CAPTAIN AMERICA’S BICENTENNIAL CONSPIRACY
by Kenn Thomas
Since it is impossible to pick a “favorite” single image or story from Kirby’s vast and brilliant oeuvre, as someone who writes about conspiracies, I feel obliged to draw attention to this aspect of Kirby’s art. Much can be said about the profound impact that the Kennedy assassination had on the artist. Kirby said as much, although Kirby chronicler Mark Evanier, who shuns conspiracies in general, claims not to be able to see it in his work. Suffice it to say that a change does appear in Fantastic Four and the other comics shortly after November 1963. Rather than write that essay, however, I would like to offer Kirby’s 1976 run of CAPTAIN AMERICA to demonstrate that Kirby did indeed have his finger on the pulse of the conspiracy underground.
I often explain to people in that subculture that the good captain was fighting Nazis back in World War II, created by Jack Kirby (along with partner Joe Simon), a legendary figure in the American comic book industry who died in 1994 but who remains contemporary in part as a principle visual chronicler of conspiracy from the time of the US Bicentennial. Marvel recently released in graphic novel form Madbomb, the story arc that Kirby developed after returning to the company in 1976, the bicentennial year. Weirdly, the original run of the comic at that time ended with issue #200. Conspiracy was not a regular theme in Kirby’s work and not one actually found too often in the popular culture at all prior to the X-Files. So it is doubly surprising to discover the theme in this collection.
Madbomb involves a mind-control weapon, one that accurately reflected the then emerging “paranoid” complaints of the “wavies”, a large number of American citizens who felt they had been harassed and victimized by directed microwave weapons designed to destroy their minds. After the tumultuous politics of the previous decade, starting with the JFK assassination, many people in America thought they were going crazy and began attributing it to a developing new and secret technology. Kirby imagines this as a weapon of mass destruction, alludes to conspiracy on every page and includes Men In Black and underground bunkers in the “western badlands” in a way that prefigures remarkably the 1980s stories about Area 51 He even includes the master conspiracy bugaboo Henry Kissinger as a character in the tale!
My final point to conspiracy heads and comics fan alike is that Kirby knew about conspiracy. In his career, he labored under work-for-hire contracts that deprived him of the mega-billions in profits his creations, such as the X-Men, Spider-Man and the Hulk, now make for Marvel as licensing properties and block buster movies.
Kenn Thomas is the author of such books as The Octopus, NASA, Nazis and JFK, Maury Island UFO, Popular Alienation and others. His next book, Conspiracy Files, will be published by Reader’s Digest in July. He also does the magazine Steamshovel Press, see www.steamshovelpress.com for more info.