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01/24/13

Permalink 04:40:38 pm, by bobcalhoun Email , 865 words, 1925 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

Jimmy Stewart's Porn Mag

Jimmy Stewart's Porn Mag
Notice the fine reading material on Jimmy Stewart’s coffee table.

It’s around 4 a.m. I can’t get to sleep. Vertigo is on one of the Starz HD channels. It only takes a few minutes to draw me in.

Kim Novak is in the next room freshening up. Jimmy Stewart, looking so safe in his green V-neck sweater pulled over a starched, white shirt, leans over from his 50s couch to catch a glimpse of her. Ol’ Jimmy, ever the gracious host, has a fresh pot of coffee within easy reach right in the middle of his Danish Modern coffee table. To the right of his silver coffee pot, is a matching silver creamer, but to the left of it appears to be a copy of Swank….

SWANK!?!

Good Lord! Choke! Really!?!

To men of my generation, Swank was one of the raunchiest skin mags readily available on the Quik Stop porn rack. Its slick pages were probably the first place where several of my friends and I were introduced to the concepts of girl-on-girl and anal sex.

I can’t really believe that Hollywood nice guy Stewart has a copy of Swank just sitting on his coffee table, out in the open for his lady guest to see. I use my DVR’s search feature to run the scene again to see if my eyes were deceiving me. They weren’t. 1080 pixels on a 52-inch plasma TV reveal that Jimmy likes a little smut with his java, evidently. I wonder if Clarence the angel from It’s a Wonderful Life had his wings repossessed after that one.

Jimmy Stewart's copy of Swank

Of course, Swank was a different periodical back in 1958 when Vertigo came out than it was in the 1980s when its covers lines promised “young, tight twat” in oversized typeface. According to Wikipedia, comic book industry pioneer Victor Fox started the magazine in the 1940s. Comic book historian Mark Evanier described Fox as “an old-time hustler/financier who’s spent years sprinting from one dubious enterprise to another.” Captain America co-creator Joe Simon called Fox a “very loud, menacing, and really a scary little guy.” He called himself “the King of the Comics” as he darted around his office, berating the likes of Jack Kirby and Bill Everett, the artists who’d go on to create most of the characters seen in today’s blockbuster superhero movies.

Somewhere along the line, Fox sold Swank to Martin Goodman, the future publisher of Marvel Comics and Stan Lee’s cousin by marriage. During this time, Swank featured stories penned by William Saroyan and Psycho author Robert Bloch, so Stewart’s disgraced cop in Vertigo could more easily claim that he only read it for the articles, and not all the girly pics that were likely snapped by Stewart’s photographer character from Rear Window—at least in the 50s of my imagination. The November 1957 issue featured a profile of Alfred Hitchcock just six months before the release of Vertigo. Maybe Hitch was repaying a favor when he allowed the mag to appear at the bottom of his frame in his 1958 masterpiece.

But the connection between Swank and Marvel Comics makes too much sense now that I think about it. In the 1970s, three random back issues of comics were bundled into these plastic packs and sold at places like Gemco and Ben Franklin Stores. I remember spending a lot of time trying to lift the visible top comic with my thumb to see what the middle book was, hoping against hope that it was an Avengers and not The Champions. I still ended up with nearly a complete set of The Champions anyway with most of them obtained through those three-packs.

Goodman’s porn overstock was packaged in the same way with printing on the plastic wrap hiding the magazine’s cover girls. I used to work at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco some four miles away from Jimmy Stewart’s Lombard Street apartment in Vertigo. The corner store where I got my coffee and bagels in the morning had a rack with those packs of porn on it over by some dusty bottles of cheap wine. One morning, the Iranian café owner from across the street held up one of the three-packs. “This is just like woman in the Middle East,” he quipped, “you can only see her face.” Everybody in the store broke out laughing after that one.

Martin Goodman, who had been a driving force behind both the comic book and men’s mag industries, died in relative obscurity in 1992, having long-since been eclipsed by such more flamboyant figures as Stan Lee, Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt. Marvel Comics marked his passing with just a short paragraph in their throwaway hype mag, Marvel Age.

“Nobody talks about Martin Goodman,” Irwin Linker, an art-director who worked for Goodman, says in Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: the Untold Story (Harper 2012). “It’s like he never lived, and he’s the guy who started the whole thing. It’s like he never existed.”

