During the Second World War, fictional media was widely used as a tool for buoying the spirit and raising support for the war effort against the Axis powers. Even children were encouraged to rally behind America against the sinister forces of Germany, Italy and Japan.
Comic books in particular were used as propaganda to target American children – and indeed adults. These superheroes embodied the ideal virtues of American soldiers, and helped demonstrate the courage and resolve needed to fight evil during World War Two.
Why comic books?
Government agencies recognised how powerful comic books were and exploited them to help sell the idea of America. The cheaply produced, easily digestible stories found in comic books acted as the perfect cover for state-produced propaganda – those reading them were unlikely to think that the government had anything to with producing them.
Comic books were especially prevalent during World War Two, selling close to a billion copies a year worldwide.
As the popularity of the comics grew, companies such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics started developing comics geared for military audiences. Between 1940 and 1945, circulation numbers tripled, and at military post exchanges, comic books outsold standard magazines such as Life and Reader’s Digest by as much as ten to one.
These comic books were developed, illustrated and published with the purpose of educating and informing both American citizens and the US military, while also being entertaining. Many of these comics’ goals were to educate soldiers on specific duties, broadcast and reflect the life of American soldiers while deployed and explain US foreign policy for specific actions and conflicts. They became seen as an essential for soldiers, and were thus shipped everywhere that American soldiers were.
Comics were obviously also read widely by children, helping them understand the war and America’s position.
Captain Nazi: A wartime super-villain
One way to keep the kids’ spirits up regarding the war was to create evil comic book characters that could serve as foils for already-established American heroes.
Enter Captain Nazi, who first appeared in Master Comics #21, published by Fawcett Comics in December 1941 in order to face off against the superheroes Captain Marvel and Bulletman. Captain Nazi was instrumental in the creation of another new hero in the form of Captain Marvel Jr.
Captain Marvel Jr. came on the scene after Captain Nazi killed his father for no apparent reason and crippled the soon-to-be Marvel Jr. in the attack. Captain Marvel provides the boy with some of his own powers and voilà — the Nazi super-villain has an archenemy.
Captain Nazi was genetically altered into a superhuman by his scientist father in order to fight for the Nazi cause. His strength and stamina provided him with the ability to fight American superheroes.
He also served in the Mister Mind’s Monster Society of Evil, along with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
Fawcett Comics continued to use Captain Nazi until December of 1943. DC comics revived the character in the 1970s, along with other Marvel characters. He was also re imagined in the 80s and 90s, and finally killed by Batman in 2006.
…or was he?
Other wartime comics with anti-Nazi themes
Some comics actually had heroes fighting the Nazis before the United States even entered the Second World War. Daredevil Battles Hitler was produced in July of 1941, 5 months before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The famous image on the cover of Captain America #1 showing Captain America punching out Adolf Hitler was released even earlier, in March 1941.
The whole purpose of Captain America was to represent an American super-soldier who could defeat the Axis Powers and so the hero was continually featured fighting Nazis and Hitler in particular.
Other beloved superheroes like Superman, Batman, the Human Torch and Aquaman also joined in the war effort, taking on Nazi soldiers and fighting on the battlefield against the Japanese and even the so-called ‘Japanazis’. These comics frequently used racist imagery, particularly of Japanese people.
It may be that Captain Nazi was the only fictional Axis wartime super-villain. However, in 1987 DC Comics would reveal Axis Amerika, a team of super-villains gathered by Adolf Hitler from the Axis countries in order to defeat the All-Star Squadron, which was assembled by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to protect the US home front during World War Two.