place to bar immigrants from ever being able to achieve citizen status, and while their children were citizens from birth, actions were taken by the state of California, where the majority of them lived, to segregate them from schools.

Most of these actions were turned away at the federal level, but the message was clear: even though they were citizens, they weren’t truly American.

As those children grew up, the tension became stronger as Japan allied itself with Germany and became a major power in World War 2.

Now adults, the second generation of Japanese immigrants formed the Japanese Americans Citizens League striving to prove that they were just as loyal of Americans as anyone else.

As American paranoia grew though, it became harder and harder to fight the racist discrimination and Japanese Americans found themselves in concentration camps.

In my first column, I mentioned that Captain America books have a history of making statements against sexism, anti-black racism, and homophobia, of standing up for the oppressed in times when society isn’t willing to. I haven’t found any of that with regards to the Japanese Americans during World War 2.

The racism against Japanese people is blatant throughout the books, not only in how the Japanese are portrayed, but also in that so far, I haven’t seen them stood up for once.

Issue 5, in particular is horrible in its treatment of the Japanese. The book starts off with story about Steve and Bucky being asked to go on an assignment to Hawaii (which I touched on in column 3 for different reasons.)

When they arrive, however, they discover that the Naval base has recently had one of their ships swallowed whole by a giant sea serpent. It turns out that the sea serpent is actually a giant ship carrying a Japanese villain and his crew.

Captain America Comics, Issue 5, page 25.
Captain America Comics, Issue 5, page 25.

 

The depiction of the villain fits right in with the anti-Japanese propaganda posters and advertisements of the time. In the essay, WWII Propaganda: The Influence of Racism Hannah Miles discusses the features and purposes of such images, and reflected in the panel above we see the yellow skin, slanted eyes, and monkey-like face which “depict the Japanese as animalistic monsters.”

The purpose of all of these, of course, was to present the Japanese as other, and to “[instill] fear and racial prejudice against the Japanese in order to gain the United States’ support for the war.” These images led Americans to fear and hate Japanese Americans as well, making America a hostile country for them to live in and ultimately leading to them being placed in internment camps.

As if this portrayal wasn’t bad enough, the story following it is one about a German boy Bucky is friends. The boy’s father is being pressured by other Germans to support Hitler and work for the Nazis in America, but he refuses to, and Cap and Bucky come to his rescue.

While the German villains are portrayed as caricatures — large and bullyish with limited intelligence — the book makes it clear that there are plenty of Germans in America who aren’t evil.

issue5page32b

There, so far, hasn’t been this kind of support for Japanese Americans in the books. Captain America and Bucky have not yet come to their rescue.

It’s a pretty huge insult that not only are they portrayed racistly, but that there is reassurance that there are good Germans, but no reassurance for them.

I’m hoping that later in the books there is something that speaks against America’s use of internment camps, but if what I’ve read so far is any indicator, I’m not holding my breath for it.

A Poison Ivy Comic Series? What A Great Idea

Poison Ivy, aka Dr. Pamela Lillian Isley, is a familiar character. We’ve seen her in Batman and Robin played by Uma Thurman (a movie memorable for this), know that she is all for plants (go plants!) and hates men…and that’s about all we know about her.

There’s so much untapped story potential there that a Poison Ivy comic series would most likely be a joy to write for whatever lucky writer got the job. There is also, apparently, a large audience for it – if you look at Twitter, anyway.

So why hasn’t there been one yet?

If you’re in the comics world on Twitter, there’s a 99% chance you’ll have come across users asking DC – politely, I might add – for a Poison Ivy comic series.

There’s been a lot of love lately for Harley Quinn, especially since a film version of Suicide Squad has been announced. Let us not forget that she is a character who started out as a bit-parter in the Batman Animated Series and who now holds court in her own series: not a bad achievement for the girl with the giant hammer.

Which clearly isn’t FAIR. Not that I’m saying Harley isn’t great, she really is, but if she can have her own series then why can’t Poison Ivy? We’re going into bullet points now.  I’ve given you a fair warning.

Benefits of Poison Ivy having her own series:

      • Poison Ivy is a strong, badass woman, and we need more of these women in front of us every day to let us know it’s okay to be strong and badass
      • It’d be good for reversing climate change (maybe)
      • No but seriously, the environment is a big issue nowadays and there’s a vast array of stories to tell
      • She’d be able to stand on her own two feet instead of being Harley’s sidekick
      • She’s independent as she’s not a member of a group or a team which makes her unusual and interesting to say the least

A final plea:

 

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