Goodman’s son, Charles “Chip” Goodman, sold Swank and what was left of the family’s smut empire to the Magna Publishing Group in 1993. By this time, Swank was hardly the kind of thing that men like Jimmy Stewart would just leave lying around his apartment.

11/13/12

Permalink 11:33:51 am, by bobcalhoun Email , 546 words, 8410 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

Thanks to Petraus & Broadwell, my ghostwriting gig sounds so dirty


Me with “Judo” Gene LeBell in 2003.

I have never had sexual relations with “Judo” Gene LeBell. Thanks to David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, I actually have to say this.

Way back in May 2002, I began working on LeBell’s autobiography, titled “The Godfather of Grappling.” During the following months I got to know the legendary martial arts master and Hollywood stuntman better than I know my own father—better than I know anyone really. There are few details of Gene’s life from the tragic loss of his first wife to his triumph in the 1954 AAU Judo Nationals or when Steve Martin threw him in the pool during the filming of “The Jerk” that aren’t rattling around in my head somewhere. This level of trust (dare I saw intimacy) between writer and subject sounds so dirty now. Thanks David Petraeus. Thanks Paula Broadwell.

My job in writing “The Godfather of Grappling” was a bit different than Broadwell’s with the unfortunately but hilariously named “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.” I was ghostwriting an autobiography to be published with LeBell himself listed as the author with me credited as a more ubiquitous “with” or “as told to.” Nobody was expecting objectivity here although I did consider it my duty to try to push this man who had taught both Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris how to break arms to reveal aspects of his life that he was hesitant to. Sometimes I won these arguments. Sometimes I didn’t, but at least I didn’t end up with any broken fingers as a result of my self-enforced diligence.

Broadwell’s work bore her own name in big, white letters above the title, presumably to present Petraeus’ story and a good chunk of raw military propaganda as coming from an objective source. Although even here, Broadwell’s gushing tome still bears the credit “with Vernon Loeb” in smaller letters underneath her name, showing layers of ghostwriting upon ghosting. And while so many seek to brand Broadwell with the adulterer’s scarlet letter, we shouldn’t overlook her publisher, Penguin Press, for not holding the finished work to a higher standard of journalism even if the author herself wasn’t a journalist or a published author. Sadly, Penguin is set to make a greater windfall off of “All In” than their number crunchers could’ve ever imagined, as the book is soaring up Amazon’s charts right now.

My mind turns back to Broadwell being interviewed by Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” and her talking about going on six-mile runs with Gen. Petraeus to win over his trust. By the end of the segment she and Stewart are on the floor doing pushups (along with Broadwell’s cuckold Scott Broadwell). For me to win over “Judo” Gene’s trust, I had to go to his dojo in North Hollywood and get on the mats with him. During these sessions, Gene often leaned the full weight of his body onto me as he pushed his chest into my face and held me in a vice-like grip. I could only tap in submission as he demonstrated a series of agonizing joint locks and chokeholds on me.

It all sounds so dirty now.

Thanks David Petraeus.

Thanks Paula Broadwell.

10/15/12

Permalink 11:13:39 am, by bobcalhoun Email , 344 words, 13856 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances, Iron Sheik Tweets, astronomy

The Implications of the Iron Sheik's Latest Tweet are Enormous

Iron Sheik Tweet
Former pro wrestling world champion The Iron Sheik AKA Sheikie Baby shook the foundations of astronomy and physics with his tweet earlier today.

Former WWE world champion The Iron Sheik rocked the foundations of what is knowable earlier this morning with a tweet about daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s successful skydive from the stratosphere.

“the (sic) Felix Baumgartner never sold out madison square garden,” the Iron Sheik tweeted, “ He no legend like the sheikie baby. fuck him and fuck space for putting him over.”

To those familiar with the jargon common to the pro wrestling industry, the implications of this angry diatribe are enormous. In just 108 characters, this wrestling legend has accused the vastness of space itself—which meausres at a minimum of 28-billion light years in diameter that we currently know of–laid down, took a dive, or jobbed out to a 43-year-old Austrian skydiver.

Even if we limit the scope of The Iron Sheik’s definition of space to only include our own Solar System, it would mean that something taking up over 14 trillion kilometers or 100,000 astronomical units knowingly and purposefully went down 1-2-3 in the middle of the ring to a much smaller opponent.

