Superheroes and Nationalism: Captain Israel
by Jeet Heer
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
I try to refrain from political discussions on this blog but this Mondoweiss post about a Captain Israel comic book will, I think, be of interest to readers of this blog. In an earlier essay on Canadian comic book history, I touched on the relationship between superheroes and nationalism.
I think my earlier comments might shed light on this topic:
Moreover, Superman, like the superhero genre he spawned, is a profoundly American idea. Superman was created at a turning point in American history, during the Great Depression. Economically debilitated, the U.S. was isolationist, but in a few short years it was ready to recover its strength and become the world’s leading superpower. Just as wimpy Clark Kent threw away his business suit to emerge as Superman, America was a great power waiting to flex its muscles. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, Superman’s creators, were second-generation immigrant Jews. As such, they had multiple reasons for identifying with American nationalism; deep in their bones, they felt that only a superpower could defeat Hitler.
Ingrained in the superhero genre is a sense of America’s invincibility, its inherent goodness and its world historical destiny. For this reason, national heroes from other countries (be they Captain Canuck, Britain’s Jack Staff, Italy’s Capitan Italia or Israel’s Shaloman) always seem either satirical or half-baked. Despite the faltering war effort in Iraq, the U.S. is the world’s only superpower and for that reason it is the only country that creates confident and commercially successful superheroes.