Captain American vs Superman: who is the true symbol of patriotism? Many have debated who would win if the worlds of the two iconic characters collided. One has super strength, heat vision, can fly, and bears one of the most recognizable emblems in the world. The other carries a shield and has made stars and stripes his signature. Thus, it is clear both are powerful figures of strength, but does one embody America and the American Dream more than the other?
In We Understood That Reference, the nerd-adjacent and superhero-focused podcast, Clayburn Griffin and Nikhil Kasbekar discuss and debate Captain America and Superman’s embodiment of classic American aspirations in their episode titled Patriotism.
It is important to note that neither Captain America nor Superman have held true to their original depiction. In the Patriotism episode, Clayburn observes that the two iconic figures have changed throughout history, “not only in terms of their everyday character, in order to match the times, but also in terms of patriotism.” This is because what it means to be a patriot has evolved over time. Nikhil goes on to explain Captain America was originally created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941 and was aligned with the war effort. More specifically, Captain America was envisioned by Marvel Comics as the patriotic counterpart to the Red Skull, a Nazi villain working to bring down the United States from within. The government utilized Captain America to support the war effort and American morale on the Homefront and front lines of the war. On the Homefront, propaganda posters and comic books featuring Captain America were used to inspire people to enlist as well as boost sales of war bonds for military production. The US government also sent copies of Captain America comic books to soldiers fighting overseas to boost morale. Flashforward to Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America no longer had a shield and grew out a beard, in order to more accurately reflect the times.
Interestingly, Superman’s American roots are similar to Captain America. In 1939, towards the end of the Great Depression, Superman #1 hit the stands as the first-ever comic book devoted to a single character. Superman began as a champion of the oppressed. In his first outing, he saved a wrongly accused prisoner from a lynch mob and freed an innocent woman on death row. As he became a symbol of strength and his story became a blueprint for rising from tough times, Superman also became used to motivate the war effort and 35,000 copies of Superman alone went abroad each month during WWII.
It might be fair to say that Captain America and Superman embody different aspects of patriotism while both playing off the mythos and the importance of autonomy to make decisions and fight for freedom.
If you would like to learn more about Captain America and Superman’s patriotic roots as well as other characters’ reflections of American culture, such as Iron Man and Lex Luther, check out the We Understood That Reference podcast. They cover superhero movies and comic book stuff in general. You can find them on their website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. They’re all over the place!