Sheikie Baby’s bromide may have consequences for the fields of religion and philosophy as well as for astrophysics. What the Iron Sheik is saying here is that the universe we live in “does business,” in that it will negotiate with often greedy and shortsighted promoters to elevate more photogenic stars. One would be tempted to summon the overly used phrase Lovecraftian to describe this, but the scope is so much more staggering than anything dreamed up by science-fiction author H. P. Lovecraft.

With this one tweet The Iron Sheik has transcended to the level of an Aristotle or 16th Century French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes—thinkers who not only defined what is knowable, but the very nature of knowledge itself. The Iron Sheik first won the WWF (now WWE) world championship on December 26, 1983 at Madison Square Garden in New York in front of a sold-out crowd.

09/24/12

Permalink 12:49:08 am, by bobcalhoun Email , 562 words, 20046 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

Dragging Dr. Seuss Through Birther Paranoia

Conservatives crap all over the Cat in the Hat

I may have found the most twisted piece of conservative propaganda print matter out there. I know this is saying a lot with those Nancy Pelosi hunting licenses and the targets with Al Gore’s face in them that you can get at gun shows, but some Tea Party hobbits went and published this 55-page fake version of Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat.”

I almost have to hand it to the knuckle-draggers who put this thing out. At first glance, it does look like a Dr. Seuss book until you realize that the mischievous feline of your childhood has been replaced with a racist caricature of Obama wearing a Soviet fur cap with a sickle and hammer on it.

“I know you are poor/And the outlook’s not sunny/But we can have fun/With others people’s (sic) money!”, Dehumanized-Soviet-Obama says on page seven as he looks like he’s climbing through a window. (I think it’s actually supposed to be a TV set from the MSNBC logo in the corner there.) Also, that thing he’s carrying is a teleprompter. I couldn’t figure out what that phonebook on the end of a T-square thing was until I noticed that he reads from it sometimes. Conservatives are really hung up on the whole teleprompter thing.

Things even weirder when you realize that the fish in the bowl that lectures everyone on debt and death panels is supposed to be Glenn Beck, whom this little ball of birther hatred is dedicated to. Checking out the website ObamaParody.com, it looks like they’ve revised newer editions to have Mitt Romney in the fishbowl instead. “A lone fish stands in the way of this fate/Can he wake up the voters before it’s too late?”, it reads with a Mitt-fish-thing popping out of a teapot to scowl at the Obama-cat-thing.

This whole demented fever dream is the product of Loren Spivak, the self-proclaimed “Free Market Warrior.” The art direction is credited to Patrick Fields, but it doesn’t look like he did the actual drawings that make up the bulk of this book. Tucked away on the page of publishing info, underneath a “please don’t sue me” disclaimer saying that this is “a work of parody,” is an acknowledgement that reads, “Leandro Martins Moraes: Illustration.” Sure Martins Moraes’ style is akin to psychotic doodles that an overzealous prosecutor would use to convict some stoner kids of murder without any physical evidence, but shouldn’t he still get a little credit here? I guess Spivak and Fields figure that they’re the job creators, and the Latinos that they rope into drawing insipid agitprop should just self-deport already.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid show up as “Dem 1” and “Dem 2” and tear up the constitution. The Obama-Cat bows to Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez while Osama bin Laden beats on Hosni Mubarak, who is wearing an “Egypt <3 USA” shirt. By the end of the book, Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss and Franklin Roosevelt are so fed up with Obama’s extreme leftism that they start waving around a Tea Party flag. This book was printed in China. A really nice old man handing me a copy of this book at the California Republican Convention in Burlingame way back in February, but I must’ve blocked it out of memory all this time.

09/04/12

Permalink 10:37:09 am, by bobcalhoun Email , 297 words, 13438 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

National Review Goes Full Nazi in Making the Case for Romney

Romney Nazi
Which one is the Nazi propaganda poster and which one is the the cover of the National Review with Romney and Ryan on it? It’s damned hard to tell.

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton got in some hot water over the weekend for comparing the Republicans’ messaging strategy to Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels’ “big lie"–you know, the one that becomes true if you repeat it often enough. Of course, the Republican outrage machine was, well, outraged. Burton issued a measured apology. Etc. Etc.

But it gets really hard to say that the GOP isn’t taking a page from Goebbels’ playbook when the late William F. Buckley’s old rag, “The National Review,” chooses a cover like this for their big Romney/Ryan issue….

