Neal Kirby, the son of comics legend and Marvel’s Captain America co-creator Jack Kirby, released a public statement overnight. It was addressed to insurrectionists who took part in last week’s assaults on the US Capitol during Congress’ official count of the electoral college votes certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in last year’s Presidential election.
Invoking the anti-fascist roots of Captain America’s origins and his father’s own vehement hatred of the Nazis, Kirby released the statement in part due to his own dismay at seeing images of Trump supporters besieging Capitol Hill wearing clothing depicting the twice-impeached man as one of Kirby’s most iconic comics creations.
“While watching one of the horrific videos of the storming of the Capitol, I thought I noticed someone in a Trump/Capt. America t-shirt,” Kirby’s statement reads in part. “I was appalled and mortified. I believe I even caught a quick glance of someone with a Captain America shield. A quick Google search turned up Trump as Captain America on T-shirts, posters, even a flag! These images are disgusting and disgraceful.”
Neal Kirby, the son of Captain America co-creator Jack Kirby, was distressed to see some of the January 6 terrorists/rioters wearing shirts with versions of his dad’s creation corrupted by the image of the outgoing president. His message to them: pic.twitter.com/RTH9UNs491
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 14, 2021
“If Donald Trump had the qualities and character of Captain America, the White House would be a shining symbol of truth and integrity, not a festering cesspool of lies and hypocrisy,” Kirby’s statement concludes. “Several of our presidents held the same values as Captain America. Donald Trump is not one of them.”
Explicitly created as an anti-fascist figure by Jewish creators Kirby and Joe Simon, Captain America has a long history of storytelling about standing up to the violent shadow of the far right. But in recent years, Marvel Comics has, at times, bristled with appearing to explicitly support those leanings. Its current Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski (who previously wrote for the publisher under the guise of being a Japanese writer, using the pen name Akira Yoshida) has cited a desire for the company’s work to not necessarily comment on modern politics and the famous “world outside your window” style of superhero storytelling.
The publisher drew fire in recent years for softening up a Captain America-themed essay about protest and confronting anti-fascism by writer Mark Waid in Marvel Comics #1000 in 2019, and Maus creator Art Spiegelman pulled his contribution to a Marvel collection in the same year after being asked to remove anti-Trump commentary from his piece at the publisher’s behest. To see Neal Kirby have to be the one to release statements decrying the use of his father’s co-creation on the gear of violent insurrections, and not the company still pumping out comics and movies about that character, is part of the wider picture being painted by the publisher’s attempts to remain apolitical with characters that are anything but.
But this is also part of a wider issue about Trump supporters and the far right’s appropriation of iconography from popular culture (especially culture with left-leaning ideals, like Star Wars or superhero comics). Long have we seen MAGA platitudes draped across the likes of Baby Yoda or far-right merchandise emblazoned with the Punisher skull from Marvel Comics, and even real-life licensed merchandise that draws allusions to the outgoing president’s infamous slogans. Trump himself has a history of using intellectual property without consent, whether it’s songs at campaign rallies or drawing the ire of HBO for repeatedly invoking Game of Thrones.
As with the issue of the Punisher emblem repeatedly showing up on the gear of far-right militants like those that besieged the US Capitol last week, or on the riot gear of police during last year’s protests for racial justice, it shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of the family of creative people who believed in the ideals of their creations to have to call out fascists appropriating its imagery. Marvel, and its parent corporation Disney, have more than enough power to shut down unlicensed use of its characters and have done so plenty of times for far more minor reasons.
They just continue to make the choice not to.