Thursday, September 17, 2009

Captain America: The Truth

Marvel Comics has prided itself for injecting a sense of realism into their superhero stories since the introduction of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. The Truth is an instance of injecting some history into their mythos. Originally published as a 7-issue mini-series in 2002-2003, it reimagines the origin of Captain America crossed with the real-life events of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Instead of Steve Rogers being the sole recipient of the super-soldier serum, we learn that the US government secretly experimented earlier with African-American soldiers. What is more, this series is not an imaginary story or a "what if?" scenario. It counts as an official part of continuity.

The Truth mostly focuses on three people: Isaiah Bradley, a young soldier who has just left his wife and unborn child to go into the service, Maurice Canfield, a son of a wealthy industrialist, and Luke Evans, a career soldier who fought and was disfigured in World War I. A large part of this series involves the moral implications of these experiments, with a special focus on a shameful racist past and cover-up. In the course of the story, these experiments are also juxtaposed with the Nazi Dr. Menegele's experiments with Jewish prisoners during World War II.

The combination of racial considerations, US history, and superhero comics is celebrated by some critics, represented here by this review from Brent Staples. Other reviews, such as this one by Brian Cronin, point to how this may be a great concept for a story but how the story may be lacking in execution. In particular, the first 5 issues are a series of intertwined narratives which build to a dramatic point that gets diffused as the last 2 issues are full of long stretches of expository dialogue. Other criticisms have been made about the cartoonish style of the art as perhaps being inappropriate for such serious subject matter.

The Truth was written by Robert Morales, a writer and editor who worked for Vibe magazine and has limited comics work. Kyle Baker, who describes himself with tongue-in-cheek as the "Greatest Cartoonist of All Time," provided the art. He has been drawing comics for more than 20 years, having begun his career as a high school intern at Marvel. Baker is a respected comic artist, cartoonist, and animator who has won 8 Eisner Awards over his career.

For a more detailed summary of The Truth, including more about its impact on Marvel Comics continuity, see this page at For a detailed account of Captain America and his career, see his official page at Marvel Comics. For more information and links about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, check out this NPR feature.

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