Not only did the cover editors of “The National Review take a bite of any old Nazi propaganda poster, but they took the one from the cover of “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda” by Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach, a book that you can order from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I guess Mitt’s stronger than any brown shirt though because he can hold up his gigantic flag with only one arm while carrying a bunch of rolled-up propaganda posters in the other. The Nazi stormtrooper needs both hands to hold his banner aloft. Also, it’s nice they added Paul Ryan carrying his high school year book or an old school family photo album back there. It gives the “National Review’s” take on this classic a homey touch of Americana. Maybe the next issue of “The National Review” will feature Romney wearing a suit of armor and carrying the flag while riding Rafalca. Maybe “National Review” hired the graphic designer who used to work for the Meat Council

08/15/12

Permalink 10:38:55 pm, by bobcalhoun Email , 915 words, 23363 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

The Melk Man with Feet of Clay

The Melk Men, a costume wearing group of fans of suspended Giants slugger Melky Cabrera, had fans of their own. (Photo courtesy of Ali Meza.)

The first time that Giants fans paid any real attention to Melky Cabrera, he was on the Atlanta Braves. It was the bottom of the ninth of the 2010 National League Division Series, the first round of the playoffs. The Giants led the game by a score of 3-2. Brian Wilson, San Francisco’s beardy closer, had walked two men, putting potential game-winning run on base. Melky came up to the plate with two outs. A single could tie the game, or maybe even win it if the ball fell in just the right place.

Cabrera wasn’t yet the hit machine that he would be two years later. He grounded out to third, bringing the Braves’ season to a close. The Giants won the game, advanced to the next round of the playoffs, and eventually won their first World Series since the team moved to San Francisco in the 1950s.

Following the loss, the Braves released Cabrera. The Kansas City Royals scooped him up for the 2011 season where he showed a marked improvement Despite his .305 average and 18 home runs that year, the Royals still traded Melky to San Francisco in the off-season. Once he was wearing Giants orange and black in 2012, Melky became more than just an up-and-coming outfielder with a little bit of promise. He was a phenomenon.

He racked up a league-leading 159 hits as if he were the second coming of Tony Gwynn. He tied and broke obscure team records once held by the great Willie Mays. Melky was the 2012 All-Star Game MVP, an award that came with a trophy and a bitchin’ Camaro. We, the Giants fans, cheered him on like he was Will “The Thrill” Clark, and Melky soon collected catch phrases along with searing line drives.

The Melkman delivers.

Got Melk?

Today just before noon, we learned that the Melk was full of hormones—enough to land Cabrera a 50-game suspension, and end his season as the Giants are struggling with the hated Dodgers to hold onto first place.

We had seen this before as Barry Bonds’ skull expanded like he was the Incredible Hulk. This wasn’t natural, but we still worshipped him from the bleacher seats anyway. Jose Canseco, the Typhoid Mary of Major League Baseball steroid use, played for the A’s on the other side of the Bay. BALCO, the company that supplied Bonds and several others with the juice, was housed in a nondescript office in Burlingame. By 2012, we should’ve known better, but we didn’t.

Just five years after Bonds played his last game in San Francisco, we wanted to believe that the Melk was organic; that this previously lackluster player could go from zero-to-hero. It seemed as if the entire population of the Bay Area logged into Major League Baseball’s website to vote over-and-over again to get Melky into the All-Star Game in July, and it worked. Melky’s virtual coattails also pulled catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Pablo “Kung-Fu Panda” Sandoval into the starting lineup of this year’s National League All-Star team. This pissed off New York Mets’ General Manager Sandy Alderson, who was reduced to tweeting his outrage. San Francisco Giants fans felt good about this. We had the ballpark that was walking distance from Twitter’s HQ. New media had beaten old media.

So when Melky hit his homerun and won that MVP trophy, we felt like we were a part of his triumph and vindication because we had all come together to put him there.

Melky was a meme. He was virtual, viral, crowd-sourced, and community-driven.

The grassroots effort to rally Bay Area baseball fans to put Melky on the All-Star team was led by the Melk Men, a group of fans that showed up to AT&T Park dressed in old-timey milkman attire with white hats and orange bowties. The Melk Men did a dance called the Melkshake that looked like Axl Rose’s stage gyrations if the Guns N’ Roses singer were completely cartilaginous. The Melk Men became as big a phenomenon as Melky himself. They were interviewed by ESPN and the San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco Giants radio announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow lauded their extra effort, and got especially excited when the the Melk Maids joined the Melk Men in the stands. Even Melky himself took notice. After his triumph at the All-Star Game, Melky even took the time to thank the Melk Men for helping him get the votes he needed to get there. This humility on the part of the All-Star made San Francisco love him even more.

