My grand­fa­ther’s superhero was made for times like these

Me­gan Margulies on the re­newed rel­e­vance of Cap­tain Amer­ica

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Me­gan Margulies has kept this post­card from her grand­fa­ther Joe Si­mon — the last one he sent her be­fore his death. Si­mon was a cocre­ator of Cap­tain Amer­ica, a char­ac­ter who has fought fas­cism and ha­tred since his de­but in 1940. megan­mar­ Me

Amid the masses of strangers gath­ered to protest at the Bos­ton Women’s March, I spot­ted some­thing fa­mil­iar: that shield — red, white and blue — a sim­ple de­sign that holds the weight of so much con­vic­tion. Cap­tain Amer­ica’s iconic shield caught my eye, not only be­cause of the prin­ci­ples it stands for but be­cause he re­minds me of an­other hero of mine.

On Dec. 20, 1940, a year into World War II, my grand­fa­ther Joe Si­mon and Jack Kirby, both sons of Jewish im­mi­grants, re­leased the first is­sue of “Cap­tain Amer­ica.” The cover fea­tured Cap slug­ging Adolf Hitler. Be­cause the United States didn’t en­ter the war un­til late 1941, a full year later, Cap­tain Amer­ica seemed to em­body the Amer­i­can spirit more than the ac­tions of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment.

As Cap socked the Führer, many re­joiced, but mem­bers of the Ger­man Amer­i­can Bund, a pro-Nazi or­ga­ni­za­tion, were dis­gusted. Jack and my grand­fa­ther were soon in­un­dated with hate mail and threat­en­ing phone calls, all with the same theme: Death to the Jews. As the threats con­tin­ued, Timely Comics em­ploy­ees be­came ner­vous about leav­ing their build­ing in New York. Then my grand­fa­ther took a call from Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who promised to send po­lice of­fi­cers to pro­tect them. “I was in­cred­u­lous as I picked up the phone, but there was no mis­tak­ing the shrill voice,” my grand­fa­ther re­called in his book “The Comic Book Mak­ers.” “‘You boys over there are do­ing a good job,’ the voice squeaked, ‘The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you.’ ”

I first vis­ited my grand­fa­ther’s apart­ment when I was three days old. I was born in a hospi­tal only a cou­ple of blocks away, and my par­ents de­cided the first or­der of busi­ness was to in­tro­duce him to his first grand­child. Once I was able to talk, I called him Daddy Joe, a nick­name that stuck with each fol­low­ing grand­child. As a teenager, I would hop on the sub­way to his stu­dio apart­ment on week­ends, es­cap­ing ado­les­cent ar­gu­ments and my fam­ily’s crowded apart­ment 20 blocks north. He al­ways took me in, swivel­ing his ratty leather re­clin­ing chair to face me and greet me with a smile. He let me or­der greasy take­out and al­ways kept his hall­way closet stocked with soda just for me. But more im­por­tant, he of­fered me the so­lace of a quiet, tur­moil-free place.

“Your mother loves you very much,” he said once dur­ing one of my many es­capes. I grunted a teenage ac­knowl­edg­ment from the draw­ing ta­ble that held scraps of pa­per, ink stains and my half-eaten din­ner. I knew he was right, of course, and I de­tected his un­easi­ness about my fights with her. But he didn’t push any­thing more than af­fir­ma­tion, and we set­tled into a rou­tine: He would watch his foot­ball game, and I would dab­ble with his col­ored pen­cils. Cap­tain Amer­ica watched us from the walls.

For years, Cap­tain Amer­ica sim­ply rep­re­sented those evenings to me. He came to sym­bol­ize the im­mense love I had for my grand­fa­ther and, with that love, a kind of self­ish choke­hold on the char­ac­ter. More than once I ap­proached a stranger wear­ing a Cap T-shirt and asked if they knew who cre­ated the superhero grac­ing their chest. It was an at­tempt, es­pe­cially af­ter his death, to shout his name far and wide, but also a child­ish state­ment: He’s mine. A part of me feared that by shar­ing my grand­fa­ther’s cre­ation, our bond and the love that we had would be di­luted. Cap was mine be­cause Daddy Joe was mine.

Yet as I stood among thou­sands at the Bos­ton Women’s March on Jan. 21, the per­sonal sud­denly felt global: More than five years af­ter his death, my grand­fa­ther and his cre­ation seemed newly mean­ing­ful. In life, my grand­fa­ther stood up for jus­tice and taught me about com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing. Cap­tain Amer­ica con­tains all of that for me on a per­sonal level, but now, in this time of tur­moil for Amer­ica, it’s clear that Cap rep­re­sents some­thing much larger, some­thing we need as a na­tion.

Late last month, the Jewish Com­mu­nity Re­la­tions Coun­cil re­leased a state­ment in re­sponse to Pres­i­dent Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der on im­mi­gra­tion, say­ing that “these ac­tions — which are caus­ing anx­i­ety, pain and an­guish through­out im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties and our na­tion — are un­just. We stand to­gether on the side of em­pa­thy and re­li­gious tol­er­ance and we urge the ad­min­is­tra­tion to open the gates of com­pas­sion to those seek­ing safety, re­gard­less of their faith or coun­try of ori­gin.”

While the daugh­ters and sons of Jewish im­mi­grants re­ject the travel ban, Cap’s only tool, that shield, has been pop­ping up in memes, on protest posters and on T-shirts. Cre­ated to de­fend Amer­ica’s in­de­struc­tible val­ues, it is again serv­ing as a tool to fight all that threat­ens our Con­sti­tu­tion and our na­tional de­cency. More than 75 years af­ter his in­cep­tion, Cap­tain Amer­ica, born to fight fas­cism and ha­tred, is be­ing called into ac­tion once more, this time to de­fend Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples on our own soil. We need him. And I fi­nally feel ready to share him.

Over the past few months I have loos­ened my self­ish grip on that iconic shield, which is why I want to share it with you now. If it can of­fer some­one so­lace, I will al­ways be happy to share. More beau­ti­ful than the bold col­ors and sweep­ing per­spec­tive of that first comic book cover is this sym­bol of strength — a com­pan­ion to our con­vic­tions about what is good and fair. Al­though Cap­tain Amer­ica can’t leap off the page and res­cue those who feel the world has been turned up­side down, he is pow­er­ful in his abil­ity to of­fer an an­chor of hope and an em­bod­i­ment of our ideals, no mat­ter your politics.

I framed the last post­card my grand­fa­ther sent me be­fore he died: the face of Cap­tain Amer­ica on the front, his shield tak­ing up half the small space. I pho­to­copied the back of the post­card and framed it as well, plac­ing them side by side on a bookshelf in my liv­ing room. “For lovely Me­gan — from the Cap­tain and Joe Si­mon. Love you.”

That one sen­tence, scrawled in his boxy, car­toon­ist hand­writ­ing, serves as a re­minder that I will al­ways have two su­per­heroes watch­ing over me, and at least one to share with those who need him most.


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