MALE/FEMALE CHORUS: [SINGING] WHEN CAPTAIN AMERICA THROWS HIS MIGHTY SHIELD, ALL THOSE WHO CHOSE TO OPPOSE HIS SHIELD MUST YIELD! IF HE'S LED TO A FIGHT AND A DUEL IS DUE THEN THE RED AND THE WHITE AND THE BLUE WILL COME THROUGH WHEN CAPTAIN AMERICA THROWS HIS MIGHTY SHIELD!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: African-American culture and history is making its mark retroactively on a classic comic book hero called Captain America. This week Marvel Comics kicked off a series that re-imagines the story called Truth: Red, White & Black. Written by Robert Morales, it begins with the revelation that the blond army reject, Steve Rogers [sp?], was not the first American to be injected with super soldier serum that turned him into Captain America. In fact, it seems that the government had been testing the super soldier serum on black G.I.'s long before then. So -- there's a black Captain America and his existence has been a secret until now. The premise was drawn from a dark episode in America's real history -- that of the Tuskegee Experiment when between 1932 and 1972 hundreds of black sharecroppers were withheld treatment for syphilis so the government could observe the progress of their disease. That was the inspiration for the new Captain America according to Axel Alonso, editor of Truth: Red, White & Black.
AXEL ALONSO: Does it stand to reason that Uncle Sam used as its primary guinea pigs blond-haired, blue-eyed white boys from the heartland? We could sit here and talk about issues of race and class in contemporary society and agree to disagree, but I think everyone understands that the Civil Rights Movement was a response to a condition in our country at a particular point in time, and that is the era in which this story takes place.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So why Captain America, 60 years after the fact? Why did you choose this particular story?
AXEL ALONSO:Captain America is the physical embodiment of American might and virtue. He was developed in the '40s to fend of the Nazi tide. He was re-invigorated in the '60s to fight super-villains on the streets of New York. He has never been a static character, and if you don't use this character to examine America itself, then with what character do you do that?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Kyle Baker is the artist for the series and he's on the line from his home in L.A. Thanks for coming in, Kyle.
KYLE BAKER: Why, thank you!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The book has a, a beautiful cinematic look to it. What's been influencing the style and the feel of the mini-series?
KYLE BAKER: Well, I've been looking at a lot of the old Jack Kirby cartoons. He's the guy who created Captain America with Joe Simon.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well there's a lot of strong jaws and a kind of a stripped-down look to it.
KYLE BAKER: Yeah--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It has a lot of graphic power.
KYLE BAKER:Yeah, yeah, that's Kirby. I, I wanted to make it clear to the fans of, of Captain America that we weren't making fun of Captain America or putting him down in any way. So I thought by, you know, being true to the original creators' vision it sort of puts people at ease.
AXEL ALONSO: It's worth noting that prior to publication the project was very controversial. A lot of people came out of the woodwork assuming that this project would do something to besmirch the integrity of an icon that everyone had come to love, and I can assure people that it does anything but that. Some people have felt that this is going to be some politically-correct tract when in fact nothing could be further from the case. Some people have assumed that this is looking to divide people -- draw a line between whites and blacks when in fact I think it does anything but that as well. The end of this story our -- well we refer to him as our Black Captain America -- and our Captain America are linked as brothers --they're hardly at odds with one another.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:One part of the story that I find unique is that the white people never knew the truth behind Captain America. In your mini-series, black people always knew! They always knew! So what does this detail represent? Kyle?
KYLE BAKER: When Bob told me about that I thought it was a great idea, cause there, there are a lot of things that are known in the black community that you wouldn't get from school and stuff, so I thought it was entirely plausible that black people would know that their first Captain America was black and that nobody else would. [LAUGHS]
AXEL ALONSO: Kyle touches upon a good point there, you know, a random sample -- you ask a black person what the word "Tuskegee" means --they'll know. You ask a white person and, and a vast majority will think Tuskegee Airmen cause of some mini-series they saw on television late at night. You know the title of this story is very, very, very pertinent. What Robert is, is attempting to do here is to give the reader as close as they can to an immersion experience of what it felt like to be an African-American man in, you know, late '30s, early '40s America dealing with the world as it was shifting and changing. The story in Issue One picks in the days preceding Pearl Harbor. Issue Two picks up with basic training whereby you see the men thrown together and dealing with the situation. As things proceed, you understand the irony of, of fighting for certain freedoms abroad while not knowing what your future at home will be.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:A couple of months ago we interviewed Stan Lee and Tom Brevoort -- Marvel had just revealed that The Thing from the Fantastic Four was Jewish. Do you think there are other specific characters who may be ripe for a revelation?
AXEL ALONSO: Well, I can tell you that there's one character that we're looking at right now who's the longest-running Western character who we'll be re-visiting with a real twist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hm!
AXEL ALONSO: It will be anything but a straight Western --not to give too much away. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But we can read into that line perhaps?
AXEL ALONSO: You might be able to. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well Axel Alonso, thank you very much.
AXEL ALONSO: Thank you!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Axel Alonso is the editor and Kyle Baker is illustrating Truth: Red, White & Black --Kyle thanks to you too.
KYLE BAKER: Thanks a lot. [MUSIC]
STUART SCOTT: Coming up, Olympic anxiety and a new way to tell the story of Rwandan genocide.