The Melk Men used cosplay to express their fandom in a way that wasn’t all that different from how Trekkies dress like Klingons at “Star Trek” conventions–only the Melk Men’s idol was one of flesh, blood and shortcomings. Trekkies never have to worry about if Michael Dorn is taking acting-enhancing drugs, but Melky’s art takes place in real time. His actions may not only keep the Giants from getting to the postseason this year, but will also taint the team if they do. We are now left to wonder if Melky—a player who existed as much in cyberspace as he did on the playing field–would’ve been an All-Star without the added testosterone, but we probably already know the answer.

02/26/12

Permalink 12:31:51 pm, by bobcalhoun Email , 213 words, 7363 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

Cain + Gingrich = Caingrich

I was able to get some decent shots of Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich as they were making their way out of the California Republican Convention yesterday. Please appreciate that I don’t have one of those long-assed lenses (nor would I know how to use one if I did), so I had to get real close to Newt to get these shots of him.

Click here for my report on Newt’s new obsession with algae (he said the word ten times) and how he talks kind of like the Robot Monster.

Herman Cain
Young and old alike miss Herman Cain in this race as much as I do (along with Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewert, Bill Maher and just about everyone else with a pulse).

Herman Cain
Herman Cain at his most Herman Cain.

Herman Cain in Burligame
More of the Cain Train. Oh how I miss the Cain Train.

Newt Gingrich in Burlingame
Newt Gingrich probably talking about algae. This man loves algae.

Newt Gingrich
Come on Newt! Smile for the camera! Newt: “I am smiling.” Um, maybe you shouldn’t smile. Note: you can see Calista Gingrich’s helmet of hair behind his right shoulder. I should’ve tried to get a shot of her, but I realized that Herman Cain hadn’t left the building.

Soviet Cat in the Hat
Okay, this thing needs it’s own blog post, but I haven’t “read” it yet.

11/13/11

Permalink 06:22:33 pm, by bobcalhoun Email , 313 words, 7569 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

I always thought Frank Miller was a fascist

Bob Calhoun Frank Miller
The author now has a bad feeling about these Frank Miller comics that he fished out of his closet. Notice the book on the right is titled “Give Me Liberty, for whatever that’s worth.

Frank Miller, the comic book writer/artist behind a totally rad, ninja-filled run of “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear” that I was really into back in the late 1970s, has weighed in on the Occupy Wall Street movement in a recently posted blog.

“‘Occupy’ is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness,” the creator and co-director of “Sin City” rants in 14-point type.

“This is no popular uprising,” he continues, “This is garbage.”

He also goes on to call the occupiers “pond scum,” before cautioning them about America’s “war against a ruthless enemy,” i.e. “al-Qaeda and Islamicism.”

I think that Frank Miller believes that ninjas can resurrect Osama bin Laden just like they tried to do with Elektra back in “Elektra Saga” #4. In other words, Frank is getting high on his own supply.

Miller closes his little diatribe by telling the occupiers to “go back to your mommas’ basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft (sic).”

That last little quip had me thinking, “Wait a minute Frank—isn’t that your target you’re talking about there?”

The last thing that Frank Miller wants is for those young people playing “Lords of Warcraft” (whatever that is) in their mother’s basements to become part of an actual democratic movement that has them getting jabbed in the ribs by cops in Berkeley or taking tear gas canisters to the head in Oakland (as in the case of Iraq War vet and Luke Skywalker lookalike Scott Olsen). Actually participating in life instead of living through somebody else’s fantasies of Dark Knights and 300 Spartans is bad for Miller’s bottom line.

09/28/11

Permalink 10:04:54 pm, by bobcalhoun Email , 373 words, 5056 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

SAN FRANCISCO LITERARY FESTIVAL SALUTES PRO WRESTLING PROSE

Figure Four Caps Lock

From seedy carnivals to weekly cable TV blowouts, professional wrestling’s spectacle of musclemen locking up with hairy brutes has long occupied the twilight zone between sports and entertainment, creating a form of acrobatic theater that is both dangerous and surreal. During the last decade, the sport’s most beloved baby faces and despised heels such as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, and “Mankind” Mick Foley have put pen to paper and produced a steady and unexpected supply of bestselling memoirs.

