Happy Independence Day to all of my fellow Americans! The idea for the following post came to me a while back but I saved it for this most appropriate of holidays.
Back when I was a very young teenager in the early 80s, my buddy down the block and I both agreed that Captain America seemed to win more fights with his speeches than with his fists. This was back when J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck were in the middle of an extended run on the title, and their Captain America definitely did know how to turn a phrase, but while doing my research I found that there were a lot less speeches than I thought there were.
A good example: while it’s a stirring oration Cap delivers to Deathlok here in Captain America #288 (Dec. 1983), I think it qualifies as more of a personal pep talk than a speech:
So while my original idea was for a Top 10 list, I decided after much research that a Top 5 would be more viable. So here we go, once again counting down to number one Casey Kasem style, it’s the five best speeches from Captain America!
Captain America #278 (Feb. 1983) by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Zeck
We kick things off with two goodies from the aforementioned DeMatteis and Zeck. Here we get Cap inspiring an unfortunate group of hideously mutated humans—victims of the mad experiments of Baron Zemo.
Captain America #275 (Nov. 1982) by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Zeck
This one sees Cap dressing down a wannabe Nazi:
Marvel Fanfare #18 (Jan. 1985) by Roger Stern & Frank Miller
A cherished gem for those of us who can remember buying it from their local comic shop in late ’84:
It’s funny how a lot of people label Miller’s work as fascistic and right wing, but he always seemed liberal to me—that is, if you examine his work closely and don’t take it out of context. This speech may even have echoes of conservative rhetoric, but if you’ve read the whole story, you know it’s actually a right-wing terrorist group he’s lecturing.
What If? #44 (Apr. 1984) by Peter B. Gillis & Sal Buscema
The concept behind this tale is extraordinarily timely, but I’m confident this speech would still be near the top of the list even if such were not the case.
So the premise is “What if Captain America Were Not Revived Until Today?” Now you might appreciate the story more if you’re a big comics aficionado who knows Cap’s past, as writer Peter B. Gillis takes a rather meticulous approach to the question, going back over Cap’s history and showing how certain events would have played out without him.
First, without Captain America present in the very early days of the Avengers team, the team disbands. In regular continuity, we know Cap stayed on and led newcomers Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch and kept the group going, as per Avengers #16 (May 1965). Then, we skip ahead to the events of Captain America #153 (Sept. 1972), wherein the crazy, right-wing. nut-job Captain America of the 1950s (and his Bucky) are revived from suspended animation. Again, in regular continuity, the REAL Cap punched this guy’s lights out before he could do much serious harm. But in this story’s reality, with no REAL Cap present, Crazy Cap basically wrecks the country.
He starts out okay, thwarting many of the same super-villains that the REAL Cap beat in our reality, but then he begins voicing his warped worldview in public. This leads to him endorsing several right-wing extremist candidates for office and helping to get them elected. These elected officials then start programs like the “National Identity Card” to protect the country from “illegal aliens” that are “undercutting American workers and putting them out of work.”
…Did I mention this right-wing extremist group calls itself the “America First” party?
Minorities object to the racist undertones of these new laws, which lead to unrest, then violence, then rioting. Then comes martial law and forced segregation.
Finally, after nineteen pages of this stomach-turning action, a U.S. submarine stumbles upon the REAL Captain America. They thaw him out and sneak him into New York City disguised as a crewman. Naturally, the REAL Cap is utterly disgusted by what he sees.
“Armed guards on every corner. Guard towers with machine guns. Did the Nazis win the war?”
“Not yet, Cap,” the sub commander answers, “not yet.”
One of the guards asks to see Cap’s papers. “Hmmmm… Seaman First Class Roger Stevens— submarine, eh? Rough job unless you happen to like living in a tin can with a bunch of blacks and Jews!”
Eventually, REAL Cap joins up with the resistance—a colorful group that includes J. Jonah Jameson, Nick Fury, “Snap” Wilson, and Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Crazy Cap has a meeting with the leaders of the “America First” party, an assemblage that includes representatives of the Secret Empire, Sons of the Serpent, Imperial Forces, and the National Force—all super-villain terrorist groups. Re-reading it today, I can’t help but think of this:
Crazy Cap promises his political allies that “Together, we can wrest control from the Jewish bankers and black radicals and their masters in Moscow– and make this country the land of the free again!”
William Taurey, leader of the Imperial Forces, then thinks to himself: “With your unwitting help, I, William Taurey, shall be the country’s next president– and its first absolute monarch!!” Again, if you’re not a comics aficionado and never read Jack Kirby’s classic Captain America #’s 193-200 (Jan.-Aug. 1976), you don’t know that Taurey’s royal ambitions were thwarted by the REAL Cap back in normal reality in said issues.
It all ends in a wild melee at Madison Square Garden during the “America First” party’s national convention. In the midst of the Cap vs. Cap showdown, REAL Cap spits line after line that makes the heart swell like you can’t imagine.
You’re everything I was meant to fight, monster!
You’re a Nazi smear on the American flag!
That’s it, fight on! I want to tear that costume from your Nazi body!
…But wait, we haven’t gotten to the actual speech yet!
Absolutely amazing. I only wish the REAL Cap could pay a visit to our reality and save us so simply and easily.
Avengers #8 (July 1964) by Lee & Kirby
Really, was there ever any doubt?
This is no innocent victim of tyranny you’re taunting now! This is CAPTAIN AMERICA!
Feel my grip, Zemo! It’s the grip of a free man!
The world must never again make the fatal error of mistaking compassion for weakness!! And while I live, IT WON’T!!!
Whew! If that doesn’t stir American blood, I don’t know what will. That Stan Lee guy sure could write dialogue, huh? I swear to God, when I read this it makes me want to punch a Nazi in the face so bad I can’t stand it.
…And there you have it, folks, my Top 5 Captain America speeches. Happy Holiday to all of my fellow citizens out there!
“This is Captain America calling!”