And now Litquake, San Francisco’s annual literary festival is finally giving the pro wrestling memoir the respect that it deserves with FIGURE FOUR CAPS LOCK, a night of readings from the greatest published accounts of life inside the squared circle on Friday October 14th at the Hemlock Tavern. Hosted by Bob Calhoun (author of the bestselling punk-wrestling memoir “Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling") and All Pro Wrestling announcer Allan Bolte, Figure Four Caps Lock will assemble a stable of San Francisco Bay Area authors, comedians, librarians, rock musicians, burlesque dancers and yes, pro wrestlers to read the most violent, hilarious and just plain wrong moments from the works of the Fabulous Moolah, Classy Freddie Blassie, Chris Jericho, Goldust, Flair, Piper, and Foley. There will also be a recitation of pro wrestling poetry, some choice cuts from the Iron Sheik’s Twitter feed, tender tales of first time romance with Hulk Hogan, plus chair shots—somebody has to get hit with a folding chair.

Figure Four Caps Lock will feature the dramatic oratory of Alan Black (author of “Kick the Balls"), local indie wrestling legend Shane Dynasty, cartoonist and comedian Greg Franklin, Matt Holdaway ("Radio Voices"), Suzanne Kleid of the San Francisco Public Library, Michael Lucas of the Phantom Surfers, Rik Luxury (Pro Wrestling Peronified), Lady Monster (Naked Girls Reading Series), Alia Volz (Literary Death Match), and luchador-turned-educator Norman Zelaya.

For more information, go to Litquake.org
Click here to buy tickets from BrownPaperTickets.com

Friday Oct 14, 2011 8:00 PM
Litquake presents: FIGURE FOUR CAPS LOCK– From Classy Freddie Blassie to the Fabulous Moolah: Pro Wrestling Memoirs Finally Get the Respect They Deserve
at the Hemlock Tavern
1131 Polk St.
San Francisco, CA 94109

Contact: bob AT beerbloodandcornmeal DOT com

07/18/11

Permalink 11:16:04 pm, by bobcalhoun Email , 1359 words, 9372 views English (US)
Categories: Appearances

Whose Captain America is it anyway?

Rally to Restore Sanity Captain America
Captain America salutes reasonableness at the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C. on October 30, 2010. (Photo: Bob Calhoun)

There was a guy in a Captain America suit staking out his space on the lawn of the National Mall in Washington DC waiting for Jon Stewart’s leftward tilting Rally to Restore Sanity during the early morning hours of October 30, 2010. “Hey Steve Rogers,” I said, calling him by the name of Captain America’s secret identity to get his attention. He turned around, flashed a big grin at my level of geekiness and then snapped a salute as I took his picture.

A few months later in April 2011, a different man wearing a Captain America suit stood in the National Mall with the congressional dome in the background. Like the Cap from October, he was there for a rally, only 2011’s Cap was a Tea Party patriot clamoring for a government shutdown while holding up a sign that read, “Shut it down/Save America.” He was there to burn the village in order to save it.

After the release of the summer blockbuster “Captain America: the First Avenger” on July 22, we’re probably only going to see more Captains America waving placards at protest rallies on all sides of the political spectrum. The Red, White and Blue Avenger is and always has been a potent political image, but whose side would Captain America be on? Would he be a New Deal Democrat slinging his mighty shield for new public works programs or would he be rallying with Tea Party to lower taxes on billionaires and gut Medicare? Whose Captain America is he anyway?

“He’s not just a guy in a flag suit,” former “Captain America” writer Steve Engelhart says while taking a break from signing copies of “The Plain Man,” his latest fantasy-action novel , at the Big Wow ComicFest in San Jose, Calif.

“The problem comes from, I think, when people do say, ‘Well, he’s a guy in a flag suit,’” Engelhart adds. “But he sort of transcends. He stands for America as an ideal, not America as it’s practiced.”

Engelhart, a conscientious objector who was honorably discharged from the Army, took over the writing of “Captain American and the Falcon” in 1972 during the quagmire of the Vietnam War. In order to make the comic’s star-spangled superhero appeal to an anti-war youth audience, Engelhart took on the duality and contradictions of not only the comic book superhero, but America itself. During his first four issues (Nos. 153-156), the original Captain America who was frozen in a block of ice at the end of the Roosevelt years and then thawed during the Johnson administration battles a raging McCarthyite Cap from the paranoid 1950s. The ideological struggle between these alternate versions of the hero isn’t all that different from what might happen if the Rally to Restore Sanity and the Tea Party Caps actually came to blows with their plastic shields.

With the Watergate hearings underway, Engelhart had Steve Rogers hang up being Captain America altogether in “Captain America and the Falcon” No. 176, a comic book dated August 1974—the same month that Nixon resigned from the White House.

“He had thought that the ideal and the reality were the same thing, and finding out that it wasn’t threw him off and that was the basis for the whole story,” Engelhart says, explaining the storyline where Rogers took off the red, white and blue and became a darkly-clad hero called Nomad for several issues, ending with No. 183 in 1975.

“He stood for something,” Engelhart continues, “When what he stood for seemed not to exist or seemed to have been damaged, he couldn’t go out and stand for that anymore. Again, in my story, he eventually decided that having a Captain America was better than not having a Captain America, whatever was going on with America per se.”

Looking at the very first issue of “Captain America,” it’s easy to dismiss it as a piece a piece of jingoistic wartime propaganda. After all, the cover has our hero leaping into a war room and punching out Hitler while Nazi goons fire their Lugers and machine guns at him. However, “Captain America” No. 1 hit the stands in December 1940, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II. While Captain America fit right into the mood of the war effort once it got underway, originally, co-creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon forged the character as a protest vehicle urging a stubbornly isolationist America to action.

“To me, the times were screaming war,” Jack Kirby recalled during a 1989 or 1990 radio interview on “Hour 25″ that can now be found at Kirbymuseum.org. “To me the enemy was Hitler. The enemy was growing and growing, and I didn’t know where it was going to end, but every day something new would happen, and it was really scary. This was the kind of event that I felt was ruling our times and I felt it inside of me and it had to come out in some way.”

Kirby’s depiction of Hitler as a comic book villain had Nazis calling the artist at his office and threatening to “beat the daylights” out of him. “These were New York Nazis,” Kirby explained, “they had a camp on Long Island.” Growing up as a tough scrapper during the Depression on New York’s Lower East Side, Kirby was ready for a fight, but the Nazis never showed up.

“They wanted to fight well what the heck,” Kirby said flippantly, “I would do it.”
Jack Kirby passed away in 1994, but Joe Simon is now 97 years old. Simon supported President Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the attacks on 9/11, and he even recreated the iconic cover of “Captain America” No. 1 with Osama bin Laden taking the place of Hitler.

“We just couldn’t sit back and let this keep happening,” Simon told the Asbury Park Press in 2004. “We had to go in there. I know it’s very sad and everything, but I think he’s doing the right thing. I’m 100 percent behind (President Bush).”

However, an earlier interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer found Simon in a more reflective mood. “After Sept. 11, I redrew the cover of ‘Captain America’ No. 1, but put Osama bin Laden in place of Hitler,” he said. “But I just did it for myself. War is too sensitive a topic for comics to deal with today. “

In the comic books themselves, Captain America never fought the War on Terror as directly as he did World War II. Marvel instead preferred to keep its heroes in their own universe where metaphors for current events were safely open to interpretation. The “Civil War” crossover series by Mark Millar and Frank McNiven that ran from July 2006-January 2007 had Captain America and Iron Man taking opposite sides over a US government Superhuman Registration Act, but not the Patriot Act. When Eisner Award winning writer Ed Brubaker depicted a Tea Party protest in a slightly negative light in “Captain America” No. 602 in 2010, the rightwing blogosphere and Fox News cranked up their outrage machine, griping that Marvel was “making patriotic Americans” into “its newest super villains.” With a $140 million “Captain America” movie only a year away, Marvel had more to lose than when it was just selling magazines, and promised to remove the material that hurt the Tea Party’s feelings from future reprints of the series.

Joe Simon may have put it best when he said, “Things are far more complex than they were in the days when Captain America could punch Hitler in the jaw,” but the broad appeal of Captain America appears undiminished by recent controversies. In between Captain America’s appearances at the rallies to restore sanity and shut down the government, Mexican American pro wrestler Rey Mysterio wore a Captain America costume during his match at WrestleMania XXVII in Atlanta. Mysterio’s outfit had a Mayan motif in place of the star on Cap’s chest, making the character more Meso-American than merely Norte Americano. It seems that Captain America may be the only thing that can bring this fractured country together, if we could only agree on who he is.

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Beer, Blood and Piecemeal.

The rock and reading odyssey of a 300-pound hulk.

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